Category Archives: Codename One

Posts about Codename One

XMLVM is Actually Pretty Fast

DISCLAIMER: The Benchmark results in this post turned out to be flawed due to GCC/LLVM optimizations unduly favouring XMLVM. Please see the next post where I discuss the corrected benchmark and associated results.

In a previous post, I described some of my experiments in creating an Avian port for CodeNameOne. As mentioned in the post, one of my motivations was to see if I could improve on the performance of the current default iOS port which uses XMLVM to convert the Java code into C code (and ultimately compiled with Xcode). I had a hunch that binaries produced via the XMLVM translation would be slower than an AOT compiled Java implementation because of the way it works (It converts VM byte code operations into C stack operations in the C language – which would presumably produce much less succinct code).

After some tedious conversion of XMLVM runtime library calls to JNI calls, I was able to successfully build my Avian iOS port for CodeNameOne. Next I created a simple application (based on the CodenameOne Tabbed Application template) that runs the Towers of Hanoi problem, and built two versions of the app:

  • One using the CodenameOne build server (which uses XMLVM in its build process)
  • – Another one using my Avian, Proguard, and Xcode.

The Benchmark Results

The results were surprising.

I ran both apps on my iPhone 4s which is on iOS 5. The app is set to solve the tower of Hanoi problem for n=30 moving from pole 1 to pole 3. The time required to complete the problem was pretty consistent. On average, the XMLVM app would complete the problem in 35 seconds, and the Avian app would complete it in 42 seconds.

NOTE: After fixing the benchmarks so that GCC/LLVM *had* to run all of the code, it turned out that Avian was actually a bit faster.

This is quite the *opposite* of what I expected. While I’m a little disappointed in the results, I am also encouraged. This means that the performance of apps developed in CodeNameOne for iOS (using their build server) is actually quite good. I can be confident that I am building on a solid foundation.

I posted these results on both the CodenameOne forum and the Avian forum and a few explanations for the outcome were proposed. One explanation, that makes sense is that the XMLVM build benefits from optimizations of GCC and LLVM such as method inlining, loop unrolling, autovectorization, code motion, and intelligent register allocation. Avian’s AOT compiler, being simpler, and far less mature doesn’t implement any of these optimizations so the resulting binary is actually working at a slight disadvantage.

Joel Dice (creator of Avian) did note that a simple benchmark like Towers of Hanoi is not really helpful for determining real-world performance. A full comparison on real-world tasks would be more informative.

UPDATE: The Benchmark results in this post turned out to be flawed due to GCC/LLVM optimizations unduly favouring XMLVM. Please see the next post where I discuss the corrected benchmark and associated results.

The Executable Size

Another important factor when producing a mobile app, is the actual executable size. Why install a 100MB application when you can get the same app in under a meg. I used Proguard on the Avian build to trim down the code size (so we don’t need to include the entire JRE. XMLVM, also uses a number of optimizations to ensure that dead code isn’t included in the final executable.

My test app came out at 3.5MB for the XMLVM build, and 6.0MB for the Avian build. So XMLVM seems to have won here again.

What Now For the Avian Port

Now that I have established that the current XMLVM implementation of the iOS port is quite fast indeed, there is little need to continue to develop an Avian port. This exercise was academic in nature, and I’m satisfied that I have achieved my goals, which were:

  1. Can it be done? (i.e. Create an Avian port for CodenameOne). The answer was YES!
  2. To learn about the CodenameOne architecture. I learned a lot.
  3. To learn about the Avian architecture. I learned a lot here too.
  4. Find out whether the performance would be dramatically improved by using an AOT java compiler instead of XMLVM -> C -> Xcode. The answer, for now, was NO. XMLVM is pretty fast as it is.

Despite that fact that my experiment didn’t yield any performance improvements, there still might be some advantages to developing apps on the Avian stack. Off the top of my head, these include:

  1. A more familiar Java environment. JNI instead of XMLVM’s runtime when interacting with the native environment.
  2. JDK7 support. I’m not actually sure what version of Java I could use with CodenameOne’s XMLVM implementation. It is at least Java 5, but I don’t think it is at Java 7. I notice that they use Apache Harmony for the iOS port.
  3. Perhaps better debugging and exception handling. Shai Almog noted that XMLVM doesn’t support ClassCastException and doesn’t check cast validity. Its stack traces are also a bit cryptic when you get an exception.

Up Next For Avian/iOS

I am keen to try my next experiment with Avian and iOS: Combining my Java-Objective-C bridge with Avian to produce a Java solution that is similar to MonoTouch. I.e. Where you write the code in Java but still use the Apple development tools for the UI. This wouldn’t be a cross-platform solution like CodenameOne produces, but it would be useful, I think.

Up Next for CodenameOne

Time to develop some real-world apps!

7A942R3ZJ88P

Apple’s Walled Prison

I endure it because they make great software. I endure it because I have become dependent on their ecosystem. I endure it because there’s money in developing software for their platform.

But I am ever so close to just saying “Forget it” and moving on.

Apple’s simplistic DRM solutions for iPhone reduce the utility of the device by about 90%. They don’t even seem to consider what happens when you have 2 or 3 people in a family, all with separate iPhones all synced to the same computer. They don’t seem to care about people who have a desktop and a laptop computer and need to be able to copy files and apps to their phone from either of these devices.

Just a glimpse of my life with Apple’s walled prison last night. I was developing some sample Apps using CodeNameOne, NetBeans and Xcode. I have the full dev environment on my laptop, but my iPhone happens to be paired with my Desktop. When it comes time to “test” out my app on MY phone, I need to first register my phone with Apple as a development device, then set up and install a provisioning profile onto the phone. This part was about an hour of mucking around that I would like to have back.

Then it comes to copying my test app to my phone. Of course, I can’t do that from my laptop. I need to kick my wife off the desktop computer so that I can first copy the app to the desktop computer. From there I should be able to copy the app to my phone with no problems, right? Well not so fast. Apple is a firm believer in Murphy’s law, and a simple “copy” just wouldn’t cut it.

First attempt it tells me that my phone is not authorized for the apps on this computer, so i would need to erase my entire phone to continue. I discovered that iTunes was signed into the iTunes store under my wife’s account – which was the source of the problem.

After logging out of the iTunes store and logging back in with my account, I make another attempt. At this point it stopped pushing me to erase my entire phone, but it seemed to be complaining that several apps were not authorized for this computer. E.g. My Gmail app and my Netflix app. I guess I installed them straight from the App store. It prompted me to authorize them, at which point I entered my iTunes username and password. It took the password and then informed me that the apps still weren’t authorized. 4 or 5 times around this circle, I finally decided to just go with the “Don’t Authorize” button. After all, my goal here is to simply copy ONE test app that I had written onto my iPhone.

After opting to “not authorize” my apps I was informed that I would be required to delete the apps. At this point I just wanted to proceed so I said “fine, delete them!”.

After that I was able to copy my test app onto the phone and it ran quite nicely.

So at the end of the day, my test app written with CodenameOne runs great, and the number of installed apps on my phone has been reduced by 25%. No gmail, No netflix…. I guess I’ll just have to install them again and go through this dance once more.

This is not an isolated incident. Just the most recent in my lifetime of troubled interaction with my iDevices. In the past I have given up on such difficult tasks as
1. Copying a video from my computer to my iPad.
2. Copying a song from my computer to my iPhone
3. Copying a PDF from my computer to my iPad.

Up until now, I had solved the problem by just reducing the number of things that I do with these devices. I was down to just checking email. But since the Apple gods have deemed my unauthorized to use my Gmail app, I guess I won’t be doing that either.

CodeNameOne + Avian = Java on iOS

In my last blog post I was expressing my hopes for a Write-Once-Run-Anywhere solution for Java mobile. One of the founders of CodeNameOne responded to the post by saying that CodeNameOne offered everything that I was looking for. It provides a full solution for writing mobile apps in Java that will run in iOS, Blackberry, Android, and J2ME. They provide a Java class library that encapsulates most useful functionality required by a mobile app (e.g. GUI toolkit, Contacts, Camera, Location, Database, Network, Video, Web Browser, etc…). Their GUI solution is akin to Swing in that it is light-weight and pluggable – making it ideal for cross-platform development.

I was already aware of CodeNameOne and had it at the top of my list to try out. A few months ago, I downloaded their Netbeans plugin and played with it a bit – though my “playing” was limited to just starting a new project from a template and trying out their build server to see what the finished iOS executable looked like. I was actually quite impressed that the app (a simple 4 tab application with a few buttons and a map) came out at a trim 6 megabytes. For java this is good, because this had to include all of the components from the JRE compiled into the binary.

My main stumbling block was the dependence on their build server for actually producing the distributable application. The build server, from my brief interaction with it, works flawlessly, but I don’t like making myself too dependent on factors beyond my control. I have been burned already several times by “the cloud”. I have written software that relies on cloud APIs that are backed by major players like Google. In every case, the API has either been discontinued at some later date, or has been changed to a pay-per-use API that renders the application unusable. As another example, when the iPad first came out I purchased some comics through an app that was based on “the cloud”. I stopped using the app for a year, and when I went to use it again, the company had changed to a 3rd party provider for their purchasing – and all of the comics I had purchased no longer “worked”. Similar things have happened in the Mac App store due to changes in policies.

In any case, I am no longer naive (and may be a bit jaded) when it comes to building a process that relies heavily on “the cloud”.

With these “cloudy” experiences as a backdrop, the ability to build my own applications (at least as an option) is very important to me. In navigating around the CodeNameOne site (when I was first investigating it), I was not able to find any instructions on how to build the applications myself. A few questions had been asked in the forum but the response was that, while it is possible to build it yourself, the weren’t supporting it because it was complex and they didn’t want to clog up the support forum with requests of this nature.

Thankfully, I was finally able to find some instructions in the forum on how to build a CodenameOne application using XMLVM. This thanks to jon…@gmail.com for posting these. They were a lifesaver.

The Avian Port

I also mentioned in my last blog post that Avian had great potential for bringing Java to iOS since it is a lightweight JVM that provides AOT compilation. Its creator, Joel Dice, has already posted a simple “Hello World” application that runs on iOS using Avian. This provides a solid foundation for further development, and importantly a starting point for writing an Avian port for CodeNameOne

Let’s back up a little….

Why would I want to write an Avian port for CodeNameOne? Didn’t I just say that CodeNameOne already provides the ability to deploy Java apps on iOS?

My motivations for writing an Avian port for CodenameOne are three fold:

  1. To get intimately acquainted with the CodeNameOne architecture so that I can become a productive developer on the platform.
  2. The get familiar with Avian so that I can make use of it in my future projects.
  3. To see if I can improve the performance. UPDATE: Check out my later blog post where I discuss my benchmark results

The performance issue is of abstract importance to me at this time. If performance didn’t matter at all, I would just use a stack like PhoneGap to create multi-platform apps. But performance matters, you you *can* tell the difference between a native app and a PhoneGap app when it comes to things like scrolling. Writing games and heavily graphical applications also depend greatly on performance. Especially when we’re talking about low-powered mobile devices like the iPhone.

CodeNameOne’s iOS implementation is currently based on XMLVM, which is a brilliant project developed and maintained by Arno Puder. It works by converting the primitive virtual machine instructions into an intermediate XML representation, which can then be transformed into another language. E.g. The JVM is a stack based virtual machine, so many of the instructions just boil down to stack operations. These can quite easily be represented in any programming language. In XMLVM’s case it is converting the Java VM instructions into C source code.

If you actually go through the build steps for XMLVM, you can take a look at the C code that is generated. Basically a C source file corresponding to each Java library that is used in the application, is produced. It uses name mangling to produce functions that correspond to each Java method, and it provides a small set of runtime functions to be able to interact with the generated code (e.g. convert data types).

I think this solution is particularly clever. It gives us an excellent baseline for porting from one language to another. My instinct tells me, though, that the performance probably takes a bit of a hit due to the increase in number of commands required to perform each function. I haven’t done any benchmarks to test out this theory, but Shai Almog did acknowledge this during the JavaOne demo. (UPDATE: Check out my later blog post where I discuss my benchmark results). He did say that many of the important native iOS functions have been hand-coded, though so performance is pretty good where it counts.

Avian, on the other hand, compiles Java down to machine code so it should be very fast. I suspect, almost as fast or even faster than Objective-C for some things. I would like to be able to compare the performance, side-by-side, with the XMLVM implementation so that I can find out how much of an improvement there is to be gained. Realistically, if we want to treat CodeNameOne as a platform on which we can build a vibrant ecosystem of applications, plugins, and libraries, then the foundation needs to be as *fast* and *solid* as possible. UPDATE: Check out my later blog post where I discuss my benchmark results

Creating the Avian Port

In order to create the Avian port, I just needed three puzzle pieces to fall into place:

  1. I needed to see a sample of a project that can be built and run on iOS. The hello-ios sample project posted by Joel Dice, contains enough detail to work with in this area.
  2. I needed to see how the existing XMLVM port is built. Thanks to Shai Almog for pointing me to this post that describes the steps..
  3. I needed to know a little bit about the CodeNameOne architecture. Specifically where it interfaces with the native environment. Thanks, again, to Shai Almog for giving me some pointers in this area. It turns out that most of the native interface is contained in a single class: com.codename1impl.ios.IOSNative. Its native implementations were likewise contained inside a single IOSNative.m file which can quite easily (though tediously) adapted to use JNI instead of XMLVM.

With these 3 pieces in place, it was just a matter of time, sweat, and carpel tunnel syndrome to make the Avian port a reality.

The CodeNameOne Architecture & The iOSPort Project

If you want to start hacking on the CodeNameOne core, the best place to start, is with the code. You can check out the entire repository, which includes the foundation libraries, the designer project, and all of the port sub-projects. These instructions almost worked perfectly for me, except that there were some problems compiling the bar-code reader libraries, which likely are a new feature since the instructions had been written. I didn’t actually get it to build completely, but I got close enough that I’m sure I could have without too much extra work.

The iOSPort project includes a blueprint that can be quite easily followed to port CodenameOne to any platform you desire. All platform specific functionality is provided by a single class, CodenameOneImplementation, which can be overridden as necessary to implement functionality for the platform. The iOSPort project further factors out most native methods into the iOSNative class. This native class uses XMLVM conventions for native classes rather than the more common JNI conventions, but it was easy enough to generate JNI headers for this class and port all of the functionality over.

With the XMLVM-powered port, all of the source code in CodeNameOne, Apache Harmony, the iOSPort project, and the actual mobile app that is to be built is converted to Objective-C code using the XMLVM compiler. This produces a rather large project since .h and .m files are generated which correspond to each Java class that is used. A set of hand-coded native sources (Objective-C) in the nativeSources directory of the iOSPort project are also included. These one of these Objective-C source files is IOSNative.m, which includes all of the native implementations for the IOSNative class, but there are also several other classes that encapsulate various other components, and are referenced by IOSNative.m.

In producing an Avian version, I primarily just had to go through each of these hand-coded native files and replace all references to XMLVM with corresponding functionality that makes use of the JNI functions. Most of the references to XMLVM involved type conversion and array manipulation, which XMLVM provides some runtime convenience methods for. These replacements were tedious but not terribly difficult. After all of the replacements were made, it was just a matter of adding all of the source files to an Xcode project that is set up to build using Avian, then dealing with build errors one at a time.

The iOSPortAvian Project

Once I replaced all of the XMLVM references with JNI equivalents, I was able to set up an Xcode project scaffold based on the Hello-IOS example. The process for setting up the Xcode project was roughly as follows:

  1. Download the OpenJDK Mac port files from SVN. Download Avian from SVN. Download Proguard. Download the Hello-ios Project.
  2. Add all files in the iOSPortAvian/nativeSources directory to the Xcode project.
  3. Build the JDK.
  4. Copy all of the Java source files and resource files that are found in the CodeNameOne project and in the application to be built into the src directory of the Hello-IOS project.
  5. Use a modified make file to build the Java source code into native binaries and link them into the Xcode project.
  6. Create a custom entry point for the application, main.m, that initializes the JVM using JNI and passes control to the CodenameOne_GLAppDelegate class to enter the application.

Most of the build steps have been included in the build.xml ANT task that is part of the iOSPortAvian project.

I have uploaded the entire project source on GitHub as a point of reference for others who may want to extend it or learn from it.

I will write the specific steps required to build your app with Avian in a future blog post.

The KitchenSink Demo App Running on Avian

My first test app was just the “Hello World” app that is produced from the CodeNameOne template in Netbeans. The next one was the Kitchen Sink demo app. Most of the app started up with no problems. Yay!! Themes worked. Effects and transitions worked. As a proof of concept this feels very close to viable.

>Problems with Garbage Collection

Unfortunately I hit a snag that I suspect is related to Avian’s garbage collection. After performing a few successful transitions and functions, the Kitchen Sink app would crash with an EXC_BAD_ACCESS error (using the iOS simulator). I suspect this problem is related to Avian’s garbage collection but I don’t really have any leads on how to solve this issue. I have posted the issue in the Avian forum but haven’t had any response yet. Until such time as I have a lead in this area, the Avian port will remain 99% complete – but unusable.

UPDATE: Thanks to Joel Dice in suggesting some debugging techniques, I was able to solve the garbage collection issue. It is now working 100%!!

Thoughts in Summary

  1. CodenameOne is the real deal. It really does provide cross-platform mobile development in Java. I really hope the community gets behind this project because it is worth of attention.
  2. The CodenameOne devs (Shai Almog, and Chen Fishbein) deserve medals for their work on this project. The massive scope of the project across so many platforms surely required a massive effort to get it working. If you look at the CodeNameOne forums you’ll see that Shai responds to pretty much every inquiry that comes in the same day in most cases. If you look at the source code of the project, you’ll see their names in pretty much every javadoc, which tells me that these guys are wearing both the tech support hats and the dev hats for this project. I really hope a community forms that takes some of the burden off of these founders. Being the maintainer of some other open source projects myself, I know how difficult it can be when you have to respond to every question that comes into the forum.
  3. Avian is very cool also, but the community doesn’t seem to be there. I have posted 4 questions to the forum and have not received a response to any of them. I answered my own queries in the forum when I found the answers myself, but the last query that is currently the show stopper, hasn’t received a response yet. Since Avian is the only pure AOT solution that I’m aware of that has working examples on the iOS, I think it is still work paying attention to even if the community isn’t really there yet.
  4. XMLVM is brilliant. A great way to learn about the possibilities of XMLVM is to look at the iOSPort project of CodeNameOne. It is a wonderful example of the possibilities. I didn’t actually get to the point where I could compare the performance with Avian/Native code, but the fact that it is being used successfully in CodenameOne serves as a compelling proof of concept for it. Great work, Arno and team on this.
  5. I still don’t have a good handle on the relative benefits of using CodeNameOne vs using an HTML5 technology (e.g. PhoneGap) vs using Native (other than the fact that Java is a superior language, IMHO). Does CodeNameOne’s performance rival native apps? Does it beat the performance of HTML5 apps? If so, what tangible things can be achieved with CodeNameOne that cannot be done with HTML5?
  6. Currently CodeNameOne doesn’t support external Jar files. This is partly because it doesn’t support the full J2SE spec for all platforms. You can work around this problem by just adding the source files for the external libraries into your application’s project. However this kind of nullifies one of the best features of Java: the ability to build up collections of third party libraries that can be used in multiple projects. I suspect that this feature will be added in future releases, but it is certainly a notable omission for now.
  7. All of this tinkering with building my CodeNameOne projects on my own are merely academic for now. Even if I did produce a working Avian port, I would probably still opt to use their build server since it is so automatic and they have worked out all of the little issues with optimization. That said, I think without easily accessible public build instructions, it will be difficult for an open source community to build up.
  8. I still want JavaFX on mobile. I haven’t really explored the limits of the UI and graphical API capabilities of the CodeNameOne libraries, but I can guarantee that they don’t come close to approaching the capabilities of JavaFX.

Follow Up

Check out my later article where I discuss the results of a benchmark comparing the performance of XMLVM and Avian.

I want Java on Mobile

What makes Java unique? Actually there are quite a few things that set it apart from other languages, but I want to focus on its true cross-platform presence. No other platform provides the end-to-end tools for building a robust desktop application and deploying it on every major desktop operating system. The best you can hope for with other languages is that you can share most of your business logic across platforms, but when it comes to the user interface, well, you need to build that separately for each platform.

The mobile space, sadly, is a different story. Many devices do use JavaME, but the big players (Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Blackberry) all have their own toolkits that make it difficult to truly write once run anywhere. While Android and Blackberry do use Java as their primary development language, their toolkits are incompatible with each other. iOS and Windows Phone, likewise, are incompatible with each other, and everyone else. What I want is a Java toolkit that does for mobile what Swing (and now JavaFX) did for desktop.

2012 has seen some progress where there was previously only darkness. There are now a handful of solutions that will allow you to write mobile apps with Java (e.g. CodeNameOne, ADF Mobile, J2Objc, Avian, to name a few), but none of these offer the same type of run-once-run-anywhere development experience as Swing did (and JavaFX does now). CodeNameOne, perhaps, comes the closest, as they provide cross-platform libraries for most things, including the UI. My hesitation with this framework is its dependence on their cloud services for building the applications. ADF Mobile includes a small JVM for the business logic, but relies on PhoneGAP (HTML5) for the user interface and for interacting with Phone services. J2Obj is interesting also, as it allows you to compile Java source code to Objective-C code that can be used from your iOS front-end, but this doesn’t get us anywhere near cross-platform development – just easier sharing of code between Android and iOS. Avian, is an alternative, light-weight JVM that provides AOT compilation and has been successfully used to build ARM binaries that can be run on iOS. It provides, perhaps, perhaps the most hope since it is open source. But examples are scarce for iOS, and it isn’t backed by any major players at this time AFAIK.

There seem to be two trends for attacking cross-platform mobile development:

  1. Write Once, Run Anywhere – Using HTML5 for the UI.
  2. Share business logic, but use native tools for building and designing the UI.

The problem with the first approach is mostly performance related. HTML5 is great, but on mobile devices you may need to crank as much as you can out of that little processor. The second option solve the performance issue, but it just isn’t as fun. Nor is it as maintainable.

I want what is behind door number 3: Write once, run anywhere, with a rich UI toolkit that is cross-platform but has a pluggable look and feel so that the applications can be made to look native. This UI toolkit should be efficient (perhaps OpenGL) so that we aren’t having to choose between portability and performance to a great degree.

I guess, what I want is JavaFX on mobile (i.e. iOS, Blackberry, Android, and Windows Phone).

JavaOne: A Look Back

I am now home from my Bay area adventure at Java One. This was the first conference I’ve attended since 2005, and is by far the largest conference I’ve ever been a part of. I was blown away by the scale of this one. The downtown core was plastered with Oracle and Java signs. Buses dipped in oracle insignias roamed the streets constantly, and you couldn’t walk a block without seeing at least 5 people brandishing Oracle swag. (I quite liked the back pack that they provided).

In addition to the sessions (which I’ll get to next), there was a steady stream of entertainment events for the benefit of conference attendees. Union square (and a few other locations) were blocked off for music performances; and then there was the “fan appreciation” event featuring Pearl Jam and Kings of Leon. Doesn’t sound like nerd conference, does it?

The Sessions

My reason for attending was the sessions. From Sunday to Thursday my schedule was jam packed with talks about topics ranging from JavaFX to MongoDB and a smattering of Java ME, iOS, and Android development. For any given one hour slot, I had to choose between 2 or 3 talks that I really wanted to see, and another 8 or 9 that would have been interesting. Being able to hear about new technologies directly from the people who are behind it is awesome. It imparts a kind of understanding that cannot be achieved through a book or reading blog posts.

This conference has sparked a fire in me to seek out more conferences like this, similar to the way that a my first exposure to Disneyland led me to look for other parks that offer the same experience. In fact, the way a child reacts to his first experience at Disneyland is an accurate way to describe my reaction to the conference schedule.

The Topics

Currently I have a number of desktop applications that have been developed in Swing and have been deployed as applications on OS X. Therefore, I was most interested in learning about Swing’s successor, JavaFX, and how to deploy applications on OS X. The conference was heavy on JavaFX (yay!) but a little light on OS X. There were two talks on OS X deployment, but sadly I could only attend the first one (which way a fantastic talk, by Scott Kovatch). Nonetheless, I have left the conference with stockpiles of new ammunition for building applications with JavaFX. In fact, I’m really exciting about using JavaFX and Scene Builder (the GUI editor for JavaFX) to start building some business applications at work.

The demos provided by some of the community served as proof of concept to me that JavaFX is something special. E.g. Gerrit Grunwald’s (@hansolo_) set of gauges in the JFXtras project show what can be achieved with a little time and artistic flair.

On the OS X front, it looks like we’re all set to go now with the Mac App store. The javafxpackager tool provides the ability to easily deploy applications as native bundles. This is a new direction for Java (up until now, they have been recommending Web Start distribution), and I think it is a good one.

Another topic that I am keenly interested in is mobile development (iOS and Android). Last year’s java one included a demonstration of JavaFX running on an iPad, but then nothing more was heard. This year they announced that JavaFX will be available for Java7 SE Embedded, and they had a conference scheduler application running on an small, embedded device in a kiosk at various stations in the conference. But there were no announcements about JavaFX for iPad or Android. The announcement of its availability on embedded devices is a step in the right direction, though, as this is a prerequisite for running on the major embedded platforms.

I did attend one talk (actually 2 talks on the same topic) on Java for iOS and Android. The CodenameOne project (that I’ve blogged about before) is a java library and framework for building cross-platform mobile apps (i.e. deployable on Android, iOS, Blackberry, and J2ME). This looks very promising.

When I had reached my saturation point on JavaFX, I wandered across to the Parc55 building for a couple of Java Enterprise Edition talks. I attended a talk on the new Project Avatar, which provides a thin-server approach to web applications (i.e. most view logic and layout is handled on the client in javascript, and the server just sends over the data). This project looks quite interesting, both in concept and execution. The concept coincides with much of the more recent development I’ve been doing with Xataface.

The last talk of the conference that I attended was on NoSQL and scaling strategies. There, Nike’s director of engineering discussed some of their architectures for handling heavy traffic with NoSQL databases and Data grids.

My head is full. My notebook is full. Now to put all of this new knowledge into practice.

CodenameOne Project : Finally Java on the iPhone

I periodically monitor the progress of multi-platform development solutions for the mobile space. As a Java developer, I’m especially interested in solutions to bring Java to the iPhone. Even better would be a Java solution that will run on all of the major devices (Android, iOS, and Blackberry).

CodenameOne is the most promising project to appear in this space so far. It includes an API, a GUI designer, and a build/deployment solution so that you can develop your application in 100% pure Java then a native application on most major platforms (including iOS, Android, RIM, Windows Phone 7, and J2ME). The API forms a thin abstraction over the native libraries on each platform so many components are heavy-weight. This allows the applications to take on the native look and feel of the host system. The underlying mechanics work differently for each platform. E.g. on Android, the Java runs on the built-in VM, whereas iPhone builds use XMLVM to convert the Java bytecode to native code.

So far I haven’t done very much with it (just discovered it last night). I downloaded the Netbeans plugin which adds the ability to create a “Codename One Project” within Netbeans. This includes a GUI editor with a few themes to get you jump started with some common application structures. My initial test application was just a default tabbed application. It took me 2 minute to create it.
The Netbeans plugin includes an iPhone emulator so that you can test the application right inside netbeans. In my initial tests, this seemed to work quite well. Building the application was a single click.

I’m a little wary of the build process, as it occurs on their server. Apparently the Java is compiled to byte-code on your local machine, then it is sent to their server to have it converted to a native application. This requires that you sign up for a free account. After signing up for an account, and logging in, it said that I could perform up to 80 builds before upgrading. It didn’t say whether this is 80 per month, 80 per year, or 80 total — but I didn’t look into it too deeply. The build process took a little while (more than 20 minutes — I just requested the build, then waited 20 minutes and went to bed). In the morning the build was ready for download.

I was quite impressed with the file size. It was only 6.9 megs. Yes this was just a simple app with 4 tabs, some buttons, and forms, but this size is still quite good. Especially considering that it includes all code necessary from the Java libraries in order to run. I was expecting it to come in around 50 megs, as I fully expected the whole JVM to be statically compiled into it. Luckily, it looks like they use some optimizations to remove dead and unused code before building it.

Summary

Pros: Java. Support for most major devices. Good documentation. Good IDE support (both Netbeans and Eclipse). Easy, one-click-builds, Support for signing so you can submit apps to their respective app stores. Open Source (GPL 2. With Classpath Exception — free for commerical/non-commericial use)

Cons: Building is done in the cloud. This is convenient but it opens the door to problems in that you are now dependent upon them. They say that you can build it yourself and that there is information on the net on how to do this – but they offer no support for it.

Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to build my first app with this in the next couple of weeks.

References

  • Codename One Website
  • How CodenameOne Works (a Stackoverflow discussion).
  • XMLVM – The underlying tool that allows them to cross-compile Java to native code.
  • LWUIT – A toolkit for user interfaces on mobile devices of which CodenameOne is a descendent.