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Java Language Reference

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Program Structure

7.3 The import Directive

You can refer to classes and interfaces defined in a particular package by qualifying their names with the package name and a period. For example, you can refer to the Socket class as java.net.Socket. Using this notation, you could write a declaration like the following:

java.net.Socket s = new java.net.Socket();

This declaration is rather verbose. As you can imagine, it would quickly become cumbersome to refer to classes this way in all of your programs.

The import directive provides an alternative to prefixing the names of classes and interfaces defined in particular packages with their package names. An import directive makes definitions from another package available by their simple names:

[Graphic: Figure from the text]

An import directive can only occur after the package directive in a compilation unit (if there is one) and before any class or interface declarations.

An import directive with an identifier after the package name defines that identifier to have the same meaning as the fully qualified class or interface name. When an identifier is defined using an import directive, the definition exists only from the import directive that defines it to the end of the compilation unit.

For example, you could use the following import directive:

import java.net.Socket;

Now the identifier Socket is defined to mean java.net.Socket. With the above import directive at the beginning of a compilation unit, you can rewrite the previous declaration as follows:

Socket s = new Socket();

If more than one import directive provides a definition for the same identifier, the compiler issues an error message.

An import directive can also be used to define an identifier as a synonym for the fully qualified name of a class that is declared inside of another class. For example, consider the following class declaration:

package COM.geomaker;
public class z {
    class zz {

A class in another file can refer to the class COM.geomaker.z.zz as just zz if the file contains the following import directive:

import COM.geomaker.z.zz;

An import directive with an asterisk (*) after the package name tells the compiler to search the specified package when it cannot find a definition for an identifier. In other words, this type of import directive makes all of the classes and interfaces in the package available by their simple names. Here's an example of such an import directive:

import java.awt.*;

When the compiler is searching packages specified by this type of import directive, it issues an error message if it finds the same name defined in two different packages.

Every package in Java is considered separate and distinct, even if the name of a package begins with the name of another package. For example, the package java.awt is separate and distinct from the package java.awt.image. Even though the names imply a parent-child relationship, Java recognizes no such relationship between packages. Consider the following directive:

import java.awt.*;

This tells the Java compiler to search the java.awt package for class and interface names; it does not, however, tell the compiler to search java.awt.image for such names. For that to happen, a compilation unit must also include the following directive:

import Java.awt.image.*;

It is important to understand that an import directive does not cause the Java compiler to read any class or interface definitions. An import directive simply defines an identifier as a synonym for a fully qualified class or interface name or directs the compiler to search a package when it needs to find a definition. The compiler only reads a class or interface definition when its finds an actual reference to the class or interface.

References Compilation Units; Identifiers; Packages

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