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I saw that Java 1.2 is also known as Java 2. Do "Java 1.x" and "Java x" (for example "Java 1.6" and "Java 6") refer to the same version of Java?

And if yes, why the need for this duality?

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Marketing reasons? –  user34768 Nov 8 '12 at 9:46
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Still better than Mozilla Firefox. 10+ major versions in less than two years. –  Andrzej Bobak Nov 8 '12 at 9:53
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Yes, marketing reasons. This SO question is about the same topic. –  Joachim Sauer Nov 8 '12 at 9:57
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@MichaelBorgwardt: to be fair, since Java 5 they've been consistent: Java 5, Java 6, Java 7 and Java 8 are the upcomming numbers. And the internal numbers are 1.5, 1.6, 1.7 and 1.8. So while it's not ideal, they at least stopped switching the numbering scheme with each release. –  Joachim Sauer Nov 8 '12 at 11:09
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@AndrzejBobak Google Chrome is worse, it's approaching 20 versions in 2 years –  Izkata Nov 8 '12 at 13:58

4 Answers 4

up vote 54 down vote accepted

Sun Microsystems had back then a bad habit of going through numerous naming changes for its products, and to use confusing name to start with in the first place.

What's in a Name, or what does "Java" Mean?

Originally the term "Java" was being used to describe indiscriminately:

  • the language,
  • the platform,
  • and some others happened to refer to the JVM and the Java Class Lib as just Java as well.

Internal and External Number

With regard to version numbers, as others pointed out it was partly because of marketing, and partly because they simply felt like Java had done such progress a major version upgrade was better suited (for Java 1.2 / Java 2, and when Java 1.5 / Java 5).

So, what we call Java 2 was actually Java 1.2 to 1.4. Java 3 and Java 4 never existed, and we skipped directly to Java 5, as they tried to explain here (from this page on naming and versioning).

I was also probably a little as well to not mess with their internal numbering used in their tracking and development systems. I tend to think of it as 1.x = language version and X = language and product version. It makes sense, as normal users do not need to worry about minor increments and updates, as they encourage automatic updates, and these shouldn't introduce any changes to the language or the bytecode.

Note also that it gets weirder when you look at minor versions and update numbers. For instance, we had a Java 1.3.1 and later Java 1.4.1 and 1.4.2.

Updates

However, there were no 1.x.y ever since, it's always been 1.x.0_UPDATE:

Note also that you will also see updates refered to with either of these naming conventions:

  • like 1.5.0_22 or 1.7.0_04 (note the padding 0s on the update version, aligning on 2 digits),
  • but also 1.5.0u22 or 1.7.0u4 (note the padding 0s are gone, yay!).

And for extra confusion and to keep up with Sun Microsystems' tradition, Oracle now drops announcements like this.

Product Names

Note also that not only did they get into the habit of changing the numbering, but also the names of the product offerings. So, Java 2 have J2SE (Java 2 Standard Edition), J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) and J2ME (Java 2 Mobile Edition). Since the introduction of Java 5, these conventions and acronyms have been dropped (though some have an incredibly long resilience, mostly thanks for dumb recruitment agencies who have no clue what they are talking about) in favor of Java SE, Java EE and Java ME, which are sometimes abbreviated - but shouldn't officially - to JSE, JEE (fairly common) and JME.

Your read this page for more information about the current versioning system used by Sun Microsystems and now Oracle since Java 1.3.1.

(For bonus points, try to lookup the history of NetBeans now to see that it was also renamed a few times).

They Don't Know Themselves

They're also struggling to decide whether they should back-update existing references or not. For instance, this page about older releases uses the old numbering system for old releases, but the newer product names (Java SE 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4 were not released with this naming convention).

Maybe they're just screwing with us for fun. Who knows?

What About the JVMS and JLS?

They had fun with naming and numbering there too, of course.

The Java Language Specification used to be released with a book "edition" versioning syste,, following product numbers. So:

  • Java 1 had its "Java Language Specification",
  • Java 2 had its "Java Language Specification, 2nd edition".

So far, so good.

Except the "Java Language Specification" was later only re-edited when language changes were introduced in Java 5 (which kind of make sense, you won't publish new book editions just for fun). As this was the 3rd time they were editing it, they called it (tada!) "Java Langauge Specification, 3rd edition".

But obviously, people then started to wonder why 1.3 and 1.4 didn't have a language spec, or why Java 5 was matched with a 3rd edition of the language spec.

So, Java 7 is now just calling it the "Java Language Specification, Java SE 7 Edition", though we often refer to this one as JLS7 for shorthand and to avoid RSI.


They're Not the Only Ones...

For additional fun, look at Microsoft Windows RT's naming fail, or Apple's naming and numbering madness with iPhones, iPads or even iPods.

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"note the trailing 0s" What trailing 0s? –  Samuel Edwin Ward Nov 8 '12 at 15:41
    
@SamuelEdwinWard: sorry, language mix-up there. I mean the prefix 0s after the _ between the version number and the update number. –  haylem Nov 8 '12 at 16:08
    
i don't really think that is what Porte-Manteau or Portmanteau means. –  Grady Player Nov 8 '12 at 18:40
    
@GradyPlayer: you're perfectly right, actually. Thanks for pointing that out. (edit: updated the header, that was indeed pretty dumb of me). –  haylem Nov 8 '12 at 19:03

The short answer: Marketing.

A longer answer: The short form (e.g. Java 6) is the so-called "product version" and is how Java is marketed to users and in press releases, etc.

The longer form (e.g. Java 1.6.0) is the "developer version". It is used internally, and will also be encountered by Java developers (e.g. The java.version system property uses the long form).

See these pages for more information:

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Because book with title "Learn Shiny New Java 3" will be sold out earlier than book with title "What's new in Java 1.3".

So yes, it is mainly marketing reasons. On the other hand, I don't see a severe crime here. After all, in some products, like Mozilla or Chrome, major build number is constantly get incremented, and others stick to incrementing minor build number, though, sometimes, there are big changes coming up with each new release.

Some, like Apple, don't want to leave us, users, with dull names like "Mac OS 10.6".

And Sun used to be OK with N alias instead of introducing "Java Green Diplodocus" release.

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Sidenote: there never was a Java 3, it was Java 2 SE 1.3 (or J2SE 1.3). Only with Java 1.5/5.0/5 did they get rid of the "1.x" numbers in marketing. Yes, even 'though Java 1.2 (and 1.3 and 1.4!) were called "Java 2" ... marketing, yay! –  Joachim Sauer Nov 8 '12 at 10:10

TheServerSide explains change from "Java 1.x" to "Java x" as follows:

Sun has cut off the "1." to change J2SE 1.5.0 to J2SE 5.0. The reason for the change? Sun claims that "this is the most significant upgrade to the Java platform and programming language since its initial release nearly one decade ago", and that this version is worthy.

Apparently there were talks to rename to "J5SE", but there was thought that the J2EE brand means too much to change.

Aren't version numbers fun?

Read the press release: Sun introduces most significant and advanced Java platform release in 5 years

Note link in above quote is killed by Oracle. As far as I can tell, it is available at prnewswire:

Sun Microsystems, Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW), the creator
and leading advocate of Java(TM) technology, today introduced Java 2 Platform
Standard Edition (J2SE(TM)) 5.0, the most significant upgrade to the Java
platform and programming language since its initial release nearly one decade
ago. Known as Project Tiger, this updated Java platform offers dramatic ease
of development, new application monitoring and management features, a
dedicated focus on rich client support for the PC desktop and record-breaking
performance...


For the sake of completeness note that 1.X version style hasn't been completely dropped.

"Version 1.5.0" Used by Developers

J2SE also keeps the version number 1.5.0 (or 1.5) in some places that are visible only to developers, or where the version number is parsed by programs. As mentioned, 1.5.0 refers to exactly the same platform and products numbered 5.0...

Also note that as pointed in comments term "J2SE" used above has been later changed to "Java SE".

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Luckily they dropped the "J2SE" (and later "J2EE") names in favor of "Java SE" and "Java EE". "J2SE 5.0" was just being silly. –  Joachim Sauer Nov 8 '12 at 10:09

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