How HotSpot Boot Up

# Intro

This is not my first time reading HotSpot source code, but my first time writing blog posts to record my reading process and thoughts. I am going to write in English as I always wanted to have a hardcore blog like ice1000's (opens new window).

Recently my friends and I chatted in a QQ group. I felt like they all had hardcore things in addition to the GitHub profile page. Wondering what else could I take out when asked contributions I've ever made to the open-source community, I decided to note down my thoughts and share them with the world. On the one hand, this fulfills my sense of achievement. On the other hand, this might become my "brand" someday.

Apart from what I have learned, I am still lacking the ability to structure my expressions. I hope I can get improved through this long hard process of trying to say things clearly and vividly, which is always referred to as "monkey-oriented-writing" (by myself).

# Intro for this topic

And recall from the previous post, we successfully debugged HotSpot in Xcode. And after almost one year of research(forgetting), I made the same thing in CLion. So in the next many many posts related to HotSpot source analysis I would like to choose CLion as my tool.

First of all, I'd like to say that, CLion is really a memory and cpu killer.

# Overview

  • JavaVM Boot
  • The main() Method Execution

# Conventions

My environment: macOS Catalina 10.15 with CLion 2019.2 and Xcode 11. I only care about the implementation on macOS, so code clipping may happen in the code posted below and future. And one more thing, to make the post beautiful, empty line insertion may also happen.

My test program:

package com.imkiva.kivm;

public class Main {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        System.out.println("hello world, hello KiVM.");

So my launch command is java -cp /path/to/out com.imkiva.kivm.Main

# JavaVM Boot

This part focues on how JavaVM is created and initialized.

# main()

Source: jdk/src/share/bin/main.c

Just like many other C/C++ programs, Java has its main() function. Our first aim is to find that entrance.

 * Entry point.
main(int argc, char **argv)
    int margc;
    char** margv;
    const jboolean const_javaw = JNI_FALSE;

    margc = argc;
    margv = argv;

    return JLI_Launch(margc, margv,
                   sizeof(const_jargs) / sizeof(char *), const_jargs,
                   sizeof(const_appclasspath) / sizeof(char *), const_appclasspath,
                   (const_progname != NULL) ? const_progname : *margv,
                   (const_launcher != NULL) ? const_launcher : *margv,
                   (const_jargs != NULL) ? JNI_TRUE : JNI_FALSE,
                   const_cpwildcard, const_javaw, const_ergo_class);

Here, the main() finally calls the JLI_Launch() with commandline arguments and lots of others. The margc and margv are used to support both main() and WinMain(). On macOS, it is just a copy of argc and argv.

The FULL_VERSION and DOT_VERSION and all const_* are defined by Makefile defining macros (see jdk/src/share/bin/defines.h).

# JLI_Launch()

Source: jdk/src/share/bin/java.c

Let's have a look at JLI_Launch()

JLI_Launch(int argc, char ** argv,              /* main argc, argc */
        int jargc, const char** jargv,          /* java args */
        int appclassc, const char** appclassv,  /* app classpath */
        const char* fullversion,                /* full version defined */
        const char* dotversion,                 /* dot version defined */
        const char* pname,                      /* program name */
        const char* lname,                      /* launcher name */
        jboolean javaargs,                      /* JAVA_ARGS */
        jboolean cpwildcard,                    /* classpath wildcard*/
        jboolean javaw,                         /* windows-only javaw */
        jint ergo                               /* ergonomics class policy */
    /* local variables */
    /* ... */

    /* InitLauncher() will initialize platform specific settings */

    /* ... */

    /* Make sure the specified version of the JRE is running. */
    SelectVersion(argc, argv, &main_class);

    /* check platform specific flags */
    /* create posix_spawnattr_t and create a "main" thread */
    /* to make the Cocoa event loop to be run on that */
    /* see: jdk/src/macosx/bin/java_md_macosx.c */
    CreateExecutionEnvironment(&argc, &argv,
                               jrepath, sizeof(jrepath),
                               jvmpath, sizeof(jvmpath),
                               jvmcfg,  sizeof(jvmcfg));

Here, the CreateExecutionEnvironment() (which executes in Thread-1) launchs a macOS application thread in Thread-2. Afterwards, Thread-1 waits.

# apple_main()

Source: jdk/src/macosx/bin/java_md_macosx.c

Thread-2 begins in apple_main() and re-calls our main(). This process is like registering a native application to macOS.

 * Unwrap the arguments and re-run main()
static void *apple_main (void *arg)

    if (main_fptr == NULL) {
        main_fptr = (int (*)())dlsym(RTLD_DEFAULT, "main");
        if (main_fptr == NULL) {
            JLI_ReportErrorMessageSys("error locating main entrypoint\n");

    struct NSAppArgs *args = (struct NSAppArgs *) arg;
    exit(main_fptr(args->argc, args->argv));

And the main() calls the JLI_Launch() and the initialization process continues in Thread-2.

# JLI_Launch()

Source: jdk/src/share/bin/java.c

    /* ... */

    /* ifn is the InvocationFunctions which contains 3 essential */
    /* JNI invocation APIs:  */
    /* CreateJavaVM, GetDefaultJavaVMInitArgs and GetCreatedJavaVMs */
    ifn.CreateJavaVM = 0;
    ifn.GetDefaultJavaVMInitArgs = 0;

    /* ... */

    /* Initialize these 3 APIs in ifn */
    if (!LoadJavaVM(jvmpath, &ifn)) {

    /* ... */

    /* Aha, the most common trick  */

    /* IsJavaArgs() = javaargs (value here is false) */
    if (IsJavaArgs()) {
        /* Preprocess wrapper arguments */
        TranslateApplicationArgs(jargc, jargv, &argc, &argv);
        if (!AddApplicationOptions(appclassc, appclassv)) {
    } else {
        /* Set default CLASSPATH */
        cpath = getenv("CLASSPATH");
        if (cpath == NULL) {
            cpath = ".";

    /* Parse command line options; if the return value of
     * ParseArguments is false, the program should exit.
    if (!ParseArguments(&argc, &argv, &mode, &what, &ret, jrepath))

    /* set pseudo property */
    /* set platform properties */
    /* ... */

    return JVMInit(&ifn, threadStackSize, argc, argv, mode, what, ret);

Let's focus on the LoadJavaVM() function. It takes an InvocationFunctions *.

/* jdk/src/macosx/bin/java_md_macosx.c */
LoadJavaVM(const char *jvmpath, InvocationFunctions *ifn)
    /* ... */
    libjvm = dlopen(jvmpath, RTLD_NOW + RTLD_GLOBAL);
    /* ... */
    ifn->CreateJavaVM = (CreateJavaVM_t)
        dlsym(libjvm, "JNI_CreateJavaVM");
    ifn->GetDefaultJavaVMInitArgs = (GetDefaultJavaVMInitArgs_t)
        dlsym(libjvm, "JNI_GetDefaultJavaVMInitArgs");
    ifn->GetCreatedJavaVMs = (GetCreatedJavaVMs_t)
        dlsym(libjvm, "JNI_GetCreatedJavaVMs");
    /* ... */

    return JNI_TRUE;

This function fills invocation APIs with symbols from dlopen("/path/to/libjvm.dylib") and dlsym().

# Summary

The JLI_Launch() does the following things in two difference threads:

  • Initialize and parse platform specified objects and flags. (Thread-1)
  • Register to macOS and re-run JLI_Launch() in new thread. (Thread-1)
  • Fill JNI Invocation APIs(ifn) from libjvm.dylib (Thread-2)
  • Parse envrionment variables and commandline arguments (Thread-2)
  • Call JVMInit() (Thread-2)

# JVMInit()

Source: jdk/src/macosx/bin/java_md_macosx.c

After JLI_Launch(), the function JVMInit() is called. We only care about one line in this function:

JVMInit(InvocationFunctions* ifn, jlong threadStackSize,
                 int argc, char **argv,
                 int mode, char *what, int ret) {
    /* ... */
    return ContinueInNewThread(ifn, threadStackSize, argc, argv, mode, what, ret);

ContinueInNewThread() was defined in java.c and it is just a wrapper function:

    /* ... */
    rslt = ContinueInNewThread0(JavaMain, threadStackSize, (void*)&args);
    /* ... */

The ContinueInNewThread0() does what it sounds like it should do. It blocks current thread and continues execution in a new thread.

ContinueInNewThread0() was defined in java_md_macosx.c:

ContinueInNewThread0(int (JNICALL *continuation)(void *), ...) {
    /* ... */
    if (pthread_create(&tid, &attr, (void *(*)(void*))continuation, (void*)args) == 0) {
      void * tmp;
      pthread_join(tid, &tmp);
      rslt = (int)tmp;
    /* ... */

The argument continuation is JavaMain() defined in java.c. As a result, Thread-2 waits by calling pthread_join(), and Thread-3 starts to play. Now our Java VM is going to RUA!

# JavaMain()

Source: jdk/src/share/bin/java.c

Show the code:

JavaMain(void * _args)
    JavaMainArgs *args = (JavaMainArgs *)_args;
    int argc = args->argc;
    char **argv = args->argv;
    int mode = args->mode;
    char *what = args->what;
    InvocationFunctions ifn = args->ifn;

    JavaVM *vm = 0;
    JNIEnv *env = 0;
    jclass mainClass = NULL;
    jclass appClass = NULL; /* actual application class being launched */
    jmethodID mainID;
    jobjectArray mainArgs;
    int ret = 0;
    jlong start, end;

    /* Call objc_registerThreadWithCollector() */

    /* Initialize the virtual machine */
    start = CounterGet();
    if (!InitializeJVM(&vm, &env, &ifn)) {

    /* ... */

int mode: The value of enum LaunchMode. Here the value is 1 (LM_ClASS)

/* jdk/src/share/bin/java.h */
enum LaunchMode {               /* cf. sun.launcher.LauncherHelper
    LM_UNKNOWN = 0,

char *what: The main class name. Here the value is com.imkiva.kivm.Main

The InitializeJVM() will call ifn->CreateJavaVM() to create the Java VM.

static jboolean
InitializeJVM(JavaVM **pvm, JNIEnv **penv, InvocationFunctions *ifn)
    JavaVMInitArgs args;
    jint r;

    /* ... */

    r = ifn->CreateJavaVM(pvm, (void **)penv, &args);
    return r == JNI_OK;

In fact, ifn->CreateJavaVM is a function pointer to JNI_CreateJavaVM (see above)

# JNI_CreateJavaVM()

Source: hotspot/src/share/vm/prims/jni.cpp

jint JNICALL JNI_CreateJavaVM(JavaVM **vm, void **penv, void *args) {
    /* ... */

    result = Threads::create_vm((JavaVMInitArgs*) args, &can_try_again);
    if (result == JNI_OK) {
        JavaThread *thread = JavaThread::current();
        /* thread is thread_in_vm here */
        *vm = (JavaVM *)(&main_vm);
        *(JNIEnv**)penv = thread->jni_environment();

        /* ... */

Yeah, we see the famous Threads::create_vm() now.

# Threads::create_vm()

Source: hotspot/src/share/vm/runtime/thread.cpp

/* TODO */

# Summary

/* TODO */

# The main() Method Execution

# LoadMainClass()

Source: jdk/src/share/bin/java.c

We have to continue with JavaMain() function. Now we say that after InitializeJVM(), the JavaVM * and JNIEnv * are set. So it's time to run our Java's main() method.

JavaMain(void * _args)
    /* listed above */
    /* ... */

    mainClass = LoadMainClass(env, mode, what);
     * In some cases when launching an application that needs a helper, e.g., a
     * JavaFX application with no main method, the mainClass will not be the
     * applications own main class but rather a helper class. To keep things
     * consistent in the UI we need to track and report the application main class.
    appClass = GetApplicationClass(env);
    NULL_CHECK_RETURN_VALUE(appClass, -1);
     * PostJVMInit uses the class name as the application name for GUI purposes,
     * for example, on OSX this sets the application name in the menu bar for
     * both SWT and JavaFX. So we'll pass the actual application class here
     * instead of mainClass as that may be a launcher or helper class instead
     * of the application class.
    PostJVMInit(env, appClass, vm);
     * The LoadMainClass not only loads the main class, it will also ensure
     * that the main method's signature is correct, therefore further checking
     * is not required. The main method is invoked here so that extraneous java
     * stacks are not in the application stack trace.
    mainID = (*env)->GetStaticMethodID(env, mainClass, "main",

    /* Build platform specific argument array */
    mainArgs = CreateApplicationArgs(env, argv, argc);

    /* Invoke main method. */
    (*env)->CallStaticVoidMethod(env, mainClass, mainID, mainArgs);

     * The launcher's exit code (in the absence of calls to
     * System.exit) will be non-zero if main threw an exception.
    ret = (*env)->ExceptionOccurred(env) == NULL ? 0 : 1;