For some time now, people have been warned to disable Java in their browsers or to completely remove it from their systems unless they actually need it. But if you disable it or remove it, are you actually losing much, if any, functionality? Today’s SuperUser Q&A post has the answer to a concerned reader’s question.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

The Question

SuperUser reader Mark Wolinsky wants to know if he would lose any functionality if he disabled browser-based Java:

I have read that disabling Java (not JavaScript) will make my computer safer from malicious software attacks. All indications are that it will indeed make it safer, but I have not seen any real indications out there as to what functionality I will lose in the browsing experience, if anything. Can someone tell me what I would or would not experience if I disable Java and is it really necessary for browsing these days?

Will Mark really lose any functionality if he disables browser-based Java?

The Answer

SuperUser contributor JakeGould has the answer for us:

  • Can someone tell me what I would or would not experience if I disable Java and is it really necessary for browsing these days?

This is a fairly good question. What it boils down to is this: If you need Java in a browser, you will know so right away. If you do not need Java (and are unaware if you are even using it or not), chances are good that you will never miss it or bump into it again. The chances of a casual user tripping over a website that would truly need Java to function in 2015 is rare at best nowadays.

Just so you understand the history of Java and the web, Java is essentially a “black box” virtual machine that allows you to code in Java and then run that code on any system that can run Java. The concept was that Java would be a middle ground platform that could run on any machine: Windows, Macintosh, Linux, etc. The Java plugin simply allows you to run Java apps from within a web browser. This was appealing in the early days of the Internet due to a lack of cross-platform compatibilities and other “rough edges” of the early Internet.

But in 2015, most of the “fancy” base-level functionality that Java provided in the past (cool graphics, effects, and such) are now handled within the browser itself via CSS, HTML, and JavaScript. Back in the late 1990s/early-2000s, lots of creative sites used Java because native browsers could not handle the tricks one could only do in Java back then. Java even came bundled as a basic plugin in Netscape Navigator back in the day thanks to the commonly accepted functionality it provided.

Now where you might miss it in 2015 depends on the kinds of websites you access. For example, I know that many financial systems accessible online (such as personal tax systems, payroll gateways, and other such systems) use complex Java applications to allow end users to get a richer experience with their financial tools. So if you are using your computer to access web-based financial applications like that, then you definitely need Java enabled. But in my experience, even in those cases, many such institutions are slowly moving their archaic Java-based systems to a more stable, non-Java-based setup that takes better advantage of modern web browser functionality.

For example, a little over a year ago anyone using the browser-based screen sharing software/service GoToMeeting needed to have Java enabled in their browser as well as on their system. But as explained in this support forum thread on their site, they have now officially dropped the Java requirement in favor of their own non-Java-based software tool:

  • In the past we used to use Java to automate launching our software, we have since replaced that method with our own launcher. Since introducing our launcher, we no longer use Java.

So my advice is if Java worries you as a potential security concern on a browser level, just disable it for now. I am pretty confident that you will not miss it. And if, in like 8 to 9 months, you need Java for some reason, deal with it then.

HTG Note: If you do not need Java on your system, we recommend uninstalling it entirely or disabling the browser plugin.

Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

Akemi Iwaya
Akemi Iwaya has been part of the How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media team since 2009. She has previously written under the pen name "Asian Angel" and was a Lifehacker intern before joining How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media. She has been quoted as an authoritative source by ZDNet Worldwide.
Read Full Bio »