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What is Java?
Java is a programming language and computing platform. Unlike many other languages, as for example C++, Java does not run directly on the hardware, but in a virtual machine, called JVM. Minecraft is written in Java, and uses it for all game logic. 
As of May 17, 2014, the latest stable Java version is 1.8.0_5-b13 (April 15, 2014), and the latest development build is 1.8.0_20.
The latest versions of Java contain important enhancements to help improve performance, stability and security of the Java applications that run on your machine. Installing the latest Java update will ensure that Minecraft will continue to run safely and efficiently.
- Minecraft requires Java 6 as of the 1.6 update. 
- Minecraft will not automatically update Java.
- Minecraft may sometimes crash without the latest version of Java.
- Updates fix lots of problems and bugs, and typically cause increase in performance.
Where to download
Obtain the latest stable Java update here.
You can also obtain the latest development build here. Please note that development versions of Java are unstable and may cause unexpected issues and crashes.
- If you have a 64-bit machine, it is advised to install the 64-bit version for optimum performance.
- The browser version of Minecraft on most occasions requires the 32-bit version of Java.
- It is not necessary to uninstall all versions of Java on the machine before attempting to update.
- When you install the latest version of Java, it uninstalls older versions of Java automatically.