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Java in a Nutshell

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What's New in Java 1.1

4.11 Applet Changes

There are several new features in Java 1.1 that affect applets. The first is the introduction of JAR files. "JAR" stands for Java ARchive, and a JAR file is just that: an archive of files used by a Java applet. An applet often requires multiple class files, as well as images, sounds, and other resources, to be loaded over the network. Prior to Java 1.1, each of these files was loaded through a separate HTTP request, which is fairly inefficient. With Java 1.1, all (or many) of the files an applet needs can be combined into a single JAR file, which an applet viewer or Web browser can download with a single HTTP request. Chapter 6, Applets, demonstrates the use of JAR files.

JAR files are stored in the ZIP file format. A JAR archive can be created with the jar tool shipped with the JDK. Once you have created a JAR file, you refer to it in a <APPLET> tag with the ARCHIVE attribute. This ARCHIVE attribute may actually be set to a comma-separated list of archive files to be downloaded. Note that specifying an ARCHIVE attribute simply tells the applet viewer or browser the name of a JAR file or files to load; it does not tell the browser the name of the applet that is to be run. Thus, you still must specify the CODE attribute (or the new OBJECT attribute, as we'll see below). For example, you might use an <APPLET> tag like the following to tell the browser to download the animation.jar file and start the applet contained in the file Animator.class:

<APPLET CODE="Animator.class" ARCHIVE="animation.jar" WIDTH=500 HEIGHT=200>

There is another advantage to the use of JAR files. Every JAR file contains a "manifest" file, which you either specify explicitly when you create the archive, or which is created for you by the jar tool. The manifest is stored in a file named META-INF/MANIFEST.MF and contains meta-information about the files in the archive. By default, the jar tool creates a manifest file that contains MD5 and SHA message digests for each file in the archive. This information can be used by the applet viewer or Web browser to verify that the files in the archive have not been corrupted since the JAR file was created.

The main reason to include message digests in the manifest file, however, is so that a JAR file can have digital signatures added to it. An archive can be signed with the javakey tool. What a digital signature allows you to do is verify that the files in a JAR file have not been modified since the digital signature was added to the archive. If you trust the person or entity who signed the file, then you ought to trust the applet contained in the JAR file. (The javakey tool allows you to specify whether or not you trust any given entity.) Chapter 6, Applets also describes how you might use digital signatures and javakey.

In JDK 1.1, the appletviewer tool understands digitally signed JAR files. When it loads an applet that has been signed by a trusted entity, it runs that applet without subjecting it to the usual security restrictions--the applet can read and write files, and do anything that a standalone Java application can do. Common Web browsers are likely to follow suit and give special privileges to trusted applets. One refinement we may see in the future is the ability to specify varying levels of trust, and to assign different sets of privileges to applets at those varying trust levels.

Besides the introduction of JAR files and trusted applets, Java 1.1 also supports "serialized applets." In an <APPLET> tag, you can specify the OBJECT attribute instead of the CODE attribute. If you do this, the value of the OBJECT attribute should be the name of a file that contains a serialized representation of the applet to be run. Graphical application-builder tools may prefer to output applets as pre-initialized object trees, rather than generating custom Java code to perform the initializations. See Chapter 9, Object Serialization for more information on serialized applets.

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