Jul 6, 2014

Can you explain Java class loaders? How is the very first Java class loaded? Describe JEE class loaders?

Class loaders are hierarchical. Classes are introduced into the JVM as they are referenced by name in a class that is already running in the JVM. So, how is the very first class loaded? The very first class is especially loaded with the help of static main( ) method declared in your class. All the subsequently loaded classes are loaded by the classes, which are already loaded and running. A class loader creates a namespace. All JVMs include at least one class loader that is embedded within the JVM called the primordial (or bootstrap) class loader. Now let’s look at non-primordial class loaders. The JVM has hooks in it to allow user defined class loaders to be used in place of primordial class loader. Let us look at the class loaders created by the JVM.

Q. Can you explain the terms "delegation model" and "visibility" relating to  Java class loading?
A. Class loaders are hierarchical and use a delegation model when loading a class. Class loaders request their parent to load the class first before attempting to load it themselves. When a class loader loads a class, the child class loaders in the hierarchy will never reload the class again. Hence uniqueness is maintained. Classes loaded by a child class loader have visibility into classes loaded by its parents up the hierarchy but the reverse is not true as explained in the above diagram.

Q. Explain JEE class loaders?
A.  JEE application server sample class loader hierarchy is shown below. As per the diagram shown below the JEE application specific class loaders are children of the “System –classpath” class loader. When the parent class loader is above the “System –classpath” class loader in the hierarchy as shown in the diagram (i.e. bootstrap class loader or extensions class loader) then child class loaders implicitly have visibility to the classes loaded by its parents. When a parent class loader is below a “System -classpath” class loader in the hierarchy then the child class loaders will only have visibility into the classes loaded by its parents only if they are explicitly specified in a manifest file (MANIFEST.MF) of the child class loader.

Example As per the diagram, if the EJB module MyAppsEJB.jar wants to refer to MyAppsCommon.jar and MyAppsUtil.jar we need to add the following entry in the MyAppsEJB.jar’s manifest file MANIFEST.MF.

class-path: MyAppsCommon.jar MyAppsUtil.jar

This is because the application (EAR) class loader loads the MyAppsCommon.jar and MyAppsUtil.jar. The EJB class loader loads the MyAppsEJB.jar, which is the child class loader of the application class loader. The WAR class loader loads the MyAppsWeb.war.

Every JEE application or EAR gets its own instance of the application class loader. This class loader is also responsible for loading all the dependency jar files, which are shared by both Web and EJB modules. For example third party libraries like log4j, utility (e.g. MyAppsUtility.jar) and common (e.g. MyAppsCommon.jar) jars etc. Any application specific exception like MyApplicationException thrown by an EJB module should be caught by a Web module. So the exception class MyApplicationException is shared by both Web and EJB modules.

The key difference between the EJB and WAR class loader is that all the EJB jars in the application share the same EJB class loader whereas WAR files get their own class loader. This is because the EJBs have inherent relationship between one another (i.e. EJB-EJB communication between EJBs in different applications but hosted on the same JVM) but the Web modules do not. Every WAR file should be able to have its own WEB-INF/lib third party libraries and need to be able to load its own version of converted logon.jsp servlet. So, each Web module is isolated in its own class loader.

So, if two different Web modules want to use two different versions of the same EJB, then we need to have two different ear files. As was discussed in the delegation model where the child class loaders delegate the loading up the hierarchy to their parent before trying to load it itself only if the parent can’t load it. But with regards to WAR class loaders, some application servers provide a setting to turn this behavior off (DelegationMode=false). This delegation mode is recommended in the Servlet 2.3 specification.

General rule of Java class loading

As a general rule, classes should not be deployed higher in the hierarchy than they are supposed to exist. This is because if you move one class up the hierarchy then you will have to move other classes up the hierarchy as well. This is because classes loaded by the parent class loader can’t see the classes loaded by its child class loaders (uni-directional bottom-up visibility).

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