Module java.base
Package java.lang

Class ClassLoader

Direct Known Subclasses:

public abstract class ClassLoader extends Object
A class loader is an object that is responsible for loading classes. The class ClassLoader is an abstract class. Given the binary name of a class, a class loader should attempt to locate or generate data that constitutes a definition for the class. A typical strategy is to transform the name into a file name and then read a "class file" of that name from a file system.

Every Class object contains a reference to the ClassLoader that defined it.

Class objects for array classes are not created by class loaders, but are created automatically as required by the Java runtime. The class loader for an array class, as returned by Class.getClassLoader() is the same as the class loader for its element type; if the element type is a primitive type, then the array class has no class loader.

Applications implement subclasses of ClassLoader in order to extend the manner in which the Java virtual machine dynamically loads classes.

Class loaders may typically be used by security managers to indicate security domains.

In addition to loading classes, a class loader is also responsible for locating resources. A resource is some data (a ".class" file, configuration data, or an image for example) that is identified with an abstract '/'-separated path name. Resources are typically packaged with an application or library so that they can be located by code in the application or library. In some cases, the resources are included so that they can be located by other libraries.

The ClassLoader class uses a delegation model to search for classes and resources. Each instance of ClassLoader has an associated parent class loader. When requested to find a class or resource, a ClassLoader instance will usually delegate the search for the class or resource to its parent class loader before attempting to find the class or resource itself.

Class loaders that support concurrent loading of classes are known as parallel capable class loaders and are required to register themselves at their class initialization time by invoking the ClassLoader.registerAsParallelCapable method. Note that the ClassLoader class is registered as parallel capable by default. However, its subclasses still need to register themselves if they are parallel capable. In environments in which the delegation model is not strictly hierarchical, class loaders need to be parallel capable, otherwise class loading can lead to deadlocks because the loader lock is held for the duration of the class loading process (see loadClass methods).

Run-time Built-in Class Loaders

The Java run-time has the following built-in class loaders:
  • Bootstrap class loader. It is the virtual machine's built-in class loader, typically represented as null, and does not have a parent.

  • Platform class loader. The platform class loader is responsible for loading the platform classes. Platform classes include Java SE platform APIs, their implementation classes and JDK-specific run-time classes that are defined by the platform class loader or its ancestors. The platform class loader can be used as the parent of a ClassLoader instance.

    To allow for upgrading/overriding of modules defined to the platform class loader, and where upgraded modules read modules defined to class loaders other than the platform class loader and its ancestors, then the platform class loader may have to delegate to other class loaders, the application class loader for example. In other words, classes in named modules defined to class loaders other than the platform class loader and its ancestors may be visible to the platform class loader.

  • System class loader. It is also known as application class loader and is distinct from the platform class loader. The system class loader is typically used to define classes on the application class path, module path, and JDK-specific tools. The platform class loader is the parent or an ancestor of the system class loader, so the system class loader can load platform classes by delegating to its parent.

Normally, the Java virtual machine loads classes from the local file system in a platform-dependent manner. However, some classes may not originate from a file; they may originate from other sources, such as the network, or they could be constructed by an application. The method defineClass converts an array of bytes into an instance of class Class. Instances of this newly defined class can be created using Class.newInstance.

The methods and constructors of objects created by a class loader may reference other classes. To determine the class(es) referred to, the Java virtual machine invokes the loadClass method of the class loader that originally created the class.

For example, an application could create a network class loader to download class files from a server. Sample code might look like:

   ClassLoader loader = new NetworkClassLoader(host, port);
   Object main = loader.loadClass("Main", true).newInstance();
        . . .

The network class loader subclass must define the methods findClass and loadClassData to load a class from the network. Once it has downloaded the bytes that make up the class, it should use the method defineClass to create a class instance. A sample implementation is:

     class NetworkClassLoader extends ClassLoader {
         String host;
         int port;

         public Class findClass(String name) {
             byte[] b = loadClassData(name);
             return defineClass(name, b, 0, b.length);

         private byte[] loadClassData(String name) {
             // load the class data from the connection
              . . .

Binary names

Any class name provided as a String parameter to methods in ClassLoader must be a binary name as defined by The Java Language Specification.

Examples of valid class names include:


Any package name provided as a String parameter to methods in ClassLoader must be either the empty string (denoting an unnamed package) or a fully qualified name as defined by The Java Language Specification.

See Java Language Specification:
6.7 Fully Qualified Names
13.1 The Form of a Binary
See Also: