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What are applets?

Applets are small computer programs dedicated to performing one to three key functions within the scope of a larger computer program or engine. Specifically, applets are used to make small, automated tasks function.  

For example, one IFTTT applet takes notice every time you use a smartphone app to open a window and tracks that information in a Google spreadsheet.  

In the early days of the internet, applets were incredibly common and were used to simplify online tasks and reduce the amount of time it took to perform those tasks. Because applets were installed on the user’s side of things, it took less time to perform tasks when using applets than it would have taken if the creator’s server had to do them. Today, this is less of an issue, but applets remain in use in certain spaces. 

There was a time when the internet ran on applets. Java applets, in particular, were one of the key features of the internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But while Java remains the most popular programming platform, Javas applets have gone the way of the dodo. In fact, computers no longer come with Java pre-installed, and Oracle is discontinuing support for the Java plug-ins, which were once necessary to enable applets use online.  

Despite these sweeping moves against applets, some businesses and developers continue using them in an effort to simplify automated tasks. So the question becomes: do applets have a modern-day application? Let’s find out. 

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What are the most common types of applets?

Java Applets have long been the most common web-based applet. If you’ve ever tried to open something online and received a notice that you can’t open that item until the latest version of Java is installed, you may have run into an applet. In fact, this is one of the many challenges that have made applets unpopular in recent years — they only run on specific versions of software and are not backward compatible. 

IFTTT (If This, Then That) applets are a more common applet subtype today. These applets are used to run many home automation features or to manage personal tasks. For example, smart home features often rely on applets to function. 

Finally, there are sampling distribution applets. These applets are used to demonstrate the results of data collection. Sampling distribution applets are most commonly used in the classroom to teach programmers how to use applets to perform simple tasks. The downside to this applet use is that it showcases how applets can be used without highlighting the many challenges that come with building software around applets. 

What are the benefits of using applets?

As with anything, there are some benefits to using applets. One of the biggest benefits is that applets are small and simple. Because they work on the client side of things, they can reduce wait and load times. In fact, in the early days of the internet, this was one of the greatest benefits applets provided. Users could load information or transfer files directly from their browsers, which reduced lag times significantly. 

Applets are particularly suited to performing mundane, automated tasks. In addition to things like file transfers, applets have commonly been used to support simple browser games. 

What are the challenges associated with using applets?

As other options have been introduced to perform tasks such as authentication and file transfers, applets have increasingly lost their appeal. In fact, most major browsers have stopped supporting applets. This spells one of the biggest challenges for enterprises still trying to hold on to applet use — it’s hard to find support. 

One reason applets have gone out of vogue is that applet use is rife with security issues. A 2017 study found that nearly half of all IFTTT applets pose either a security threat or a privacy threat to their users. One of the reasons the myth that Java is insecure exists is that Java used applets so much in the late 90s and early 00s. Java has become much more secure in recent years because it stopped using applets. 

Sometimes, these security issues are manageable. A user may not care if information about how often they turn their lights on gets hacked into. But companies using applets need to be aware of potential security threats before deciding whether to integrate this technology into larger software. 

Another major challenge with applets is that, because IFTTT applet creation is available to everyone, many applets are broken in some way. If your business relies on certain IFTTT applets to function, and those applet creators don’t continue to provide support, your business can run into major functionality issues. 

What use cases are most suited to applets?

While Java applets are no longer in use, there are some applets that are still being used today. Specifically, IFTTT applets are still quite common, despite known security risks associated with them. This use of applets goes hand-in-hand with the rise of IoT (Internet of Things) technology, which some people suggest will soon connect everyone and everything. In fact, there’s an entire website dedicated to helping users design their own IFTTT applets

IFTTT applets are occasionally acceptable, especially if your goal is to automate a single small task and security is not a concern. For example, if you wanted to receive an alert on your phone every time stock prices changed, you could probably find or create an applet to fulfill that function. In fact, there are plenty of examples of common applets that you may already be using. However, most of the time, the goal is to move away from using applets and to integrate with newer technologies instead. 

How do enterprises determine the appropriateness of applets for their business?

In most cases, if your business is currently using applets, the goal should be to find alternatives and begin implementing those alternatives as soon as possible. While some businesses still use them, the high level of security risks means that working with applets — even IFTTT applets — carries inherent risks for your business. Slowly transitioning away from applets to plugin-free Java technology can help you stay ahead of your competition and minimize risks before they become issues. 

If you have applets that you need to transition away from, start by determining which information your applets access. Any that have access to personal information should be transitioned first, as these are the ones most likely to cause security issues for your customers.  

Once you’ve done so, you can start migrating other applets to use more modern technology as well. 

And, of course, if your business doesn’t currently use applets, remember that it may be better not to start. Even if applets save you money in the short term, they can cost you in the long term if they lead to security issues and customer mistrust in your company. 

How does Azul help with applets?

Azul is here to support you as you move away from using Java applets and integrate with plugin-free Java technologies instead. In fact, Azul has solutions in place to help you transition away from Oracle Java to Azul Platform Core. With Azul Platform Core, you can enjoy the benefits of secure, tested versions of Java builds that connect your customers without suffering from the pitfalls of Java applets. 

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The world’s best supported builds of OpenJDK.