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4.7. Types, Reflection, and Dynamic Loading

The java.lang.Class class represents data types in Java and, along with the classes in the java.lang.reflect package, gives Java programs the capability of introspection (or self-reflection); a Java class can look at itself, or any other class, and determine its superclass, what methods it defines, and so on. There are several ways you can obtain a Class object in Java:

// Obtain the Class of an arbitrary object o
Class c = o.getClass();

// Obtain a Class object for primitive types with various predefined constants
c = Void.TYPE;          // The special "no-return-value" type
c = Byte.TYPE;          // Class object that represents a byte
c = Integer.TYPE;       // Class object that represents an int
c = Double.TYPE;        // etc. See also Short, Character, Long, Float. 

// Express a class literal as a type name followed by ".class"
c = int.class;          // Same as Integer.TYPE
c = String.class;       // Same as "dummystring".getClass()
c = byte[].class;       // Type of byte arrays
c = Class[][].class;    // Type of array of arrays of Class objects

Once you have a Class object, you can perform some interesting reflective operations with it:

import java.lang.reflect.*;

Object o;                   // Some unknown object to investigate
Class c = o.getClass();     // Get its type

// If it is an array, figure out its base type
while (c.isArray()) c = c.getComponentType();

// If c is not a primitive type, print its class hierarchy
if (!c.isPrimitive()) {
  for(Class s = c; s != null; s = s.getSuperclass()) 
    System.out.println(s.getName() + " extends");

// Try to create a new instance of c; this requires a no-arg constructor
Object newobj = null;
try { newobj = c.newInstance(); }
catch (Exception e) { 
  // Handle InstantiationException, IllegalAccessException

// See if the class has a method named setText that takes a single String
// If so, call it with a string argument
try {
  Method m = c.getMethod("setText", new Class[] { String.class });
  m.invoke(newobj, new Object[] { "My Label" });
} catch(Exception e) { /* Handle exceptions here */ }

Class also provides a simple mechanism for dynamic class loading in Java. For more complete control over dynamic class loading, however, you should use a java.lang.ClassLoader object, typically a java.net.URLClassLoader. This technique is useful, for example, when you want to load a class that is named in a configuration file instead of being hardcoded into your program:

// Dynamically load a class specified by name in a config file
String classname =                     // Look up the name of the class
  config.getProperties("filterclass",  // The property name
                       "com.davidflangan.filters.Default"); // A default

try {
  Class c = Class.forName(classname);  // Dynamically load the class
  Object o = c.newInstance();          // Dynamically instantiate it
} catch (Exception e) { /* Handle exceptions */ }

// If the class to be loaded is not in the classpath, create a custom
// class loader to load it. 
// Use the config file again to specify the custom path
import java.net.URLClassLoader;
String classdir = config.getProperties("classpath");
try {
  ClassLoader loader = new URLClassLoader(new URL[] { new URL(classdir) });
  Class c = loader.loadClass(classname);
catch (Exception e) { /* Handle exceptions */ }

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