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Chapter: Java The Complete Reference : The Java Language : Packages and Interfaces

Java Packages

Defining a Package, Finding Packages and CLASSPATH, A Short Package Example.



In the preceding chapters, the name of each example class was taken from the same name space. This means that a unique name had to be used for each class to avoid name collisions. After a while, without some way to manage the name space, you could run out of convenient, descriptive names for individual classes. You also need some way to be assured that the name you choose for a class will be reasonably unique and not collide with class names chosen by other programmers. (Imagine a small group of programmers fighting over who gets to use the name “Foobar” as a class name. Or, imagine the entire Internet community arguing over who first named a class “Espresso.”) Thankfully, Java provides a mechanism for partitioning the class name space into more manageable chunks. This mechanism is the package. The package is both a naming and a visibility control mechanism. You can define classes inside a package that are not accessible by code outside that package. You can also define class members that are exposed only to other members of the same package. This allows your classes to have intimate knowledge of each other, but not expose that knowledge to the rest of the world.

Defining a Package


To create a package is quite easy: simply include a package command as the first statement in a Java source file. Any classes declared within that file will belong to the specified package. The package statement defines a name space in which classes are stored. If you omit the package statement, the class names are put into the default package, which has no name. (This is why you haven’t had to worry about packages before now.) While the default package is fine for short, sample programs, it is inadequate for real applications. Most of the time, you will define a package for your code.


This is the general form of the package statement: package pkg;

Here, pkg is the name of the package. For example, the following statement creates a package called MyPackage:


package MyPackage;


Java uses file system directories to store packages. For example, the .class files for any classes you declare to be part of MyPackage must be stored in a directory called MyPackage. Remember that case is significant, and the directory name must match the package name exactly.


More than one file can include the same package statement. The package statement simply specifies to which package the classes defined in a file belong. It does not exclude other classes in other files from being part of that same package. Most real-world packages are spread across many files.


You can create a hierarchy of packages. To do so, simply separate each package name from the one above it by use of a period. The general form of a multileveled package statement is shown here:


package pkg1[.pkg2[.pkg3]];


A package hierarchy must be reflected in the file system of your Java development system. For example, a package declared as


package java.awt.image;


needs to be stored in java\awt\image in a Windows environment. Be sure to choose your package names carefully. You cannot rename a package without renaming the directory in which the classes are stored.


Finding Packages and CLASSPATH


As just explained, packages are mirrored by directories. This raises an important question: How does the Java run-time system know where to look for packages that you create? The answer has three parts. First, by default, the Java run-time system uses the current working directory as its starting point. Thus, if your package is in a subdirectory of the current directory, it will be found. Second, you can specify a directory path or paths by setting the CLASSPATH environmental variable. Third, you can use the -classpath option with java and javac to specify the path to your classes.

For example, consider the following package specification:


package MyPack


In order for a program to find MyPack, one of three things must be true. Either the program can be executed from a directory immediately above MyPack, or the CLASSPATH must be set to include the path to MyPack, or the -classpath option must specify the path to MyPack when the program is run via java.

When the second two options are used, the class path must not include MyPack, itself. It must simply specify the path to MyPack. For example, in a Windows environment, if the path to MyPack is



then the class path to MyPack is




The easiest way to try the examples shown in this book is to simply create the package directories below your current development directory, put the .class files into the appropriate directories, and then execute the programs from the development directory. This is the approach used in the following example.


A Short Package Example


Keeping the preceding discussion in mind, you can try this simple package:


// A simple package 

package MyPack;


class Balance { String name; double bal;


Balance(String n, double b) { name = n;


bal = b;




void show() { if(bal<0)


System.out.print("--> "); System.out.println(name + ": $" + bal);






class AccountBalance {


public static void main(String args[]) { Balance current[] = new Balance[3];


current[0] = new Balance("K. J. Fielding", 123.23); current[1] = new Balance("Will Tell", 157.02); current[2] = new Balance("Tom Jackson", -12.33);


for(int i=0; i<3; i++) current[i].show();






Call this file AccountBalance.java and put it in a directory called MyPack.


Next, compile the file. Make sure that the resulting .class file is also in the MyPack directory. Then, try executing the AccountBalance class, using the following command line:


java MyPack.AccountBalance


Remember, you will need to be in the directory above MyPack when you execute this command. (Alternatively, you can use one of the other two options described in the preceding section to specify the path MyPack.)

As explained, AccountBalance is now part of the package MyPack. This means that it cannot be executed by itself. That is, you cannot use this command line:


java AccountBalance


AccountBalance must be qualified with its package name.

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