Java vs. JavaScript: What's the Difference?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

It’s important to know the differences between Java and JavaScript, two popular programming languages. Read on to explore the differences, uses, and pros and cons.

[Featured image] A JavaScript developer writes code at their computer.

Java and JavaScript have similar names, but that’s where the kinship stops. It’s important to know the differences between these two popular programming languages. Read on to explore the differences, uses, and pros and cons.

Though Java and JavaScript share half a name, they are different. Java versus JavaScript syntax looks different on the surface, but the differences go deeper than that.

According to SlashData's annual survey, 2022 marks JavaScript’s 10th consecutive survey rating as the most commonly used programming language. Java joins in as the fifth most popular programming language [1].

Let’s examine Java's and JavaScript's differences, history, features, uses, advantages, and disadvantages.

What is the difference between Java and JavaScript?

When considering Java versus JavaScript, you’ll notice a few key differences. Java is a compiled language, meaning you write code, run it through a compiler, and create bytecode. The bytecode is then run in a Java Virtual Machine (JVM), which is likely your computer software. JavaScript is an interpreted language. It doesn’t get compiled but is interpreted as the script runs. It's commonly used to create interactive websites. You’re reading this right now on a page running JavaScript.

What is Java?

Java launched with a “Write once, run anywhere” promise. Since then, it has quickly become very popular for creating client—and server-side applications. Its syntax is similar to C and C++. Still, it is easier to understand and has fewer low-level features because that functionality is handled automatically by the compiler and JVM.

Features of Java

Java has been around for some time and has developed a large community with various tools and educational content related to the language.

It’s on par or faster than most other modern compiled languages and much faster than interpreted languages, making it a good choice for robust native applications. Unlike JavaScript, Java is a multi-threaded language, meaning it can do multiple things simultaneously rather than wait for each task to finish before beginning the next one.

Java is very secure. It has private methods and variables built in, so there can be no unauthorised access to the underlying data and functionality. Additionally, the compiled app runs in a virtual machine that keeps itself separate from the underlying device it runs on.

What is Java used for?

Almost any desktop application, mobile application, game, website backend, or server can be created using Java, and it can even run machines. Wikipedia uses Java to execute its queries when you search on its website or app, and it even controls the systems in Mars rovers. Netflix, Google, Twitter, and several other big-name tech companies use Java to provide their services. 

Advantages of Java

There are many reasons why Java is one of the most widely used programming languages. Designed to be easy to use, Java is simpler to write and makes it easier to compile, debug, and learn than other languages. It’s also object-oriented, meaning you can create modular programs and reusable code. One of Java’s most significant advantages is that it’s platform-independent. It can easily move from one computer system to another.

Java is a robust language. Because it’s easy to use, platform independent, and has security features, it has become the language of choice for building the Internet of Things (IoT).

Disadvantages of Java

Though Java touts many excellent qualities, it lacks performance. Java tends to run more slowly than languages like C and C++ and consumes significant memory. That extra memory will require more hardware to keep things running, which means more money is spent. Lastly, there needs to be more support for low-level programming. 

History of Java

James Gosling began developing Java in 1991. It was intended for interactive television but was too advanced for cable at the time. Initially named Oak and then Green, it was finally given its official name of Java, after the type of coffee. Version 1.0 was released in 1996 under Sun Microsystems and became one of the most ubiquitously used technologies in the world. It is the foundation of the Android operating system and the language of the popular video game Minecraft.


What is JavaScript?

JavaScript is not directly related to Java, except for its use in web technologies. The name choice was a marketing move to encourage adoption.

Features of JavaScript

JavaScript has critical features that led to its widespread adoption. It runs live in the browser without compiling beforehand, a process called just-in-time compilation. Every major web browser uses the language. It is responsible for many website interactions, like fetching new data without reloading the page, animations, checking forms for errors, chatting, posting comments, and much more.

What is JavaScript used for?

According to W3Techs [2], 98 percent of all websites used JavaScript as of June 2022. According to First Site Guide [3], there are over 1.93 billion websites on the internet today. That’s a lot of JavaScript. It can turn a static brochure-style website into a functioning application in your web browser.

It’s not only for the front end, though. JavaScript can run in Node environments, allowing you to write JavaScript for the back end. It can perform routing, controller functions, an API service, or all of those things simultaneously. Node enables you to have a full JavaScript stack.

You can also make games in JavaScript. It is particularly suited for mobile and browser games, meaning you can make games for almost any device with a web browser. 

Advantages of JavaScript

The ability to run in a browser is a massive advantage for JavaScript. It’s one of the reasons that it has been the most popular language used in GitHub projects for several years in a row. Web browsers exist on a wide array of devices. All desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones have browsers, and many game consoles and smart TVs also have browsers.

JavaScript’s extreme versatility makes it an excellent choice when considering Java versus JavaScript for web development. Being a full-stack engineer no longer means you must learn multiple languages. You have to know an array of ideas, patterns, and paradigms, but you only need one syntax to connect them.

Because of its popularity and pervasiveness, educational material about JavaScript is abundant. You can find books, videos, courses, articles, and podcasts on just about every facet of the technology. Finding someone with the information you need to accomplish your goal is relatively easy.

Disadvantages of JavaScript

Even though every modern browser runs JavaScript, different browsers can sometimes behave differently. Browsers have code that interprets the JavaScript at runtime called engines. Chrome and Brave, for example, use the V8 engine, while Firefox uses the SpiderMonkey engine. These engines often interpret the code similarly, but there are instances of behaviour that differ from what you might expect. There’s always a workaround for consistent behaviour and plenty of resources documenting and fixing the flaws.

Some may say that JavaScript's dependence on the browser is a flaw. While the statement is somewhat true, as mentioned, it can now run in different environments with Node. With tools like React Native, you can create stand-alone apps that run on the most popular environments, like Windows, Mac OS, iOS, and Android. There’s a learning curve you should be aware of, though.

Speed is another factor to consider. Programming languages do complicated math very quickly. JavaScript is a high-level language, meaning it’s abstracted from the low-level workings of the computer it is running on. Reducing high-level programming calculations to low-level execution takes time. It’s not much time by human standards, but it will start to be noticeable over a few thousand functions and calculations.

History of JavaScript

JavaScript was created in 10 days by Netscape employee Brendan Eich. Released in September 1995, it was part of the beta for the Netscape Navigator web browser. It was first called Mocha, then LiveScript, and three months later, the official name was changed to JavaScript upon Navigator’s official release.


Learn to program on Coursera.

Whether you're just starting with programming or want to level up by learning a new language, you can learn at your own pace from leading companies and universities on Coursera. Learn the fundamentals with a beginner-friendly course like Object-Oriented Programming in Java from Duke University or JavaScript for Beginners from the University of California, Davis. If you have experience writing code, consider Object-Oriented Java Programming: Data Structures and Beyond from the University of California, San Diego, both offered on Coursera.

Article sources


InfoWorld. "Developer survey: JavaScript and Python reign, but Rust is rising," Accessed May 20, 2024.

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.