Module java.base

Class MethodHandles.Lookup

Enclosing class:

public static final class MethodHandles.Lookup extends Object
A lookup object is a factory for creating method handles, when the creation requires access checking. Method handles do not perform access checks when they are called, but rather when they are created. Therefore, method handle access restrictions must be enforced when a method handle is created. The caller class against which those restrictions are enforced is known as the lookup class.

A lookup class which needs to create method handles will call MethodHandles.lookup to create a factory for itself. When the Lookup factory object is created, the identity of the lookup class is determined, and securely stored in the Lookup object. The lookup class (or its delegates) may then use factory methods on the Lookup object to create method handles for access-checked members. This includes all methods, constructors, and fields which are allowed to the lookup class, even private ones.

Lookup Factory Methods

The factory methods on a Lookup object correspond to all major use cases for methods, constructors, and fields. Each method handle created by a factory method is the functional equivalent of a particular bytecode behavior. (Bytecode behaviors are described in section of the Java Virtual Machine Specification.) Here is a summary of the correspondence between these factory methods and the behavior of the resulting method handles:
lookup method behaviors
lookup expression member bytecode behavior
lookup.findGetter(C.class,"f",FT.class) FT f;(T) this.f;
lookup.findStaticGetter(C.class,"f",FT.class) static
FT f;
(FT) C.f;
lookup.findSetter(C.class,"f",FT.class) FT f;this.f = x;
lookup.findStaticSetter(C.class,"f",FT.class) static
FT f;
C.f = arg;
lookup.findVirtual(C.class,"m",MT) T m(A*);(T) this.m(arg*);
lookup.findStatic(C.class,"m",MT) static
T m(A*);
(T) C.m(arg*);
lookup.findSpecial(C.class,"m",MT,this.class) T m(A*);(T) super.m(arg*);
lookup.findConstructor(C.class,MT) C(A*);new C(arg*);
lookup.unreflectGetter(aField) (static)?
FT f;
(FT) aField.get(thisOrNull);
lookup.unreflectSetter(aField) (static)?
FT f;
aField.set(thisOrNull, arg);
lookup.unreflect(aMethod) (static)?
T m(A*);
(T) aMethod.invoke(thisOrNull, arg*);
lookup.unreflectConstructor(aConstructor) C(A*);(C) aConstructor.newInstance(arg*);
lookup.unreflectSpecial(aMethod,this.class) T m(A*);(T) super.m(arg*);
lookup.findClass("C") class C { ... }C.class;
Here, the type C is the class or interface being searched for a member, documented as a parameter named refc in the lookup methods. The method type MT is composed from the return type T and the sequence of argument types A*. The constructor also has a sequence of argument types A* and is deemed to return the newly-created object of type C. Both MT and the field type FT are documented as a parameter named type. The formal parameter this stands for the self-reference of type C; if it is present, it is always the leading argument to the method handle invocation. (In the case of some protected members, this may be restricted in type to the lookup class; see below.) The name arg stands for all the other method handle arguments. In the code examples for the Core Reflection API, the name thisOrNull stands for a null reference if the accessed method or field is static, and this otherwise. The names aMethod, aField, and aConstructor stand for reflective objects corresponding to the given members declared in type C.

The bytecode behavior for a findClass operation is a load of a constant class, as if by ldc CONSTANT_Class. The behavior is represented, not as a method handle, but directly as a Class constant.

In cases where the given member is of variable arity (i.e., a method or constructor) the returned method handle will also be of variable arity. In all other cases, the returned method handle will be of fixed arity.

Discussion: The equivalence between looked-up method handles and underlying class members and bytecode behaviors can break down in a few ways:

  • If C is not symbolically accessible from the lookup class's loader, the lookup can still succeed, even when there is no equivalent Java expression or bytecoded constant.
  • Likewise, if T or MT is not symbolically accessible from the lookup class's loader, the lookup can still succeed. For example, lookups for MethodHandle.invokeExact and MethodHandle.invoke will always succeed, regardless of requested type.
  • If there is a security manager installed, it can forbid the lookup on various grounds (see below). By contrast, the ldc instruction on a CONSTANT_MethodHandle constant is not subject to security manager checks.
  • If the looked-up method has a very large arity, the method handle creation may fail with an IllegalArgumentException, due to the method handle type having too many parameters.

Access checking

Access checks are applied in the factory methods of Lookup, when a method handle is created. This is a key difference from the Core Reflection API, since java.lang.reflect.Method.invoke performs access checking against every caller, on every call.

All access checks start from a Lookup object, which compares its recorded lookup class against all requests to create method handles. A single Lookup object can be used to create any number of access-checked method handles, all checked against a single lookup class.

A Lookup object can be shared with other trusted code, such as a metaobject protocol. A shared Lookup object delegates the capability to create method handles on private members of the lookup class. Even if privileged code uses the Lookup object, the access checking is confined to the privileges of the original lookup class.

A lookup can fail, because the containing class is not accessible to the lookup class, or because the desired class member is missing, or because the desired class member is not accessible to the lookup class, or because the lookup object is not trusted enough to access the member. In the case of a field setter function on a final field, finality enforcement is treated as a kind of access control, and the lookup will fail, except in special cases of Lookup.unreflectSetter. In any of these cases, a ReflectiveOperationException will be thrown from the attempted lookup. The exact class will be one of the following:

  • NoSuchMethodException — if a method is requested but does not exist
  • NoSuchFieldException — if a field is requested but does not exist
  • IllegalAccessException — if the member exists but an access check fails

In general, the conditions under which a method handle may be looked up for a method M are no more restrictive than the conditions under which the lookup class could have compiled, verified, and resolved a call to M. Where the JVM would raise exceptions like NoSuchMethodError, a method handle lookup will generally raise a corresponding checked exception, such as NoSuchMethodException. And the effect of invoking the method handle resulting from the lookup is exactly equivalent to executing the compiled, verified, and resolved call to M. The same point is true of fields and constructors.

Discussion: Access checks only apply to named and reflected methods, constructors, and fields. Other method handle creation methods, such as MethodHandle.asType, do not require any access checks, and are used independently of any Lookup object.

If the desired member is protected, the usual JVM rules apply, including the requirement that the lookup class must either be in the same package as the desired member, or must inherit that member. (See the Java Virtual Machine Specification, sections 4.9.2,, and 6.4.) In addition, if the desired member is a non-static field or method in a different package, the resulting method handle may only be applied to objects of the lookup class or one of its subclasses. This requirement is enforced by narrowing the type of the leading this parameter from C (which will necessarily be a superclass of the lookup class) to the lookup class itself.

The JVM imposes a similar requirement on invokespecial instruction, that the receiver argument must match both the resolved method and the current class. Again, this requirement is enforced by narrowing the type of the leading parameter to the resulting method handle. (See the Java Virtual Machine Specification, section

The JVM represents constructors and static initializer blocks as internal methods with special names ("<init>" and "<clinit>"). The internal syntax of invocation instructions allows them to refer to such internal methods as if they were normal methods, but the JVM bytecode verifier rejects them. A lookup of such an internal method will produce a NoSuchMethodException.

If the relationship between nested types is expressed directly through the NestHost and NestMembers attributes (see the Java Virtual Machine Specification, sections 4.7.28 and 4.7.29), then the associated Lookup object provides direct access to the lookup class and all of its nestmates (see Class.getNestHost). Otherwise, access between nested classes is obtained by the Java compiler creating a wrapper method to access a private method of another class in the same nest. For example, a nested class C.D can access private members within other related classes such as C, C.D.E, or C.B, but the Java compiler may need to generate wrapper methods in those related classes. In such cases, a Lookup object on C.E would be unable to access those private members. A workaround for this limitation is the method, which can transform a lookup on C.E into one on any of those other classes, without special elevation of privilege.

The accesses permitted to a given lookup object may be limited, according to its set of lookupModes, to a subset of members normally accessible to the lookup class. For example, the publicLookup method produces a lookup object which is only allowed to access public members in public classes of exported packages. The caller sensitive method lookup produces a lookup object with full capabilities relative to its caller class, to emulate all supported bytecode behaviors. Also, the method may produce a lookup object with fewer access modes than the original lookup object.

Discussion of private and module access: We say that a lookup has private access if its lookup modes include the possibility of accessing private members (which includes the private members of nestmates). As documented in the relevant methods elsewhere, only lookups with private access possess the following capabilities:

Similarly, a lookup with module access ensures that the original lookup creator was a member in the same module as the lookup class.

Private and module access are independently determined modes; a lookup may have either or both or neither. A lookup which possesses both access modes is said to possess full privilege access.

A lookup with original access ensures that this lookup is created by the original lookup class and the bootstrap method invoked by the VM. Such a lookup with original access also has private and module access which has the following additional capability:

  • create method handles which invoke caller sensitive methods, such as Class.forName
  • obtain the class data associated with the lookup class

Each of these permissions is a consequence of the fact that a lookup object with private access can be securely traced back to an originating class, whose bytecode behaviors and Java language access permissions can be reliably determined and emulated by method handles.

Cross-module lookups

When a lookup class in one module M1 accesses a class in another module M2, extra access checking is performed beyond the access mode bits. A Lookup with PUBLIC mode and a lookup class in M1 can access public types in M2 when M2 is readable to M1 and when the type is in a package of M2 that is exported to at least M1.

A Lookup on C can also teleport to a target class via and MethodHandles.privateLookupIn methods. Teleporting across modules will always record the original lookup class as the previous lookup class and drops MODULE access. If the target class is in the same module as the lookup class C, then the target class becomes the new lookup class and there is no change to the previous lookup class. If the target class is in a different module from M1 (C's module), C becomes the new previous lookup class and the target class becomes the new lookup class. In that case, if there was already a previous lookup class in M0, and it differs from M1 and M2, then the resulting lookup drops all privileges. For example,

Lookup lookup = MethodHandles.lookup();   // in class C
Lookup lookup2 =;
MethodHandle mh = lookup2.findStatic(E.class, "m", MT);

The MethodHandles.lookup() factory method produces a Lookup object with null previous lookup class. transforms the lookup on class C to class D without elevation of privileges. If C and D are in the same module, lookup2 records D as the new lookup class and keeps the same previous lookup class as the original lookup, or null if not present.

When a Lookup teleports from a class in one nest to another nest, PRIVATE access is dropped. When a Lookup teleports from a class in one package to another package, PACKAGE access is dropped. When a Lookup teleports from a class in one module to another module, MODULE access is dropped. Teleporting across modules drops the ability to access non-exported classes in both the module of the new lookup class and the module of the old lookup class and the resulting Lookup remains only PUBLIC access. A Lookup can teleport back and forth to a class in the module of the lookup class and the module of the previous class lookup. Teleporting across modules can only decrease access but cannot increase it. Teleporting to some third module drops all accesses.

In the above example, if C and D are in different modules, lookup2 records D as its lookup class and C as its previous lookup class and lookup2 has only PUBLIC access. lookup2 can teleport to other class in C's module and D's module. If class E is in a third module, creates a Lookup on E with no access and lookup2's lookup class D is recorded as its previous lookup class.

Teleporting across modules restricts access to the public types that both the lookup class and the previous lookup class can equally access (see below).

MethodHandles.privateLookupIn(T.class, lookup) can be used to teleport a lookup from class C to class T and produce a new Lookup with private access if the lookup class is allowed to do deep reflection on T. The lookup must have MODULE and PRIVATE access to call privateLookupIn. A lookup on C in module M1 is allowed to do deep reflection on all classes in M1. If T is in M1, privateLookupIn produces a new Lookup on T with full capabilities. A lookup on C is also allowed to do deep reflection on T in another module M2 if M1 reads M2 and M2 opens the package containing T to at least M1. T becomes the new lookup class and C becomes the new previous lookup class and MODULE access is dropped from the resulting Lookup. The resulting Lookup can be used to do member lookup or teleport to another lookup class by calling Lookup::in. But it cannot be used to obtain another private Lookup by calling privateLookupIn because it has no MODULE access.

The Lookup object returned by privateLookupIn is allowed to define classes in the runtime package of T. Extreme caution should be taken when opening a package to another module as such defined classes have the same full privilege access as other members in M2.

Cross-module access checks

A Lookup with PUBLIC or with UNCONDITIONAL mode allows cross-module access. The access checking is performed with respect to both the lookup class and the previous lookup class if present.

A Lookup with UNCONDITIONAL mode can access public type in all modules when the type is in a package that is exported unconditionally.

If a Lookup on LC in M1 has no previous lookup class, the lookup with PUBLIC mode can access all public types in modules that are readable to M1 and the type is in a package that is exported at least to M1.

If a Lookup on LC in M1 has a previous lookup class PLC on M0, the lookup with PUBLIC mode can access the intersection of all public types that are accessible to M1 with all public types that are accessible to M0. M0 reads M1 and hence the set of accessible types includes:

  • unconditional-exported packages from M1
  • unconditional-exported packages from M0 if M1 reads M0
  • unconditional-exported packages from a third module M2if both M0 and M1 read M2
  • qualified-exported packages from M1 to M0
  • qualified-exported packages from M0 to M1 if M1 reads M0
  • qualified-exported packages from a third module M2 to both M0 and M1 if both M0 and M1 read M2

Access modes

The table below shows the access modes of a Lookup produced by any of the following factory or transformation methods:
Access mode summary
Lookup object original protected private package module public
CL = MethodHandles.lookup() in C ORI PRO PRI PAC MOD 1R same package PAC MOD 1R same module MOD 1R different module 2R hop back to module 2R
PRI1 = privateLookupIn(C1,CL) PRO PRI PAC MOD 1R
PRI1a = privateLookupIn(C,PRI1) PRO PRI PAC MOD 1R same package PAC MOD 1R different package MOD 1R different module 2R
PRI1.dropLookupMode(PRIVATE) PAC MOD 1R
PRI1.dropLookupMode(PACKAGE) MOD 1R
PRI1.dropLookupMode(MODULE) 1R
PRI1.dropLookupMode(PUBLIC) none
PRI2 = privateLookupIn(D,CL) PRO PRI PAC 2R
privateLookupIn(D,PRI1) PRO PRI PAC 2R
privateLookupIn(C,PRI2) fails IAE same package PAC 2R different package 2R hop back to module 2R hop to third module none
PRI2.dropLookupMode(PRIVATE) PAC 2R
PRI2.dropLookupMode(PACKAGE) 2R
PRI2.dropLookupMode(MODULE) 2R
PRI2.dropLookupMode(PUBLIC) none
CL.dropLookupMode(PRIVATE) PAC MOD 1R
CL.dropLookupMode(PACKAGE) MOD 1R
CL.dropLookupMode(MODULE) 1R
CL.dropLookupMode(PUBLIC) none
PUB = publicLookup() U different module U third module U
PUB.dropLookupMode(UNCONDITIONAL) none
privateLookupIn(C1,PUB) fails IAE, for inaccessible X none


  • Class C and class C1 are in module M1, but D and D2 are in module M2, and E is in module M3. X stands for class which is inaccessible to the lookup. ANY stands for any of the example lookups.
  • ORI indicates ORIGINAL bit set, PRO indicates PROTECTED bit set, PRI indicates PRIVATE bit set, PAC indicates PACKAGE bit set, MOD indicates MODULE bit set, 1R and 2R indicate PUBLIC bit set, U indicates UNCONDITIONAL bit set, IAE indicates IllegalAccessException thrown.
  • Public access comes in three kinds:
    • unconditional (U): the lookup assumes readability. The lookup has null previous lookup class.
    • one-module-reads (1R): the module access checking is performed with respect to the lookup class. The lookup has null previous lookup class.
    • two-module-reads (2R): the module access checking is performed with respect to the lookup class and the previous lookup class. The lookup has a non-null previous lookup class which is in a different module from the current lookup class.
  • Any attempt to reach a third module loses all access.
  • If a target class X is not accessible to Lookup::in all access modes are dropped.

Security manager interactions

Although bytecode instructions can only refer to classes in a related class loader, this API can search for methods in any class, as long as a reference to its Class object is available. Such cross-loader references are also possible with the Core Reflection API, and are impossible to bytecode instructions such as invokestatic or getfield. There is a security manager API to allow applications to check such cross-loader references. These checks apply to both the MethodHandles.Lookup API and the Core Reflection API (as found on Class).

If a security manager is present, member and class lookups are subject to additional checks. From one to three calls are made to the security manager. Any of these calls can refuse access by throwing a SecurityException. Define smgr as the security manager, lookc as the lookup class of the current lookup object, refc as the containing class in which the member is being sought, and defc as the class in which the member is actually defined. (If a class or other type is being accessed, the refc and defc values are the class itself.) The value lookc is defined as not present if the current lookup object does not have full privilege access. The calls are made according to the following rules:

  • Step 1: If lookc is not present, or if its class loader is not the same as or an ancestor of the class loader of refc, then smgr.checkPackageAccess(refcPkg) is called, where refcPkg is the package of refc.
  • Step 2a: If the retrieved member is not public and lookc is not present, then smgr.checkPermission with RuntimePermission("accessDeclaredMembers") is called.
  • Step 2b: If the retrieved class has a null class loader, and lookc is not present, then smgr.checkPermission with RuntimePermission("getClassLoader") is called.
  • Step 3: If the retrieved member is not public, and if lookc is not present, and if defc and refc are different, then smgr.checkPackageAccess(defcPkg) is called, where defcPkg is the package of defc.
Security checks are performed after other access checks have passed. Therefore, the above rules presuppose a member or class that is public, or else that is being accessed from a lookup class that has rights to access the member or class.

If a security manager is present and the current lookup object does not have full privilege access, then defineClass, defineHiddenClass, defineHiddenClassWithClassData calls smgr.checkPermission with RuntimePermission("defineClass").

Caller sensitive methods

A small number of Java methods have a special property called caller sensitivity. A caller-sensitive method can behave differently depending on the identity of its immediate caller.

If a method handle for a caller-sensitive method is requested, the general rules for bytecode behaviors apply, but they take account of the lookup class in a special way. The resulting method handle behaves as if it were called from an instruction contained in the lookup class, so that the caller-sensitive method detects the lookup class. (By contrast, the invoker of the method handle is disregarded.) Thus, in the case of caller-sensitive methods, different lookup classes may give rise to differently behaving method handles.

In cases where the lookup object is publicLookup(), or some other lookup object without the original access, the lookup class is disregarded. In such cases, no caller-sensitive method handle can be created, access is forbidden, and the lookup fails with an IllegalAccessException.

Discussion: For example, the caller-sensitive method Class.forName(x) can return varying classes or throw varying exceptions, depending on the class loader of the class that calls it. A public lookup of Class.forName will fail, because there is no reasonable way to determine its bytecode behavior.

If an application caches method handles for broad sharing, it should use publicLookup() to create them. If there is a lookup of Class.forName, it will fail, and the application must take appropriate action in that case. It may be that a later lookup, perhaps during the invocation of a bootstrap method, can incorporate the specific identity of the caller, making the method accessible.

The function MethodHandles.lookup is caller sensitive so that there can be a secure foundation for lookups. Nearly all other methods in the JSR 292 API rely on lookup objects to check access requests.