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Keeping up with Java

How Java’s security methods have changed in 20 years

Sam Bocetta
java
© Shutterstock / Liv friis-larsen

Over the course of its 20-year history, it is clear that Java’s success, and security, has developed due to its continual reinvention, adaptation, and evolution through the works of its community. This article will explore some key innovations and milestones in Java’s history, and explain how they connect with its continued efforts to remain secure through its lifespan.

Twenty years ago, the world was introduced to enterprise Java. Version 1.2 of The Java 2 Platform (J2EE) launched on December 12, 1999. It was built upon a foundation of work in the distributed systems area, including the distributed computing environment and the common object request broker architecture, and it’s arrival signaled the birth of a new technology that would become a juggernaut in the realm of enterprise application development.

The Java enterprise platform built upon the “run anywhere” philosophy of the programming language. It extended the portability and neutrality with a laundry list of attributes that made it perfect for developing larger, enterprise-scale applications. Because of this, the Java 2 Platform has been a magnet for developers looking to harness its stability, intuitiveness, and speed for developing enterprise-level apps.

According to the TIOBE Index, RedMonk rankings, Github, and Stack Overflow, Java is still one of the world’s most popular programming languages. On top of this, it still continues to see wide-scale adoption and boats an enviable population of developers across the world, who continue to use its flexible ecosystem. This is important to appreciate, as it helps to provide context to many of the industry elements that have helped to drive Java 2’s long-term success.

However, despite its longevity, Java 2’s journey hasn’t been continuous smooth sailing. To this day, there are many questioning just how the platform will evolve, take on the challenges of the cloud era and continue to remain secure.

This article will explore some key innovations and milestones in Java’s history, and explain how they connect with its continued efforts to remain secure through its lifespan.

SEE ALSO: DevSecOps Panel – What Is DevSecOps & DevOps Security Challenges

CDI – Contexts and dependency injection

The contexts and dependency injection was a milestone for Java 2. Upon release 10 years ago, it bought a completely new approach for component management across the layers of an application, providing developers with increased control and flexibility over their entire Java 2 platform.

Additionally, the contexts and dependency injection allowed developments to build more secure, reliable applications in a completely type-safe manner – a facility that gave CDI a huge security advantage of other dependency injections.

JPA – Java Persistence API

The Java Persistence API helps developers by giving them a consistent, uncomplicated process through which they can manage data persistence within an application. This is crucial for helping developers maintain key business objects and a core element of enterprise application development. In apps or tools that are constantly updating information, managing persistent data is essential.

The API, especially when it was introduced, gave Java programmers a much more streamlined way of handling data persistence, and presented them with even higher degrees of flexibility when introducing an ORM layer.

ORM tools go hand in hand with JPA, serving a small but important role. ORM tools help to translate data from object to relational models as it passes between the database and the application.

Open source

The source code for Java may have been available from the beginning, but it wasn’t fully open source until 2006 when Sun released it under the GPLv2. This was a hugely important step in the development of Java, helping it evolve into a tighter knit, more collaborative community.

To many, this was arguably the most pivotal moment in Java’s history. While it was a complex (and conflict-laden) journey towards getting Java fully open-sourced, it provided a new landscape where businesses, dev teams, and enterprises who were rivals could work together on the core Java platform, while simultaneously competing with each other’s developed apps. This has been further compounded in recent years by the arrival of the cloud, and specifically SaaS platforms which facilitate even more development freedom.

From a security standpoint, this was huge, as enterprises became more open to communicating issues, solving common problems, and sharing experiences with bad agents. Grouped together, the Java community, somewhat quietly, became far more effective at handling security threats. It also helped to encourage further industries to embrace open-source software.

Servlets

A huge addition to Java’s security was the addition of servlets. Put simply, a servlet allowed a developer to enhance the application’s servers infrastructure capabilities, which allowed much-improved reliability, speed, but also security. This rise in security was particularly attractive and helped make Java such an attractive option for developers. This helped to pave a way for enterprises to start talking Java more seriously and taking steps to include it in their most important app developments.

This new Java Servlet API meant that alongside more security and speed, developers were now capable of building independent, diverse services that we’re hyper-focused on specific business needs. In turn, this new dynamism added the ability for developers to create and experiment with new security apps in ways they’d never done before. This development helped to add another layer of classical encryption in the application environment.

For the sheer amount of implementations that the servlet API kicked off, the enormous number of frameworks, and the careful balance of its features, the servlet API demands a mention in Java’s history.

SEE ALSO: Fugue open sources Regula, security and compliance tool for Terraform

Looking forward

Java’s history may have been a colorful 20 years, but it is far from over. In fact, it may be entering it’s most important decades yet.

The cloud has become mainstream, and with it, Java must embrace the challenges it presents, while also leaning into its strengths. Some enterprise users of cloud backup solutions have bemoaned an over-reliance on Java. However, enterprises are beginning to gain visibility and operational benefit by moving Java to a cloud platform.

Likewise, large scale businesses familiar with working with Java – such as banks – are likely going to stick with it out of trust, aiding and perhaps contributing to its successful longevity in the coming decades.

In fact, the cloud could be seen as a net positive for Java. By making older applications more secure, flexible and modern, the cloud helps to make even the more outdated Java products more useful. Far more than if they’d be altered or simply abandoned.

However, Java’s ultimate success will lie in its persistent ability to reinvent itself. Over the course of its 20-year history, it is clear that Java’s success, and security, has developed due to its continual reinvention, adaptation, and evolution through the works of its community. And for now, there’s no reason that it’s going to stop.

Author
Sam Bocetta
Sam Bocetta is a freelance journalist specializing in U.S. diplomacy and national security, with emphases on technology trends in cyberwarfare, cyberdefense, and cryptography.

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