Packaging and Distributing Java Desktop 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 the IDE to prepare your applications for distribution and deployment. 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:
To complete this tutorial, you need the software and resources listed in the following table.
This part of the tutorial shows how you can create a distributable application in 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. These attributes include digitally signing JAR files, additional compression, multiplatform compatibility, etc.
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.
The classes used in this tutorial 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.
The project opens in the IDE and becomes visible 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. Grep.java is a console version of the application. xGrep.java is a GUI version of the application and uses methods defined in Grep.java.
There are a few configuration steps you need to do, such as:
Verifying the Java Platform
Our project needs to be compiled and run on Java 7 or Java 8 platform. Therefore, you need to make sure that Java 7 or Java 8 is respectively used as the platform for this project.
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.) The main class serves as an entry point from which the java launcher runs your 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 is be designated in the manifest.
To set the project's main class:
When you build the project later in this tutorial, the manifest will be generated and include the following entry:
Now that you have your sources ready and your project configured, it is time to build your project.
To build the project:
When you build your project:
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(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. 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-click the project's node in the Projects window and choose Run.
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.
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:
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.
Note: If your application depends on additional libraries other than those included in JDK, you need to also include them in your distribution (not the case in our example). The relative paths to these libraries are added in the classpath entry of the JAR's manifest file when you are developing your application in the IDE. If these additional libraries will not be found at the specified classpath (i.e., relative path) at launch, the application will not start.
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:
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:
If you follow these steps and the application does not run, you probably need to do one of the following things:
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:
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 the folder on your system where you extracted the contents of the DeploymentTutorial.zip file, there is a grep.sh bash script. Have a look at it:
#!/bin/bash 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" shift :loop 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 :allprocessed
This script is included as grep.bat inside the folder on your system where you extracted the contents of the DeploymentTutorial.zip file 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.
Java Web Start is a technology that is used to run Java applications from a web browser with a single click. For detailed information on packaging applications for deployment through Java Web Start, see Enabling Java Web Start in the NetBeans IDE. Here we provide only quick steps you need to follow to make you application deployable by using Java Web Start.
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:
Note: Sometimes JAR file associations are switched by software that you install, such as software to handle zip files.
The way how you associate the JAR file type with the java launcher depends on your operating system.
Note: Make sure that there is a version of the JRE installed on your system. You should use version 1.4.2 or later. You cannot launch a Java application if no Java is installed. (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.)
If there is no Java on the system, you can get the JRE one from the Java SE download site.
If you have Java installed on your system, but the file association is not working, continue with the steps for adding the JAR file association on Microsoft Windows:
Note: 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 on Microsoft Windows XP:
Note: Starting with Windows Vista advanced file associations can be set via RegEdit. See the What Happened to the File Types Dialog? article for details.
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.
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:
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.
For more information on working with NetBeans IDE, see the Docs and Support page on the NetBeans website.
To learn more about the IDE workflow for developing Java applications, including classpath management, see Developing General Java Applications.
For information on the building features in NetBeans IDE, see Building Java Projects in Developing Applications with NetBeans IDE.