Embedding BeanShell in Your Application

BeanShell was designed not only as a standalone scripting language - to run scripts from files or on the command line - but to be easily embeddable in and extensible by your applications. When we talk about embedding BeanShell in your application we mean simply that you can use the BeanShell Interpreter in your own classes, to evaluate scripts and work with objects dynamically.

There are a number of reasons you might use BeanShell in this way. Here are a few:

Highly Customizable Applications

You can use BeanShell to make your applications highly customizable by users without requiring them to compile Java classes or even to know all of the Java syntax. During development you can use BeanShell to "factor out" volatile or environmentally dependent algorithms from your application and leave them in the scripting domain while they are under the most intense change. Later it is easy to move them back into compiled Java if you wish because BeanShell syntax is Java syntax.

Macros and Evaluation

BeanShell can be used as a generic language for "macros" or other complex tasks that must be described by a user of your application. For example, the popular JEdit Java editor uses BeanShell to allow users to implement macros for key bindings. This gives user power to customize the behavior of the editor, using as much (or as little) of the full power of Java as desired.

Java with loose variables is a very simple and appealing language; especially because there is already so much Java out there. Even a non-programmer will be familiar with the name "Java" and more inclined to want to work with it than an arbitrary new language.

BeanShell can also be used to perform dynamic evaluation of complex expressions such as mathematics or computations entered by the user. Why write an arithmetic expression parser when you can let your user enter equations using intermediate variables, operators, and other constructs. If strict control is desired, you can generate the script yourself using your own rules, and still leave the evaluation to BeanShell.

Simplify Complex Configuration Files

Many applications use simple Java properties files or XML for the majority of their runtime configuration. It is very common in the development of a large applications for configuration files like this to become increasingly complex. It can begin in a number of seemingly harmless ways - with the desire to make "cross references" inside the config files (XML supports this nicely). Then comes the desire to do something like variable substitution - which introduces some new syntax such as "${variable}" and usually a second pass in the parsing stage. Usually, at some point, integration with Java forces the introduction of class names into the mix. The configuration files soon want to start assigning parameters for object construction. Ultimately what you'll discover is that you are creating your own scripting language - and one that is probably not as easy to read as plain old Java.

BeanShell solves the problem of complex configuration files by allowing users to work not only with simple properties style values (loose variable assignment) but also to have the full power of Java to construct objects, arrays, perform loops and conditionals, etc. And as we'll see, BeanShell scripts can work seamlessly with objects from the application, without the need to turn them into strings to cross the script boundary.

The BeanShell Core Distribution

Beanshell is fairly small, even in its most general distribution. The full JAR with all utilities weighs in at about 250K. But BeanShell is also distributed in a componentized fashion, allowing you to choose to add only the utilities and other pieces that you need. The core distribution includes only the BeanShell interpreter and is currently about 130K. We expect this size to drop in the future with improvements in the parser generator. Any significant new features will always be provided in the form of add-on modules, so that the core language can remain small.

More and more people are using BeanShell for embedded applications in small devices. We have reports of BeanShell running everywhere from palm-tops to autonomous buoys in the Pacific ocean!

Calling BeanShell From Java

Invoking BeanShell from Java is easy. The first step is to create in instance of the bsh.Interpreter class. Then you can use it to evaluate strings of code, source external scripts. You can pass your data in to the Interpreter as ordinary BeanShell variables, using the Interpreter set() and get() methods.

In "QuickStart" we showed a few examples:

import bsh.Interpreter;

Interpreter i = new Interpreter();  // Construct an interpreter
i.set("foo", 5);                    // Set variables
i.set("date", new Date() ); 

Date date = (Date)i.get("date");    // retrieve a variable

// Eval a statement and get the result
i.eval("bar = foo*10");             
System.out.println( i.get("bar") );

// Source an external script file

The default constructor for the Interpreter assumes that it is going to be used for simple evaluation. Other constructors allow you to set up the Interpreter to work with interactive sources including streams and the GUI console.


The Interprete eval() method accepts a script as a string and interprets it, optionally returning a result. The string can contain any normal BeanShell script text with any number of Java statements. The Interpreter maintains state over any number of eval() calls, so you can interpret statements individually or all together.

It is not necessary to add a trailing ";" semi-colon at the end of the evaluated string. BeanShell always adds one at the end of the string.

The result of the evaluation of the last statement or expression in the evaluated string is returned as the value of the eval(). Primitive types (e.g int, char, boolean) are returned wrapped in their primitive wrappers (e.g. Integer, Character, Boolean). If an evaluation of a statement or expression yields a "void" value; such as would be the case for something like a for-loop or a void type method invocation, eval() returns null.

Object result = i.eval( "long time = 42; new Date( time )" ); // Date
Object result = i.eval("2*2");  // Integer

You can also evaluate text from a java.io.Reader stream using eval():

reader = new FileReader("myscript.bsh");
i.eval( reader );


The bsh.EvalError exception is the general exception type for an error in evaluating a BeanShell script. Subclasses of EvalError - ParseException and TargetError - indicate the specific conditions where a textual parsing error was encountered or where the script itself caused an exception to be generated.

try {
    i.eval( script );
} catch ( EvalError e ) {
    // Error evaluating script

You can get the error message, line number and source file of the error from the EvalError with the following methods:

String getErrorText() {
int getErrorLineNumber() {
String getErrorSourceFile() {


ParseException extends EvalError and indicates that the exception was caused by a syntactic error in reading the script. The error message will indicate the cause.


TargetError extends EvalError and indicates that the exception was not related to the evaluation of the script, but caused the by script itself. For example, the script may have explicitly thrown an exception or it may have caused an application level exception such as a NullPointer exception or an ArithmeticException.

The TargetError contains the "cause" exception. You can retrieve it with the getTarget() method.

try {
    i.eval( script );
} catch ( TargetError e ) {
    // The script threw an exception
    Throwable t = e.getTarget();
    print( "Script threw exception: " + t );
} catch ( ParseException e ) {
    // Parsing error
} catch ( EvalError e ) {
    // General Error evaluating script


The Interpreter source() method can be used to read a script from an external file:


The Interpreter source() method may throw FileNotFoundException and IOException in addition to EvalError. Aside from that source() is simply and eval() from a file.

set(), get(), and unset()

As we've seen in the examples thus far, set() and get() can be used to pass objects into the BeanShell interpreter as variables and retrieve the value of variables, respectively.

It should be noted that get() and set() are capable of evaluation of arbitrarily complex or compound variable and field expression. For example:

import bsh.Interpreter;
i=new Interpreter();

i.eval("myobject=object()" );
i.set("myobject.bar", 5);

i.eval("ar=new int[5]");
i.set("ar[0]", 5);


The get() and set() methods have all of the evaluation capabilities of eval() except that they will resolve only one variable target or value and they will expect the expression to be of the appropriate resulting type.

The deprecated setVariable() and getVariable() methods are no longer used because the did not allow for complex evaluation of variable names

You can use the unset() method to return a variable to the undefined state.

Getting Interfaces from Interpreter

We've talked about the usefulness of writing scripts that implement Java interfaces. By wrapping a script in an interface you can make it transparent to the rest of your Java code. As we described in the "Interfaces" section earlier, within the BeanShell interpreter scripted objects automatically implement any interface necessary when they are passed as arguments to methods requiring them. However if you are going to pass a reference outside of BeanShell you may have to perform an explicit cast inside the script, to get it to manufacture the correct type.

The following example scripts a global actionPerformed() method and returns a reference to itself as an ActionListener type:

// script the method globally
i.eval( "actionPerformed( e ) { print( e ); }");

// Get a reference to the script object (implementing the interface)
ActionListener scriptedHandler = 
    (ActionListener)i.eval("return (ActionListener)this");

// Use the scripted event handler normally...
new JButton.addActionListener( scriptedHandler );

Here we have performed the explicit cast in the script as we returned the reference. (And of course we could have used the standard Java anonymous inner class style syntax as well.)

An alternative would have been to have used the Interpreter getInterface() method, which asks explicitly for the global scope to be cast to a specific type and returned. The following example fetches a reference to the interpreter global namespace and cast it to the specified type of interface type.

Interpreter interpreter = new Interpreter();
// define a method called run()
interpreter.eval("run() { ... }");

// Fetch a reference to the interpreter as a Runnable
Runnable runnable =
    (Runnable)interpreter.getInterface( Runnable.class );

The interface generated is an adapter (as are all interpreted interfaces). It does not interfere with other uses of the global scope or other references to it. We should note also that the interpreter does *not* require that any or all of the methods of the interface be defined at the time the interface is generated. However if you attempt to invoke one that is not defined you will get a runtime exception.

Multiple Interpreters vs. Multi-threading

A common design question is whether to use a single BeanShell interpreter or multiple interpreter instances in your application.

The Interpreter class is, in general, thread safe and allows you to work with threads, within the normal bounds of the Java language. BeanShell does not change the normal application level threading issues of multiple threads from accessing the same variables: you still have to synchronize access using some mechanism if necessary. However it is legal to perform multiple simultaneous evaluations. You can also write multi-threaded scripts within the language, as we discussed briefly in "Scripting Interfaces".

Since working with multiple threads introduces issues of synchronization and application structure, you may wish to simply create multiple Interpreter instances. BeanShell Interpreter instances were designed to be very light weight. Construction time is usually negligible and in simple tests, we have found that it is possible to maintain hundreds (or even thousands) of instances.

There are other options in-between options as well. It is possible to retrieve BeanShell scripted objects from the interpreter and "re-bind" them again to the interpreter. We'll talk about that in the next section. You can also get and set the root level bsh.NameSpace object for the entire Interpreter. The NameSpace is roughly equivalent to a BeanShell method context. Each method context has an associated NameSpace object.

You can clear all variables, methods, and imports from a scope using the clear() command.

Note: at the time of this writing the synchronized language keyword is not implemented. This will be corrected in an upcoming release.

See also "The BeanShell Parser" for more about performance issues.

Serializing Interpreters and Scripted Objects

The BeanShell Interpreter is serializable, assuming of course that all objects referenced by variables in the global scope are also serializable. So you can save the entire static state of the interpreter by serializing it and storing it. Note that serializing the Intepreter does not "freeze" execution of BeanShell scripts in any sense other than saving the current state of the variables. In general if you serialize an Interpreter while it is executing code the results will be undetermined. De-serializing an interpreter does not automatically restart method executions; it simply restores state.

There is serious Java bug that affects BeanShell serializability in Java versions prior to 1.3. When using these versions of Java the primitive type class identifiers cannot be de-serialized. See the FAQ for a workaround.

It is also possible to serialize individual BeanShell scripted objects ('this' type references and interfaces to scripts). The same rules apply. One thing to note is that by default serializing a scripted object context will also serialize all of that object's parent contexts up to the global scope - effectively serializing the whole interpreter.

To detach a scripted object from its parent namespace you can use the namespace prune() method:

// From BeanShell

// From Java

To bind a BeanShell scripted object back into a particular method scope you can use the bind() command:

// From BeanShell
bind( object, this.namespace );

// From Java
bsh.This.bind( object, namespace, interpreter );

The bind() operation requires not only the namespace (method scope) into which to bind the object, but an interpreter reference as well. The interpreter reference is the "declaring interpreter" of the object and is used for cases where there is no active interpreter - e.g. where an external method call from compiled Java enters the object.

The BeanShell save() command which serializes objects recognize when you are trying to save a BeanShell scripted object (a bsh.This reference) type and automatically prune()s it from the parent namespace, so that saving the object doesn't drag along the whole interpreter along for the ride. Similarly, load() binds the object to the current scope.