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Making Java applications portable

There are many different languages and frameworks which applications can be written in, and they all have different ways of doing things. This document deals with the considerations in making Java applications portable.

Turn on Java support

If your application uses Java at all, whether it requires it or can merely use it to benefit if it’s there, you will need to turn on Java support in launcher.ini. To do this you will need to set the value [Activate]:Java; see that page for details on how to turn on Java support and what the different modes (try and force) mean.

The ProgramExecutable

When you need to launch a Java application with java.exe or (more commonly) javaw.exe, set [Activate]:Java to force and then you can set ProgramExecutable to java.exe or javaw.exe and it will be rewritten to the path to that Java binary.

Build systems and command line arguments

There are a few different ways of making and building Java applications, each of which requires different techniques to handle portability.

Eclipse-based applications

These seem to normally accept a command-line argument to the executable included, to specify the Java location to use. Try putting -vm "%JAVA_HOME%\bin" into CommandLineArguments (your ProgramExecutable will not be java.exe or javaw.exe).

Launch4J-based applications

(This seems to be most applications.)

These apps run an executable, which discovers Java from the registry, and run something which creates an executable in the JRE’s directory, in a subdirectory launch4j-tmp, which will run the Java application. Try running the base application (with a local JRE installation) and then use a program such as Microsoft SysInternals Process Explorer to look at the command line arguments which it then gets started with. In Process Explorer, right-click on the executable and click “Properties”, and copy the execution string. Also note the working directory.

The problem with bypassing AppName.exe and directly calling javaw.exe is that [Launch]:SingleAppInstance no longer works correctly and must be set to false. Instead, if mixing local and portable instances is not valid, set [Launch]:CloseEXE to AppName.exe, so that the local version, still running AppName.exe, will be required to close before the portable application will start.


If you come up against any other techniques or circumstances where other techniques would be better, please suggest them.

Changing the settings location

Most Java applications store their settings in the location provided by the Java user.home constant. Fortunately for us, these values can be set in the Java command line. Any such value can be written with the -D argument, like this: -Duser.home="%PAL:DataDir%\settings" (remember that quotes are normally a good idea for paths, just in case they include spaces).


One way of storing settings in Java applications is with java.util.prefs. This stores its settings in the registry, in HKCU\Software\JavaSoft\Prefs\[package path], with the package path backslash-separated, so that for com.company.application, the key is HKCU\Software\JavaSoft\Prefs\com\company\application. With this you must save the full path, and then prune the tree back to HKCU\Software as long as it’s empty; this means you will do it like this:


(file name)=HKCU\Software\JavaSoft\Prefs\com\company\application


This example will vary depending on the name of the package which is using java.util.prefs.

An Example

This example is of a hypothetical application called Jest (‘cos it’s jest a test app and written in Java too). It’s written by a company called JestTech.

Jest stores some things in user.home, but also uses java.util.prefs to store its settings in the registry. It requires up to one GB of a certain type of memory (the type that requires a command line argument -Xmx1024m). Its class path includes a couple of jar files in its own directory (in the portable package they end up as App\Jest\lib\foo.jar and App\Jest\lib\bar.jar with the main package being App\Jest\lib\jest.jar), but because of the deployment method used it requires javaws.jar from the JRE libraries. The Jest main class is com.jesttech.jest.Jest. The normal distribution method in Windows is with Launch4J in such a way that the executable is called Jest.exe (due to settings being in the registry, this means that Jest.exe must be closed before we start the portable version).

One last thing: there’s an opportunity for convenience finding of documents by setting, in the registry key HKCU\Software\JavaSoft\Prefs\com\jesttech\jest, the value docsdir. It must be formatted in just the way java.util.prefs likes it.

Here’s what we’d put into App\AppInfo\Launcher\JestPortable.ini.

CommandLineArguments=-Duser.home="%PAL:DataDir%\settings" -Xmx1024m -classpath "lib\Jest.jar;lib\foo.jar;lib\bar.jar;%JAVA_HOME%\lib\javaws.jar" com.jesttech.jest.Jest