Sockets are a low-level programming interface for networked communications. They send streams of data between applications that may or may not be on the same host. Sockets originated in BSD Unix and are, in some programming languages, hairy, complicated things with lots of small parts that can break off and endanger little children. The reason for this is that most socket APIs can be used with almost any kind of underlying network protocol. Since the protocols that transport data across the network can have radically different features, the socket interface can be quite complex.[37]

The package supports a simplified, object-oriented socket interface that makes network communications considerably easier. If you’ve done network programming using sockets in other languages, you should be pleasantly surprised at how simple things can be when objects encapsulate the gory details. If this is the first time you’ve come across sockets, you’ll find that talking to another application over the network can be as simple as reading a file or getting user input. Most forms of I/O in Java, including most network I/O, use the stream classes described in Chapter 12. Streams provide a unified I/O interface so that reading or writing across the Internet is similar to reading or writing on the local system. In addition to the stream-oriented interfaces, the Java networking APIs can work with the Java NIO buffer-oriented API for highly scalable applications. We’ll see both in this chapter.

Java provides sockets to support three distinct classes of underlying protocols: Sockets, DatagramSockets, and MulticastSockets. In this first section, we look at Java’s basic Socket class, which uses a connection-oriented and reliable protocol. A connection-oriented protocol provides the equivalent of a telephone conversation. After establishing a connection, two applications can send streams of data back and forth and the connection stays in place even when no one is talking. Because the protocol is reliable, it also ensures that no data is lost (resending data as necessary) and that whatever you send always arrives in the order in which you sent it.

In the next section, we look at the DatagramSocket class, which uses a connectionless, unreliable protocol. A connectionless protocol is like the postal service. Applications can send short messages to each other, but no end-to-end connection is set up in advance and no attempt is made to keep the messages in order. It’s not even guaranteed that the messages will arrive at all. A MulticastSocket is a variation of a DatagramSocket that performs multicasting—simultaneously sending data to multiple recipients. Working with multicast sockets is very much like working with datagram sockets. However, because multicasting is currently not widely supported across the Internet, we do not cover it here.

In theory, just about any protocol can be used underneath the socket layer (old-schoolers will remember things like Novell’s IPX, Apple’s AppleTalk, etc.). But in practice, there’s only one important protocol family used on the Internet, and only one protocol family that Java supports: the Internet Protocol (IP). The Socket class speaks TCP, the connection-oriented flavor of IP, and the DatagramSocket class speaks UDP, the connectionless kind.

Clients and Servers

When writing network applications, it’s common to talk about clients and servers. The distinction is increasingly vague, but the side that initiates the conversation is usually considered the client. The side that accepts the request is usually the server. In the case where two peer applications use sockets to talk, the distinction is less important, but for simplicity we’ll use this definition.

For our purposes, the most important difference between a client and a server is that a client can create a socket to initiate a conversation with a server application at any time, while a server must be prepared in advance to listen for incoming conversations. The class represents one side of an individual socket connection on both the client and server. In addition, the server uses the class to listen for new connections from clients. In most cases, an application acting as a server creates a ServerSocket object and waits, blocked in a call to its accept() method, until a connection arrives. When it arrives, the accept() method creates a Socket object that the server uses to communicate with the client. A server may carry on conversations with multiple clients at once; in this case, there is still only a single ServerSocket, but the server has multiple Socket objects—one associated with each client, as shown in Figure 13-2.

At the socket level, a client needs two pieces of information to locate and connect to a server on the Internet: a hostname (used to find the host computer’s network address) and a port number. The port number is an identifier that differentiates between multiple clients or servers on the same host. A server application listens on a prearranged port while waiting for connections. Clients use the port number assigned to the service they want to access. If you think of the host computers as hotels and the applications as guests, the ports are like the guests’ room numbers. For one person to call another, he or she must know the other party’s hotel name and room number.

Clients and servers, Sockets and ServerSockets

Figure 13-2. Clients and servers, Sockets and ServerSockets


A client application opens a connection to a server by constructing a Socket that specifies the hostname and port number of the desired server:

    try {
        Socket sock = new Socket("", 25);
    } catch ( UnknownHostException e ) {
        System.out.println("Can't find host.");
    } catch ( IOException e ) {
        System.out.println("Error connecting to host.");

This code fragment attempts to connect a Socket to port 25 (the SMTP mail service) of the host The client handles the possibility that the hostname can’t be resolved (UnknownHostException) and that it might not be able to connect to it (IOException). In the preceding case, Java used DNS, the standard Domain Name Service, to resolve the hostname to an IP address for us. The constructor can also accept a string containing the host’s raw IP address:

    Socket sock = new Socket("", 25);

After a connection is made, input and output streams can be retrieved with the Socket getInputStream() and getOutputStream() methods. The following (rather arbitrary) code sends and receives some data with the streams:

    try {
        Socket server = new Socket("", 1234);
        InputStream in = server.getInputStream();
        OutputStream out = server.getOutputStream();

        // write a byte

        // write a newline or carriage return delimited string
        PrintWriter pout = new PrintWriter( out, true );

        // read a byte
        byte back = (byte);

        // read a newline or carriage return delimited string
        BufferedReader bin =
          new BufferedReader( new InputStreamReader( in ) );
        String response = bin.readLine();

        // send a serialized Java object
        ObjectOutputStream oout = new
        ObjectOutputStream( out );
        oout.writeObject( new java.util.Date() );
    catch (IOException e ) { ... }

In this exchange, the client first creates a Socket for communicating with the server. The Socket constructor specifies the server’s hostname ( and a prearranged port number (1234). Once the connection is established, the client writes a single byte to the server using the OutputStream’s write() method. To send a string of text more easily, it then wraps a PrintWriter around the OutputStream. Next, it performs the complementary operations: reading a byte back from the server using InputStream’s read() method and then creating a BufferedReader from which to get a full string of text. Finally, we do something really funky and send a serialized Java object to the server, using an ObjectOutputStream. (We’ll talk in depth about sending serialized objects later in this chapter.) The client then terminates the connection with the close() method. All these operations have the potential to generate IOExceptions; our application will deal with these using the catch clause.


After a connection is established, a server application uses the same kind of Socket object for its side of the communications. However, to accept a connection from a client, it must first create a ServerSocket, bound to the correct port. Let’s recreate the previous conversation from the server’s point of view:

    // Meanwhile, on
    try {
        ServerSocket listener = new ServerSocket( 1234 );

        while ( !finished ) {
            Socket client = listener.accept();  // wait for connection

            InputStream in = client.getInputStream();
            OutputStream out = client.getOutputStream();

            // read a byte
            byte someByte = (byte);

            // read a newline or carriage-return-delimited string
            BufferedReader bin =
              new BufferedReader( new InputStreamReader( in ) );
            String someString = bin.readLine();

            // write a byte

            // say goodbye
            PrintWriter pout = new PrintWriter( out, true );
            // read a serialized Java object
            ObjectInputStream oin = new ObjectInputStream( in );
            Date date = (Date)oin.readObject();


    catch (IOException e ) { ... }
    catch (ClassNotFoundException e2 ) { ... }

First, our server creates a ServerSocket attached to port 1234. On some systems, there are rules about which ports an application can use. Port numbers below 1024 are usually reserved for system processes and standard, well-known services, so we pick a port number outside of this range. The ServerSocket is created only once; thereafter, we can accept as many connections as arrive.

Next, we enter a loop, waiting for the accept() method of the ServerSocket to return an active Socket connection from a client. When a connection has been established, we perform the server side of our dialog, then close the connection and return to the top of the loop to wait for another connection. Finally, when the server application wants to stop listening for connections altogether, it calls the close() method of the ServerSocket.

This server is single-threaded; it handles one connection at a time, not calling accept() to listen for a new connection until it’s finished with the current connection. A more realistic server would have a loop that accepts connections concurrently and passes them off to their own threads for processing. There is a lot to be said about implementing multithreaded servers. Later in this chapter, we’ll create a tiny web server that starts a new thread for each connection and also a slightly more complex web server that uses the NIO package to handle many connections with a small number of threads.

Sockets and security

The previous examples presuppose that the client has permission to connect to the server and that the server is allowed to listen on the specified socket. If you’re writing a general, standalone application, this is normally the case (and you can probably skip this section). However, untrusted applications (such as Java applets in a web browser) run under the auspices of a security policy that can impose arbitrary restrictions on what hosts they may or may not talk to and whether or not they can listen for connections.

For example, the security policy imposed on applets by most browsers allow untrusted applets to open socket connections only to the host that served them—that is, they can talk back only to the server from which their class files were retrieved. Untrusted applets are generally not allowed to open server sockets for incoming connections themselves. This doesn’t mean that an untrusted applet can’t cooperate with its server to communicate with anyone, anywhere. The applet’s server could run a proxy that lets the applet communicate indirectly with anyone it likes. What this security policy prevents is malicious applets poking around inside corporate firewalls, making connections to trusted services. It places the burden of security on the originating server, not the client machine. Restricting access to the originating server limits the usefulness of Trojan applications that do annoying things from the client side. (You probably won’t let your proxy spam people, because you’ll be blamed.)

If you are going to run your own application under a security manager, you should be aware that the default security manager dissallows all network access. So in order to make network connections, you would have to modify your policy file to grant the appropriate permissions to your code (see Chapter 3 for details). The following policy file fragment sets the socket permissions to allow connections to or from any host on any nonprivileged port:

    grant {
        "*:1024-", "listen,accept,connect";

When starting the Java interpreter, you can install the security manager and use this file (call it mysecurity.policy):

    % java  
    \ MyApplication

The DateAtHost Client

In the past, many networked computers ran a simple time service that dispensed their clock’s local time on a well-known port. This was a precursor of NTP, the more general Network Time Protocol. The next example, DateAtHost, includes a subclass of java.util.Date that fetches the time from a remote host instead of initializing itself from the local clock. (See Chapter 11 for a complete discussion of the Date class.)

DateAtHost connects to the time service (port 37) and reads four bytes representing the time on the remote host. These four bytes have a peculiar specification that we decode to get the time. Here’s the code:

    public class DateAtHost extends java.util.Date {
        static int timePort = 37;
        // seconds from start of 20th century to Jan 1, 1970 00:00 GMT
        static final long offset = 2208988800L;

        public DateAtHost( String host ) throws IOException {
            this( host, timePort );
        public DateAtHost( String host, int port ) throws IOException {
            Socket server = new Socket( host, port );
            DataInputStream din =
              new DataInputStream( server.getInputStream() );
            int time = din.readInt();

            setTime( (((1L << 32) + time) - offset) * 1000 );

That’s all there is to it. It’s not very long, even with a few frills. We have supplied two possible constructors for DateAtHost. Normally we’d expect to use the first, which simply takes the name of the remote host as an argument. The second constructor specifies the hostname and the port number of the remote time service. (If the time service were running on a nonstandard port, we would use the second constructor to specify the alternate port number.) This second constructor does the work of making the connection and setting the time. The first constructor simply invokes the second (using the this() construct) with the default port as an argument. Supplying simplified constructors that invoke their siblings with default arguments is a common and useful pattern in Java; that is the main reason we’ve shown it here.

The second constructor opens a socket to the specified port on the remote host. It creates a DataInputStream to wrap the input stream and then reads a four-byte integer using the readInt() method. It’s no coincidence that the bytes are in the right order. Java’s DataInputStream and DataOutputStream classes work with the bytes of integer types in network byte order (most significant to least significant). The time protocol (and other standard network protocols that deal with binary data) also uses the network byte order, so we don’t need to call any conversion routines. Explicit data conversions would probably be necessary if we were using a nonstandard protocol, especially when talking to a non-Java client or server. In that case, we’d have to read byte by byte and do some rearranging to get our four-byte value. After reading the data, we’re finished with the socket, so we close it, terminating the connection to the server. Finally, the constructor initializes the rest of the object by calling Date’s setTime() method with the calculated time value.

The four bytes of the time value are interpreted as an integer representing the number of seconds since the beginning of the 20th century. DateAtHost converts this to Java’s notion of absolute time—the count of milliseconds since January 1, 1970 (an arbitrary date standardized by C and Unix). The conversion first creates a long value, which is the unsigned equivalent of the integer time. It subtracts an offset to make the time relative to the epoch (January 1, 1970) rather than the century, and multiplies by 1,000 to convert to milliseconds. The converted time is used to initialize the object.

The DateAtHost class can work with a time retrieved from a remote host almost as easily as Date is used with the time on the local host. The only additional overhead is dealing with the possible IOException that can be thrown by the DateAtHost constructor:

    try {
        Date d = new DateAtHost( "" );
        System.out.println( "The time over there is: " + d );
    catch ( IOException e ) { ... }

This example fetches the time at the host and prints its value.

The TinyHttpd Server

Have you ever wanted to write your very own web server? Well, you’re in luck. In this section, we’re going to build TinyHttpd, a minimal but functional web server. TinyHttpd listens on a specified port and services simple HTTP GET requests. GET requests are simple text commands that look something like this:

    GET /path/filename [ optional stuff ]

Your web browser sends one or more of these requests for each document it retrieves from a web server. Upon reading a request, our server attempts to open the specified file and send its contents. If that document contains references to images or other items to be displayed inline, the browser follows up with additional GET requests. For best performance, TinyHttpd services each request in its own thread. Therefore, TinyHttpd can service several requests concurrently.

This example works, but it’s a bit oversimplified. First, it implements a very old subset of the HTTP protocol, so some browsers may turn their nose up at it. (I tested this in Safari on my Mac at the time of this writing and it worked well enough for this example’s purposes.) Also remember that file pathnames are still somewhat architecture-dependent in Java. This example should work as it is on most systems, but would require some enhancement to be more robust. It’s possible to write slightly more elaborate code that uses the environmental information provided by Java to tailor itself to the local system. (Chapter 12 gives some hints about how.)


Unless you have a firewall or other security in place, the next example serves files from your host without protection. Don’t try this at work!

Now, without further ado, here’s TinyHttpd:

    import java.util.regex.*;
    import java.util.concurrent.*;
    public class TinyHttpd {
      public static void main( String argv[] ) throws IOException {
        Executor executor = Executors.newFixedThreadPool(3);
        ServerSocket ss = new ServerSocket( Integer.parseInt(argv[0]) );
        while ( true )
          executor.execute( new TinyHttpdConnection( ss.accept() ) );

    class TinyHttpdConnection implements Runnable {
      Socket client;
      TinyHttpdConnection ( Socket client ) throws SocketException {
        this.client = client;
      public void run() {
        try {
          BufferedReader in = new BufferedReader(
            new InputStreamReader(client.getInputStream(), "8859_1" ) );
          OutputStream out = client.getOutputStream();
          PrintWriter pout = new PrintWriter(
            new OutputStreamWriter(out, "8859_1"), true );
          String request = in.readLine();
          System.out.println( "Request: "+request);

          Matcher get = Pattern.compile("GET /?(\\S*).*").matcher( request );
          if ( get.matches() ) {
            request =;
            if ( request.endsWith("/") || request.equals("") )
              request = request + "index.html";
            try {
              FileInputStream fis = new FileInputStream ( request );
              byte [] data = new byte [ 64*1024 ];
              for(int read; (read = data )) > -1; )
                  out.write( data, 0, read );
            } catch ( FileNotFoundException e ) {
              pout.println( "404 Object Not Found" ); }
          } else
            pout.println( "400 Bad Request" );
        } catch ( IOException e ) {
          System.out.println( "I/O error " + e ); }

Compile TinyHttpd and place it in your classpath, as described in Chapter 3. Go to a directory with some interesting documents and start the server, specifying an unused port number as an argument. For example:

    % java TinyHttpd 1234

You should now be able to use your web browser to retrieve files from your host. You’ll have to specify the port number you chose in the URL. For example, if your hostname is, and you started the server as shown, you could reference a file as in:

Or, more likely, if you’re running both the server and your web browser on the same machine, you could reference a file as in:


TinyHttpd looks for files relative to its current directory, so the pathnames you provide should be relative to that location. (Retrieved some files? Did you notice that when you retrieved an HTML file, your web browser automatically generated more requests for items like images that were contained within it?) Let’s take a closer look.

The TinyHttpd application has two classes. The public TinyHttpd class contains the main() method of our standalone application. It begins by creating a ServerSocket, attached to the specified port. It then loops, waiting for client connections and creating instances of the second class, a TinyHttpdConnection, to service each request. The while loop waits for the ServerSocket accept() method to return a new Socket for each client connection. The Socket is passed as an argument to construct the TinyHttpdConnection that handles it. We use an Executor with a fixed pool size of three threads to service all of our connections.

TinyHttpdConnection is a Runnable object. For each connection we start a thread, which lives long enough to handle the single client connection and then dies. The body of TinyHttpdConnection’s run() method is where all the magic happens. First, we fetch an OutputStream for talking back to our client. The second line reads the GET request from the InputStream into the variable request. This request is a single newline-terminated String that looks like the GET request we described earlier. For this, we use a BufferedInputStream wrapped around an InputStreamReader. (We’ll say more about the InputStreamReader in a moment.)

We then parse the contents of request to extract a filename. Here, we are using the Regular Expression API (see Chapter 10 for a full discussion of regular expressions and the Regular Expression API). The pattern simply looks for the "GET" followed by an optional slash and then any string of nonwhitespace characters. We add the ".*" at the end to cause the pattern to match the whole input, so that we can use the Matcher match() method to test if the whole request made sense to us or not. The part that matches the filename is in a capture group: "(\\S*)". This allows us to retrieve that text with the Matcher group() method. Finally, we check to see if the requested filename looks like a directory name (i.e., ends in a slash) or is empty. In these cases, we append the familiar default filename index.html as a convenience.

Once we have the filename, we try to open the specified file and send its contents using a large byte array. Here we loop, reading one buffer at a time and writing to the client via the OutputStream. If we can’t parse the request or the file doesn’t exist, we use the PrintStream to send a textual message. Then we return a standard HTTP error message. Finally, we close the socket and return from run(), completing our task.

Do French web servers speak French?

In TinyHttpd, we explicitly created the InputStreamReader for our BufferedRead and the OutputStreamWriter for our PrintWriter. We do this so that we can specify the character encoding to use when converting to and from the byte representation of the HTTP protocol messages. (Note that we’re not talking about the body of the file to be sent—that is simply a stream of raw bytes to us; rather we’re talking about the GET and response messages.) If we didn’t specify, we’d get the default character encoding for the local system. For many purposes that may be correct, but in this case, we are speaking of a well-defined international protocol and we should be specific. The RFC for HTTP specifies that web clients and servers should use the ISO8859-1 character encoding. We specify this encoding explicitly when we construct the InputStreamReader and OutputStreamWriter. As it turns out, ISO8859-1 is just plain ASCII and conversion to and from Unicode should always leave ASCII values unchanged, so again we would probably not be in any trouble if we did not specify an encoding. But it’s important to think about these things at least once—and now you have.

Taming the daemon

An important problem with TinyHttpd is that there are no restrictions on the files it serves. With a little trickery, the daemon would happily send any file on your computer to the client. It would be nice if we could enforce the restriction that TinyHttpd serve only files that are in the current working directory or a subdirectory, as it normally does. An easy way to do this is to activate the Java Security Manager. Normally, a security manager is used to prevent Java code downloaded over the Net from doing anything suspicious. However, we can press the security manager into service to restrict file access in our application as well.

You can use a policy like the simple one that we provided earlier in this chapter; it allows the server to accept connections on a specified range of sockets. Fortuitously, the default file-access granted by the security policy does just what we‘d like for this example: it allows an application access to files in its current working directory and subdirectories. So simply installing the security manager provides exactly the kind of file protection that we wanted in this case. (It would be easy to add additional permissions if you wish to extend the server’s range to other well-defined areas.)

With the security manager in place, the daemon cannot access anything outside the current directory and its subdirectories. If it tries to, the security manager throws an exception and prevents access to the file. In that case, we should have TinyHttpd catch the SecurityException and return a proper message to the web browser. Add the following catch clause after the FileNotFoundException’s catch clause:

    } catch ( Security Exception e ) {
        pout.println("403 Forbidden");

Room for improvement

TinyHttpd still has quite a bit of room for improvement. Technically, it implements only an obsolete subset of the HTTP protocol (version 0.9) in which the server expects only the GET request and returns just the content. All modern servers speak HTTP 1.1, which allows for additional metadata in both the HTTP request and response and requires certain data such as version number and content length. You could extend our simple server to add these extra bits of the header without a great deal of effort. HTTP 1.1 also has more sophisticated features such as allowing multiple client requests to be sent over one socket connection, which requires more elaborate code.

Of course, real web servers can do all sorts of other things. For example, you might consider adding a few lines of code to read directories and generate linked HTML listings as most web servers do. Have fun with this example, and you can learn quite a bit.

Socket Options

As we’ve said, the Java Sockets API is a somewhat simplified interface to the general socket mechanisms. In other environments, where all the gory details of the network are visible to you, a lot of complex and sometimes esoteric options can be set on sockets to govern the behavior of the underlying protocols. Java gives us access to a few important ones.


The SO_TIMEOUT option sets a timer on all I/O methods of a socket that block so that you don’t have to wait forever if they don’t return. This works for operations such as accept() on server sockets and read() or write() on all sockets. If the timer expires before the operation would complete, an InterruptedIOException is thrown. You can catch the exception and continue to use the socket normally if it is appropriate, or you can take the opportunity to bail out of the operation. Multithreaded, blocking servers, such as TinyHttpd, can use this sort of technique for their shutdown logic:

    serverSocket.setSoTimeout( 2000 ); // 2 seconds

    while ( !shutdown ) {
        try {
            Socket client = serverSocket.accept();
            handleClient( client );
        } catch ( InterruptedIOException e ) {
            // ignore the exception

        // exit

You set the timer by calling the setSoTimeout() method of the Socket class with the timeout period, in milliseconds, as an int argument. This works for regular Sockets, ServerSockets (TCP), and DatagramSockets (UDP), discussed later in this chapter. To find the current timeout value, call getSoTimeout() .

This feature is a workaround for the fact that stream-oriented I/O operations in Java are blocking, and there is no way to test or poll them for activity. Later in this chapter, we’ll complete our discussion of the NIO package, which provides full nonblocking I/O for all types of operations, including sockets.


This option turns off a feature of TCP called Nagle’s algorithm, which tries to prevent certain interactive applications from flooding the network with very tiny packets. For example, in our very first network example we sent a single byte to the network in one write. With this option on, under certain conditions, the TCP implementation might have decided to hold that byte for a very brief period, hoping for more data to fill the next packet. You can turn this “delay” off if you have a fast network and you want all packets sent as soon as possible. The Socket setTcpNoDelay() method takes a Boolean argument specifying whether the delay is on or off. To find out whether the TCP_NODELAY option is enabled, call getTcpNoDelay(), which returns a boolean.


This option controls what happens to any unsent data when you perform a close() on an active socket connection. Normally, the system blocks on the close and tries to deliver any network buffered data and close the connection gracefully. The setSoLinger() method of the Socket class takes two arguments: a boolean that enables or disables the option and an int that sets the time to wait (the linger value), in seconds. If you set the linger value to 0, any unsent data is discarded and the TCP connection is aborted (terminated with a reset). To find the current linger value, call getSoLinger().


This option can be enabled with the setKeepAlive() method. It triggers a feature of TCP that polls the other side every two hours if there is no other activity. Normally, when no data is flowing on a TCP connection, no packets are sent. This can make it difficult to tell whether the other side is simply being quiet or has disappeared. If one side of the connection closes properly, this is detected. But if the other side simply disappears, we don’t know unless and until we try to talk to it. For this reason, servers often use TCP_KEEPALIVE to detect lost client connections (where they might otherwise only respond to requests, rather than initiate them). Keepalive is not part of the TCP specification; it’s an add-on that’s not guaranteed to be implemented everywhere. If you can, the best way to detect lost clients is to implement the polling as part of your own protocol.


In TCP, it is technically possible to close one direction of a stream but not the other. In other words, you can shut down sending but not receiving, or vice versa. A few protocols use this to indicate the end of a client request by closing the client side of the stream, allowing the end of stream to be detected by the server. You can shut down either half of a socket connection with shutdownOutput() or shutdownInput().

Proxies and Firewalls

Most networks today are behind firewalls. Some firewalls not only prevent outsiders from getting in, but by default, prevent applications inside the firewall from opening direct socket-level connections to the outside network. Instead, firewalls that do this often provide a service called SOCKS (named for sockets) that acts as a proxy server for socket connections, giving the administrators more control over what connections are allowed. Firewalls may also be set up with direct proxies for higher-level protocols, such as HTTP and FTP, which allow even greater control and possibly screening of content. It’s all about attempting to control who connects to whom and for what.

If your firewall does not allow any direct outside socket connections, even via SOCKS, your application may still be able to communicate with the outside world by using HTTP to send and receive data in this way. See Chapter 14 for an example of how to perform HTTP POST and GET operations to send and retrieve data through firewalls that allow web traffic.

Java has built-in support for SOCKS as well as HTTP and FTP protocol proxies. All you have to do is set some system properties in your application (in an applet, this should be already taken care of for you through your browser configuration, because you wouldn’t have authority to set those properties). To configure Java to use a SOCKS (version 4 or 5) proxy server, set the following system properties:


The SOCKS proxy server name.


The SOCKS proxy port number.

If the SOCKS proxy requires a username and password, you can supply them in the additional properties and

It’s similar for HTTP and FTP proxies, which are set with separate properties:



The proxy server name.


The proxy port number.


A list of hosts for which direct connections should always be made. Hosts in the list are separated by vertical bars (|) and may include asterisks (*) as wildcards—for example, myserver|*.mydomain.

You can set these properties on the command line using the Java interpreter’s -D option or by calling the System.setProperty() method. The following command runs MyProgram using the HTTP proxy server at on port 1234:

    % java -Dhttp.proxyPort=1234 MyProgram


Java also has an API to allow programmatic control of Java’s use of proxies. The class has a method that takes a uniform resource identifier (URI) object (a generalization of the URLs we use for web addresses; see Chapter 14) and returns a list of objects representing the proxies or direct connections to be used for the protocol specified. The default ProxySelector obeys the system properties we listed earlier. If required, you can create and install your own proxy selector to take control of the process and direct different destinations to different proxies. To see what decisions are being made, you can get the default selector with the static method ProxySelector.getDefault() and query it for various protocols with its select() method. The following example prints some string information about the preferred proxy (if any) for a specific HTTP URL:

    ProxySelector ps =;
    List list = new URI("") );
    System.out.println( list.get(0) );//e.g. HTTP@myserver:1234

Detailed information can be obtained from the proxy object, which contains a type identifier specifying DIRECT, HTTP, or SOCKS and a proxy address. To query for a SOCKS socket proxy for a given host and port, use a URI string of the form socket://host:port.

[37] For a discussion of sockets in general, see Unix Network Programming by Richard Stevens (Prentice-Hall).

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