What is a Java Package and how to use it?

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In Java, a unique name has to be used for each class to avoid name collisions. After a while, without some way to manage the name space, you could run out of convenient, descriptive names for individual classes. You also need some way to be assured that the name you choose for a class will be reasonably unique and not collide with class names chosen by other programmers. (Imagine a small group of programmers fighting over who gets to use the name "Foobar" as a class name. Or, imagine the entire Internet community arguing over who first named a class "Espresso.") Thankfully, Java provides a mechanism for partitioning the class name space into more manageable chunks. This mechanism is the package. The package is both a naming and a visibility control mechanism. You can define classes inside a package that are not accessible by code outside that package. You can also define class members that are only exposed to other members of the same package. This allows your classes to have intimate knowledge of each other, but not expose that knowledge to the rest of the world.

To create a package is quite easy: simply include a package command as the first statement in a Java source file. Any classes declared within that file will belong to the specified package. The package statement defines a name space in which classes are stored. If you omit the package statement, the class names are put into the default package, which has no name. (This is why you haven't had to worry about packages before now.) While the default package is fine for short, sample programs, it is inadequate for real applications. Most of the time, you will define a package for your code.

This is the general form of the package statement:

package pkg;

Here, pkg is the name of the package. For example, the following statement creates a package called MyPackage.

package MyPackage;

Java uses file system directories to store packages. For example, the .class files for any classes you declare to be part of MyPackage must be stored in a directory called MyPackage. Remember that case is significant, and the directory name must match the package name exactly.

More than one file can include the same package statement. The package statement simply specifies to which package the classes defined in a file belong. It does not exclude other classes in other files from being part of that same package. Most real-world packages are spread across many files.

You can create a hierarchy of packages. To do so, simply separate each package name from the one above it by use of a period. The general form of a multileveled package statement is shown here:

package pkg1[.pkg2[.pkg3]];

A package hierarchy must be reflected in the file system of your Java development system. For example, a package declared as 

package java.awt.image;

needs to be stored in java/awt/image, java\\awt\\image, or java:awt:image on your UNIX, Windows, or Macintosh file system, respectively. Be sure to choose your package names carefully. You cannot rename a package without renaming the directory in which the classes are stored.


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