home | O'Reilly's CD bookshelfs | FreeBSD | Linux | Cisco | Cisco Exam  

Java Language Reference

Previous Chapter 7
Program Structure

7.2 Packages

A package is a group of classes. If a class is not declared as public, it can only be referenced by other classes in the same package. A class is specified as being part of a particular package by a package directive at the beginning of its compilation unit:

[Graphic: Figure from the text]

[Graphic: Figure from the text]

A package directive can only occur at the beginning of a compilation unit (ignoring comments and white space). If there is no package directive in a compilation unit, the compilation unit is part of the default package. A package is identified by its name. However, the default package has no name. Here are some examples of package directives:

package tools.text;
package COM.geomaker;

A class or interface definition can refer to class and interface definitions in a different package by qualifying the class or interface name with the package name and a period. For example, you can refer to the Socket class as follows:


However, if you attempt to use a non-public class or interface defined in another package, the Java compiler issues an error message.

An import directive, described in the next section, makes the class and interface definitions in another package available by their simple names. In other words, if you use an import directive, you do not have to qualify the names of the classes and interfaces in the package with the package name.

In Sun's implementation of Java, the name of the package for a given compilation unit is used to determine the directories that the Java interpreter searches to find the compiled Java code (i.e., the .class file) for the compilation unit. The Java interpreter uses a two-step process to find the compiled code for a class in a named package:

  • The name of the package is converted into a relative path. Each identifier in the package name becomes the name of a directory in this relative path. (This scheme assumes that the Java interpreter is operating in an environment that supports a hierarchical file system.)

  • The relative path is appended to the directories specified in the CLASSPATH environment variable and the resulting paths are searched for the .class file.

If the Java interpreter is searching for the compiled code for a class that is in the default package, it simply searches the directories specified in the CLASSPATH environment variable.

For example, say that the value of the CLASSPATH environment variable is as follows:[1]

[1] This example uses Windows syntax for directory names. The syntax for directory names is different in other environments. In particular, the character used to separate directory names varies in other environments.


In this case, the Java interpreter searches for the .class files for classes in the package named COM.geomaker in the following directories:


If a package name contains a Unicode character that cannot directly appear in a directory name, the character is represented in the directory name by an "at" sign (@) followed by one to four hexadecimal digits. For example, the package name:


becomes the relative path:


Java classes can also be retrieved out of a .zip file if the file is specified as part of the CLASSPATH. For instance, the value of CLASSPATH could be set as follows:


When the Java interpreter finds a .zip file in the CLASSPATH, it searches the .zip file for the appropriate .class file. The core classes in the Java API are supplied in a file that is typically named something like jdk1.1/lib/classes.zip. As of Java 1.1, you do not normally need to put that .zip file in CLASSPATH because the Java interpreter automatically puts startDir/../classes.zip on the end of CLASSPATH (where startDir is the directory that contains the interpreter's executable file).

The Java language specification defines a scheme for creating package names that should be globally unique. Since Internet domain names are globally unique, the idea is to incorporate them into package names. This is done by reversing the order of the components of the domain name, capitalizing the top-level component of the domain name, and using the result as a prefix for the descriptive portion of a package name. For example, if different organizations were to create packages that they all wanted to call opinion_poll, they could use this scheme to ensure global uniqueness. The resulting package names might be:


Package names that begin with an identifier that does not contain all uppercase letters are reserved for use as local package names. The one exception is package names that begin with the identifier java, which are reserved for packages that are part of the standard Java distribution.

References Class Declarations; Identifiers; Interface Declarations; The import Directive

Previous Home Next
Compilation Units Book Index The import Directive

Java in a Nutshell Java Language Reference Java AWT Java Fundamental Classes Exploring Java