jar : Java Glossary


Java classes forming an application, Applet, or weblet can be bundled up into something that looks very much like a ZIP file. JavaBeans are also packaged in JAR files. In Java version 1.1 or later compression is turned on by default and in earlier versions it was always off. It is faster to download a group of classes as a single JAR file since HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) has high overhead to set up a connection for each file transferred. The tools Jar.exe and jarsigner.exe come bundled with the JDK (Java Development Kit).
Jar vs Zip Writing To Jars
Tips on Using Jar Files Gotchas
Building Jar Files Sealing
Executing Jar Files Nesting
Making Jar Files Double Clickable jar.exe
The Manifest Signing
Manifest Gotchas Jars On Mac
Continuation Learning More
Main-Class Links
Manifest Class-Path:

Jar vs Zip

A JAR file differs from a standard ZIP in that:

Tips on Using Jar Files

Building Jar Files

You can create or read jar files with the java.util.zip classes, or with Oracle’s Jar.exe. utility. You can download the JDK documentation pack. Visual Cafe has an excellent jar builder. You can also use WinZip version 6.3 or later to view or delete files. Unfortunately WinZip there are several problems in using WinZip to create jar files or to add files to them. I have written the WinZip people several times asking for some simple extensions to make WinZip suitable for dealing with jar files, but each time they have refused.

If you are using packages, for jar.exe you must be in the root directory when using jar.exe to ensure your package names get properly included because the names you give jar.exe on the command line are the names it will blindly use for your packages inside the created jar file. You don’t want any names like J:\com\mindprod\mypackage.MyClass.class or \com\mindprod\mypackage.MyClass.class or MyClass.class (unless you have no packages). You want names like com\mindprod\mypackage\MyClass.class which translates to com.mindprod.mypackage.MyClass.class on the command line. They have to make sense both as filenames and as fully qualified package/class names.

If you are not using packages, you must be in the directory where the class files are when you build your jar. That way the filename MyClass.class will be the same as the classname MyClass.class.

Here in how you build a jar file from class files:

See Main-Class for details on how to create the main.mft file. See jar.exe for another explanation of how to use it. You create a main.mft file to help generate an /META-INF/MANIFEST.MF member. You don’t create the /META-INF/MANIFEST.MF directly.

Starting in Java version 1.5, you can super-compress jar files using pack200.exe. This will optionally remove debug information and compress the jar as a whole.

Executing Jar Files

One of the most useful associations to set up is to make *.jar files executable with java.exe (see below for details how). Then you can just type the name of the jar on the command line to start it executing. After you have built the Main-Class entry and set up an association of the *.jar extension to C:\Program Files\java\jre1.8.0_92\bin\java.exe, all you need to do to run the jar is:

java.exe -jar converter.jar
Watch out. Java install sets the association back to javaw.exe, no console! If you get unhandled Exceptions, you will never find out about the errors, stack dumps or any other error messages!

To run the jar in an Applet, see Applet for some sample HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) or see

on doing it.

Making Jar Files Double Clickable

In XP, W2003, Vista, W2008, W7-32, W7-64, W8-32, W8-64, W2012, W10-32 and W10-64 you can use the method shown below:. W10-32 and W10-64 You will have to buy an associations editor. I have not found one capable of handling the jar association. Creative Element Power Tools is no longer available. You can also use the desperation method.

  1. Click Start ⇒ Disk Explorer ⇒ View ⇒ Options ⇒ File Types ⇒ Executable Jar file ⇒ edit.
  2. If there is no Executable Jar file entry click new to create one and fill in the Description of type to jar - Java executable.
  3. Change the name of the entry from Executable Jar file to something that will sort where you expect it like jar - Java executable.
  4. Change the content type to the proper MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) type application/java-archive. See MIME for details.
  5. Set default extension for Content type to *.jar.
  6. Click open ⇒ edit .
  7. If there is no open, Click new and set the action to open.
  8. Set the application to perform to: "C:\Program Files\java\jre1.8.0_92\bin\javaw.exe" -jar "%1" %*. You can browse or adjust as necessary to account for where you put your javaw.exe. javaw.exe will hide the console output. To see the console output, associate java.exe instead. I always associate with java.exe myself. Without the console output, if anything goes wrong, you have no clue what the problem is.
  9. Uncheck DDE.
  10. Click OK.
  11. Click new and set the action to execute.
  12. Set the application to perform to: " C:\Program Files\java\jre1.8.0_92\bin\javaw.exe" -jar "%1". You can browse or adjust as necessary to account for where you put your javaw.exe
  13. Uncheck DDE.
  14. Click OK.
  15. Click new and set the action to edit.
  16. Set the application to perform to: "C:\Program Files\WinZip\winzip32.exe" "%1". You can browse or adjust as necessary to account for where you put your WinZip program.
  17. Uncheck DDE.
  18. Click OK.
  19. Click execute ⇒ set default.
  20. Click always show extension.
  21. click change icon. Choose a nice icon. Perhaps some friendly artist could provide me with an jar.ico file I could share with everyone.
  22. click close, close.
  23. Write a letter to Microsoft asking them to automate this bubblegum. Tell them to end the warring between apps. Allow more than one app to register per function. The ones you use most often should bubble to the top. Tell them that whether apps are properly installed or uninstalled, this information should be self-healing. Also ask Oracle to set up the associations and the PATHEXT as an automatic part of the JVM (Java Virtual Machine) install allowing you to choose either java.exe or javaw.exe.

Desperation Method

If you have W10-32 and W10-64, you can reinstall the JRE or JDK which will set up a link from jars to that jvm. Then use regedit.exe to find the jar link to javaw.exe in the registry, and modify it to java.exe. The link looks like this: Computer : HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT : jarfile : shell : open : command : "C:\Program Files\java\jre1.8.0_92\bin\javaw.exe" -jar "%1" %*. Or you can run under administrator filetype jarfile= "C:\Program Files\java\jre1.8.0_92\bin\javaw.exe" -jar "%1" %* at a command prompt. Do not put the command in a bat file or the " and % quoting will confuse it. Then run under administrator assoc .jar=jarfile Though in theory this should work, I cannot get it to. I always get an error message like this Error: Could not find or load main class E:\mindprod\applet\xxx.jar

Putting Jars on the Path

You can get Windows to look for jars on the path by modifying:


to include jar files. So you can run J:\com\mindprod\sortcode.jar] just by typing sortcode so long as sortcode.jar is somewhere on the path.

The associations for *.jar and *.jnlp are fragile. They mysteriously change to obsolete versions, or javaw.exe version without a console or even unrelated programs like Winzip.exe. Using the java.exe -jar myjar.jar syntax in your bat/btm files rather is more robust than myjar.jar. It works even when the associations are corrupted.

The Manifest

The manifest is a member file inside a JAR file describing the contents of the JAR archive. It always has the name /META-INF/MANIFEST.MF. A Oracle signed version is more complex in that it also contains a hash for each member put here by jarsigner.
Manifest-Version: 1.0
Created-By: 1.4.0 (Sun Microsystems Inc.)
Main-Class: com.mindprod.bio.Biorhythms
Name: com/mindprod/bio/Biorhythms.class
SHA1-Digest: ueEw1mJ4aOXT9vmosR0nM/eUt6Y=
Name: com/mindprod/bio/SelectableDate.class
SHA1-Digest: 8HylCo90The8D1mBuYEEOFQDUsY=
The specification document is very loose about the format of a manifest file. Here are the rules I have gleaned from experimentation:

It might be wise to review the /META-INF/MANIFEST.MF member generated by examining the JAR file with WinZip. Unfortunately WinZip there are several problems in using WinZip to create jar files or to add files to them.

Starting with Java 7 update 51, you need two extra lines in the manifest:

Application-Name: XXXXX
Permissions: sandbox
Permissions: all-permissions

Sandbox means standard Applet security. full-permissions means full desktop permission.

Manifest Gotchas


Starting with Java version 1.2, a jar may made be executable by designating one class in it as the official class to start when the jar as a whole is executed, e.g. double clicked or executed on the command
java.exe -jar biorhythms.jar
The key is an attribute line in the meta-inf/manifest.inf manifest member of the form:
Main-Class: com.mindprod.bio.Biorhythms
Of course, the class selected must have a public static main method. You can use the jar -m option to add that text to your manifest from a main.mft file containing text like this:
Main-Class: com.mindprod.bio.Biorhythms
Watch out for extraneous lead/trailing spaces or extraneous trailing .class. You must have a trailing linefeed or the main.mft file.

You can also specify the classpath, but you cannot specify command line parameters or system properties in the manifest.

Manifest Class-Path:

In Java version 1.3 or later there is an analogous manifest entry to let you control the classpath. It is used to specify optional jars that will be downloaded only if needed. Normally you would also place a Jar-index of these files in your main jar to help the loader decide which ones need to be loaded.
If you have multiple secondary jars, you must specify them in the manifest Class-Path entry of the master jar. It won’t do you any good to specify them in the SET CLASSPATH environment parameter or on the java.exe -classpath parameter.
Class-Path: myplace/myjar.jar myplace/other.jar jardir/
Note how the elements are separated by space, not semicolon or colon as on the command line.
The elements might be absolute or relative URL s, but I have not done experiments or found any documentation that describes what they are relative to. I presume the main jar. It could be the code base of the root jar file. It could be the CWD (Current Working Directory). If you figure it out, please let me know.

According to Oracle’s JWS (Java Web Start) FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), in  Java version 1.5, Java Web Start still does not support Class-Path. There was a report that up until Java version 1.5, java.exe too ignored this entry, however there is another report it has always worked fine. Class-Path is tricky to use, possibly leading to the erroneous report. Note the list is space-separated, not semicolon-separated as in the SET CLASSPATH=C:\;. Note also that only relative directories and jar names are permitted using / not \. They are relative to the containing jar. You cannot use C:\. Note also that directory names need to terminate (but not begin) with a /. This is because Class-Path has to be platform-independent.

Note that jars always ignore the SET classpath and even the command line classpath. These other two classpaths are in no way merged with the manifest Class-Path.

If you use -jar on the java.exe command line, java.exe will quietly ignore the set environment classpath and any -classpath or -cp command line options. What are you to do if you have additional jars to include?

  1. Copy them to the ext directory
  2. Mention them in the Class-Path: manifest entry. If you mention them in the manifest, you must specify the jars in relative URL form e.g. myplace/myjar.jar and you must separate them by spaces, not the usual Windows semicolons or Linux colons. You may only use relative URL s, so drive letters are not permitted. The jar Class-Path will also be used for Applets.
  3. In JDK version 1.4.2+ Mention these jars in a manifest extension list and they will be downloaded if needed, e. g.
    Extension-List: activation mail
    activation-Extension-Name: javax.activation
    activation-Implementation-URL: http://abc.com/activation.jar
    mail-Extension-Name: javax.mail
    mail-Implementation-URL: http://abc.com/mail.jar
  4. When Java goes searching for classes, it recursively searches the tree of jars mentioned in the various Class-Path entries in the already included jars. So you could create a dummy jar whose sole purpose was to provide a list of other jars to search.

Writing To Jars

To write or update the Jar file, normally you use the jar.exe utility. Since jars are just zip files with extra members, you can also use ZIP utilities such as PKZIP and WinZip.

You can also read and write the jar files from Java with the ZipEntry, ZipException, ZipFile, ZipInputStream and ZipOutputStream classes. While a jar is in use, some OS (Operating System) ’s may lock it, so don’t count on being able to update jars on the fly when you are executing classes from them.


It is easy to forget to include everything you need to make a jar totally self contained. Sometimes jar will work on your machine because all the classes are otherwise available. However, they won’t work on your client’s machine. This is such a hassle I have written an entire separate essay on dependencies, how to make sure you include everything you need in your jar — your classes, all the classes they use and all the classes they in turn use.

You have a similar problem with packing zip files of classes and source.

When you recompile, naturally this does not magically update all the jars in the world. Similarly when you build a jar, jar.exe will happily include out of date class files that really should have been recompiled. Make sure everything, including classes from other packages have been freshly compiled before building your jar. Here is my plan for preparing a distribution jar:

  1. Delete all class files in all vaguely related packages to ensure all are recompiled with official -targets and that all class files match the current source.
  2. Recompile the class you are planning to distribute. That will force a recompile of classes it uses in other packages. By looking all over for class files you will see what the dependencies are.
  3. Recompile and rejar the other packages to incorporate any of the distributed classes.
  4. When you are debugging, it is often nice not to use jars. Then, so long as a class is on the classpath it will be found. You don’t have to keep careful track of the classes you use to put in the jar until your program is stable.


A package within a jar file can be optionally sealed, which means that all classes defined in that package must be archived in the same jar file. You might want to seal a package to prevent tampering, or to prevent accidental use of classes outside the original set.

To seal a package, you need to add a Name header for the package to your manifest, followed by a Sealed header, like this:

Name: com/mindprod/myPackage/
Sealed: true


The member files in a zip file can be accessed individually, just like the files in a jar file (a species of zip file). However, when one zip is contained within another zip, you can only access the contained zip file itself, not its individual members. You would need to expand it to disk somewhere before accessing its members.

There are three approaches to the problem:

  1. Put all members in the same jar/zip.
  2. Use several individual jar files and arrange to have them on the path.
  3. Use a JWS installer class to unpack a nested jar into individual jars.

Jars on the Mac

You create jars on the Mac with the Jar Bundler, (not jar.exe). It creates and includes an XML (extensible Markup Language) file called Info.plist that behaves something like a JNLP (Java Network Launching Protocol) file does for a Java Web Start App.

Learning More

Oracle’s Technote Guide on Jars : available:
Oracle’s JDK Tool Guide to jar.exe : available:
Oracle’s Technote Guide on Manifests : available:
Oracle’s Technote Guide on jar file specification : available:
Oracle’s JDK Tool Guide to pack200.exe : available:
Oracle’s Javadoc on JarFile class : available:
Oracle’s Javadoc on JarEntry class : available:
Oracle’s Javadoc on JarInputStream class : available:
Oracle’s Javadoc on JarOutputStream class : available:
Oracle’s Javadoc on Pack200 class : available:

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