Michael Zucchi

 B.E. (Comp. Sys. Eng.)

  also known as zed
  & handle of notzed


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Tuesday, 09 April 2019, 08:53

Modular Java, Make. FTW!

I've been working on packaging up the modular versions of various bits of software I have. One big change is that due to the way javac (and to a lesser extent netbeans) works I had to rearrange the source tree, and it also completely changes the way javac is invoked. So my previous java.make is no longer useful.

As i've now added some inter-module dependencies (e.g. nativez) there's a another question: do I keep them as separate packages, or do I just combine them into a single modular project?

For work I went through the same question previously and ended up just putting everything in the one project.

So ... for similar reasons i'll probably do the same. One strong reason not to is that the projects aren't as closely related - jjmpeg, zcl, and so on.

So what to do ...

Recursive Makefiles

I thought one solution is to just have a build system which isolates the modules so that you can only build the ones you're interested in. i.e. if you don't have external dependencies for one you're not interested in, just build the rest.

So ... based on the structure I have already I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get the separate makefiles to work. In short: I fucking couldn't. I got 95% of it working, and the dependencies were relatively simple (yet very fragile!) but I just couldn't get make to rebuild some targets on a single run. A second run would always work. Just not good enough.

The problem is that as the toplevel makefile doesn't know when the sub-makefiles need to run it has to try to run them every time using phony targets. But it has to run them at the correct time. Generators are run first, then the module is compiled (which generates any native .h files), then jni is built if it exists, resources are copied, and jmod or jars created as appropriate. I could almost get it to work but some of the dependencies weren't recognised as updated; make would say 'this target needs rebuilding' then the next line 'this target is updated'. I think it has something to do with the way it handles phony targets and because I had multiple references to a status file from different levels. It would recognise one update but not another. I could get accurate builds, but not always get the jar/jmod from 'make jar'. I also had to do some other weird tricks like dummy actions on rules which where updated by dependencies via phony rules. I mean it worked but it was very obtuse.

I actually got it very close and it even supported parallel make quite well, but fuck what a pain to get working.

One Makefile To Rule Them All

So I did some searching and came across a chapter of a book that suggested using a single makefile, but using includes to make the parts more manageable.

So I took the per-module makefiles and stripped out some common stuff, renamed some variables and redid the toplevel makefile. After a little mucking about with the generated depenedencies a little bit I had something working within an hour. And parallel make works even better.

As an example this is what the toplevel makefile currently looks like. It automatically finds various things like java source, generators, and native sub-systems and runs them all at the correct time via the dependency graph.

nclude config.make

java_MODULES=notzed.jjmpeg notzed.nativez notzed.jjmpeg.fx notzed.jjmpeg.awt


notzed.jjmpeg.fx_JAVACFLAGS=--module-path /usr/local/javafx-sdk-11/lib

include java.make

Provided targets include '{module}', 'jar', '{module}-jar'.

So now I have that working I can think about separating the projects into separate ones rather than modules in way that lets them all be built together. Probably in that case I would add an {module}_XDEPMOD variable which references the location and module(s) and just builds them before doing anything else. On the other hand this isn't the way you do it with autoconf (and other build systems, although some handle it) for external dependencies so maybe it's not worth it.

Faster ... Faster Builds

Whilst doing this I noticed early on that javac has a '-m' flag for building modules that performs dependency checking. Either I didn't notice this when I first wrote the modular build system or I didn't think it important: while it only rebuilds what is necessary it doesn't remove stale files (deleted inner/anon classes or colocated classes).

Slightly stale builds are not the end of the world so it's probably not a big ask to require a make clean occasionally anyway as the improved build time is significant.

But there is a better way to do it!

Using the jdk.compiler one can wrap access to javac and do some interesting things. To cut a long story short I wrote a javac server that monitors which source files are recompiled and automatically deletes any stale files. This works if all compiles go through the server but can result in stale files if files are compiled otherwise.

So I wrote some more code that scans the compiled class files once and then does a reverse lookup based on the SourceFile, this_class, and module-source-path to discover stale files and prime the database. This is done at server startup. Actually it should be able to be run at any time to post-fix the class tree, so it could be incorporated into the build in other ways.

I wrote a simple .class parser (almost trivial infact) to be able to retrieve the class metadata and some other simple code to do the source lookup.

I wrapped this up in a simple REST-like-service and a script 'sjavac' that compiles and runs the server on demand and then passes requests to it. The server just shuts itself down if it's idle for too long. The compile times for jjmpeg+nativez isn't very long anyway but using the compile server alone speeds up complete builds significantly, and incremental builds are now sub-second.

Another issue is concurrency from parallel builds. javac will recompile any out of date classes it encounters even if it isn't in the module specified by -m - which can lead to two separate compilers working on the same files. This conflict can break a build run. But I think this is due to incorrect makefile dependency definitions as if they are done properly this shouldn't happen.

sjavac serialises compiles at the module level anyway because the compiler uses multiple threads already (afaict, it's a bit too fast to find out on this project) and I haven't set the code up to handle concurrent compile requests anyway, but I want it to be a drop-in replacement for javac for a project build.

Now that i've moved to a single toplevel makefile it's actually a very simple setup. The java.make referenced above is only 100 lines long. sjavac is 100 lines of bash and 600 lines of stand-alone java. And together these provide faster, more accurate, and repetable builds than a special tool like ant or maven. With significantly less setup.

Update 10/4/19: Oh for fucks sake!

It turns out that javac -m doesn't recompile dependent classes if they are out of date, just the first-level dependencies or any missing classes they require. This doesn't make a lot of sense because there are many changes where this behaviour would lead to an inconsistent build so it makes this option fairly useless.

It's a trivial change to the makefile to fix it but it means that it only builds incrementally at the module level.

I guess this gives me the next problem to solve. I think I have enough scaffolding to be able to extract the dependency tree from the .class files. Well I'll see on that.

Tagged java, jjmpeg, nativez.
Development Ongoing | modular cross-platform jjmpeg
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