Wrapping a C++ library with JNI, part 1

In this series…

  • Introduction, outlining the general steps from starting with a C++ library to being able to build and run simple tests on some JNI wrappers;
  • Part 1 (this post), in which I design some simple Java classes and generate the stub wrapper code;
  • Part 2, in which I add just enough of the implementation to be able to do a test build;
  • Part 3, discussing object lifecycles in C++ and Java;
  • Part 4, the final episode covering a few remaining points of interest.

In my introductory post I outlined the steps I’d need to take in order to get a JNI wrapper working for a simple subset of a C++ library. Time to get started.

1. Identify the C++ classes and methods

The C++ library I’m wrapping is documented here.

I’ll initially need to wrap parts of two classes: PluginLoader, in the Vamp::HostExt namespace, and Plugin, in the Vamp namespace.

PluginLoader is a singleton class which loads and returns an instance of a Vamp plugin on request, given the name (or “key”) of the plugin. It’s essentially an object factory.

Then Plugin has both methods that return information about the specific plugin that has been loaded, and methods that are called with blocks of audio data in order to do the actual analysis.

In my first draft, I want to make a singleton Java class to correspond to PluginLoader and implement in it the one method that actually loads the plugin; and I want to make a Plugin class with a couple of the methods that return simple metadata about the plugin.

The methods that do real work involve some complicated return types, so I’ll leave those until later.

So the basic library API I’m starting with looks like this, in the existing C++ API:

class PluginLoader
{
public:
    static PluginLoader *getInstance();
    Plugin *loadPlugin(PluginKey key,
                       float inputSampleRate,
                       int adapterFlags = 0);
    // ... other methods for later
};

class PluginBase
{
public:
    virtual std::string getIdentifier() const = 0;
    virtual std::string getName() const = 0;
    virtual std::string getDescription() const = 0;
    virtual int getPluginVersion() const = 0;
    // ... other methods for later
};

That’s plenty to be going on with.

Note that the PluginBase with its pure virtual methods is somewhat like a C++ equivalent of a Java interface; the plugins themselves have a subclass type, namely Plugin.

2. Design the Java classes

There may be several ways to render a native library into Java classes, even where the native library API is already written as a set of C++ classes.

In this case, PluginBase is similar to a Java interface, so I could turn it into one, or I could just put everything straight into the Plugin class in the Java version.

I’ll start with the latter, because it’s simpler. At this stage my only goal is to get something built that I can run and test. I can refactor later.

So, my first draft of Plugin is:

package org.vamp_plugins;

public class Plugin
{
    public native String getIdentifier();
    public native String getName();
    public native String getDescription();
    public native int getPluginVersion();
}

The methods are all declared native and left unimplemented in the Java; they’ll be implemented in our C++ JNI wrapper later on.

Meanwhile I want my PluginLoader to look a bit like this:

package org.vamp_plugins;

public class PluginLoader
{
    public class LoadFailedException
        extends Exception { };
    public static synchronized PluginLoader getInstance() {
        // some magic here
    }
    public Plugin loadPlugin(String key, float inputSampleRate)
        throws LoadFailedException {
        // and here
    }
}

The C++ PluginLoader returns a null pointer if it can’t load a plugin. I want to throw an exception instead, and for this reason I haven’t marked loadPlugin as native—instead it will call a native method that returns a null or non-null value, throwing the exception if the returned value is null.

I’ve made other simplifications too. I happen to know that the PluginKey type referred to in the C++ API is just a typedef for std::string, so I’ve translated it to a Java string type for the moment. I’ve omitted the options argument for now as well.

Native object handles

I have two Java classes, each instance of which should “manage” a C++ object of a corresponding class from the native library. Every time a method is called on a given Java instance, it should call through to the same instance of the underlying C++ class.

To make this happen, we need to make the Java object remember which C++ object it is managing.

For this purpose we’ll have both classes simply contain a “handle” field, which will hold a value that (on the native side of the fence) will be interpreted as a pointer to the C++ object on the heap, and (on the Java side) will be an opaque integer value.

We just need to make sure the handle is stored in an integer type big enough for a pointer; the Java long type will do.

Also, we need a way to construct Plugin objects. The PluginLoader will make plugins by calling its native-code implementation, getting back a C++ plugin pointer, and using that to construct our Java Plugin, so our plugin class needs a constructor that works from our opaque handle type.

Adding these details and filling in our singleton implementation gives us:

public class PluginLoader
{
    public class LoadFailedException
        extends Exception { };

    public static synchronized PluginLoader getInstance() {
        if (inst == null) {
            inst = new PluginLoader();
            inst.initialise();
        }
        return inst;
    }

    public Plugin loadPlugin(String key, float inputSampleRate)
        throws LoadFailedException {
        long handle = loadPluginNative(key, inputSampleRate);
        if (handle != 0) return new Plugin(handle);
        else throw new LoadFailedException();
    }

    private PluginLoader() { initialise(); }
    private native long loadPluginNative(String key, float inputSampleRate);
    private native void initialise();
    private static PluginLoader inst;
    private long nativeHandle;
}

and

public class Plugin
{
    private long nativeHandle;
    protected Plugin(long handle) {
        nativeHandle = handle;
    }

    public native String getIdentifier();
    public native String getName();
    public native String getDescription();
    public native int getPluginVersion();
}

The initialise method in PluginLoader is there to construct a native object and set up its nativeHandle field. Plugin doesn’t need a similar method, because its handle is given to it in the constructor.

Hang on! How does the native object get deleted? — I give over a later post entirely to discussion of this question, so skip there if you’re interested now.

3. Generate JNI function declarations

For each of the native methods in our Java classes, we need an implementation in the JNI wrapper code. This will be a function in C or C++, with a name encoding the Java class and method name and an appropriate signature to receive the JNI mappings for the Java argument types, and with C linkage.

It’s perfectly possible to write these from scratch, but the JDK includes a tool called javah that can help by producing the function prototypes. It requires compiled class files rather than Java files as input:

$ javac org/vamp_plugins/*.java
$ javah -jni org.vamp_plugins.Plugin org.vamp_plugins.PluginLoader
$ ls -1
org
org_vamp_plugins_Plugin.h
org_vamp_plugins_PluginLoader.h
sample.h
$

As you see, javah generates a header file for each Java class; they contain declarations like

JNIEXPORT jstring JNICALL
Java_org_vamp_1plugins_Plugin_getIdentifier
 (JNIEnv *, jobject);

The JNIEXPORT and JNICALL macros simply ensure traditional C linkage regardless of the build platform.

The method’s return type, String in the Java code, has been converted to the opaque JNI type jstring.

The function name is an encoding of the package, class, and method name. These must appear exactly as generated by javah, as the JVM relies on them to find the implementation code.

And the two arguments, which are common to all JNI implementation functions, provide the environment object which rolls up the JNI function namespace, and an opaque jobject referring to the this object on which the method was called.

If we leave these headers untouched and simply include them in our implementation files, then we’ll be able to regenerate them when we extend our Java API without losing any of our work.

Administrative note: If you haven’t already, this is a good moment to put the code directory under version control, so as to be able to mess around without fear of losing any working code.

I like Mercurial, so I would either hg init; hg add org/vamp_plugins/*.java and hg commit, or else run up EasyMercurial and follow roughly the explanation in this video.

Next

  • In my next article I talk about writing the JNI wrapper implementations for these functions, and testing them from Java.

Wrapping a C++ library with JNI – introduction

In this series…

  • Introduction (this post), outlining the general steps from starting with a C++ library to being able to build and run simple tests on some JNI wrappers;
  • Part 1, in which I design some simple Java classes and generate the stub wrapper code;
  • Part 2, in which I add just enough of the implementation to be able to do a test build;
  • Part 3, discussing object lifecycles in C++ and Java;
  • Part 4, the final episode covering a few remaining points of interest.

Java Native Interface, or JNI, is a standard mechanism for calling “native” code—that is, code compiled from a language such as C or C++—from within the Java Virtual Machine.

It allows a programmer working in Java, or another language running on the JVM such as Scala, Clojure, Groovy, or Yeti, to use existing C and C++ library code, for reasons of performance or for compatibility with old or third-party code.

JNI is a bit of an old-school technology, though it’s gained more attention through its use in the Android platform as the glue between managed Dalvik applications and native NDK libraries.

(Later note: Java developers with no C or C++ experience may be happier using JNA, or Java Native Access. This more recent technology uses a single C library for each platform, which is supplied with JNA and which can load any native library. Using JNA still involves writing some boilerplate code, but that code is all in Java. I don’t cover JNA at all in this tutorial.)

What I’m doing

I’m about to make a wrapper for an existing C++ library using JNI, so I’m going to explain the process as I go along.

The library I’m planning to wrap up is the host SDK for Vamp audio analysis plugins [1]. I hope the result will enable Java applications to use these plugins to analyse audio signals.

From a technical perspective, though, it doesn’t really matter what the library is. What matters is that I have some header files that describe the library’s API, and either a DLL or a static library that provides the implementation. In this case I also happen to have the library’s source code, but that isn’t essential to calling it through JNI.

Most JNI tutorials use C as the native implementation language, but here I’m assuming the native code is entirely in C++. (If you’d like to read a simpler introduction that uses C, try the JNI Programmer’s Guide Getting Started chapter.)

This explanation uses desktop Java: although the principles are much the same, I won’t be referring the Android toolchain here.

The steps I need to take

To get my C++ library working from Java code, I will need to:

  1. Identify the C++ classes and methods that I want to make available from those in the library’s API, starting with the smallest subset I can make a meaningful test case from;
  2. Design an appropriate set of equivalent Java classes, in which the methods that will be implemented by the library are declared using the native keyword and left unimplemented in the Java code;
  3. Generate stub function declarations for the JNI wrapper. The wrapper is a chunk of C code that contains a specially named function to implement each of the classes’ native methods, and the generator is what gives us the names of these functions;
  4. Write the body of the JNI wrapper, implementing each function by converting its Java type arguments into appropriate C or C++ types, calling the native library, and converting the results back again;
  5. Make a little test program in Java;
  6. Build everything and test it.

Then repeat until enough of the library has been wrapped.

Next

  • In the first tutorial post I’ll cover steps 1 to 3, getting to the point where we’re about to have to write some C++ for the JNI wrapper code.

The subsequent post will cover steps 4 to 6, to the point of having a working interface and test program for a simple subset of the C++ library.

And I’ll finish with a couple of posts that discuss management of object disposal and a few other details of handling a more complex method.


[1] To find out more about Vamp plugins, see the programmers’ guide and these tutorials. But although they explain the concepts, note that these describe the process of writing plugins, while we are providing support for hosts— so the APIs are not quite the same.