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Java in a Nutshell

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System Properties

14.2 Working with System Properties

The system property list is not a static. Other properties can be added to it (and read from it) to allow easy customization of application behavior.

Specifying Individual Properties

You can specify individual properties to be inserted into the system properties list with the -D option to the Java interpreter. For example, you might invoke a program like this:

% java -Dgames.tetris.level=9 -Dgames.tetris.sound=off games.tetris

Note the format of each property specification: the property name, which is often a hierarchical one, followed by an equals sign, followed by the property value. A property value may include spaces, but any -D option specifying a property value containing spaces would have to be quoted when passed to java, of course.

If you write a platform-specific script file to invoke your Java application, you can use this -D option to translate native environment variable settings into Java system properties. On a Unix system, for example, such a script might look like this:

exec java -Dgames.tetris.level=$TETRIS_LEVEL \
          -Dgames.tetris.sound=$TETRIS_SOUND \

Using Property Files

Properties in Java are represented by the java.util.Properties object, which is essentially a hash table that can be read from and written to a file. A program need not limit itself to the use of system properties. It can also read in its own files of properties to support user preferences and user customization. For example, when the appletviewer program starts up, it reads the properties from the lib/appletviewer.properties file in the JDK distribution. This file contains the various messages that appletviewer displays to the user and provides the flexibility to translate those messages into other languages. The following lines are an excerpt from appletviewer.properties:

# Applet status messages
appletloader.nocode=APPLET tag missing CODE parameter.
appletloader.notfound=load: class %0 not found.
appletloader.nocreate=load: %0 can't be instantiated.

Note that comments in a properties file start with #, and that the property specification format is the same as with the -D option. Also note that these property values do contain spaces. Some of them also contain the % substitution character and are intended for use with the java.text.MessageFormat class.

When reading in a file of properties, it can be convenient to merge those properties with the standard system properties, so that the program need only look in one place to find both loaded properties and standard properties (and properties specifed wiht the -D option). Every Properties object can have a "parent" properties object; if a property is not found in the Properties object, it is searched for in the parent. Thus, it is possible to merge in properties with code like this:

// Create a new Properties object with system props as its parent.
Properties props = new Properties(System.getProperties());
// Load a file of properties into it.  We may get an exception here...
props.load(new BufferedInputStream(new FileInputStream(propsfilename)));
// Set these new combined properties as the system properties.

Specifying Font Properties

As noted above, a program can read the string value of a system property with the System.getProperty() method. There are also some convenience methods that read a property value and convert that value into some other type of object. One of these convenience methods is Font.getFont(). This method reads the value of a named property and attempts to parse it into a font specification. The font specification syntax it uses is:


Thestyle should be italic, bold or bolditalic. If omitted, a plain font is used. The size should be an integer that specifies the font size in points. If omitted, 12-point is used. If the style is specified, the size must also be specified. For example, you might specify font properties like the following:


Specifying Color Properties

Color.getColor() is another convenience routine that reads a system property and converts it into a Color object. To specify a color property, you specify the color as an integer value, typically as a hexadecimal value in the format 0xRRGGBB. For example:

# A green foreground
# A light gray background

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