Bootstrapping is the process by which you load a very small and very simple pure java program with no dependencies that, in turn, loads, configures, and runs more complex programs with varying dependencies. Bootstrapping lets you run your container without polluting the system classpath. This allows you to run your deployed applications with the unpolluted system classpath as its parent. You’ve achieved classloader isolation.

When would you want to bootstrap? Any time you want an unpolluted system classpath, which I’m finding is often convenient.

Let’s say you want to write some kind of middleware product, a container of some sort that deploys other applications within it. You will run into classloading issues. The dependencies that your container has (say, Spring 2.0.6) may not be what your deployed application requires (maybe, Spring 1.2.6). You will find that you cannot have commons-logging in both applications (container and child). There are many ways to encounter java.lang.LinkageErrors. It’s very easy to cross the streams when running in a mutli-app environment.

What you want to do is load your container and deployed apps in splendid isolation from each other. How do you do that? Bootstrapping!

Here’s how you bootstrap…

import java.lang.reflect.Method;
import java.util.ArrayList;
import java.util.List;

public class Bootstrap {

    public static void main(String[] args) throws Exception {

            Assume your application has a "home" directory
            with /classes and /lib beneath it, where you can put
            loose files and jars.



        String HOME = "/usr/local/src/YOURAPP";
        String CLASSES = HOME + "/classes";
        String LIB = HOME + "/lib";

        // add the classes dir and each jar in lib to a List of URLs.
        List urls = new ArrayList();
        urls.add(new File(CLASSES).toURL());
        for (File f : new File(LIB).listFiles()) {

        // feed your URLs to a URLClassLoader!
        ClassLoader classloader =
                new URLClassLoader(
                        urls.toArray(new URL[0]),

        // relative to that classloader, find the main class
        // you want to bootstrap, which is the first cmd line arg
        Class mainClass = classloader.loadClass(args[0]);
        Method main = mainClass.getMethod("main",
                new Class[]{args.getClass()});

        // well-behaved Java packages work relative to the
        // context classloader.  Others don't (like commons-logging)

        // you want to prune the first arg because its your main class.
        // you want to pass the remaining args as the "real" args to your main
        String[] nextArgs = new String[args.length - 1];
        System.arraycopy(args, 1, nextArgs, 0, nextArgs.length);
        main.invoke(null, new Object[] { nextArgs });


You can try this code out for yourself. Cut & paste the bootstrap code above into your favorite IDE, put that single Bootstrap.class onto your classpath, and run it like so:

java -cp . Bootstrap sample.HelloWorldMain Hello!

Click here to download the sample /usr/local/src/YOURAPP application.
Tip for Windows users, you can make the path c:\usr\local\src\YOURAPP it’ll work.