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Java Fundamental Classes Reference

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9.2 ClassLoader

Java supports dynamically loaded classes, so the class loading mechanism plays an important role in the Java security model. The default class loading mechanism in Java loads classes from local files found relative to directories specified by the CLASSPATH environment variable. The CLASSPATH environment variable should have a value made up of one or more directory paths separated by a colon. The path implied by the package of a class is relative to the directories specified in the CLASSPATH environment variable.

In contrast, an instance of the java.lang.ClassLoader class defines how classes are loaded over the network. You can specify a security policy for loading classes by defining a subclass of ClassLoader that implements the policy. The loadClass() method of a ClassLoader loads a top-level class, such as a subclass of Applet. That ClassLoader object then becomes associated with the loaded class. You can retrieve the ClassLoader object that loads the class by calling the getClassLoader() of an instance of the loaded class; every class in Java inherits this method from the Object class.

An object of a class loaded using a ClassLoader can attempt to load additional classes without explicitly using a ClassLoader object. The object does this by calling the forName() method of the Class class. However, if a ClassLoader object is associated with any pending method invocation in the current thread, the forName() method uses that ClassLoader to load the additional classes. In essence, this means that the object can only load classes through its associated ClassLoader.

If Java security is implemented correctly, an untrusted applet cannot escape the security policy implemented by the ClassLoader object used to load it because it cannot access any other ClassLoader objects. An applet should not be able to create its own ClassLoader objects. It is the responsibility of the checkCreateClassLoader() method of SecurityManager to enforce this restriction.

Because a SecurityManager can determine the ClassLoader, if any, used to load a class, it can use the ClassLoader to help determine the trustworthiness ofthe class. Classes loaded by different ClassLoader objects cannot accidentally be mixed up because a class is identified by the combination of its fully qualified name and its ClassLoader.

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