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What is an applet?

An applet is a small computer program that performs a specific task. It is typically embedded within another larger app or software platform and has limited functionality. This allows applets to run quickly and reliably without demanding a lot of system resources.

Applets have also been associated with the Java programming language, as well as If This Then That (IFTTT), a low-code/no-code software tool for creating small programs composed of triggers (If This) and actions (Then That).

Today, they are most often used to provide additional customization options or special features within a larger application or to provide quick access to frequently used functions, such as a calculator applet in a spreadsheet program.

What are applets used for?

Applets are often used in enterprise software, where they enable users to quickly access features without having to load a full app or switch windows. They can also be used for customizing the look and feel of desktop applications, providing the ability to personalize how the app looks and feels.

In web development, applets allow developers to add interactive elements and animations to websites without needing too much additional coding. Applet use cases span a range of platforms and software types, making them incredibly versatile building blocks for any kind of app or website.

What are Java applets?

As mentioned previously, in the past, applets were often written in Java that could be embedded into HTML webpages for use on the internet. In this context, they were frequently referred to as plug-ins.

This was useful to web developers who wanted to add functionalities on a webpage that HTML couldn't provide on its own. In the early days of the internet, they were commonly used to create interactive buttons, check boxes, forms and other small animations on websites.

It also offered a way to bring advanced capabilities to the browser environment without forcing users to install applications locally. If an end user's browser couldn't run Java, it would either skip the <applet> tag or display alternate text, which typically explained to the end user what the applet required to run. The applet tag was replaced by <embed> and <object> tags in HTML5.

However, because of the increasing complexity of web applications and the popularity of JavaScript, C++ and other scripting languages, Java applets were eventually deprecated. By 2015, most browser vendors had either removed or announced their intentions to remove Java plug-in support.

What are IFTTT applets?

IFTTT is a low-code/no-code platform used to create applets (formerly referred to as recipes). As applets are limited in scope, they can be built quickly without a lot of code or development knowledge. IFTTT applets use triggers (If This) and actions (Then That), allowing users to set up custom connections between different apps and digital services.

To do this, IFTTT uses common programming logic to allow certain events triggered by one software as a service (SaaS) to cause a reaction in another cloud service. This allows a nontechnical end user to automate everyday tasks by programming these triggers and actions.

For example, an office manager could create an applet to have Amazon Echo's Alexa switch off lights when the front door is locked.

Applets -- whether Java applets, IFTTT applets or applets in other programming languages -- offer software developers of all experience levels the ability to quickly extend their applications' capabilities without needing complex coding skills.

They also provide users with convenient access to the features they need within a larger app or website. In this way, applets make complicated tasks easier while helping developers optimize their software applications.

See also: ActiveX controls, cmdlet, VBScript, portability

This was last updated in December 2022

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