A platform is the hardware or software environment in which a program runs. We’ve already mentioned some of the most popular platforms like Microsoft Windows, Linux, Solaris OS, and Mac OS. Most platforms can be described as a combination of the operating system and underlying hardware. The Java platform differs from most other platforms in that it’s a software-only platform that runs on top of other hardware-based platforms.

The Java platform has two components:

  • The Java Virtual Machine
  • The Java Application Programming Interface (API)

You’ve already been introduced to the Java Virtual Machine; it’s the base for the Java platform and is ported onto various hardware-based platforms.

The API is a large collection of ready-made software components that provide many useful capabilities. It is grouped into libraries of related classes and interfaces; these libraries are known as packages. The next section, What Can Java Technology Do? highlights some of the functionality provided by the API.

The API and Java Virtual Machine insulate the program from the underlying hardware.

As a platform-independent environment, the Java platform can be a bit slower than native code. However, advances in compiler and virtual machine technologies are bringing performance close to that of native code without threatening portability.

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