1 - Introduction
This chapter introduces the Java Native Interface (JNI). The JNI is a native
programming interface. It allows Java code that runs inside a Java Virtual
Machine (VM) to interoperate with applications and libraries written in other
programming languages, such as C, C++, and assembly.
The most important benefit of the JNI is that it imposes no restrictions on the
implementation of the underlying Java VM. Therefore, Java VM vendors can
add support for the JNI without affecting other parts of the VM. Programmers
can write one version of a native application or library and expect it to work
with all Java VMs supporting the JNI.
This chapter covers the following topics:
Java Native Interface Overview
While you can write applications entirely in Java, there are situations where
Java alone does not meet the needs of your application. Programmers use the
JNI to write Java native methods to handle those situations when an application
cannot be written entirely in Java.
The following examples illustrate when you need to use Java native methods:
By programming through the JNI, you can use native methods to:
- The standard Java class library does not support the platform-dependent
features needed by the application.
- You already have a library written in another language, and wish to make it
accessible to Java code through the JNI.
- You want to implement a small portion of time-critical code in a lower-level
language such as assembly.
You can also use the JNI with the Invocation API to enable an arbitrary native
application to embed the Java VM. This allows programmers to easily make
their existing applications Java-enabled without having to link with the VM
- Create, inspect, and update Java objects (including arrays and strings).
- Call Java methods.
- Catch and throw exceptions.
- Load classes and obtain class information.
- Perform runtime type checking.
Currently, VMs from different vendors offer different native method interfaces.
These different interfaces force programmers to produce, maintain, and
distribute multiple versions of native method libraries on a given platform.
We briefly examine some of the existing native method interfaces, such as:
- JDK 1.0 native method interface
- Netscape's Java Runtime Interface
- Microsoft's Raw Native Interface and Java/COM interface
JDK 1.0 Native Method Interface
JDK 1.0 shipped with a native method interface. Unfortunately, there are two
major reasons that this interface is unsuitable for adoption by other Java VMs.
First, the native code accesses fields in Java objects as members of C structures.
However, the Java Language Specification does not define how objects are laid
out in memory. If a Java VM lays out objects differently in memory, then the
programmer would have to recompile the native method libraries.
Second, JDK 1.0's native method interface relies on a conservative garbage
collector. The unrestricted use of the
unhand macro, for example, makes it
necessary to conservatively scan the native stack.
Java Runtime Interface
Netscape proposed the Java Runtime Interface (JRI), a general interface for
services provided in the Java virtual machine. JRI is designed with portability
in mind---it makes few assumptions about the implementation details in the
underlying Java VM. The JRI addresses a wide range of issues, including
native methods, debugging, reflection, embedding (invocation), and so on.
Raw Native Interface and Java/COM Interface
The Microsoft Java VM supports two native method interfaces. At the low
level, it provides an efficient Raw Native Interface (RNI). The RNI offers a high
degree of source-level backward compatibility with the JDK's native method
interface, although it has one major difference. Instead of relying on
conservative garbage collection, the native code must use RNI functions to
interact explicitly with the garbage collector.
At a higher level, Microsoft's Java/COM interface offers a language-
independent standard binary interface to the Java VM. Java code can use a
COM object as if it were a Java object. A Java class can also be exposed to the
rest of the system as a COM class.
We believe that a uniform, well-thought-out standard interface offers the
following benefits for everyone:
The best way to achieve a standard native method interface is to involve all
parties with an interest in Java VMs. Therefore we organized a series of
discussions among the Java licensees on the design of a uniform native method
interface. It is clear from the discussions that the standard native method
interface must satisfy the following requirements:
- Each VM vendor can support a larger body of native code.
- Tool builders will not have to maintain different kinds of native method
- Application programmers will be able to write one version of their native
code and this version will run on different VMs.
- Binary compatibility - The primary goal is binary compatibility of native
method libraries across all Java VM implementations on a given platform.
Programmers should maintain only one version of their native method
libraries for a given platform.
- Efficiency - To support time-critical code, the native method interface must
impose little overhead. All known techniques to ensure VM-independence
(and thus binary compatibility) carry a certain amount of overhead. We
must somehow strike a compromise between efficiency and VM-
- Functionality - The interface must expose enough Java VM internals to
allow native methods to accomplish useful tasks.
Java Native Interface Approach
We hoped to adopt one of the existing approaches as the standard interface,
because this would have imposed the least burden on programmers who had
to learn multiple interfaces in different VMs. Unfortunately, no existing
solutions are completely satisfactory in achieving our goals.
Netscape's JRI is the closest to what we envision as a portable native method
interface, and was used as the starting point of our design. Readers familiar
with the JRI will notice the similarities in the API naming convention, the use
of method and field IDs, the use of local and global references, and so on.
Despite our best efforts, however, the JNI is not binary-compatible with the JRI,
although a VM can support both the JRI and the JNI.
Microsoft's RNI is an improvement over JDK 1.0 because it solves the problem
of native methods working with a nonconservative garbage collector. The RNI,
however, is not suitable as a VM-independent native method interface. Like the
JDK, RNI native methods access Java objects as C structures. This leads to two
As a binary standard, COM ensures complete binary compatibility across
different VMs. Invoking a COM method requires only an indirect call, which
carries little overhead. In addition, COM objects are a great improvement over
dynamic-link libraries in solving versioning problems.
- RNI exposes the layout of internal Java objects to native code.
- Direct access of Java objects as C structures makes it impossible to efficiently
incorporate "write barriers," which are necessary in advanced garbage
The use of COM as the standard Java native method interface, however, is
hampered by a few factors:
Although we do not expose Java objects to the native code as COM objects, the
JNI interface itself is binary-compatible with COM. We use the same jump
table structure and calling convention that COM does. This means that, as soon
as cross-platform support for COM is available, the JNI can become a COM interface
to the Java VM.
- First, the Java/COM interface lacks certain desired functions, such as
accessing private fields and raising general exceptions.
- Second, the Java/COM interface automatically provides the standard
IUnknown and IDispatch COM interfaces for Java objects, so that native
code can access public methods and fields. Unfortunately, the IDispatch
interface does not deal with overloaded Java methods and is case-
insensitive in matching method names. Furthermore, all Java methods
exposed through the IDispatch interface are wrapped to perform dynamic
type checking and coercion. This is because the IDispatch interface is
designed with weakly-typed languages (such as Basic) in mind.
- Third, instead of dealing with individual low-level functions, COM is
designed to allow software components (including full-fledged applications)
to work together. We believe that it is not appropriate to treat all Java classes
or low-level native methods as software components.
- Fourth, the immediate adoption of COM is hampered by the lack of its
support on UNIX platforms.
We do not believe that the JNI should be the only native method interface
supported by a given Java VM. A standard interface benefits programmers
who would like to load their native code libraries into different Java VMs. In
some cases, the programmer may have to use a lower-level, VM-specific
interface to achieve top efficiency. In other cases, the programmer might use a
higher-level interface to build software components. Indeed, we hope that, as
the Java environment and component software technologies become more
mature, native methods will gradually lose their significance.
Programming to the JNI
Native method programmers should start programming to the JNI.
Programming to the JNI insulates you from unknowns, such as the vendor's
VM that the end user might be running. By conforming to the JNI standard,
you will give a native library the best chance to run in a given Java VM. For
example, although JDK 1.1 will continue to support the old-style native
method interface that was implemented in JDK 1.0, it is certain that future
versions of the JDK will stop supporting the old-style native method interface.
Native methods relying on the old-style interface will have to be rewritten.
If you are implementing a Java VM, you should implement the JNI. We
(Javasoft and the licensees) have tried our best to ensure that the JNI does not
impose any overhead or restrictions on your VM implementation, including
object representation, garbage collection scheme, and so on. Please let us know
if you run into any problems we might have overlooked.
Changes in JDK 1.1.2
To better support the Java Runtime Environment (JRE), the Invocation
API has been extended in JDK 1.1.2 in a few minor ways. The changes do
not break any existing code. The JNI Native Method Interface has not
reserved0 field in the
structure has been renamed to
JDK1_1InitArgs structure holds the initialization
JNI_CreateJavaVM. Callers of
JNI_CreateJavaVM must set the version field to
been changed to return a
jint indicating whether the
requested version is supported.
reserved1 field in the
structure has been renamed to
properties. This is a
NULL-terminated array of strings. Each string has the
indicating a system property. (This facility corresponds to the -D
option in the java command line.)
- In JDK 1.1.1, the thread calling
be the only user thread in the VM. JDK 1.1.2 has lifted this
DestroyJavaVM is called when there is
more than one user thread, the VM waits until the current thread is
the only user thread, and then tries to destroy itself.
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