Including all the jars in a directory within the Java classpath

Using Java 6 or later, the classpath option supports wildcards. Note the following:

  • Use straight quotes (")
  • Use *, not *.jar


java -cp "Test.jar;lib/*" my.package.MainClass


java -cp "Test.jar:lib/*" my.package.MainClass

This is similar to Windows, but uses : instead of ;. If you cannot use wildcards, bash allows the following syntax (where lib is the directory containing all the Java archive files):

java -cp "$(printf %s: lib/*.jar)"

(Note that using a classpath is incompatible with the -jar option. See also: Execute jar file with multiple classpath libraries from command prompt)

Understanding Wildcards

From the Classpath document:

Class path entries can contain the basename wildcard character *, which is considered equivalent to specifying a list of all the files
in the directory with the extension .jar or .JAR. For example, the
class path entry foo/* specifies all JAR files in the directory named
foo. A classpath entry consisting simply of * expands to a list of all
the jar files in the current directory.

A class path entry that contains * will not match class files. To
match both classes and JAR files in a single directory foo, use either
foo;foo/* or foo/*;foo. The order chosen determines whether the
classes and resources in foo are loaded before JAR files in foo, or
vice versa.

Subdirectories are not searched recursively. For example, foo/* looks
for JAR files only in foo, not in foo/bar, foo/baz, etc.

The order in which the JAR files in a directory are enumerated in the
expanded class path is not specified and may vary from platform to
platform and even from moment to moment on the same machine. A
well-constructed application should not depend upon any particular
order. If a specific order is required then the JAR files can be
enumerated explicitly in the class path.

Expansion of wildcards is done early, prior to the invocation of a
program’s main method, rather than late, during the class-loading
process itself. Each element of the input class path containing a
wildcard is replaced by the (possibly empty) sequence of elements
generated by enumerating the JAR files in the named directory. For
example, if the directory foo contains a.jar, b.jar, and c.jar, then
the class path foo/* is expanded into foo/a.jar;foo/b.jar;foo/c.jar,
and that string would be the value of the system property

The CLASSPATH environment variable is not treated any differently from
the -classpath (or -cp) command-line option. That is, wildcards are
honored in all these cases. However, class path wildcards are not
honored in the Class-Path jar-manifest header.

Note: due to a known bug in java 8, the windows examples must use a backslash preceding entries with a trailing asterisk:

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