Packaging and Deploying Desktop Java Applications

One question that a lot of beginning programmers have is: "Now that I've created my application in the IDE, how do I get it to work from the command line outside of the IDE." Similarly, someone might ask, "How do I distribute this application to other users without having to give them the whole IDE as well?"

The answers to these questions are relatively simple, but not necessarily obvious. This document addresses those questions by taking you through the basics of using NetBeans IDE to prepare your applications for distribution and then deploying those applications. In addition, this document provides information that you might need to configure your system (or which you might need to pass on to the users of your application). We will show a few different approaches for deploying an application, so that users can access the application by:

  • Double-clicking the application's Java Archive (JAR) file.
  • Calling the application from the command line.
  • Calling the application from a script file.

Along the way, we will cover some basics of JAR file structure and how JAR files are dealt with inside IDE projects.

Expected duration: 30 minutes for the main exercise and 15 minutes for the optional exercise.


This tutorial has no prerequisites.

Software or Resource Version Required
NetBeans IDE Java SE, Java, or All bundle
Java Development Kit (JDK) version 6 or
version 5

Tutorial Exercises

Setup: Installing and Configuring the Tutorial Environment

Download the file and unpack it on to your system. This zip file contains source files for the application plus a few other files that will be useful for the tutorial.

On Microsoft Windows systems, use WinZip or similar archive packaging software to extract the files.

To unpack the zip file on a UNIX platform, change directories to the location of the zip file and type the following in a terminal window:

$ unzip

Main Exercise: Creating and Distributing Executable JAR Files

The goal of this exercise is to show you how to create a distributable application from the IDE and then run that application from outside of the IDE. We will package the application in the form of an executable JAR file. A JAR file is an archive file that can contain multiple files and folders. JAR files are similar to zip files, but JAR files can have additional attributes that are useful for distributing Java applications.

In this exercise, you create an IDE project and then place two pre-written Java source files into that project. Then you will compile the classes and build an executable JAR file. Afterwards, you will learn how to run the JAR file from outside of the IDE.

These classes implement features of the GNU grep utility, which can be used for searching text or regular expression patterns inside text files. The project contains both command-line and GUI versions of the application, so that you can see different ways of running the application.

Setting Up the Project

To set up the project:

  1. In NetBeans IDE, choose File > New Project.
  2. In the General Category page of the New Project wizard, select Java Project With Existing Sources. Click Next.
  3. On the Name and Location page of the wizard, fill in a name and folder for your project. Leave the Set as Main Project checkbox selected. Click Next.

    For example, type AnotherGrep for Project Name. For the Project Folder field, you can just accept the default.

    The project folder does not have to be in the same location as the source files that you are importing into the project.

  4. On the Existing Sources page of the wizard, you specify the sources that will be in the project. Click the Add Folder button that is to the right of the Source Package Folders field. Then navigate to the DeploymentTutorial folder that you have just unzipped on your system, expand the folder, select the src folder, and click Open. The src folder is added to your Source Package Folders field.
  5. Click Finish.

The project opens in the IDE and becomes visibile in the Projects window. You can explore the contents of the project by expanding the project's Source Packages node, where you should see classes called Grep and xGrep. is a console version of the application. is a GUI version of the application and uses methods defined in

Configuring the Project

At this point, you have all of the source code that you need to make the project work. However, there is some more configuration that you need to do. You need to:

  • Set the project's main class. By doing this, you ensure that the JAR file that you create when you build the project is executable.
  • Add the Swing Layout Extensions library to the project. This step is necessary because uses the new GroupLayout layout manager classes, which are not currently included in the JDK. (GroupLayout will be added to JDK 6.)

Setting the Main Class

In order for a user to easily run your JAR file (by double-clicking the JAR file or by typing java -jar AnotherGrep.jar at the command line), a main class has to be specified inside the JAR's manifest file. (The manifest is a standard part of the JAR file that contains information about the JAR file that is useful for the java launcher when you want to run the application.)

When you build a project, the IDE builds the JAR file and includes a manifest. When you set the project's main class, you ensure that the main class will be designated in the manifest when you later build the project.

To set the project's main class:

  1. Right-click the project's node and choose Properties.
  2. Select the Run panel and enter anothergrep.xGrep in the Main Class field.
  3. Click OK to close the Project Properties dialog box.

When you build the project later in this tutorial, the manifest will be generated and include the following entry:

Main-Class: anothergrep.xGRep

Adding Necessary Libraries

If the project you are developing relies on code from other libraries, you need to point to those libraries from your project. This is necessary for your project to compile properly and for the application to be easily distributable.

You can add libraries to a project through the Libraries node of the project.

In this example, relies on the the new GroupLayout layout manager classes, which are not currently included in the JDK. (GroupLayout will be added to JDK 6.) For now, the GroupLayout classes are available in the Swing Layout Extensions library. The IDE includes the Swing Layout Extensions library in its Library Manager, so it easy to add to your project.

To add the Swing Layout Extensions library:

  1. Right-click the project's Libraries node and choose Add Library.
  2. In the Add Library dialog box, select Swing Layout Extensions and click Add Library.
  3. Click OK to close the Project Properties dialog box.

Note: If you find that the Swing Layout Extensions has already been added to your project, this might be a result of you having opened the file in the IDE. When you open a file that uses classes from the Swing Layout Extensions library or when you create an application using the Matisse GUI Builder, the IDE automatically adds the Swing Layout Extensions library to the project. The automatic adding of libraries in this fashion does not work for other libraries.

When you later build the project, the following entry is added to the application JAR file's manifest:

Class-Path: lib/swing-layout-1.0.jar


You can also add an arbitrary JAR file or folder (using the Add JAR/Folder command) or the output of another project (using the Add Project command).

Building the Project and Creating the JAR File

Now that you have your sources ready and your project configured, it is time to build your project.

To build the project:

  • Choose Build > Build Main Project.

When you build your project:

  • build and dist folders are added to your project folder (hereafter referred to as the PROJECT_HOME folder).
  • All of the sources are compiled into .class files, which are placed into the PROJECT_HOME/build folder.
  • A JAR file containing your project is created inside the PROJECT_HOME/dist folder.
  • If you have specified any libraries for the project (in addition to the JDK), a lib folder is created in the dist folder. The libraries are copied into dist/lib.
  • The manifest file in the JAR is updated to include entries that designate main class and any libraries that are on the project's classpath.

Note: You can view the contents of the manifest in the IDE's Files window. After you have built your project, switch to the Files window and navigate to dist/AnotherGrep.jar. Expand the node for the JAR file, expand the META-INF folder, and double-click MANIFEST.MF to display the manifest in the Source Editor.

Main-Class: anothergrep.xGRep
            Class-Path: lib/swing-layout-1.0.jar

(To find more about manifest files, you can read this chapter from the Java Tutorial.)

Running the Application Inside of the IDE

When developing applications in the IDE, typically you will need to test and refine them before distributing them. You can easily test an application that you are working on by running the application from the IDE.

To run the AnotherGrep project in the IDE, right-clicking the project's node (AnotherGrep) in the Projects window and choose Run Project.

The xGrep window should open. You can click the Browse button to choose a file in which to search for a text pattern. In the Search Pattern field, type text or a regular expression pattern that you would like to match, and click Search. The results of each match will appear in the xGrep window's Output area.

Information on regular expressions that you can use in this application are available here and in many other places on the World Wide Web.

Running the Application Outside of the IDE

Once you have finished developing the application and before you distribute it, you will probably want to make sure that the application also works outside of the IDE.

You can run the application outside of the IDE by following these steps:

  • In your system's file manager (for example, in the My Computer window on Windows XP systems), navigate to PROJECT_HOME/dist and double-click the AnotherGrep.jar file.

You will know that the application has started successfully when the xGrep window opens.

If the xGrep window does not open, your system probably does not have a file association between JAR files and the Java Runtime Environment. See Troubleshooting JAR File Associations below.

Distributing the Application to Other Users

Now that you have verified that the application works outside of the IDE, you are ready to distribute it.

You can distribute the application by following these steps:

  1. Create a zip file that contains the application JAR file (AnotherGrep.jar) and the accompanying lib folder that contains swing-layout-1.0.jar.
  2. Send the file to the people who will use the application. Instruct them to unpack the zip file, making sure that the AnotherGrep.jar file and the lib folder are in the same folder.

    The users of your application should be able to run it by double-clicking the JAR file. If this does not work for them, show them the information in the Troubleshooting JAR File Associations section below.

Troubleshooting JAR File Associations

On most systems, you can execute an executable JAR file by simply double-clicking the JAR file. If nothing happens when you double-click the JAR file, it might be because of either of the following two reasons:

  • The JAR file type is probably not associated with a Java Runtime Environment (JRE) on that system.

    If the JAR file type is associated with a JRE, the icon that represents that file should include a Java logo.

  • The JAR file type is associated with the JRE, but the -jar option is not included in the command that is passed to the JRE when you double-click the icon.

Note: Sometimes JAR file associations are switched by software that you install, such as software to handle zip files.

To add the JAR file association on Microsoft Windows systems:

  1. Make sure that there is a version of the JRE installed on your system. You should use version 1.4.2 or later. (If you have the JDK installed, you also get the JRE. However, if you are distributing the program to a non-programmer, that person does not necessarily have either the JRE or the JDK.)

    On Windows XP, you can check for installed versions of the JRE by choosing Start > Control Panel > Add or Remove Software.

    If there is not a JRE on the system, you can get one from the Java SE download site.

    If you have a JRE installed on your system but the file association is not working, continue with the steps below.

  2. Choose Start > Control Panel.
  3. Double-click Folder Options.
  4. Select the File Types tab.
  5. In the Registered File Types list, select JAR File.
  6. In the Details section of the dialog box, click Change.
  7. In the Open With dialog box, select Java Platform SE Binary.
  8. Click OK to exit the Open With dialog box.
  9. Click Close to exit the Folder Options dialog box.

If JAR files are associated with the Java Platform SE Binary on your system but double-clicking still does not execute the file JAR file, you might need to specify the -jar option in the file association.

To specify the -jar option in the file association:

  1. Choose Start > Control Panel.
  2. Double-click Folder Options.
  3. Select the File Types tab.
  4. In the Registered File Types list, select JAR File.
  5. In the Details section of the dialog box, click Advanced.
  6. In the Edit File Type dialog box, click Edit.
  7. In the Application Used to Perform Action text field, add the following at the end of the path to the JRE:
     -jar "%1" %*
    Afterwards, the field should contain text similar to the following:
    "C:\Program Files\Java\jre1.6.0_14\bin\javaw.exe" -jar "%1" %*
  8. Click OK to exit the Editing Action for Type dialog box.
  9. Click OK to exit the Edit File Type dialog box.
  10. Click Close to exit the Folder Options dialog box.

For UNIX and Linux systems, the procedure for changing file associations depends on which desktop environment (such as GNOME or KDE) that you are using. Look in your desktop environment's preference settings or consult the documentation for the desktop environment.

Optional Exercise: Starting Your Java Application From the Command Line

The goal of this exercise is to show you some ways that you can start your application from the command line.

This exercise shows you how you can start a Java application in the following two ways:

  • Running the java command from the command line.
  • Using a script to a call a class in the JAR file.

Launching Applications From the Command Line

You can launch an application from the command line by using the java command. If you want to run an executable JAR file, use the -jar option of the command.

For example, to run the AnotherGrep application, you would take the following steps:

  1. Open a terminal window. On Microsoft Windows systems, you do this by choosing Start > Run, typing cmd in the Open field, and clicking OK.
  2. Change directories to the PROJECT_HOME/dist folder (using the cd command).
  3. Type the following line to run the application's main class:
    java -jar AnotherGrep.jar

If you follow these steps and the application does not run, you probably need to do one of the following things:

  • Include the path to the java binary in the third step of the procedure. For example, you would type something like the following, depending on where your JDK or JRE is located:
    C:\Program Files\Java\jdk1.6.0_14\bin\java -jar AnotherGrep.jar
  • Add the Java binaries to your PATH environment variable, so that you never have to specify the path to the java binary from the command line. See Setting the PATH Environment Variable.

Launching Applications From a Script

If the application that you want to distribute is a console application, you might find that it is convenient to start the application from a a script, particularly if the application takes long and complex arguments to run. In this section, you will use a console version of the Grep program, where you need to pass the arguments (search pattern and file list) to the JAR file, which will be invoked in our script. To reduce typing at the command line, you will use a simple script suitable to run the test application.

First you need to change the main class in the application to be the console version of the class and rebuild the JAR file:

  1. In the IDE's Projects window, right-click the project node (AnotherGrep) and choose Properties.
  2. Select the Run node and change the Main Class property to anothergrep.Grep (from anothergrep.xGrep). Click OK to close the Project Properties window.
  3. Right-click the project's node again and choose Clean and Build Project.

After completing these steps, the JAR file is rebuilt, and the Main-Class attribute of the JAR file's manifest is changed to point to anothergrep.Grep.

BASH script -- for UNIX and Linux machines

Inside PROJECT_HOME, there is a bash script. Have a look at it:

                    java -jar dist/AnotherGrep.jar $@

The first line states which shell should be used to interpret this. The second one executes your JAR file, created by the IDE inside PROJECT_HOME/dist folder. $@ just copies all given arguments, enclosing each inside quotes.

This script presumes that the Java binaries are part of your PATH environment variable. If the script does not work for you, see Setting the PATH Environment Variable.

More about bash scripting can be found here.

.bat script for Windows machines

On Microsoft Windows systems, you can only pass nine arguments at once to a batch file. If there were more than nine arguments, you would need to execute the JAR file multiple times.

A script handling this might look like the following:

                @echo off
                set jarpath="dist/AnotherGrep.jar"
                set pattern="%1"
                  if "%1" == "" goto :allprocessed
                  set files=%1 %2 %3 %4 %5 %6 %7 %8 %9
                  java -jar %jarpath% %pattern% %files%
                  for %%i in (0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8) do shift
                goto :loop

This script is included inside PROJECT_HOME as grep.bat so you can try it out.

The nine arguments are represented inside the batch file by %<ARG_NUMBER>, where <ARG_NUMBER> has to be inside <0-9>. %0 is reserved for the script name.

You can see that only nine arguments are passed to the program at a time (in one loop). The for statement just shifts the arguments by nine, to prepare it for next loop. Once an empty file argument is detected by the if statement (there are no further files to process), the loop is ended.

More about batch scripting can be found on this page.

Setting the PATH Environment Variable

If you can not run a Java class or JAR file on your system without pointing to the location of the JDK or JRE on your system, you might need to modify the value of your system's PATH variable.

If you are running on a Microsoft Windows system, the procedure for setting the PATH variable depends the version of Windows you are using.

The following are the steps for setting the PATH variable on a Windows XP system:

  1. Choose Start > Control Panel and double-click System.
  2. In the System Properties dialog box, click the Advanced tab.
  3. Click the Environment Variables tab.
  4. In the list of user variables, select PATH and click Edit.
  5. Add the location of the JRE to the end of the list of paths. The locations in this list are separated by semicolons (;).

    For example, if your JRE is located at

    C:\Program Files\Java\jdk1.6.0_14
    you would add the following to the end of the PATH variable:
    C:\Program Files\Java\jdk1.6.0_14\bin
  6. Click OK to exit the Environment Variables dialog box, and click OK to exit the System Properties dialog box.

If you are running on a UNIX or Linux system, the instructions for modifying your PATH variable depends on the shell program you are using. Consult the documentation of the shell that you are using for more information.

Next Steps

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