Time: Feb.9 2014
Code: https://github.com/naizhengtan/javaInstrumentTool

Recently, I encountered an interesting problem from an interview. The requirement is like this:
"Try to figure out how many memory operations in a specific method."

1. Analyze the problem

I should build a tool to solve such problem. In order to count the memory operations dynamically, the tool should have the following PARTS:
  • Detect where the memory operations are
  • A snippet of code to count
  • A global counter or several decentralized counters
It seems easy in logic: just add the counter when the tool detect a memory operation. However, there are two challenges left:
  1. How can you detect a memory operation?
  2. Where should the counter place?

Basically, there are four levels of abstraction in such environment. And the tool can detect the memory operation in any layer theoratically.
| Application |
|   Java VM   |
|  OS Kernel  |
| Hypervisor  |

For the first challenges, there are several solutions coming into my mind. The most straight forward way is to modifying the java virtual machine, and increase the counter every time when a memory operation is encountered. However, it is hard both in the implementation(considering JIT) and using(user have to replace his/her JVM). Another total transparent way is to utilize emulator or VM such as Qemu or KVM/XEN. However, this is also hard to achieve since such scheme will detect all the memory operations including the memory operations from the JVM it self(GC, JIT and so on) or OS kernel. There is also a solution based on hacking OS kernel. The kernel can assign all the memory pages to read only to get the write operations and assign all the memory pages to null to get all the read operations. Nevertheless, it is obviously a crazy idea.

Above all, the most suitable solution should be instrumenting the memory operations at Java bytecode level, which will preserve the semantic of the application and eliminate the noise from the JVM(JIT/GC).

The second challenge is also solved by realizing to detect memory operations at Java bytecode level. I should maintain the counter inside the applications rather than keep it in JVM/OS/Hypervisor. Dynamically inserting a field to a globally reachable class or to each of the instrumented classes should both be OK.

2. Background

Java Bytecode Instrumentation

I use BCEL(Byte Code Engineering Library).

BCEL Basic

A quick and easy to follow tutorial is hhere.

3. Design and Implementation of the Tool

As I described in the problem analysis, this tool should be partitioned into three parts: counter adding, memory operation detecting and counting snippet inserting.

Counter Adding

I choose to insert decentralized counter to each classes. In this way, this tool can differentiate the memory operations in different calsses.

Here is my code:

FieldGen rc = new FieldGen(Constants.ACC_PUBLIC|Constants.ACC_STATIC, Type.INT,"memop_read_counter",cPoolGen);
FieldGen wc = new FieldGen(Constants.ACC_PUBLIC|Constants.ACC_STATIC, Type.INT,"memop_write_counter",cPoolGen);
int rindex = cPoolGen.addFieldref(classGen.getClassName(), "memop_read_counter", "I");
int windex = cPoolGen.addFieldref(classGen.getClassName(), "memop_write_counter", "I");

Variable "cPoolGen" is the ConstantPoolGen of the class you want to instrument. "classGen" is the ClassGen of the class. "rindex" and "windex" are the index of the field in the constant pool, which will help during the counting snippet.

Memory Operation Detecting

In order to detect the memory operations in the application, you should first be aware who are they. The following are the memory opcodes I find in Java specification.


After deciding which memory operation to instrument, we should try to find these operations in application.

MethodGen methodGen = new MethodGen(methods[i], clazz.getClassName(), cPoolGen); 
InstructionList list = methodGen.getInstructionList();
//search for the memory op
InstructionFinder insf = new InstructionFinder(list);
for(Iterator it = insf.search(pattern); it.hasNext(); ) {
	//do instrumentation

In this code snippet, "for(Iterator it = insf.search(pattern); it.hasNext();)" is trying to find all the instructions following the "pattern". The patter is a regular expression. Here the pattern is like "GETFIELD | PUTFEILD | ...".

Counting Snippet Inserting

The goal of the counting snippet is to increase the counter without harming the correctness of the original application. JVM is a stack based virtual machine, which you should manipulate the oprand stack carefully.

private void instrumentOp(InstructionList list, InstructionHandle curop, int lv){
	//the comments is the status of the stack
	curop = list.append(curop, new GETSTATIC(lv)); //rcounter
	curop = list.append(curop, new ICONST(1)); //rcounter,1
	curop = list.append(curop, new IADD()); //rcounter+1
	curop = list.append(curop, new PUTSTATIC(lv)); //...

The parameters for this function are:
  list: the list of bytecode from one certain method in class
  curop: the cursor pointing to the memory operation which should be instrumented
  lv: the counting variable index (e.g. rindx, windex)

The meaning of the code is:
 (1) finding the static counting variable and push it to stack
 (2) push 1 into the stack
 (3) pop the first two elements on stack, add them and push back the result
 (4) pop the first element on the stack, and set it to the static variable


With the tool above, we can successfully tracking all the memory operations in a Java program. However, when should we invoke our tool? Of course, we can run it to generate a new static class file for user to use. But this is not convenience to run manually. A cooler solution is to extends the classloader and dynamically rewrite the class structure in memory.

4. Some Details

Stack Size

The maximum stack size of each method in Java is calculated by the compiler. However, our instrumentation may break that rule and overflow the stack. In this case, we should extend the maximum size of the stack.
//reset the stack size

Verifier in JDK7

The JDK7 uses a more strict verifier. Our naive way of instrumenting will break the structure of StackMap. A simple bypass is to fake the classes in a previous version, which will loose the verification during executing.
//using low version, bypass stackMap

Collecting the Result

How to collect the result from the different classes is another problem. I use the callback function of Java at the end of the program to collect all the counters.
Runtime.getRuntime().addShutdownHook(new Thread() {
	public void run() {
		//your code here