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Running a Java Application on the Command Line With Maven

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This tutorial will show you how to run a basic Java application on the command line (as opposed to on an IDE).

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We will learn how to:

  1. Create a new maven project
  2. Compile and execute your Java code into an executable jar file
  3. Add unit test for your code

All of these tasks will be done on the command line, so that you can have a better idea on what’s going on under the hood, and how you can run a java application in environments that don’t have a full-featured IDE like Eclipse or IntelliJ.

If you just want to see the example code, you can view it on Github

Creating a New Project

If you haven’t already, install OpenJDK on your system, after which you can install maven.

First, let’s create a new project folder using the maven command line tools:

mvn -B archetype:generate -DgroupId=com.sohamkamani -DartifactId=mvn-example -DarchetypeArtifactId=maven-archetype-quickstart -DarchetypeVersion=1.4

I’ve used a groupID corresponding to my domain (sohamkamani.com), you should replace this with your own choice

This generates a new project folder with the following structure:

mvn-example
β”œβ”€β”€ pom.xml
└── src
    β”œβ”€β”€ main
    β”‚   └── java
    β”‚       └── com
    β”‚           └── sohamkamani
    β”‚               └── App.java
    └── test
        └── java
            └── com
                └── sohamkamani
                    └── AppTest.java

App.java contains simple code that prints Hello World! when run.

Compiling Our Java Code

Before running a Java application in production, we’ll need to compile the Java code into byte-code that can be run on the JVM.

If we have multiple classes and folder (which we most likely will), we have to package the compiled code into a common format (like a .jar file).

We can perform compilation and packaging by running the following command:

mvn compile
mvn package

We can combine these two commands by running mvn compile package

Running these commands will create a bunch of files in a new target directory:

mvn-example
β”œβ”€β”€ pom.xml
β”œβ”€β”€ src/...
└── target
    β”œβ”€β”€ classes
    β”‚   └── com
    β”‚       └── sohamkamani
    β”‚           └── App.class
    β”œβ”€β”€ test-classes
    β”‚   └── com
    β”‚       └── sohamkamani
    β”‚           └── AppTest.class
    └── mvn-example-1.0-SNAPSHOT.jar

Some auxillary files are omitted from here for the sake of clarity

maven compiles and packages yor code

The JAR file is the final output that can be executed by the JVM. However, we still have to perform some additional steps before we can run our code.

Executing Our Code

We can use the java command to execute our JAR file:

java -jar target/mvn-example-1.0-SNAPSHOT.jar

If we run this now, we will get the following error:

no main manifest attribute, in target/tmp-mvn-example-1.0-SNAPSHOT.jar

This is because the JAR file doesn’t know the entry point, so it has no idea where the main method is.

We can make use of the Maven JAR plugin, which gives us additional capabilities to build JAR files.

We can add the following configuration as a child of the <build> tag:

<!-- this goes within <build> -->
<plugins>
	<plugin>
		<!-- Build an executable JAR -->
		<groupId>org.apache.maven.plugins</groupId>
		<artifactId>maven-jar-plugin</artifactId>
		<version>3.1.0</version>
		<configuration>
			<archive>
				<manifest>
					<addClasspath>true</addClasspath>
					<!-- here we specify that we want to use the main method within the App class -->
					<mainClass>com.sohamkamani.App</mainClass>
				</manifest>
			</archive>
		</configuration>
	</plugin>
</plugins>
<!-- other properties -->

We can now rebuild the project by running:

mvn clean compile package

The clean subcommand removes previous artifacts in the target directory, such as the previous stale JAR file

Next, we can execute the JAR file by running:

java -jar target/mvn-example-1.0-SNAPSHOT.jar

Which will give us the output:

Hello World!

Running Unit Tests

Maven can also be used to run tests that we’ve defined in our project.

By convention, all tests reside within the src/test directory.

For the purpose of illustration, let’s create a static method to add two numbers in the App class:

public class App {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        System.out.printf("Hello World! %d", Calculator.add(4, 5));
    }

    public static int add(int n1, int n2) {
        return n1 + n2;
    }
}

We can now create a unit test for this method within src/test/java/com/sohamkamani/AppTest.java:

package com.sohamkamani;

// the JUnit library is used for testing
import static org.junit.Assert.assertEquals;
import org.junit.Test;

public class AppTest {

    @Test
    public void shouldAnswerWithTrue() {
        int result = App.add(3, 4);
        assertEquals(7, result);
    }
}

By default, the maven project folder comes bundled with the JUnit library for running unit tests

To run tests, we can run the mvn test command - this will run all tests, tell us how many passed and failed, and give us more information about the failed tests.

Adding Dependencies (External Libraries)

Let’s look at how to add dependencies and package them in our JAR file.

For most applications need external libraries (like Spring Boot or Apache Commons) to implement common functionality. Maven allows us to install these dependencies by specifying them in our pom.xml file.

For this example, let’s install the Cowsay library, which will display our output as a quote from a friendly cartoon figure of a cow.

First, we have to add Cowsay as a dependency in our pom.xml file:

<!-- ... -->

  <dependencies>
    <dependency>
      <groupId>junit</groupId>
      <artifactId>junit</artifactId>
      <version>4.11</version>
      <scope>test</scope>
    </dependency>

    <!-- We can add additional dependencies here -->
    <dependency>
      <groupId>com.github.ricksbrown</groupId>
      <artifactId>cowsay</artifactId>
      <version>1.1.0</version>
      <classifier>lib</classifier>
    </dependency>
  </dependencies>

<!-- ... -->

Next, we can use the Cowsay.say method within our main method to print the final output string:

package com.sohamkamani;

// import Cowsay class from the library
import com.github.ricksbrown.cowsay.Cowsay;

public class App {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        int result = Calculator.add(4, 5);
        // We can specify the arguments and get the display
        // string from the `Cowsay.say` method
        String[] cowArgs = new String[] { String.valueOf(result) };
        String cowString = Cowsay.say(cowArgs);

        // print the final output string
        System.out.printf(cowString);
    }

    public static int add(int n1, int n2) {
        return n1 + n2;
    }
}

However, there’s a problem - If we recompile our code and try to run the app now, we will get an error:

$ mvn clean compile package
$ java -jar target/mvn-example-1.0-SNAPSHOT.jar 
Exception in thread "main" java.lang.NoClassDefFoundError: com/github/ricksbrown/cowsay/Cowsay
        at com.sohamkamani.App.main(App.java:13)
Caused by: java.lang.ClassNotFoundException: com.github.ricksbrown.cowsay.Cowsay
        at java.base/jdk.internal.loader.BuiltinClassLoader.loadClass(BuiltinClassLoader.java:641)
        at java.base/jdk.internal.loader.ClassLoaders$AppClassLoader.loadClass(ClassLoaders.java:188)
        at java.base/java.lang.ClassLoader.loadClass(ClassLoader.java:520)
        ... 1 more

It looks like the Java class loader couldn’t find the classes for the Cowsay library, even though we added it as a dependency in the pom.xml file.

This happens because by default, maven doesn’t bundle the dependency class files along with the application code. To enable this, we can use the maven-assembly-plugin.

This plugin includes all of our applications dependencies into the JAR file. This increases its overall size, but ensures that we can run it as a standalone executable using the java -jar command.

Let’s add the Maven assembly plugin in the pom.xml build definition:

<!-- ... -->
<build>
<plugins>
    <plugin>
    <groupId>org.apache.maven.plugins</groupId>
    <artifactId>maven-jar-plugin</artifactId>
    <version>3.1.0</version>
    <configuration>
        <archive>
        <manifest>
            <addClasspath>true</addClasspath>
            <mainClass>com.sohamkamani.App</mainClass>
        </manifest>
        </archive>
    </configuration>
    </plugin>
    <!-- Add the assemble plugin with standard configuration -->
    <plugin>
    <artifactId>maven-assembly-plugin</artifactId>
    <configuration>
        <archive>
        <manifest>
            <mainClass>com.sohamkamani.App</mainClass>
        </manifest>
        </archive>
        <descriptorRefs>
        <descriptorRef>jar-with-dependencies</descriptorRef>
        </descriptorRefs>
    </configuration>
    </plugin>
</plugins>
<!-- ... -->
</build>
<!-- ... -->

To compile our code, we can run the assembly:single goal in place of the package goal:

mvn clean compile assembly:single

This creates a new JAR file in the target directory that you can run using the java -jar command:

$ java -jar target/mvn-example-1.0-SNAPSHOT-jar-with-dependencies.jar
 ___
< 9 >
 ---
        \   ^__^
         \  (oo)\_______
            (__)\       )\/\
                ||----w |
                ||     ||

You can view the complete example code for this post on Github

How do you organize your Java projects? Do you ever use the command line for common tasks? Let me know in the comments!


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Soham Kamani

Written by Soham Kamani, an author,and a full-stack developer who has extensive experience in the JavaScript ecosystem, and building large scale applications in Go. He is an open source enthusiast and an avid blogger. You should follow him on Twitter