Blog, Tech 101

What’s the Difference Between Java and JavaScript?

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Welcome to our Tech 101 series, in which we answer your most burning questions about the tech basics.

Today, we’re talking JavaScript—specifically, how it’s different from Java. And we’re going to cover it all in a 60-second read. 

The Difference Between Java and JavaScript 

While their names seem to imply a connection (“Is JavaScript a script in Java?”), that’s the biggest similarity. The two languages aren’t related in any technical or significant way. As one Quora user puts it:

Javascript and Java “are similar like the words ‘car’ and ‘carpet’ are similar.”

Why are the names so similar then?

The overlap (and resulting confusion) is intentional.

Java, created in 1990 by James A. Gosling, a computer scientist at Sun Microsystems, was already plenty popular by the time Netscape named its programming language JavaScript in late 1995.

Piggybacking off Java’s popularity was as smart business move. As another Quora user theorizes, Netscape wanted “to confuse the unwary into thinking it had something to do with Java, the buzzword of the day—and it succeeded.” 

That explanation is a bit extreme and not totally accurate. The reality is that JavaScript, designed by Brendan Eich of Netscape, was initially called LiveScript, but a marketing agreement (dare we call it a ploy?) between Netscape and Sun led Netscape to rename it JavaScript for co-branding purposes. At the time, Sun had agreed to let Netscape bundle its (then) leading browser with Java runtime. The name change was part of the deal. 

Since then, Java has arguably faded in popularity—but JavaScript has decidedly…not. You could say that JavaScript owes its rise to Java’s name appeal. Not everyone would agree, I’m guessing. But the main takeaway is this: Beyond naming convention, the two languages have little to nothing in common.

Java versus JavaScript: A Quick Comparison

OK, but let’s say you want a little more detail on the differences between the two. Here’s a quick: 

Differences

  • Java is a static “object-oriented” programming language that works on multiple platforms. JavaScript is a dynamic programming language (or scripted language) that’s used to make websites and applications dynamic. (Read our JavaScript guide here.) 
  • Java is class-based. JavaScript is dynamic. 
  • Java is a standalone language—it likes its freedom. JavaScript is a little more emotionally co-dependent (but in a good way?), meaning that it works with HTML and CSS on web pages to create dynamic content. 
  • In 2019, JavaScript is a must-learn for web developers because it’s used pretty much any and everywhere, whereas Java is largely considered a “previous generation programming language”, though certainly plenty of sites still use it.

Similarities

Like we said, there aren’t many. But there are a few very surface-level overlaps: 

  • Both Java and JavaScript are most often used in client-side applications
  • Both Java and JavaScript use the C syntax
  • JavaScript copies some Java naming conventions. This was done back to build that faux camaraderie we mentioned earlier

Which Should You Learn? 

Again, this is like comparing apples to oranges, but if we had to choose? JavaScript.

According to GitHub, as of 2018, there were “more repositories created in JavaScript than in any other language.” GitHub also reported that JavaScript and Python are also growing in popularity year over year, especially compared to other languages like Ruby. 

Don’t get us wrong: Java is still widely used and very popular—and there are loads of arguments for why you should learn Java in 2019. But JavaScript is an ideal starting point for beginners who are just getting interested in learning to code, especially those who’d like to land a front end web developer job or go full stack. Really, it’s a skill that’s versatile enough to apply to a bunch of tech-related roles—one that you’ll find handy regardless of what sort of tech position you want to land. 

In the end, though, it’s hard to pick between two languages that couldn’t be more different. So if you’re really not sure, try considering your end goal and weighing the pros and cons of each. 

Want to learn to code for free?

Want to learn to code for free?

Download our Beginner's Guide to Coding to get started, right here, right now, for FREE.

Kit Warchol

Kit Warchol is the Head of Content for Skillcrush and writes for magazines and sites including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Girlboss, and others in her spare time. After teaching herself to code at the height of the recession (heyo, 2009), she worked as a web designer at various tech startups, then took a Senior Project Development role at the University of Southern California before diving back into writing full-time. Before joining us, she served as the Editorial Director of Career Contessa, a career advice site for women.