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DRLVM Kernel Classes

Kernel Classes

  1. About This Document
    1. Purpose
    2. Intended Audience
    3. Conventions
  2. Overview
  3. Architecture
    1. Exported Interface
    2. Internal Structure
      1. Kernel Java* Classes
      2. Kernel Class Natives
      3. API2VM Internal Interface
  4. Processes
  5. DRL Kernel Specifics
  6. References

About This Document


This document is targeted at developers of the DRL kernel classes. The document describes the kernel classes’ internal design and interaction with the DRL virtual machine. The information can be helpful for future development of DRL kernel classes and can serve as an example for those implementing the kernel classes’ interface from scratch.

Intended Audience

The target audience for the document includes a wide community of engineers interested in using DRLVM and in working further with the product to contribute to its development. The document assumes that readers understand the kernel classes’ concept [1].


This document uses the unified conventions for the DRL documentation kit.


Kernel classes serve as glue between Java class libraries (JCL) and native VM code. These are Java API classes, members of which use or are used by the virtual machine. Examples of kernel classes include java.lang.Object and java.lang.reflect.Field. Because they have data on the VM internals, the kernel classes are delivered with the VM.

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This part of the document describes the internal structure of the DRLVM Kernel Classes component.

Exported Interface

In DRLVM, kernel classes export the kernel classes interface for interaction with JCL. The kernel classes make part of the VM core and use its internal structures and interfaces to interact with other VM components, namely, the garbage collector, class support, stack support, exception handling, and object layout support.

Internal Structure

The DRL kernel classes component consists of the kernel class natives and the kernel Java classes with an internal interface, API2VM, linking the two tiers, as shown in Figure 1. The current implementation of the kernel Java classes is based on the Harmony Class Library Porting Documentation [1] with the amendments described in section DRL Kernel Specifics. This implementation is aimed at reducing porting effort of Java APIs to different virtual machines. The kernel class natives also use the thread management functionality. The interaction between the kernel classes and VM components is based on specific internal interfaces of the virtual machine.


The current implementation of kernel class natives is based on JNI and uses JNI functions. As a result, kernel class native functions are exported as ordinary native methods from the VM executable as specified by the JNI specification [2]. For example, when the VMThreadManager Java class from the kernel classes component defines the method static native Thread currentThread(), the kernel class native interface implements the function Java_java_lang_VMThreadManager_currentThread().

Components and interfaces of VM involved in interaction with kernel classes

Figure 1: Kernel classes in DRL Architecture

Kernel Java Classes

DRL kernel classes fully comply with the Harmony Kernel classes documentation [1] with the exceptions listed in section DRL Kernel Specifics.

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Kernel Class Natives

Currently, the kernel class natives component consists of the following:

Simple wrappers
Are used for interfaces of different VM components. These constitute the main part of kernel class natives, as shown in the example below.


Java_java_lang_VMThreadManager_currentThread(JNIEnv *jenv, jclass)
 return thread_current_thread();
Complex wrappers
Are responsible for data conversion between Java objects and VM internal data structures, as well as for error checking and processing. These wrappers also provide the functionality not directly available in VM components interfaces.


For method VMClassRegistry.findLoadedClass(String name, ClassLoader loader), the wrapper checks the loader parameter and determines further activities. If this parameter has a non-null value, the corresponding class loader is used for class lookup. If it is null, the Java execution stack is examined in order to obtain context class loader if any, otherwise the system class loader is used.

Specific functions
Consist of the following groups:
  • Lazy stack inspection for exception objects
    This mechanism is used for all descendants of class java.lang.Throwable. When a Java* exception object is created, this mechanism prepares and stores the snapshot of the stack trace; this is a fast operation.
    The more computation intensive operations, such as snapshot parsing and creating a stack trace element array (the java.lang.StackTraceElement array) are only performed when the exception data is actually required, for example when the printStackTrace() method of the Throwable class is called.
  • Reflection support
    This mechanism is an implementation of standard Java* reflection API represented by classes in the java.lang.reflection package [3].
    This mechanism is responsible for providing access to methods and fields of a class by using their symbolic names, as well as for data conversions between the java.lang.Object type and the VM internal type representation required for operations with fields and methods. This mechanism also communicates with the JIT or the interpreter to perform the actual execution of methods.
  • Hidden synthetic fields processing
    These fields are used for linking Java objects of certain kernel classes, such as java.lang.Thread and java.lang.reflect.Field, with the corresponding VM internal data structures. When the classes are loaded, the VM class support component adds the fields to the classes, and the kernel class natives component uses the fields to store the links to the corresponding VM internal data. Note that these fields are not accessible from Java* code.
  • Debug printing
    This mechanism can be used for development process only and is not required for the release version of DRL. In this mechanism, the native method print of the class VMDebug allows printing messages to the standard output before printing can be done through the java.lang.System.out/err channel.

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API2VM Internal Interface

The API2VM internal interface is used to access VM-specific information, which is not directly available on the Java* level and provides external data to the VM. For example, API2VM includes the method VMClassRegistry.defineClass() for defining new classes.

The internal interface does the following:

The API2VM internal interface includes the following:

Out of these methods, the majority is package-private. The exceptions consist of the class java.lang.Compiler declared as public in the spec and another commonly accessed class org.apache.harmony.vm.VMStack.

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This section illustrates the role of kernel classes in the interaction between user applications code and the virtual machine. The section aims to demonstrate internal processes going on inside the kernel classes component during this interaction.

Getting a Class Object for an application involving kernel classes

Figure 2: Operation of Kernel Classes

Figure 2 shows an example of kernel classes in action. In this example, a user application needs to get a Class object by the full class name, which involves the VM kernel classes. This request goes through the following stages:

  1. The application calls the static public Class.forName(className) method.
  2. Before loading the class, the virtual machine checks security permissions for the class object, as follows:
    1. Kernel Java class Class calls the native VMStack.getCallerClass() method to get the caller’s Class object.
    2. The kernel class natives component implementing the getCallClass() functionality calls the st_get_frame(depth) interface function of the stack support VM core component to get the stack frame representation for the specified depth. The kernel classes use this frame to retrieve the Class object corresponding to it.
    3. Kernel classes natives return the retrieved object to the getCallerClass() method.
    4. Kernel Java classes component can now get the class loader that loaded the caller’s class. For that, this component calls the native VMClassRegistry.getClassLoader(class) method.
    5. After the kernel class natives return the class loader for the caller’s class, VM checks whether the caller has permissions for loading the requested Class object.
  3. If the loader is permitted to load the Class object, the VM kernel classes component loads the requested class to the application.

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DRL Kernel Specifics

The current implementation of the Kernel Java classes interface in DRLVM contains certain specifics due to incomplete specifications or inter-package dependencies.

  1. The Harmony Class Library Porting Documentation [1] does not state clearly whether java.lang.System is a kernel class or not. The DRL implementation provides this class as kernel.
  2. The Harmony Class Library Porting Documentation does not include the java.lang.ref.ReferenceQueue specification. The DRL implementation provides the whole java.lang.ref package.
  3. The DRL implementation of the java.lang.Class.getStackClasses() method does not completely correspond to the Harmony Class Library Porting Documentation:
    1. When stopAtPrivileged is TRUE, the method adds two frames to the bottom of the resulting array, so that the caller of the privileged frame is the last included frame.
    2. The API2VM interface has a copy of the method java.lang.Class.getStackClasses(). This copy method org.apache.harmony.vm.VMStack.getClasses() is used in java.lang.security.AccessController and has public visibility.
  4. The DRL implementation of com.ibm.oti.vm.VM does not include VM initialization methods.
  5. DRLVM does not support the shutdown procedure as described in the specification. Namely, the com.ibm.oti.vm.VM.shutdown() method is not called upon VM shutdown. Instead, API2VM provides an alternative shutdown cleanup mechanism. The implementation closes opened connections and deletes temporary files on exit.


[1] Harmony Class Library Porting Documentation, http://svn.apache.org/viewcvs.cgi/ *checkout*/harmony/enhanced/java/trunk/classlib/doc/kernel_doc/html/index.html

[2] Java Native Interface Specification, http://java.sun.com/j2se/1.5.0/docs/guide/jni/spec/jniTOC.html

[3]Java API Specification, http://java.sun.com/j2se/1.5.0/docs/api

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