jshell is a new-in-Java-9 tool - a REPL for Java!! I was not sure at first how useful it would be but since I started playing with it I’ve been finding more and more uses for it, and it’s pretty cool. There’s a couple of surprising things though.

A quick look

$ jshell
|  Welcome to JShell -- Version 9
|  For an introduction type: /help intro


and we’re at the REPL prompt. We can do a few totally unsurprising (but neat!) things:

jshell> 1+2
$1 ==> 3

jshell> "Hello".toUpperCase()
$2 ==> "HELLO"

There’s also a few meta commands, try starting with /help

The $n are references to the results:

jshell> $2.getClass()
$3 ==> class java.lang.String

jshell> $3.getClass()
$4 ==> class java.lang.Class

etc. We can create, modify and replace classes on the fly:

jshell> class Apple{ int banana(){ return 0; } }  // NB comments are OK
|  created class Apple

jshell> class Apple{ int banana(){ return 100; } }
|  modified class Apple

jshell> class Apple{ int banana(){ return 100; } int bigBanana(){ return 1_000_000; } }
|  replaced class Apple

Classes are created then modified or replaced when changed. If the change alters a method signature or adds/removes a field then the class is replaced, otherwise it is just modified. What happens to instances when you do that?

Modifying a class

Modifying a class alters existing instances:

jshell> class Apple{ int banana(){ return 100; } }
|  created class Apple

jshell> Apple a = new Apple()
a ==> Apple@18eed359

jshell> a.banana()
$41 ==> 100

jshell> class Apple{ int banana(){ return 101; } }   // <-- modification
|  modified class Apple

jshell> a.banana()
$43 ==> 101

Replacing a class

Replacing a class nullifies instance references:

jshell> class Apple{ int banana(){ return 101; } int bigBanana(){return 10000000;}  }
|  replaced class Apple
|    update replaced variable a, reset to null

jshell> a     // it's not lying!
a ==> null

Semicolon insertion

My inner Douglas-Crockford is bristling at this a bit, to be honest. Semi-colons are optional. You might notice I haven’t used any in the code above. The rule seems to be that if an expression can be evaluated, then it will be. So be careful typing code like:


Because you’ll get this:

jshell> "Hello".toUpperCase()
$47 ==> "HELLO"

jshell>        .indexOf("O");
|  Error:
|  illegal start of expression
|         .indexOf("O");

I use three ways to cope with this:

  • Everything on one line. Not nice with long lines.
jshell> "Hello".toUpperCase().indexOf("O");
$49 ==> 4
  • Use the backreferences. Usually only used when I forget about semicolon insertion, and accompanied by me kicking myself.
jshell> "Hello".toUpperCase()
$51 ==> "HELLO"

jshell> $51.indexOf("O")
$52 ==> 4
  • Move your dots. A bit surprising-looking but works OK. Least-worst option IMHO.
jshell> "Hello".toUpperCase(). // incomplete expression
   ...> indexOf("O")
$50 ==> 4

NB there is an open bug to prevent this behaviour during multi-line paste

Pasting content

There seems to be a bug which prevents pasting more than 2 lines of code. It’s reported here. That bug is marked as RESOLVED but still the bug persists in JDK 9.0.1 which is the latest one (on Linux at least). The workaround is:

jshell> /edit

This launches your $EDITOR which you can paste as many lines as you like into, then save & exit and jshell evaluates it all.


jshell is a nice way to play with Java code. Much nicer than creating dummy classes with a main() method. Trisha Gee shows us a nice demo of how to use jshell from IntelliJ - looks great, and I assume other IDEs have similar support. Try it out :)