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2.11. Packages and the Java Namespace

A package is a named collection of classes (and possibly subpackages). Packages serve to group related classes and define a namespace for the classes they contain.

The Java platform includes packages with names that begin with java, javax, and org.omg. (Sun also defines standard extensions to the Java platform in packages whose names begin with javax.) The most fundamental classes of the language are in the package java.lang. Various utility classes are in java.util. Classes for input and output are in java.io, and classes for networking are in java.net. Some of these packages contain subpackages. For example, java.lang contains two more specialized packages, named java.lang.reflect and java.lang.ref, and java.util contains a subpackage, java.util.zip, that contains classes for working with compressed ZIP archives.

Every class has both a simple name, which is the name given to it in its definition, and a fully qualified name, which includes the name of the package of which it is a part. The String class, for example, is part of the java.lang package, so its fully qualified name is java.lang.String.

2.11.1. Defining a Package

To specify the package a class is to be part of, you use a package directive. The package keyword, if it appears, must be the first token of Java code (i.e., the first thing other than comments and space) in the Java file. The keyword should be followed by the name of the desired package and a semicolon. Consider a file of Java code that begins with this directive:

package com.davidflanagan.jude;	  

All classes defined by this file are part of the package named com.davidflanagan.jude.

If no package directive appears in a file of Java code, all classes defined in that file are part of a default unnamed package. As we'll see in Chapter 3, "Object-Oriented Programming in Java", classes in the same package have special access to each other. Thus, except when you are writing simple example programs, you should always use the package directive to prevent access to your classes from totally unrelated classes that also just happen to be stored in the unnamed package.

2.11.2. Importing Classes and Packages

A class in a package p can refer to any other class in p by its simple name. And, since the classes in the java.lang package are so fundamental to the Java language, any Java code can refer to any class in this package by its simple name. Thus, you can always type String, instead of java.lang.String. By default, however, you must use the fully qualified name of all other classes. So, if you want to use the File class of the java.io package, you must type java.io.File.

Specifying package names explicitly all the time quickly gets tiring, so Java includes an import directive you can use to save some typing. import is used to specify classes and packages of classes that can be referred to by their simple names instead of by their fully qualified names. The import keyword can be used any number of times in a Java file, but all uses must be at the top of the file, immediately after the package directive, if there is one. There can be comments between the package directive and the import directives, of course, but there cannot be any other Java code.

The import directive is available in two forms. To specify a single class that can be referred to by its simple name, follow the import keyword with the name of the class and a semicolon:

import java.io.File;    // Now we can type File instead of java.io.File

To import an entire package of classes, follow import with the name of the package, the characters .*, and a semicolon. Thus, if you want to use several other classes from the java.io package in addition to the File class, you can simply import the entire package:

import java.io.*;   // Now we can use simple names for all classes in java.io

This package import syntax does not apply to subpackages. If I import the java.util package, I must still refer to the java.util.zip.ZipInputStream class by its fully qualified name. If two classes with the same name are both imported from different packages, neither one can be referred to by its simple name; to resolve this naming conflict unambiguously, you must use the fully qualified name of both classes.

2.11.3. Globally Unique Package Names

One of the important functions of packages is to partition the Java namespace and prevent name collisions between classes. It is only their package names that keep the java.util.List and java.awt.List classes distinct, for example. In order for this to work, however, package names must themselves be distinct. As the developer of Java, Sun controls all package names that begin with java, javax, and sun.

For the rest of us, Sun proposes a package-naming scheme, which, if followed correctly, guarantees globally unique package names. The scheme is to use your Internet domain name, with its elements reversed, as the prefix for all your package names. My web site is davidflanagan.com, so all my Java packages begin with com.davidflanagan. It is up to me to decide how to partition the namespace below com.davidflanagan, but since I own that domain name, no other person or organization who is playing by the rules can define a package with the same name as any of mine.

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