Hand-crafted Uberjars

While making a MIDI REPL I ran into the problem of providing people interested in trying it out something self-contained so that they wouldn’t have to recreate my dev setup. The solution for this is making a JAR file containing the .class files of your project and all of its dependencies. There are tools for this purpose such as Ant and Maven, but I couldn’t figure out how to make them work for me, so I decided to take a closer look at what happens behind the scenes and created a simple Makefile.

A JAR file is just a ZIP archive following certain rules. It must contain a manifest.txt in its root and class files inside directories mirroring the package structure. The only difference between a regular JAR and an Uberjar is that the latter will also include the class files of its dependencies. Tools for creating them will have to extract the class files from all JAR files involved and combine them into a directory tree before creating a new JAR file containing all required class files. Things can get ugly if your dependencies share the same package prefix (such as org.foo and org.bar) or if a dependency exists in multiple versions (such as org.foo depending on npm.leftpad-0.0.1 and org.bar depending on npm.leftpad-0.0.2)[1], I don’t even attempt to deal with these.

The manifest is a text file following a fixed format. The only thing you can get wrong here is the entry point which must be the name a class containing a static main method. It’s required so that a java -jar my.jar knows where to look, however the entry point can be changed by running java -cp my.jar <classname> instead. This is useful for debugging and allows you to add other dependency JARs to the classpath you haven’t put into your Uberjar yet. Just change the argument to -cp to be a double colon separated list of JARs.

The dependencies are unzipped into a temporary directory. The jar tool supports changing the working directory so that you can switch to that directory and add the extracted directories without any prefix. That’s everything necessary to create a runnable JAR!

[1]The way to deal with them is using a custom class loader, as demonstrated by yet another product in the problem space.