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Input Text from Console
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Chapter 9

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While the print methods of System.out are simple and convenient to use, a shortcoming often cited by new Java users has been the lack of a comparabe set of text input methods. Fortunately, J2SE 5.0 comes with the new Scanner class that we discuss it in the next section. Here we examine the standard text input techniques available with Java 1.4 and earlier.

System.in offers only the very limited capabilities of an InputStream. You can, for example, read in a single byte, which returns as an int value, or a byte array. You must cast each byte obtained from the keyboard to a char type. For example:

try {
int tmp = System.in.read ();
  char c = (char) tmp;
catch (IOException e) {}

Here a byte value is read and returned as the first byte in an int value. This value is then converted to a char value. This assumes that the byte corresponds to an 8-bit encoded character, such as an ASCII character. As for most Java I/O operations, you must enclose the read() method in a try-catch block to catch any possible IOException that might be thrown.

To read a string of characters the above code segment should go inside a loop, as in

String strInput = "";
while (true) {
  try {
    int tmp = System.in.read ();
    if (tmp == -1) break;
    char c = (char) tmp;
strInput = strInput + c;
  catch (IOException e) {}
System.out.println ("Echo = " + strInput);

The return of a -1 value indicates the end of the input. Since the byte that is read goes into the first 8 bits of a 32-bit int value, a genuine data value can never set the sign bit.

We see that System.in is obviously an inelegant and inefficient way to carry out routine text input. We therefore normally wrap this input stream with classes that provide more powerful methods.

As discussed an earlier section,, the buffer wrapper classes provide for efficient transmission of stream bytes. In addition, they typically add various useful methods. In the BufferedReaderApp example, we wrap System.in with the InputStreamReader and then wrap this instance with BufferedReader.

We take advantage of the readLine() method in BufferedReader and obtain a whole line of input all at once rather than looping over reads of one character at a time. This technique also removes the need for type conversion from int to char.

import java.io.*;
  * Demonstrate the BufferedReader class for wrapping a
  * reader object and providing the readLine () method.
public class BufferedReaderApp
  public static void main (String arg[]) {

    // System.in std input stream already opened by default.
    // Wrap in a new reader stream to obtain 16 bit capability.
    InputStreamReader reader = new InputStreamReader (System.in);

    // Wrap the reader with a buffered reader.
    BufferedReader buf_in = new BufferedReader (reader);

    // Wrap in a new writer stream to obtain 16 bit capability.
    OutputStreamWriter writer = new OutputStreamWriter (System.out);

    // PrintWriter wrapper
    PrintWriter print_writer = new PrintWriter (writer, true);

    String str = "q";
    try {
      // Read a whole line a time. Check the string for
      // the "quit" input to jump from the loop.
      do {
        // Read text from keyboard
        str = buf_in.readLine ();

        // Echo the text back to console.
        print_writer.println ("echo " + str);

      } while (!str.toLowerCase ().equals ("q")  );
    catch  (IOException e) {
        System.out.println ("IO exception = " + e );
  } // main

} // class BufferedReaderApp


A session with BufferedReaderApp could go as follows:

My input from the keyboard
echo My input from the keyboard
More of my input
echo More of my input
echo q

To obtain numerical values from the keyboard requires reading the values as strings and then converting them to primitive types. For example, the following snippet reads in an integer value as a string and then converts it to an int value.

InputStreamReader reader = new InputStreamReader (System.in);
BufferedReader buf_reader = new BufferedReader (reader);
try {
  String s = buf_reader.readLine (); // read the number as a string
  // Trim the whitespace before parsing.
  tmp = Integer.parseInt (s.trim ()); // Convert string to int
  System.out.println (" echo = " + tmp);
catch (IOException ioe) {
  System.out.println ("IO exception = " + ioe);

Similar code is needed for parsing other numerical input according to the type of values. The text section discusses an easier technique for numerical input using the Scanner class of J2SE 5.0.

References and Web Resources

Latest update: Dec. 9, 2004

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