Command-Line Arguments

The Linux command line consists of the command and the arguments.

linux command line for java linux command line for java

In this example, Linux will see the first part of the command, which is java, and that will tell it what program to execute. Everything else is packaged up as string-values and sent to the Java Virtual Machine. The JVM takes the name of the program, SomeProgram, from the command, and then starts the program with that file name, passing the remaining items (arguments) to the program.

Accessing Command-line Arguments in a Object Oriented Program

By convention, the command line arguments are sent to the program’s main method. Java handles this automatically.

linux command line for java linux command line for java

Inside Java, the command line arguments are mapped (assigned) to the parameter variable in the main method called args. In main args is an array of Strings.

Java map of cmd line arguments Java map of cmd line arguments

Accessing arguments

Arrays are ordered collections of data - we might think of it as a numbered list. We access elements of the array using the indexing operator [], the indexes start at 01. The syntax is variableName[indexNumber].

The parameter args is always an array of strings, in the order they appeared on the command line.

Converting arguments

Since args is always an array of Strings, programmers must convert those arguments (values in the args array) to the appropriate type. For numbers, this is typically done using various parse methods that are provided as part of the Java language.

Syntax Semantics
int x = Integer.parseInt(args[0]) Take the string in args at index 0
Convert it to an int
Assign it to x
double x =Double.parseDouble(args[0]) Take the string in args at index 0
Convert it to a double
Assign it to x

If we try and convert something that does not make sense, Double.parseDouble("act") or Integer.parseInt("3.1415"), we’ll get an error when we run our program. Later in this class we’ll learn about how to detect and handle those errors, but for now they will simply crash our program.


Consider the code below, which can be stored in a file named if we want to execute it.

public class SomeProgram{
    public static void main(String[] args){ 
        System.out.println("args[0] is a String"); 
        System.out.println("args[0]'s value is \""+ args[0] + "\"");
        int x = Integer.parseInt(args[0]);
        System.out.println("x is a int");
        System.out.println("x's value is " + x);
        int y = Integer.parseInt(args[1]);
        int z = x + y;
        System.out.println(x + " + " + y + " = " + z);

A proper command line for running would be java SomeProgram <int> <int>, since it requires to command-line arguments that will be converted to integers. An example would be java SomeProgram 2 3 which will store "2" as args[0] and "3" as args[1]. At this point, let’s trace the execution if we execute it using the command java SomeProgram 2 3.

  1. When we run this program we start on line 2, the beginning of the main method.
  2. The array {"2", "3"} is assigned to args
  3. This line prints that args[0] is a String. We know this because args is declared to be an array of Strings (String[] args, line 2)
  4. This line prints the value of the string at index 0 of the array args
  5. This will convert the string args[0] to an int, assign that integer value to x
  6. This will print that x is an int. We know this because x is declared to be an int (int x, line 5)
  7. Next we’ll print the value of x
  8. Now we convert the string args[1] to an int, assign that integer value to y
  9. Add x and y, assign that sum to the int z
  10. Print the result of the computation.

Feel free to experiment with to explore more ways to use command-line arguments in code. What happens if we give too few arguments? Or too many? What about the wrong types?

  1. Staring at 0 saves memory and simplifies memory access. Nearly all languages start at 0. ↩︎