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An abstract mechanism for reading a data stream in Java

An InputStream is an abstract mechanism for reading a data stream in Java. A stream is usually comprised of data obtained from a local file, or data being transmitted from a remote server over a network protocol such as HTTP or FTP.

An InputStream is abstract, and doesn't describe the type of data that is being read. Typically you would implement one of the subclasses instead, such as FileInputStream, which more appropriately describes the type of data being handled, and provides additional methods appropriate for that data type.

Streamed data is typically consumed as it is read. In other words, you read the data from the stream starting from the first byte and ending at the last byte. You are usually able to skip over bytes that you don't want to handle, but you can't typically go back to a previous position in the stream, unless you implement some kind of buffering mechanism. In general, you should treat all streamed data as being once-only, and thus you should manually retain any information that you wish to refer to later.