[Java] What causes and what are the differences between NoClassDefFoundError and ClassNotFoundException?


A ClassNotFoundException is thrown when the reported class is not found by the ClassLoader. This typically means that the class is missing from the CLASSPATH. It could also mean that the class in question is trying to be loaded from another class which was loaded in a parent classloader and hence the class from the child classloader is not visible. This is sometimes the case when working in more complex environments like an App Server (WebSphere is infamous for such classloader issues).

People often tend to confuse java.lang.NoClassDefFoundError with java.lang.ClassNotFoundException however there's an important distinction. For example an exception (an error really since java.lang.NoClassDefFoundError is a subclass of java.lang.Error) like


does not mean that the ActiveMQConnectionFactory class is not in the CLASSPATH. Infact its quite the opposite. It means that the class ActiveMQConnectionFactory was found by the ClassLoader however when trying to load the class, it ran into an error reading the class definition. This typically happens when the class in question has static blocks or members which use a Class that's not found by the ClassLoader. So to find the culprit, view the source of the class in question (ActiveMQConnectionFactory in this case) and look for code using static blocks or static members. If you don't have access the the source, then simply decompile it using JAD.

On examining the code, say you find a line of code like below, make sure that the class SomeClass in in your CLASSPATH.

private static SomeClass foo = new SomeClass();

Tip : To find out which jar a class belongs to, you can use the web site jarFinder . This allows you to specify a class name using wildcards and it searches for the class in its database of jars. jarhoo allows you to do the same thing but its no longer free to use.

If you would like to locate the which jar a class belongs to in a local path, you can use a utility like jarscan ( http://www.inetfeedback.com/jarscan/ ). You just specify the class you'd like to locate and the root directory path where you'd like it to start searching for the class in jars and zip files.


What is the difference between NoClassDefFoundError and ClassNotFoundException?

What causes them to be thrown? How can they be resolved?

I often encounter these throwables when modifying existing code to include new jar files. I have hit them on both the client side and the server side for a java app distributed through webstart.

Possible reasons I have come across:

  1. packages not included in build.xml for the client side of code
  2. runtime classpath missing for the new jars we are using
  3. version conflicts with previous jar

When I encounter these today I take a trail-and-error approach to get things working. I need more clarity and understanding.

With the names itself we can easily identify one from Exception and other one is from Error.

Exception: Exceptions occurs during the execution of program. A programmer can handle these exception by try catch block. We have two types of exceptions. Checked exception which throws at compile time. Runtime Exceptions which are thrown at run time, these exception usually happen because of bad programming.

Error: These are not exceptions at all, it is beyond the scope of programmer. These errors are usually thrown by JVM.

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  • Class loader fails to verify a class byte code we mention in Link phase of class loading subsystem we get ClassNotFoundException.
  • ClassNotFoundException is a checked Exception derived directly from java.lang.Exception class and you need to provide explicit handling for it
  • ClassNotFoundException comes up when there is an explicit loading of class is involved by providing name of class at runtime using ClassLoader.loadClass(), Class.forName() and ClassLoader.findSystemClass().


  • Class loader fails to resolving references of a class in Link phase of class loading subsystem we get NoClassDefFoundError.
  • NoClassDefFoundError is an Error derived from LinkageError class, which is used to indicate error cases, where a class has a dependency on some other class and that class has incompatibly changed after the compilation.
  • NoClassDefFoundError is a result of implicit loading of class because of a method call from that class or any variable access.


  • Both NoClassDefFoundError and ClassNotFoundException are related to unavailability of a class at run-time.
  • Both ClassNotFoundException and NoClassDefFoundError are related to Java classpath.

ClassNotFoundException is thrown when there is attempt to load the class by referencing it via a String. For example the parameter to in Class.forName() is a String, and this raises the potential of invalid binary names being passed to the classloader.

The ClassNotFoundException is thrown when a potentially invalid binary name is encountered; for instance, if the class name has the '/' character, you are bound to get a ClassNotFoundException. It is also thrown when the directly referenced class is not available on the classpath.

On the other hand, NoClassDefFoundError is thrown

  • when the actual physical representation of the class - the .class file is unavailable,
  • or the class been loaded already in a different classloader (usually a parent classloader would have loaded the class and hence the class cannot be loaded again),
  • or if an incompatible class definition has been found - the name in the class file does not match the requested name,
  • or (most importantly) if a dependent class cannot be located and loaded. In this case, the directly referenced class might have been located and loaded, but the dependent class is not available or cannot be loaded. This is a scenario where the directly referenced class can be loaded via a Class.forName or equivalent methods. This indicates a failure in linkage.

In short, a NoClassDefFoundError is usually thrown on new() statements or method invocations that load a previously absent class (as opposed to the string-based loading of classes for ClassNotFoundException), when the classloader is unable to find or load the class definition(s).

Eventually, it is upto the ClassLoader implementation to throw an instance of ClassNotFoundException when it is unable to load a class. Most custom classloader implementations perform this since they extend the URLClassLoader. Usually classloaders do not explicitly throw a NoClassDefFoundError on any of the method implementations - this exception is usually thrown from the JVM in the HotSpot compiler, and not by the classloader itself.

What is the reason for getting each of them and any thought process on how to deal with such errors?

They're closely related. A ClassNotFoundException is thrown when Java went looking for a particular class by name and could not successfully load it. A NoClassDefFoundError is thrown when Java went looking for a class that was linked into some existing code, but couldn't find it for one reason or another (e.g., wrong classpath, wrong version of Java, wrong version of a library) and is thoroughly fatal as it indicates that something has gone Badly Wrong.

If you've got a C background, a CNFE is like a failure to dlopen()/dlsym() and an NCDFE is a problem with the linker; in the second case, the class files concerned should never have been actually compiled in the configuration you're trying to use them.

ClassNotFoundException is a checked exception that occurs when we tell JVM to load a class by its string name using Class.forName() or ClassLoader.findSystemClass() or ClassLoader.loadClass() methods and mentioned class is not found in the classpath.

Most of the time, this exception occurs when you try to run an application without updating the classpath with required JAR files. For Example, You may have seen this exception when doing the JDBC code to connect to your database i.e.MySQL but your classpath does not have JAR for it.

NoClassDefFoundError error occurs when JVM tries to load a particular class that is the part of your code execution (as part of a normal method call or as part of creating an instance using the new keyword) and that class is not present in your classpath but was present at compile time because in order to execute your program you need to compile it and if you are trying use a class which is not present compiler will raise compilation error.

Below is the brief description

You can read Everything About ClassNotFoundException Vs NoClassDefFoundError for more details.

A NoClassDefFoundError (NCDFE) happens when your code runs "new Y()" and it can't find the Y class.

It may simply be that Y is missing from your class loader like the other comments suggest, but it could be that the Y class isn't signed or has an invalid signature, or that Y is loaded by a different classloader not visible to your code, or even that Y depends on Z which couldn't be loaded for any of the above reasons.

If this happens, then the JVM will remember the result of loading X (NCDFE) and it will simply throw a new NCDFE every time you ask for Y without telling you why:

class a {
  static class b {}
  public static void main(String args[]) {
    System.out.println("First attempt new b():");
    try {new b(); } catch(Throwable t) {t.printStackTrace();}
    System.out.println("\nSecond attempt new b():");
    try {new b(); } catch(Throwable t) {t.printStackTrace();}

save this as a.java somewhere

The code simply tries to instantiate a new "b" class twice, other than that, it doesn't have any bugs, and it doesn't do anything.

Compile the code with javac a.java, Then run a by invoking java -cp . a -- it should just print out two lines of text, and it should run fine without errors.

Then delete the "a$b.class" file (or fill it with garbage, or copy a.class over it) to simulate the missing or corrupted class. Here's what happens:

First attempt new b():
java.lang.NoClassDefFoundError: a$b
    at a.main(a.java:5)
Caused by: java.lang.ClassNotFoundException: a$b
    at java.net.URLClassLoader$1.run(URLClassLoader.java:200)
    at java.security.AccessController.doPrivileged(Native Method)
    at java.net.URLClassLoader.findClass(URLClassLoader.java:188)
    at java.lang.ClassLoader.loadClass(ClassLoader.java:307)
    at sun.misc.Launcher$AppClassLoader.loadClass(Launcher.java:301)
    at java.lang.ClassLoader.loadClass(ClassLoader.java:252)
    at java.lang.ClassLoader.loadClassInternal(ClassLoader.java:320)
    ... 1 more

Second attempt new b():
java.lang.NoClassDefFoundError: a$b
    at a.main(a.java:7)

The first invocation results in a ClassNotFoundException (thrown by the class loader when it can't find the class), which must be wrapped in an unchecked NoClassDefFoundError, since the code in question (new b()) should just work.

The second attempt will of course fail too, but as you can see the wrapped exception is no more, because the ClassLoader seems to remember failed class loaders. You see only the NCDFE with absolutely no clue as to what really happened.

So if you ever see a NCDFE with no root cause, you need to see if you can track back to the very first time the class was loaded to find the cause of the error.

Add one possible reason in practise:

  • ClassNotFoundException: as cletus said, you use interface while inherited class of interface is not in the classpath. E.g, Service Provider Pattern (or Service Locator) try to locate some non-existing class
  • NoClassDefFoundError: given class is found while the dependency of given class is not found

In practise, Error may be thrown silently, e.g, you submit a timer task and in the timer task it throws Error, while in most cases, your program only catches Exception. Then the Timer main loop is ended without any information. A similar Error to NoClassDefFoundError is ExceptionInInitializerError, when your static initializer or the initializer for a static variable throws an exception.