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Is Java Still Free to Use in 2023?

Hi friend! If you‘re a coder or tech enthusiast, you may have heard changes are afoot with Java licensing. I know you might be wondering: does this mean Java is no longer free and open source? Can I still use it for personal or commercial projects?

Not to worry! In this detailed guide, I‘ll cut through the confusion and explain everything you need to know about the current state of Java licensing. You‘ll understand exactly when you need to pay, when you don‘t, and how Java remains freely available for developers like you and me.

So brew a cup of coffee, grab a snack, and let‘s dive in!

A Quick History Lesson

Before we look at the present, a quick history lesson will help set the context…

Java was first released in 1995 by Sun Microsystems as a general purpose programming language for desktop and web applications. The key selling point was "write once, run anywhere", meaning Java code could run on any device.

Sun made Java available under an open source GPL license. This allowed it to become ubiquitous on everything from enterprise servers to Android phones. Java powered public facing companies like Twitter, Uber, Netflix and eBay.

When Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010, many wondered what would happen to Java. Would Oracle restrict licensing and monetize Java?

Initially, Oracle kept Java open while adding some restrictions. But over the years, Oracle did make controversial changes to Java licensing that raised questions.

For example, in 2019 Oracle started charging a subscription fee for commercial use of Oracle Java SE binaries. This applied even if you weren‘t redistributing Java with your app or service.

Many developers were concerned Oracle could make Java closed source in the future. But Oracle has course corrected recently…

Java Today: The Good News

The good news is Java remains free and open source in 2023 for personal use, development use, and even commercial use in most cases!

Oracle has open sourced Java under their OpenJDK project. This serves as the reference implementation that anyone can use without paying a cent.

Multiple vendors offer free OpenJDK binaries compatible on Windows, Linux and Mac. AdoptOpenJDK and Amazon Corretto are two popular options.

Oracle also provides free builds for developers. JDK 8, 11 and 17+ are available at no cost for development, testing and deployment.

The key is avoiding vendor lock-in. As long as you build with OpenJDK or freely available Oracle JDK versions, you can deploy anywhere without restrictions or royalties.

This combination of OpenJDK and Oracle‘s shifting strategies has kept Java free in most common scenarios. Let‘s look at some examples.

Case Study: Minecraft

Minecraft, one of the most popular video games in the world, is built with Java. It uses OpenJDK to provide free "Minecraft Java Edition" downloads to over 140 million users globally.

Even Microsoft kept Minecraft Java Edition true to its open source roots after acquiring it along with Mojang Studios in 2014. Players get 100% free ongoing access.

Case Study: Android

The Android OS runs a heavily customized version of the Java platform. When Oracle sued Google over alleged Java license violations in Android, many feared it could make Android development more restricted.

But in the end, Google won the lawsuit and was able to shift Android to freely available OpenJDK code. Android app development continues to thrive as a free and open ecosystem.

Case Study: Amazon Web Services

Oracle allegedly warned AWS that popular services like Amazon Corretto (OpenJDK) and Amazon Elastic Beanstalk (which supports Java apps) were violating Java SE terms.

But AWS stood firm that OpenJDK allowed free Java usage. Oracle ultimately backed down without a legal fight. AWS services continue empowering Java developers.

As you can see, Java remains pervasive and freely available in multiple domains thanks to OpenJDK.

When You Do Need a License

Now that we‘ve covered many common scenarios where Java is free, let‘s talk about the few cases where you need to purchase a license:

  • Redistributing or bundling Oracle JDK: If you include Oracle Java SE binaries in a commercial product like a software appliance, you need to buy a license and distribution rights. Simply using Oracle JDK internally does not require this.

  • Modifying and redistributing OpenJDK: OpenJDK code is open source, but redistribution rights are owned by Oracle. You‘ll need a license if you modify and redistribute OpenJDK commercially.

  • Cloud deployment with Oracle JDK: Cloud platforms often restrict commercial use of Oracle JDK. So if you want to deploy Java apps using Oracle JDK on AWS or Azure, licensing fees can apply.

As you can see, these narrow cases revolve around redistribution and commercial cloud use of Oracle JDK itself.

For most internal development and distribution, OpenJDK keeps Java free. Sticking to the free builds provided by Oracle also avoids any licensing needs for companies of any size.

By the Numbers: Java Remains Ubiquitous

Let‘s zoom out and look at some usage stats that confirm Java is still hugely popular among individual developers and enterprises:

  • 9 million+ developers worldwide use Java as of 2022 (source)

  • 27.35% market share among all programming languages, the #1 spot (source)

  • Twitter, Google, Amazon, Uber, Netflix, Spotify, eBay and thousands more run massive Java systems.

  • 97% of enterprise desktops have Java installed (source)

  • OpenJDK downloads have doubled in the last year as companies shift from Oracle JDK (source)

As you can see, Java remains the undisputed leader among programming languages even after 25+ years. Developers clearly still love it and enterprises continue relying on it for mission critical systems.

"Java has been around for a very long time and has consistently maintained its status as a dominant language," said Gartner analyst Stephen Emmott. The shifts by Oracle ensure this remains true for the foreseeable future.

Key Takeaways

Let‘s recap the key facts around Java licensing today:

  • For personal use, you can download and use Java freely without any limitations.

  • Commercial use does NOT require an Oracle license in most common cases thanks to free builds.

  • Open source OpenJDK allows ‘write once, run anywhere‘ without vendor lock-in.

  • Oracle JDK versions like 8, 11 and 17+ are freely available for development and deployment without royalties.

  • Paying Oracle is only required in niche cases like redistribution of Oracle JDK binaries.

  • Java remains the undisputed leader among programming languages even after 25+ years.

So in summary – Java is still freely available for developers like you and me in 2023!

Conclusion

I hope this guide gave you a deep understanding of the current Java licensing landscape. The key takeaway is that you can continue using Java freely for personal or commercial projects thanks to OpenJDK and Oracle‘s shifts.

There‘s never been a better time to learn Java. It powers everything from Android phones to enterprise platforms. Major companies rely on Java‘s speed, efficiency and vibrant ecosystem.

Java also has great career prospects with high developer salaries thanks to huge demand. And now you know it continues to be free for developers to learn and use.

So what are you waiting for? Go brew that cup of coffee and start building something amazing with Java today! The opportunities are endless with the world‘s #1 programming language.

I wish you the best on your Java journey! Please reach out if you have any other questions.

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Michael

Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.