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Java Virtual Machine from Sun

Java Virtual Machine

The Java virtual machine (JVM) is the cornerstone of the Java and Java 2 platforms. It is the component of the technology responsible for its hardware- and operating system- independence, the small size of its compiled code, and its ability to protect users from malicious programs. The Java virtual machine is an abstract computing machine. Like a real computing machine, it has an instruction set and manipulates various memory areas at run time. It is reasonably common to implement a programming language using a virtual machine; the best-known virtual machine may be the P-Code machine of UCSD Pascal.

The first prototype implementation of the Java virtual machine, done at Sun Microsystems, Inc., emulated the Java virtual machine instruction set in software hosted by a handheld device that resembled a contemporary Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). Sun's current Java virtual machine implementations, components of its Java TM 2 SDK and Java TM 2 Runtime Environment products, emulate the Java virtual machine on Win32 and Solaris hosts in much more sophisticated ways. However, the Java virtual machine does not assume any particular implementation technology, host hardware, or host operating system. It is not inherently interpreted, but can just as well be implemented by compiling its instruction set to that of a silicon CPU. It may also be implemented in microcode or directly in silicon.

The Java virtual machine knows nothing of the Java programming language, only of a particular binary format, the class file format. A class file contains Java virtual machine instructions (or bytecodes) and a symbol table, as well as other ancillary information.

For the sake of security, the Java virtual machine imposes strong format and structural constraints on the code in a class file. However, any language with functionality that can be expressed in terms of a valid class file can be hosted by the Java virtual machine. Attracted by a generally available, machine-independent platform, implementors of other languages are turning to the Java virtual machine as a delivery vehicle for their languages.

A Bit of History

The Java programming language is a general-purpose object-oriented concurrent language. Its syntax is similar to C and C++, but it omits many of the features that make C and C++ complex, confusing, and unsafe. The Java platform was initially developed to address the problems of building software for networked consumer devices. It was designed to support multiple host architectures and to allow secure delivery of software components. To meet these requirements, compiled code had to survive transport across networks, operate on any client, and assure the client that it was safe to run.

The popularization of the World Wide Web made these attributes much more interesting. The Internet demonstrated how media-rich content could be made accessible in simple ways. Web browsers such as Mosaic enabled millions of people to roam the Net and made Web surfing part of popular culture. At last there was a medium where what you saw and heard was essentially the same whether you were using a Mac, PC, or UNIX machine, and whether you were connected to a high-speed network or a slow modem.

A Web browser incorporating the Java platform is no longer limited to a predetermined set of capabilities. Visitors to Web pages incorporating dynamic content can be assured that their machines cannot be damaged by that content. Programmers can write a program once, and it will run on any machine supplying a Java runtime environment.

Web enthusiasts soon discovered that the content supported by the Web's HTML document format was too limited. HTML extensions, such as forms, only highlighted those limitations, while making it clear that no browser could include all the features users wanted. Extensibility was the answer.

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