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I am a recent Master of Computer Science degree graduate from the University Of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.I have previously worked as a Software Engineer with projects ranging from production support to programming and software engineering.I am currently working on self-driven projects in Java, Python and Angular and also exploring other frontend and backend technologies.

How to set Classpath in Java

In this article we will see how to set the CLASSPATH variable in Windows.

1. What is a Java Classpath?

A classpath is a system variable that we set. It is used by the JVM or more precisely the Application class loader to load user-defined classes and packages

1.1 So, PATH and CLASSPATH are different?

Yes, the PATH variable and the CLASSPATH variable are different.

The PATH is an environmental variable. This variable is the path to Java executables like “java” or “javac” and is required by the Java compiler and runtime environment to run and compile Java programs from anywhere.

The CLASSPATH is also an environment variable. This variable is used by the JVM or the Application class loader to locate and load user-defined classes that are not a part of the Java JDK installed on the system.

2. How to set the CLASSPATH variable?

There are multiple ways of setting a classpath variable.

2.1 Using the Command line

Using the command line i.e. cmd we can set a classpath variable in 2 ways.

2.1.1 Using the set command

We can set the classpath for the entire time the command prompt is open. This is discouraged and is not the preferred way to set a classpath. To set the classpath using the set command:

  1. Open the cmd.
  2. Write the command:
set classpath1;classpath2..

example: set classpath=D:TestProject/bin

set command
set command

2.1.2 Using the -cp or -classpath command

This is the preferred way of setting the classpath variable. According, to the Oracle docs

The -classpath option is preferred because you can set it individually for each application without affecting other applications and without other applications modifying its value.

Java Docs

To set the classpath using the -classpath command:

  1. Open the command prompt.
  2. Run the required command(SDK tool eg: java, javac) with -classpath added

Example: 1. Javac command

 Assume that our HelloWorld.java file requires a third-paty jar called “mailer.jar” to compile it. We can use the command

javac -classpath mailer.jar HelloWorld.java

2. Java command

Assume that our java files are in the src folder and the classes are in the bin folder, then while executing the java programs we can do-

java -classpath D:/TestProject/bin MainClass

 All the rules related to classpath setting are available on the Oracle Java docs.

2.2 Environment Variable

One other way to set the classpath variable is through the Environment Variables. This method is highly discouraged since the classpath required by different programs is different. Also setting classpath variables this way may hinder the execution of other programs.

To set the classpath through the environment variables:

  1. Type “environment variables” in the “Type here to search” box.
  2. Click on the first option which opens the System properties dialog box.
  3. In the User variables for Admin variables, click on the “New” button.
  4. In the dialog box that open set the classpath variable.
environment variable
environment variable
set the classpath in the environment variables
classpath set in the environment variables

3. Understanding classpath in action with an example

To understand classpath, lets take a brief look at how java loads classes.

3.1 Why is the classpath needed?

  • Java allows users to load external jars and packages that are not a part of the Java JDK and use them in programs.
  • However, these classes are loaded in the Java runtime environment only when they are required.
  • To do this, the Application classloader is used.
  • For the application classloader to find the packages/classes/jars that it requires, we need to set the classpath variable. More details about the class loader are available here.

3.2 Example

We will see the classpath in action with a small project. The name of the Project is TestProject.

The structure of the project is as follows:

structure of the project
Project structure
  • The class files are in the “bin” folder and the source files are in the src folder.
  • We have a MainClass and an Employees class inside the com.examples.javacodegeeks packages.
  • The MainClass uses the Employees package and so has an import for it.
import java.util.ArrayList;
import com.examples.javacodegeeks.Employees;
public class MainClass {
	public static void main(String[] args) {		
		//Make an array of employees 
		ArrayList emp_list= new ArrayList();
		emp_list.add(new Employees("Thorin Oakenshield",1,"King under the Mountain"));
		emp_list.add(new Employees("Balin",2,"Second-in-command"));
		emp_list.add(new Employees("Dwalin",3,"Erebor dwarf"));
		emp_list.add(new Employees("Dori",4,"Erebor dwarf"));
		emp_list.add(new Employees("Nori",5,"Erebor dwarf"));
		emp_list.add(new Employees("Ori",6,"Erebor dwarf"));
		emp_list.add(new Employees("Oin",7,"Erebor dwarf"));
		emp_list.add(new Employees("Gloin",8,"Erebor dwarf"));
		emp_list.add(new Employees("Bifur",9,"Erebor dwarf"));
		emp_list.add(new Employees("Bofur",10,"Erebor dwarf"));
		emp_list.add(new Employees("Bombur",11,"Erebor dwarf"));
		emp_list.add(new Employees("Fili",12,"Erebor dwarf"));
		emp_list.add(new Employees("Kili",13,"Erebor dwarf"));
		for(Employees e:emp_list) {

package com.examples.javacodegeeks;

public class Employees {
	private String fullname;
	private int empid;
	private String designation;
	public Employees(String fullname, int empid, String designation) {
		this.fullname = fullname;
		this.empid = empid;
		this.designation = designation;
	public String getFullname() {
		return fullname;
	public void setFullname(String fullname) {
		this.fullname = fullname;
	public int getEmpid() {
		return empid;
	public void setEmpid(int empid) {
		this.empid = empid;
	public String getDesignation() {
		return designation;
	public void setDesignation(String designation) {
		this.designation = designation;
	public String getEmployeeDescription(Employees emp) {
		return "Employee name: " + emp.getFullname() + " with employee id: " + emp.getEmpid() + " and designation: " +emp.getDesignation()  ;		
  • Assume that we are in an environment where we need to execute the Java program from the C drive and the project is available in the D drive.
  • To check if the classpath is set or not, we use the command below. IF the output is %classpath% that means that the classpath is not set.
echo %classpath%
No classpath variable set
No classpath variable set
  • If we try to execute the java command from the C drive without setting the classpath, it will result in the following error.
ClassNotFound exception
ClassNotFound exception
  • To fix the error we need to set the classpath variable using any of the commands mentioned above and then run the program again. The outputs are given below.
Method 1: set command
set classpath=D:/TestProject/bin
Java Classpath - set classpath output
set classpath output
Preferred method: java -classpath option
Java Classpath - java-classpath option
Java -classpath option

4. Clearing out the classpath variable

To clear the classpath variable of it s value we use the set classpath command

set classpath=

This would clear the value of the classpath variable.

Java Classpath - clear the classpath
Clear classpath

5. Download the Source code.

You can download the full source code of this example here: How to set Classpath in Java

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Avi Abrami
Avi Abrami
9 days ago

Seriously? Java has been modularized for more than three years. Modularization made CLASSPATH obsolete. Even if you are using pre- Java 9, it is recommended not to use the CLASSPATH variable but rather to use the -cp option. Also, even though I am sure that Bill Gates would like to think so, the world does not start and end with Microsoft Windows. I thought java was meant to be cross platform. So why alienate all the linux, UNIX and Mac users?