Common I/O Tasks in Modern Java

This page was contributed by Cay Horstmann under the UPL



This article focuses on tasks that application programmers are likely to encounter, particularly in web applications, such as:

  • Reading and writing text files
  • Reading text, images, JSON from the web
  • Visiting files in a directory
  • Reading a ZIP file
  • Creating a temporary file or directory

The Java API supports many other tasks, which are explained in detail in the Java I/O API tutorial.

This article focuses on API improvements since Java 8. In particular:


Reading Text Files

You can read a text file into a string like this:

String content = Files.readString(path);

Here, path is an instance of java.nio.Path, obtained like this:

var path = Path.of("/usr/share/dict/words");

Before Java 18, you were strongly encouraged to specify the character encoding with any file operations that read or write strings. Nowadays, by far the most common character encoding is UTF-8, but for backwards compatibility, Java used the "platform encoding", which can be a legacy encoding on Windows. To ensure portability, text I/O operations needed parameters StandardCharsets.UTF_8. This is no longer necessary.

If you want the file as a sequence of lines, call

List<String> lines = Files.readAllLines(path);

If the file is large, process the lines lazily as a Stream<String>:

try (Stream<String> lines = Files.lines(path)) {
    . . .

Also use Files.lines if you can naturally process lines with stream operations (such as map, filter). Note that the stream returned by Files.lines needs to be closed. To ensure that this happens, use a try-with-resources statement, as in the preceding code snippet.

There is no longer a good reason to use the readLine method of

To split your input into something else than lines, use a java.util.Scanner. For example, here is how you can read words, separated by non-letters:

Stream<String> tokens = new Scanner(path).useDelimiter("\\PL+").tokens();

The Scanner class also has methods for reading numbers, but it is generally simpler to read the input as one string per line, or a single string, and then parse it.

Be careful when parsing numbers from text files, since their format may be locale-dependent. For example, the input 100.000 is 100.0 in the US locale but 100000.0 in the German locale. Use java.text.NumberFormat for locale-specific parsing. Alternatively, you may be able to use Integer.parseInt/Double.parseDouble.


Writing Text Files

You can write a string to a text file with a single call:

String content = . . .;
Files.writeString(path, content);

If you have a list of lines rather than a single string, use:

List<String> lines = . . .;
Files.write(path, lines);

For more general output, use a PrintWriter if you want to use the printf method:

var writer = new PrintWriter(path.toFile());
writer.printf(locale, "Hello, %s, next year you'll be %d years old!%n", name, age + 1);

Note that printf is locale-specific. When writing numbers, be sure to write them in the appropriate format. Instead of using printf, consider java.text.NumberFormat or Integer.toString/Double.toString.

Weirdly enough, as of Java 21, there is no PrintWriter constructor with a Path parameter.

If you don't use printf, you can use the BufferedWriter class and write strings with the write method.

var writer = Files.newBufferedWriter(path);
writer.write(line); // Does not write a line separator

Remember to close the writer when you are done.


Reading From an Input Stream

Perhaps the most common reason to use a stream is to read something from a web site.

If you need to set request headers or read response headers, use the HttpClient:

HttpClient client = HttpClient.newBuilder().build();
HttpRequest request = HttpRequest.newBuilder()
HttpResponse<String> response = client.send(request, HttpResponse.BodyHandlers.ofString());
String result = response.body();

That is overkill if all you want is the data. Instead, use:

InputStream in = new URI("").toURL().openStream();

Then read the data into a byte array and optionally turn them into a string:

byte[] bytes = in.readAllBytes();
String result = new String(bytes);

Or transfer the data to an output stream:

OutputStream out = Files.newOutputStream(path);

Note that no loop is required if you simply want to read all bytes of an input stream.

But do you really need an input stream? Many APIs give you the option to read from a file or URL.

Your favorite JSON library is likely to have methods for reading from a file or URL. For example, with Jackson jr:

URL url = new URI("").toURL();
Map<String, Object> result = JSON.std.mapFrom(url);

Here is how to read the dog image from the preceding call:

URL url = new URI(result.get("message").toString()).toURL();
BufferedImage img =;

This is better than passing an input stream to the read method, because the library can use additional information from the URL to determine the image type.


The Files API

The java.nio.file.Files class provides a comprehensive set of file operations, such as creating, copying, moving, and deleting files and directories. The File System Basics tutorial provides a thorough description. In this section, I highlight a few common tasks.

Traversing Entries in Directories and Subdirectories

For most situations you can use one of two methods. The Files.list method visits all entries (files, subdirectories, symbolic links) of a directory.

try (Stream<Path> entries = Files.list(pathToDirectory)) {
    . . .

Use a try-with-resources statement to ensure that the stream object, which keeps track of the iteration, will be closed.

If you also want to visit the entries of descendant directories, instead use the method Files.walk

Stream<Path> entries = Files.walk(pathToDirectory);

Then simply use stream methods to home in on the entries that you are interested in, and to collect the results:

try (Stream<Path> entries = Files.walk(pathToDirectory)) {
    List<Path> htmlFiles = entries.filter(p -> p.toString().endsWith("html")).toList();
    . . .

Here are the other methods for traversing directory entries:

Working with ZIP Files

Ever since Java 1.1, the ZipInputStream and ZipOutputStream classes provide an API for processing ZIP files. But the API is a bit clunky. Java 8 introduced a much nicer ZIP file system:

try (FileSystem fs = FileSystems.newFileSystem(pathToZipFile)) {
    . . .

The try-with-resources statement ensures that the close method is called after the ZIP file operations. That method updates the ZIP file to reflect any changes in the file system.

You can then use the methods of the Files class. Here we get a list of all files in the ZIP file:

try (Stream<Path> entries = Files.walk(fs.getPath("/"))) {
    List<Path> filesInZip = entries.filter(Files::isRegularFile).toList();

To read the file contents, just use Files.readString or Files.readAllBytes:

String contents = Files.readString(fs.getPath("/LICENSE"));

You can remove files with Files.delete. To add or replace files, simply use Files.writeString or Files.write.

Creating Temporary Files and Directories

Fairly often, I need to collect user input, produce files, and run an external process. Then I use temporary files, which are gone after the next reboot, or a temporary directory that I erase after the process has completed.

I use the two methods Files.createTempFile and Files.createTempDirectory for that.

Path filePath = Files.createTempFile("myapp", ".txt");
Path dirPath = Files.createTempDirectory("myapp");

This creates a temporary file or directory in a suitable location (/tmp in Linux) with the given prefix and, for a file, suffix.



Web searches and AI chats can suggest needlessly complex code for common I/O operations. There are often better alternatives:

  1. You don't need a loop to read or write strings or byte arrays.
  2. You may not even need a stream, reader or writer.
  3. Become familiar with the Files methods for creating, copying, moving, and deleting files and directories.
  4. Use Files.list or Files.walk to traverse directory entries.
  5. Use a ZIP file system for processing ZIP files.
  6. Stay away from the legacy File class.

Last update: April 24, 2024

Back to Tutorial List