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1. Overview

In this tutorial, we will explore the key difference between classpath and build path in Java. While both classpath and build path are essential for compiling and running Java code, they serve distinct purposes.

2. Classpath

The classpath is an environment variable used by the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) to locate and load classes when running a Java program. It specifies a list of directories, JAR files, and ZIP files where the JVM should look to find and load class files.

We can set the classpath from the command line or in an integrated development environment (IDE).

2.1. Setting the Classpath via the Command Line

To set the classpath via the command line, we use the -classpath option when running the java command:

java -classpath /path/to/class/files MyProgram

Here, MyProgram is the name of the main class, and /path/to/class/files is the directory where the class file is located. If we have multiple directories and/or JAR files, we can separate them using a colon:

java -classpath /path/to/classes:/path/to/lib.jar MyProgram

2.2. Setting the Classpath in an IDE

Most IDEs have built-in support for setting the classpath. Let’s check the steps for doing so in two popular IDEs — Eclipse and IntelliJ IDEA.

In Eclipse:

  • Right-click on the project
  • Select Build Path
  • Click on Configure Build Path
  • Add directories and JAR files under the Libraries tab

In IntelliJ IDEA:

  • Left-click on File from the menu
  • Select Project Structure
  • Navigate to Modules
  • Click on Dependencies
  • Click on + at the bottom of the dialog
  • Add directories and JAR files and click on the Ok button

3. Build Path

The build path is a list of all the resources that are required to build a Java project, including source files, class files, libraries, and other dependencies. The Java development environment such as Eclipse, IntelliJ IDEA, or NetBeans uses the build path to compile and build the Java project.

The build path can be set in the project directories of both Eclipse and IntelliJ IDEA. Let’s see how to set the build path in each IDE.

In Eclipse:

  • Go to Project Properties by right-clicking on the project and selecting Properties
  • Navigate to Java Build Path
  • Click on the Libraries tab
  • Add the required libraries and click on the Ok button

In IntelliJ IDEA:

  • Left-click on File from the menu
  • Select Modules
  • Navigate to Dependencies
  • Click on + at the bottom of the dialog
  • Add directories and click on the Ok button

4. Differences Between Classpath and Build Path

Finally, let’s explore the main difference between Classpath and Build path. While the JVM uses the classpath at runtime to find class files and libraries, IDEs use the build path during the build process to find dependencies.

Here’s a quick comparison between JVM usage of the Class path and IDEs’ usage of the Build path:

Classpath Build Path
Usage JVM at runtime to find files IDEs during the build process
Set up Command line/environment In the IDE
Purpose Find class files and libraries Find dependencies

It’s worth noting that the classpath is not used only at runtime but also at build-time for different build phases, like compilation and testing. The build system uses the classpath to locate and load classes and libraries required for the build process.

Both Classpath and Build Path are essential for the successful execution and building of a Java program. If either path is not set up correctly, errors can occur, and the program will fail to execute or build correctly.

5. Conclusion

Understanding the differences between classpath and build path is crucial for correctly setting up a Java environment. While the classpath is used by the JVM to find class files and libraries at runtime, the build path is used by IDEs during the build process to find dependencies. Both classpath and build path are essential for the successful execution and building of a Java program.

Course – LS – All
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Get started with Spring Boot and with core Spring, through the Learn Spring course:

>> CHECK OUT THE COURSE

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