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Plugin Framework for Java (PF4J)
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Plugin Framework for Java (PF4J)

A plugin is a way for a third party to extend the functionality of an application. A plugin implements extension points declared by application or other plugins. Also a plugin can define extension points.

NOTE: Starting with version 0.9 you can define an extension directly in the application jar (you're not obligated to put the extension in a plugin - you can see this extension as a default/system extension). See WhazzupGreeting for a real example.

Current build status: Build Status


With PF4J you can easily transform a monolithic java application in a modular application.
PF4J is an open source (Apache license) lightweight (around 50KB) plugin framework for java, with minimal dependencies (only slf4j-api) and very extensible (see PluginDescriptorFinder and ExtensionFinder).

Practically PF4J is a microframework and the aim is to keep the core simple but extensible. I try to create a little ecosystem (extensions) based on this core with the help of the comunity.
For now are available these extensions:

No XML, only Java.

You can mark any interface or abstract class as an extension point (with marker interface ExtensionPoint) and you specified that an class is an extension with @Extension annotation.

Also, PF4J can be used in web applications. For my web applications when I want modularity I use Wicket Plugin.


  • Plugin is the base class for all plugins types. Each plugin is loaded into a separate class loader to avoid conflicts.
  • PluginManager is used for all aspects of plugins management (loading, starting, stopping).
  • ExtensionPoint is a point in the application where custom code can be invoked. It's a java interface marker.
    Any java interface or abstract class can be marked as an extension point (implements ExtensionPoint interface).
  • Extension is an implementation of an extension point. It's a java annotation on a class.


  • PF4J pf4j (jar)
  • PF4J Demo pf4j-demo (executable jar)

Using Maven

In your pom.xml you must define the dependencies to PF4J artifacts with:


where ${pf4j.version} is the last pf4j version.

You may want to check for the latest released version using Maven Search

How to use

It's very simple to add pf4j in your application:

public static void main(String[] args) {

    PluginManager pluginManager = new DefaultPluginManager();


In above code, I created a DefaultPluginManager (it's the default implementation for PluginManager interface) that loads and starts all active(resolved) plugins.
Each available plugin is loaded using a different java class loader, PluginClassLoader.
The PluginClassLoader contains only classes found in PluginClasspath (default classes and lib folders) of plugin and runtime classes and libraries of the required/dependent plugins. This class loader is a Parent Last ClassLoader - it loads the classes from the plugin's jars before delegating to the parent class loader.
The plugins are stored in a folder. You can specify the plugins folder in the constructor of DefaultPluginManager. If the plugins folder is not specified than the location is returned by System.getProperty("pf4j.pluginsDir", "plugins").

The structure of plugins folder is:

  • (or plugin1 folder)
  • (or plugin2 folder)

In plugins folder you can put a plugin as folder or archive file (zip). A plugin folder has this structure by default:

  • classes folder
  • lib folder (optional - if the plugin used third party libraries)

The plugin manager searches plugins metadata using a PluginDescriptorFinder.
DefaultPluginDescriptorFinder is a "link" to ManifestPluginDescriptorFinder that lookups plugins descriptors in MANIFEST.MF file. In this case the classes/META-INF/MANIFEST.MF file looks like:

Manifest-Version: 1.0
Archiver-Version: Plexus Archiver
Created-By: Apache Maven
Built-By: decebal
Build-Jdk: 1.6.0_17
Plugin-Class: ro.fortsoft.pf4j.demo.welcome.WelcomePlugin
Plugin-Dependencies: x, y, z
Plugin-Id: welcome-plugin
Plugin-Provider: Decebal Suiu
Plugin-Version: 0.0.1

In above manifest I described a plugin with id welcome-plugin, with class ro.fortsoft.pf4j.demo.welcome.WelcomePlugin, with version 0.0.1 and with dependencies to plugins x, y, z.

You can define an extension point in your application using ExtensionPoint interface marker.

public interface Greeting extends ExtensionPoint {

    public String getGreeting();


Another important internal component is ExtensionFinder that describes how the plugin manager discovers extensions for the extensions points.
DefaultExtensionFinder looks up extensions using Extension annotation.
DefaultExtensionFinder looks up extensions in all extensions index files META-INF/extensions.idx. PF4J uses Java Annotation Processing to process at compile time all classes annotated with @Extension and to produce the extensions index file.

public class WelcomePlugin extends Plugin {

    public WelcomePlugin(PluginWrapper wrapper) {

    public static class WelcomeGreeting implements Greeting {

        public String getGreeting() {
            return "Welcome";



In above code I supply an extension for the Greeting extension point.

You can retrieve all extensions for an extension point with:

List<Greeting> greetings = pluginManager.getExtensions(Greeting.class);
for (Greeting greeting : greetings) {
    System.out.println(">>> " + greeting.getGreeting());

The output is:

>>> Welcome
>>> Hello

You can inject your custom component (for example PluginDescriptorFinder, ExtensionFinder, PluginClasspath, ...) in DefaultPluginManager just override create... methods (factory method pattern).


protected PluginDescriptorFinder createPluginDescriptorFinder() {
    return new PropertiesPluginDescriptorFinder();

and in plugin respository you must have a file with the below content:

plugin.dependencies=x, y, z
plugin.provider=Decebal Suiu

You can control extension instance creation overriding createExtensionFactory method from DefaultExtensionFinder. Also, you can control plugin instance creation overriding createPluginFactory method from DefaultExtensionFinder.

For more information please see the demo sources.

Plugin assembly

After you developed a plugin the next step is to deploy it in your application. For this task, one option is to create a zip file with a structure described in section How to use from the beginning of the document.
If you use apache maven as build manger than your pom.xml file must looks like this. This file it's very simple and it's self explanatory.
If you use apache ant then your build.xml file must looks like this. In this case please look at the "build" target.

Plugin lifecycle

Each plugin passes through a pre-defined set of states. PluginState defines all possible states.
The primary plugin states are:


The DefaultPluginManager contains the following logic:

  • all plugins are resolved & loaded
  • DISABLED plugins are NOT automatically STARTED by pf4j in startPlugins() BUT you may manually start (and therefore enable) a DISABLED plugin by calling startPlugin(pluginId) instead of enablePlugin(pluginId) + startPlugin(pluginId)
  • only STARTED plugins may contribute extensions. Any other state should not be considered ready to contribute an extension to the running system.

The differences between a DISABLED plugin and a STARTED plugin are:

  • a STARTED plugin has executed Plugin.start(), a DISABLED plugin has not
  • a STARTED plugin may contribute extension instances, a DISABLED plugin may not

DISABLED plugins still have valid class loaders and their classes can be manually loaded and explored, but the resource loading - which is important for inspection - has been handicapped by the DISABLED check.

As integrators of pf4j evolve their extension APIs it will become a requirement to specify a minimum system version for loading plugins. Loading & starting a newer plugin on an older system could result in runtime failures due to method signature changes or other class differences.
For this reason was added a manifest attribute (in PluginDescriptor) to specify a 'requires' version which is a minimum system version. Also DefaultPluginManager contains a method to specify the system version of the plugin manager and the logic to disable plugins on load if the system version is too old (if you want total control, please override isPluginValid()). This works for both loadPlugins() and loadPlugin().

PluginStateListener defines the interface for an object that listens to plugin state changes. You can use addPluginStateListener() and removePluginStateListener() from PluginManager if you want to add or remove a plugin state listener.

Your application, as a PF4J consumer, has full control over each plugin (state). So, you can load, unload, enable, disable, start, stop and delete a certain plugin using PluginManager (programmatically).

Development mode

PF4J can run in two modes: DEVELOPMENT and DEPLOYMENT.
The DEPLOYMENT(default) mode is the standard workflow for plugins creation: create a new Maven module for each plugin, codding the plugin (declares new extension points and/or add new extensions), pack the plugin in a zip file, deploy the zip file to plugins folder. These operations are time consuming and from this reason I introduced the DEVELOPMENT runtime mode.
The main advantage of DEVELOPMENT runtime mode for a plugin developer is that he/she is not enforced to pack and deploy the plugins. In DEVELOPMENT mode you can developing plugins in a simple and fast mode.

Lets describe how DEVELOPMENT runtime mode works.

First, you can change the runtime mode using the "pf4j.mode" system property or overriding DefaultPluginManager.getRuntimeMode().
For example I run the pf4j demo in eclipse in DEVELOPMENT mode adding only "-Dpf4j.mode=development" to the pf4j demo launcher.
You can retrieve the current runtime mode using PluginManager.getRuntimeMode() or in your Plugin implementation with getWrapper().getRuntimeMode()(see WelcomePlugin).
The DefaultPluginManager determines automatically the correct runtime mode and for DEVELOPMENT mode overrides some components(pluginsDirectory is "../plugins", PropertiesPluginDescriptorFinder as PluginDescriptorFinder, DevelopmentPluginClasspath as PluginClassPath).
Another advantage of DEVELOPMENT runtime mode is that you can execute some code lines only in this mode (for example more debug messages).

Note: If you use Eclipse than make sure annotation processing is enabled at least for any projects registering objects using annotations. In the properties for your new project go to Java Compiler > Annotation Processing Check the “Enable Project Specific Settings” and make sure “Enable annotation processing” is checked.
If you use Maven as build manger, after each dependency modification in your plugin (Maven module) you must run Maven > Update Project...

For more details see the demo application.

Enable/Disable plugins

In theory, it's a relation 1:N between an extension point and the extensions for this extension point.
This works well, except for when you develop multiple plugins for this extension point as different options for your clients to decide on which one to use.
In this situation you wish a possibility to disable all but one extension.
For example I have an extension point for sending mail (EmailSender interface) with two extensions: one based on Sendgrid and another based on Amazon Simple Email Service.
The first extension is located in Plugin1 and the second extension is located in Plugin2.
I want to go only with one extension ( 1:1 relation between extension point and extensions) and to achieve this I have two options:
1) uninstall Plugin1 or Plugin2 (remove folder and pluginX from plugins folder)
2) disable Plugin1 or Plugin2

For option two you must create a simple file enabled.txt or disabled.txt in your plugins folder.
The content for enabled.txt is similar with:

# - load only these plugins
# - add one plugin id on each line
# - put this file in plugins folder

The content for disabled.txt is similar with:

# - load all plugins except these
# - add one plugin id on each line
# - put this file in plugins folder

All comment lines (line that start with # character) are ignored.
If a file with enabled.txt exists than disabled.txt is ignored. See enabled.txt and disabled.txt from the demo folder.


I have a tiny demo application. The demo application is in demo folder. In demo/api folder I declared an extension point ( Greeting).
In demo/plugins I implemented two plugins: plugin1, plugin2 (each plugin adds an extension for Greeting).

To run the demo application use:

./ (for Linux/Unix)
./run-demo.bat (for Windows)

How to build



  • create a local clone of this repository (with git clone
  • go to project's folder (with cd pf4j)
  • build the artifacts (with mvn clean package or mvn clean install)

After above steps a folder pf4j/target is created and all goodies are in that folder.

Mailing list

Much of the conversation between developers and users is managed through mailing list.


PF4J will be maintained under the Semantic Versioning guidelines as much as possible.

Releases will be numbered with the follow format:


And constructed with the following guidelines:

  • Breaking backward compatibility bumps the major
  • New additions without breaking backward compatibility bumps the minor
  • Bug fixes and misc changes bump the patch

For more information on SemVer, please visit


Copyright 2012 Decebal Suiu

Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the "License"); you may not use this work except in compliance with the License. You may obtain a copy of the License in the LICENSE file, or at:

Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software distributed under the License is distributed on an "AS IS" BASIS, WITHOUT WARRANTIES OR CONDITIONS OF ANY KIND, either express or implied. See the License for the specific language governing permissions and limitations under the License.

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