Java: Applet vs. Application

Instructor: Lyna Griffin

Lyna has tutored undergraduate Information Management Systems and Database Development. She has a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and a Masters degree in Information Technology.

In this lesson, we will briefly be examining the programming language called Java and focusing on its differences as an applet and as an application. Differences in development, functionality, independence and security are discussed.

Java Applets and Applications

Java is a high-level programming language primarily used for application development in general and content delivery on the web. As a distribution tool, it is apt for development of applets. Java creates programs in the form of bytecodes, making them portable to run on a server, a client, or a network.

A Java applet is a small program designed to run within another program or application. Java applets are typically a part of web applications and are executed through the browser. They serve to enhance user interaction on a website, making a web application more dynamic with graphics, animations and sound effects. It is an internet application. Think about cooking in your microwave. The microwave is busy cooking the food, but the light bulb (applet functionality) helps to illuminate the food, and the turntable (applet functionality) adds to its ambiance as well as allowing the food to cook evenly.

The browser, in addition, however, has to be integrated with the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) or Java enablers for the Java applets to run. The enabler is like an adapter that facilitates communication between the applet and the browser for them to work seamlessly.

A Java application is like any other application. When compared with a Java applet, however, it is in the capacity of programs installed on a computer. It is installed directly to the operating system and is executed or ran from there. It is an independent application.

Java: Applets

Units of Functionality

Being a program executed within a program, Java applets provide a specific unit of functionality. They add dynamics to applications in the form of graphics, animations and sound effects. The Java applet does so by tapping into existing functionality within the browser. As a result, it provides a rich layer of functionality on very little code.

Total Dependence

The Java applet is completely dependent on the browser to be functional. It cannot run on its own. The light bulb in the microwave has to tap the microwave's electricity to function. It cannot function independently. As such, the applet is subjected to restrictions within the browser's environment.


  • The Java applet has no access to the local file system
  • The Java applet cannot access the local or remote networks, except those of the server from which it was launched
  • Multiple applets are restricted from communicating with themselves within the browser


The Java applet is invoked and ran when the user first visits the page. It remains active while the user remains on the page and is rendered inactive once the user navigates away from the page. The applet, being a small script, is then cached in memory like the webpages during its inactive state. This makes a relaunch of the applet much faster.

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