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Since JBoss AS 7, Class loading is considerably different to previous versions of JBoss AS. Class loading is based on the JBoss Modules project. Instead of the more familiar hierarchical class loading environment, WildFly's class loading is based on modules that have to define explicit dependencies on other modules. Deployments in WildFly are also modules, and do not have access to classes that are defined in jars in the application server unless an explicit dependency on those classes is defined.

Deployment Module Names

Module names for top level deployments follow the format deployment.myarchive.war while sub deployments are named like deployment.myear.ear.mywar.war

This means that it is possible for a deployment to import classes from another deployment using the other deployments module name, the details of how to add an explicit module dependency are explained below.

Automatic Dependencies

Even though in WildFly modules are isolated by default, as part of the deployment process some dependencies on modules defined by the application server are set up for you automatically. For instance, if you are deploying a Java EE application a dependency on the Java EE API's will be added to your module automatically. Similarly if your module contains a beans.xml file a dependency on Weld will be added automatically, along with any supporting modules that weld needs to operate.

For a complete list of the automatic dependencies that are added, please see Implicit module dependencies for deployments.

Automatic dependencies can be excluded through the use of jboss-deployment-structure.xml.

Class Loading Precedence

A common source of errors in Java applications is including API classes in a deployment that are also provided by the container. This can result in multiple versions of the class being created and the deployment failing to deploy properly. To prevent this in WildFly, module dependencies are added in a specific order that should prevent this situation from occurring. 

In order of highest priority to lowest priority

  1. System Dependencies - These are dependencies that are added to the module automatically by the container, including the Java EE api's.
  2. User Dependencies - These are dependencies that are added through jboss-deployment-structure.xml or through the Dependencies: manifest entry.
  3. Local Resource - Class files packaged up inside the deployment itself, e.g. class files from WEB-INF/classes or WEB-INF/lib of a war.
  4. Inter deployment dependencies - These are dependencies on other deployments in an ear deployment. This can include classes in an ear's lib directory, or classes defined in other ejb jars. 

WAR Class Loading

The war is considered to be a single module, so classes defined in WEB-INF/lib are treated the same as classes in WEB-INF/classes. All classes packaged in the war will be loaded with the same class loader.

EAR Class Loading

Ear deployments are multi-module deployments. This means that not all classes inside an ear will necessarily have access to all other classes in the ear, unless explicit dependencies have been defined. By default the EAR/lib directory is a single module, and every WAR or EJB jar deployment is also a separate module. Sub deployments (wars and ejb-jars) always have a dependency on the parent module, which gives them access to classes in EAR/lib, however they do not always have an automatic dependency on each other. This behaviour is controlled via the ear-subdeployments-isolated setting in the ee subsystem configuration: 

By default this is set to false, which allows the sub-deployments to see classes belonging to other sub-deployments within the .ear.

For example, consider the following .ear deployment:

If the ear-subdeployments-isolated is set to false, then the classes in web.war can access classes belonging to ejb1.jar and ejb2.jar. Similarly, classes from ejb1.jar can access classes from ejb2.jar (and vice-versa).

The ear-subdeployments-isolated element value has no effect on the isolated classloader of the .war file(s). i.e. irrespective of whether this flag is set to true or false, the .war within a .ear will have a isolated classloader and other sub-deployments within that .ear will not be able to access classes from that .war. This is as per spec.

If the ear-subdeployments-isolated is set to true then no automatic module dependencies between the sub-deployments are set up. User must manually setup the dependency with Class-Path entries, or by setting up explicit module dependencies.

The Java EE specification says that portable applications should not rely on sub deployments having access to other sub deployments unless an explicit Class-Path entry is set in the MANIFEST.MF. So portable applications should always use Class-Path entry to explicitly state their dependencies.
It is also possible to override the ear-subdeployments-isolated element value at a per deployment level. See the section on jboss-deployment-structure.xml below.

Dependencies: Manifest Entries

Deployments (or more correctly modules within a deployment) may set up dependencies on other modules by adding a Dependencies: manifest entry. This entry consists of a comma separated list of module names that the deployment requires. The available modules can be seen under the modules directory in the application server distribution. For example to add a dependency on javassist and apache velocity you can add a manifest entry as follows:

Dependencies: org.javassist export,org.apache.velocity export services,org.antlr

Each dependency entry may also specify some of the following parameters by adding them after the module name:

  • export This means that the dependencies will be exported, so any module that depends on this module will also get access to the dependency.
  • services By default items in META-INF of a dependency are not accessible, this makes items from META-INF/services accessible so services in the modules can be loaded.
  • optional If this is specified the deployment will not fail if the module is not available.
  • meta-inf This will make the contents of the META-INF directory available (unlike services, which just makes META-INF/services available). In general this will not cause any deployment descriptors in META-INF to be processed, with the exception of beans.xml. If a beans.xml file is present this module will be scanned by Weld and any resulting beans will be available to the application.
  • annotations If a jandex index has be created for the module these annotations will be merged into the deployments annotation index. The Jandex index can be generated using the Jandex ant task , and must be named META-INF/jandex.idx. Note that it is not necessary to break open the jar being indexed to add this to the modules class path, a better approach is to create a jar containing just this index, and adding it as an additional resource root in the module.xml file.
Adding a dependency to all modules in an EAR
Using the export parameter it is possible to add a dependency to all sub deployments in an ear. If a module is exported from a Dependencies: entry in the top level of the ear (or by a jar in the ear/lib directory) it will be available to all sub deployments as well.
To generate a MANIFEST.MF entry when using maven put the following in your pom.xml:

If your deployment is a jar you must use the maven-jar-plugin rather than the maven-war-plugin.

Class Path Entries

It is also possible to add module dependencies on other modules inside the deployment using the Class-Path manifest entry. This can be used within an ear to set up dependencies between sub deployments, and also to allow modules access to additional jars deployed in an ear that are not sub deployments and are not in the EAR/lib directory. If a jar in the EAR/lib directory references a jar via Class-Path: then this additional jar is merged into the parent ear's module, and is accessible to all sub deployments in the ear. 

Global Modules

It is also possible to set up global modules, that are accessible to all deployments. This is done by modifying the configuration file (standalone/domain.xml).

For example, to add javassist to all deployments you can use the following XML:


Note that the slot field is optional and defaults to main.

JBoss Deployment Structure File

jboss-deployment-structure.xml is a JBoss specific deployment descriptor that can be used to control class loading in a fine grained manner. It should be placed in the top level deployment, in META-INF (or WEB-INF for web deployments). It can do the following:

  • Prevent automatic dependencies from being added
  • Add additional dependencies
  • Define additional modules 
  • Change an EAR deployments isolated class loading behaviour
  • Add additional resource roots to a module

An example of a complete jboss-deployment-structure.xml file for an ear deployment is as follows:


Accessing JDK classes

Not all JDK classes are exposed to a deployment by default. If your deployment uses JDK classes that are not exposed you can get access to them using jboss-deployment-structure.xml with system dependencies:

Using jboss-deployment-structure.xml to access JDK classes

The "jboss.api" property and application use of modules shipped with WildFly

The WildFly distribution includes a large number of modules, a great many of which are included for use by WildFly internals, with no testing of the appropriateness of their direct use by applications or any commitment to continue to ship those modules in future releases if they are no longer needed by the internals. So how can a user know whether it is advisable for their application to specify an explicit dependency on a module WildFly ships? The "jboss.api" property specified in the module's module.xml file can tell you:

Example declaration of the jboss.api property

If a module does not have a property element like the above, then it's equivalent to one with a value of "public".

Following are the meanings of the various values you may see for the jboss.api property:

Value Meaning
public May be explicitly depended upon by end user applications. Will continue to be available in future releases within the same major series and should not have incompatible API changes in future releases within the same minor series, and ideally not within the same major series.
private Intended for internal use only. Only tested according to internal usage. May not be safe for end user applications to use directly.
Could change significantly or be removed in a future release without notice.
unsupported If you see this value in a module.xml in a WildFly release, please file a bug report, as it is not applicable in WildFly. In EAP it has a meaning equivalent to "private" but that does not mean the module is "private" in WildFly; it could very easily be "public".
preview May be explicitly depended upon by end user applications, but there are no guarantees of continued availability in future releases or that there will not be incompatible API changes. This is not a common classification in WildFly. It is not used in WildFly 10.
deprecated May be explicitly depended upon by end user applications. Stable and reliable but an alternative should be sought. Will be removed in a future major release.

Note that these definitions are only applicable to WildFly. In EAP and other Red Hat products based on WildFly the same classifiers are used, with generally similar meaning, but the precise meaning is per the definitions on the Red Hat customer support portal.

If an application declares a direct dependency on a module marked "private", "unsupported" or "deprecated", during deployment a WARN message will be logged. The logging will be in log categories "", "" and "" respectively. These categories are not used for other purposes, so once you feel sufficiently warned the logging can be safely suppressed by turning the log level for the relevant category to ERROR or higher.

Other than the WARN messages noted above, declaring a direct dependency on a non-public module has no impact on how WildFly processes the deployment.

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