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Reflection in Java

August 7, 2009
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Reflection is a feature in the Java programming language. It allows an executing Java program to examine or “introspect” upon itself, and manipulate internal properties of the program. For example, it’s possible for a Java class to obtain the names of all its members and display them.

The ability to examine and manipulate a Java class from within itself may not sound like very much, but in other programming languages this feature simply doesn’t exist. For example, there is no way in a Pascal, C, or C++ program to obtain information about the functions defined within that program.

One tangible use of reflection is in JavaBeans, where software components can be manipulated visually via a builder tool. The tool uses reflection to obtain the properties of Java components as they are dynamically loaded.

Consider this simple example:

import java.lang.reflect.*;

public class DumpMethods {
public static void main(String args[])
{
try {
Class c = Class.forName(args[0]);
Method m[] = c.getDeclaredMethods();
for (int i = 0; i < m.length; i++)
System.out.println(m[i].toString());
}
catch (Throwable e) {
System.err.println(e);
}
}
}

For an invocation of:

java DumpMethods java.util.Stack

the output is:

public java.lang.Object java.util.Stack.push(
java.lang.Object)
public synchronized
java.lang.Object java.util.Stack.pop()
public synchronized
java.lang.Object java.util.Stack.peek()
public boolean java.util.Stack.empty()
public synchronized
int java.util.Stack.search(java.lang.Object)

That is, the method names of class java.util.Stack are listed, along with their fully qualified parameter and return types.

This program loads the specified class using class.forName, and then calls getDeclaredMethods to retrieve the list of methods defined in the class. java.lang.reflect.Method is a class representing a single class method.

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