Java / Java licensing

Oracle Java Licensing History: A Complete Guide

Oracle Java Licensing History

  • 1995: Java was introduced by Sun Microsystems as a free, open-source language.
  • 2010: Oracle acquires Sun Microsystems.
  • 2018: Oracle introduces a commercial license for Java SE 8 updates.
  • 2018 Onwards: Java SE 11 and later require a commercial license for Oracle JDK.
  • OpenJDK: Free alternative remains available.

Early Days of Java Licensing

Early Days of Java Licensing

Sun Microsystems Era

Java Launch (1995):

  • Java debuts: Sun Microsystems introduced Java as a free, open-source programming language.
  • Developer adoption: The language quickly gained popularity due to its portability and robustness.
  • Write Once, Run Anywhere: This principle made Java stand out, promoting cross-platform compatibility.

OpenJDK Project (2006):

  • Announcement: Sun Microsystems announced the OpenJDK project.
  • Open-source commitment: OpenJDK was a free, open-source implementation of the Java Platform, Standard Edition (Java SE).
  • Community involvement: This initiative invited the developer community to contribute to Java’s development and evolution.

Oracle’s Acquisition of Sun Microsystems (2010)

Oracle's Acquisition of Sun Microsystems

Acquisition Details:

Immediate Changes:

  • Initial stance: Oracle initially maintained Sun’s free licensing approach for Java.
  • Future signals: Though initial changes were minimal, Oracle hinted at potential future licensing model adjustments.

Transition to Paid Licensing

Transition to Paid Licensing java

Introduction of Commercial Licensing (2018)

Java SE 8 Updates:

  • Commercial license required: Oracle announced that updates for Java SE 8 would now require a commercial license.
  • Business impact: This change significantly affected businesses relying on these updates for security and performance.

Java SE Subscription:

  • New model: Oracle introduced a subscription model.
  • Benefits: This subscription offered commercial support, security updates, and performance enhancements.
  • Cost structure: Subscriptions were based on the number of processors or Named User Plus (NUP) metrics.

Java SE 11 and Beyond

Licensing Changes:

  • New requirements: Oracle mandated a commercial license for using Oracle JDK 11 and later versions in production environments; however, the NFTC license offers free-use alternatives.
  • Broader impact: This change reinforced the need for businesses to review their licensing strategies.

OpenJDK Alternative:

  • Free option: Organizations could use free OpenJDK builds.
  • Support options: These builds are supported by other providers, offering an alternative to Oracle’s commercial licenses.

Key Licensing Models and Terms

Key Licensing Models and Terms

Oracle JDK

Commercial License:

  • Production use: Required for using Oracle JDK in production environments.
  • Support and updates: Provides long-term support and regular updates.
  • Subscription benefits: Includes access to updates, patches, and support.

Subscription Model:

  • Cost basis: Based on the number of processors or Named User Plus (NUP) metrics, however in 2023 Oracle announced they discontinued those license metrics and introduced the employee metric.
  • Included services: Offers updates, patches, and comprehensive support for subscribers.


Free and Open-Source:

  • Licensing terms: Available under the GNU General Public License (GPL) with a Classpath Exception.
  • No cost: Free to use and modify.

Community Support:

  • Support model: Relies on community contributions for updates and fixes.
  • No commercial support: Lacks the commercial support and guarantees Oracle’s subscription model provides.

Impacts on Organizations

Cost Implications

Subscription Fees:

  • Budgeting Challenge: Organizations must allocate funds for Oracle JDK subscription fees. This can significantly impact IT budgets, especially for smaller companies or those with extensive Java deployments.
  • Variable Costs: Fees vary based on the number of processors or Named User Plus (NUP) metrics and required support levels. This variability can lead to unpredictable and sometimes steep expenses.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO):

  • Comprehensive Costs: TCO is not limited to licensing fees. It includes potential downtime costs, compliance and audits, and support expenses.
  • Financial Burden: The cumulative costs can be substantial. Companies need to factor in these elements to understand the full financial impact of using Oracle JDK.

Compliance and Audits

Audit Risks:

  • Non-compliance Consequences: Failure to comply with Oracle’s licensing terms can trigger audits. These audits can be time-consuming and disruptive.
  • Financial Penalties: Non-compliance can result in significant financial penalties. This adds to the overall cost and can strain an organization’s resources.

License Management:

  • Necessity: Implementing robust license management practices is crucial. This involves regular reviews and audits of software usage to ensure compliance.
  • Compliance Maintenance: Proper management helps avoid compliance issues and potential penalties, ensuring the organization is always prepared for any Oracle audit.

Strategic Considerations

java licensing Strategic Considerations

Evaluating Alternatives

OpenJDK Providers:

  • Alternative Options: Organizations should consider OpenJDK providers like AdoptOpenJDK, Amazon Corretto, and Azul Zulu. These providers offer free or lower-cost alternatives to Oracle JDK.
  • Cost Savings: Using OpenJDK can significantly reduce costs associated with licensing fees. These providers often offer comparable performance and security.

Hybrid Approach:

  • Balanced Strategy: A hybrid approach can optimize costs and ensure reliability. Organizations can use Oracle JDK for critical applications where official support is crucial and OpenJDK for less critical uses. However, the cost of Oracle Java will be based on the size of your employee.
  • Risk Mitigation: This strategy balances the benefits of commercial support with the cost savings of open-source options.

Long-Term Planning


  • Staying Informed: Organizations must stay updated on Oracle’s licensing changes. This helps them anticipate future costs and avoid unexpected financial burdens.
  • Cost Planning: The budget must be reviewed and adjusted regularly to accommodate potential licensing changes. This proactive approach prevents financial surprises and ensures sustainability.

Internal Expertise:

  • Building Knowledge: Developing in-house expertise is essential for navigating licensing complexities. This involves training staff and investing in tools for better license management.
  • Consultant Engagement: Engaging third-party consultants can provide additional support and guidance. Consultants bring in-depth knowledge and experience, helping organizations manage Oracle JDK licensing effectively and efficiently.


What is Oracle Java licensing?

Oracle Java licensing refers to the terms and conditions set by Oracle Corporation for using their Java software, including Java SE. This licensing determines how organizations can use, distribute, and support Java.

When did Oracle introduce paid licensing for Java?

In 2018, Oracle introduced a paid licensing model for Java SE 8 updates. This marked a shift from the previous free update policy, requiring businesses to obtain a commercial license.

What is the Java SE subscription model?

The Java SE subscription model is a commercial offering from Oracle. It includes access to updates, security patches, and support. The subscription cost is based on the number of processors or Named User Plus (NUP) metrics.

What are the key differences between Oracle JDK and OpenJDK?

Oracle JDK requires a commercial license for production use and offers long-term support and regular updates. OpenJDK is free and open-source, available under the GNU General Public License (GPL) with a Classpath Exception. OpenJDK relies on community support for updates and fixes.

How does Oracle’s licensing impact the total cost of ownership (TCO)?

Oracle’s licensing impacts TCO by adding subscription fees, potential downtime costs, and support expenses. Organizations need to consider these factors when budgeting for Java use.

What risks do organizations face with Oracle’s licensing audits?

Organizations risk financial penalties and business disruption if found non-compliant during Oracle’s licensing audits. Maintaining proper license management practices helps mitigate these risks.

Can organizations use both Oracle JDK and OpenJDK?

Organizations can adopt a hybrid approach, using Oracle JDK for critical applications requiring official support and OpenJDK for less critical uses. This strategy can optimize costs and ensure reliability.

What should organizations consider when choosing an OpenJDK provider?

When selecting an OpenJDK provider, organizations should consider community support, update frequency, and compatibility with existing systems. Popular options include AdoptOpenJDK, Amazon Corretto, and Azul Zulu.

How can organizations prepare for Oracle’s future licensing changes?

Organizations should stay informed about Oracle’s licensing updates, regularly review their Java usage, and adjust their budgets accordingly. This proactive approach helps avoid unexpected financial burdens.

Why is internal expertise important for managing Oracle Java licensing?

Developing in-house expertise is crucial for navigating Oracle’s complex licensing terms. Trained staff can effectively manage licenses, ensure compliance, and respond to audits, minimizing risks and costs.

What are the consequences of non-compliance with Oracle’s licensing terms?

Non-compliance can lead to audits, financial penalties, and business disruptions. Proper license management and regular compliance checks are essential to avoid these issues.

How do subscription fees for Oracle JDK vary?

Subscription fees for Oracle JDK vary based on the number of processors or Named User Plus (NUP) metrics and the required support levels. Organizations need to budget for these variable costs.

What is the OpenJDK project?

The OpenJDK project, announced by Sun Microsystems in 2006, is a free and open-source implementation of the Java Platform, Standard Edition (Java SE). It invites community contributions to Java’s development.

How did Oracle’s acquisition of Sun Microsystems impact Java licensing?

Oracle’s acquisition of Sun Microsystems in 2010 brought Java under Oracle’s control. Initially, Oracle maintained Sun’s free licensing approach but later introduced commercial licenses for updates and support.

Why should organizations consider alternative JDK providers?

Alternative JDK providers like AdoptOpenJDK, Amazon Corretto, and Azul Zulu offer free or lower-cost options than Oracle JDK. These alternatives can help reduce licensing costs while maintaining reliable performance and support.


  • Fredrik Filipsson

    Fredrik Filipsson brings two decades of Oracle license management experience, including a nine-year tenure at Oracle and 11 years in Oracle license consulting. His expertise extends across leading IT corporations like IBM, enriching his profile with a broad spectrum of software and cloud projects. Filipsson's proficiency encompasses IBM, SAP, Microsoft, and Salesforce platforms, alongside significant involvement in Microsoft Copilot and AI initiatives, improving organizational efficiency.

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