Java, JavaScript and jQuery (Or What’s With All the J’s?)

Technology is full of confusing terms, and building websites is no different. As a developer or as a person in need of a website, you will no doubt encounter a number of acronyms and words that you either don’t understand, don’t want to understand, or that just plain make you want to cry a little bit out of sheer frustration.

DNS? PHP? .NET? IIS? Apache? Joomla? Drupal? CMS? IE? FF?

The list grows longer and your attention span grows shorter. I’ll not bore you with all of the acronyms now, I’ll just save that for another post. Instead, I want to shed a small ray of sunshine upon a dark corner of confusion.

What’s the difference between Java, JavaScript and jQuery?

Let’s start with what Java is not. Java is not coffee; you won’t find it at Starbucks.
Java is not a populous island nation in the Indian Ocean; at least, not the Java we are talking about.

Java is a programming language developed in 1995 for Sun Microsystems. Its main purpose is to be able to run on all different types of operating systems. In other words, a program written in Java can run on a Microsoft computer and an Apple computer. All you need is to download the Java run-time to your computer and you can run any Java applications.

Java can be used on the Web, but I haven’t seen an example of a site using Java in a long time. If someone is telling you they’ll build your website using Java, they probably mean JavaScript.

JavaScript is not Java, just like tea is not coffee and Bermuda is not the same as Java the nation. Beyond some superficial similarities in syntax (the words and symbols used to write the code), Java and JavaScript are quite different.

JavaScript is built to run on the Web. How it executes and how well it performs is dependent on the type of browser you are using (Check out this website to help you determine: What is a browser?).

JavaScript was decried, denigrated and dismissed by many programmers for years, including myself. The relatively recent rise of “fancy” websites that update quickly without reloading a page (Ajax or asynchronous JavaScript execution) has brought JavaScript into prominence, and has even made an old hater like me at least acknowledge its importance.

If a salesperson is talking to you about using JavaScript to build something on your website, they are probably talking about implementing some sort of “fancy” interface feature to make the site more appealing to your visitors.

Finally, we come to jQuery. jQuery has nothing to do with questions. In fact, it answers a lot more questions than it raises. jQuery is a library of functions that uses JavaScript. It is like using the phone instead of sending a telegram. It is like sending a text instead of using the phone. It is like using GPS navigation instead of an old, paper map.

jQuery is what made it palatable and fun to start using JavaScript again. It is the most popular JavaScript library in use today, and if you are building a site you should be using it. If you are having a site built, when the sales person talks about JavaScript, it is almost certain that the developer will be utilizing jQuery to make it happen.

So there you have it. Java, JavaScript, and jQuery, now clear as mud for you!

Aaron Brander is the VP of Technology for MINDSCAPE at Hanon McKendry.

Topics: Development

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