A Java virtual machine (JVM), an implementation of the Java Virtual Machine Specification, interprets compiled Java binary code (called bytecode) for a computer's processor (or "hardware platform") so that it can perform a Java program's instructions. Java was designed to allow application programs to be built that could be run on any platform without having to be rewritten or recompiled by the programmer for each separate platform. A Java virtual machine makes this possible because it is aware of the specific instruction lengths and other particularities of the platform.
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The Java Virtual Machine Specification defines an abstract -- rather than a real -- machine or processor. The Specification specifies an instruction set, a set of registers, a stack, a "garbage heap," and a method area. Once a Java virtual machine has been implemented for a given platform, any Java program (which, after compilation, is called bytecode) can run on that platform. A Java virtual machine can either interpret the bytecode one instruction at a time (mapping it to a real processor instruction) or the bytecode can be compiled further for the real processor using what is called a just-in-time compiler.
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- Chapter 5 of "Inside the Java Virtual Machine" provides an overview of the JVM internal architecture.