JNI tips

JNI is the Java Native Interface. It defines a way for the bytecode that Android compiles from managed code (written in the Java or Kotlin programming languages) to interact with native code (written in C/C++). JNI is vendor-neutral, has support for loading code from dynamic shared libraries, and while cumbersome at times is reasonably efficient.

Note: Because Android compiles Kotlin to ART-friendly bytecode in a similar manner as the Java programming language, you can apply the guidance on this page to both the Kotlin and Java programming languages in terms of JNI architecture and its associated costs. To learn more, see Kotlin and Android.

If you're not already familiar with it, read through the Java Native Interface Specification to get a sense for how JNI works and what features are available. Some aspects of the interface aren't immediately obvious on first reading, so you may find the next few sections handy.

To browse global JNI references and see where global JNI references are created and deleted, use the JNI heap view in the Memory Profiler in Android Studio 3.2 and higher.


General tips

Try to minimize the footprint of your JNI layer. There are several dimensions to consider here. Your JNI solution should try to follow these guidelines (listed below by order of importance, beginning with the most important):


JavaVM and JNIEnv

JNI defines two key data structures, "JavaVM" and "JNIEnv". Both of these are essentially pointers to pointers to function tables. (In the C++ version, they're classes with a pointer to a function table and a member function for each JNI function that indirects through the table.) The JavaVM provides the "invocation interface" functions, which allow you to create and destroy a JavaVM. In theory you can have multiple JavaVMs per process, but Android only allows one.

The JNIEnv provides most of the JNI functions. Your native functions all receive a JNIEnv as the first argument.

The JNIEnv is used for thread-local storage. For this reason, you cannot share a JNIEnv between threads. If a piece of code has no other way to get its JNIEnv, you should share the JavaVM, and use GetEnv to discover the thread's JNIEnv. (Assuming it has one; see AttachCurrentThread below.)

The C declarations of JNIEnv and JavaVM are different from the C++ declarations. The "jni.h" include file provides different typedefs depending on whether it's included into C or C++. For this reason it's a bad idea to include JNIEnv arguments in header files included by both languages. (Put another way: if your header file requires #ifdef __cplusplus, you may have to do some extra work if anything in that header refers to JNIEnv.)



All threads are Linux threads, scheduled by the kernel. They're usually started from managed code (using Thread.start), but they can also be created elsewhere and then attached to the JavaVM. For example, a thread started with pthread_create can be attached with the JNI AttachCurrentThread orAttachCurrentThreadAsDaemon functions. Until a thread is attached, it has no JNIEnv, and cannot make JNI calls.

Attaching a natively-created thread causes a java.lang.Thread object to be constructed and added to the "main" ThreadGroup, making it visible to the debugger. Calling AttachCurrentThread on an already-attached thread is a no-op.

Android does not suspend threads executing native code. If garbage collection is in progress, or the debugger has issued a suspend request, Android will pause the thread the next time it makes a JNI call.

Threads attached through JNI must call DetachCurrentThread before they exit. If coding this directly is awkward, in Android 2.0 (Eclair) and higher you can use pthread_key_create to define a destructor function that will be called before the thread exits, and call DetachCurrentThread from there. (Use that key with pthread_setspecific to store the JNIEnv in thread-local-storage; that way it'll be passed into your destructor as the argument.)


jclass, jmethodID, and jfieldID

If you want to access an object's field from native code, you would do the following:

Similarly, to call a method, you'd first get a class object reference and then a method ID. The IDs are often just pointers to internal runtime data structures. Looking them up may require several string comparisons, but once you have them the actual call to get the field or invoke the method is very quick.

If performance is important, it's useful to look the values up once and cache the results in your native code. Because there is a limit of one JavaVM per process, it's reasonable to store this data in a static local structure.

The class references, field IDs, and method IDs are guaranteed valid until the class is unloaded. Classes are only unloaded if all classes associated with a ClassLoader can be garbage collected, which is rare but will not be impossible in Android. Note however that the jclass is a class reference and must be protectedwith a call to NewGlobalRef (see the next section).

If you would like to cache the IDs when a class is loaded, and automatically re-cache them if the class is ever unloaded and reloaded, the correct way to initialize the IDs is to add a piece of code that looks like this to the appropriate class:



Create a nativeClassInit method in your C/C++ code that performs the ID lookups. The code will be executed once, when the class is initialized. If the class is ever unloaded and then reloaded, it will be executed again.


Local and global references

Every argument passed to a native method, and almost every object returned by a JNI function is a "local reference". This means that it's valid for the duration of the current native method in the current thread. Even if the object itself continues to live on after the native method returns, the reference is not valid.

This applies to all sub-classes of jobject, including jclass, jstring, and jarray. (The runtime will warn you about most reference mis-uses when extended JNI checks are enabled.)

The only way to get non-local references is via the functions NewGlobalRef and NewWeakGlobalRef.

If you want to hold on to a reference for a longer period, you must use a "global" reference. The NewGlobalRef function takes the local reference as an argument and returns a global one. The global reference is guaranteed to be valid until you call DeleteGlobalRef.

This pattern is commonly used when caching a jclass returned from FindClass, e.g.:


All JNI methods accept both local and global references as arguments. It's possible for references to the same object to have different values. For example, the return values from consecutive calls toNewGlobalRef on the same object may be different. To see if two references refer to the same object, you must use the IsSameObject function. Never compare references with == in native code.

One consequence of this is that you must not assume object references are constant or unique in native code. The 32-bit value representing an object may be different from one invocation of a method to the next, and it's possible that two different objects could have the same 32-bit value on consecutive calls. Do not use jobject values as keys.

Programmers are required to "not excessively allocate" local references. In practical terms this means that if you're creating large numbers of local references, perhaps while running through an array of objects, you should free them manually with DeleteLocalRef instead of letting JNI do it for you. The implementation is only required to reserve slots for 16 local references, so if you need more than that you should either delete as you go or use EnsureLocalCapacity/PushLocalFrame to reserve more.

Note that jfieldIDs and jmethodIDs are opaque types, not object references, and should not be passed to NewGlobalRef. The raw data pointers returned by functions like GetStringUTFChars and GetByteArrayElements are also not objects. (They may be passed between threads, and are valid until the matching Release call.)

One unusual case deserves separate mention. If you attach a native thread with AttachCurrentThread, the code you are running will never automatically free local references until the thread detaches. Any local references you create will have to be deleted manually. In general, any native code that creates local references in a loop probably needs to do some manual deletion.

Be careful using global references. Global references can be unavoidable, but they are difficult to debug and can cause difficult-to-diagnose memory (mis)behaviors. All else being equal, a solution with fewer global references is probably better.


UTF-8 and UTF-16 strings

The Java programming language uses UTF-16. For convenience, JNI provides methods that work withModified UTF-8 as well. The modified encoding is useful for C code because it encodes \u0000 as 0xc0 0x80 instead of 0x00. The nice thing about this is that you can count on having C-style zero-terminated strings, suitable for use with standard libc string functions. The down side is that you cannot pass arbitrary UTF-8 data to JNI and expect it to work correctly.

If possible, it's usually faster to operate with UTF-16 strings. Android currently does not require a copy in GetStringChars, whereas GetStringUTFChars requires an allocation and a conversion to UTF-8. Note that UTF-16 strings are not zero-terminated, and \u0000 is allowed, so you need to hang on to the string length as well as the jchar pointer.

Don't forget to Release the strings you Get. The string functions return jchar* or jbyte*, which are C-style pointers to primitive data rather than local references. They are guaranteed valid until Release is called, which means they are not released when the native method returns.

Data passed to NewStringUTF must be in Modified UTF-8 format. A common mistake is reading character data from a file or network stream and handing it to NewStringUTF without filtering it. Unless you know the data is valid MUTF-8 (or 7-bit ASCII, which is a compatible subset), you need to strip out invalid characters or convert them to proper Modified UTF-8 form. If you don't, the UTF-16 conversion is likely to provide unexpected results. CheckJNI—which is on by default for emulators—scans strings and aborts the VM if it receives invalid input.


Primitive arrays

JNI provides functions for accessing the contents of array objects. While arrays of objects must be accessed one entry at a time, arrays of primitives can be read and written directly as if they were declared in C.

To make the interface as efficient as possible without constraining the VM implementation, the Get<PrimitiveType>ArrayElements family of calls allows the runtime to either return a pointer to the actual elements, or allocate some memory and make a copy. Either way, the raw pointer returned is guaranteed to be valid until the corresponding Release call is issued (which implies that, if the data wasn't copied, the array object will be pinned down and can't be relocated as part of compacting the heap). You must Release every array you Get. Also, if the Get call fails, you must ensure that your code doesn't try to Release a NULL pointer later.

You can determine whether or not the data was copied by passing in a non-NULL pointer for the isCopyargument. This is rarely useful.

The Release call takes a mode argument that can have one of three values. The actions performed by the runtime depend upon whether it returned a pointer to the actual data or a copy of it:

One reason for checking the isCopy flag is to know if you need to call Release with JNI_COMMIT after making changes to an array — if you're alternating between making changes and executing code that uses the contents of the array, you may be able to skip the no-op commit. Another possible reason for checking the flag is for efficient handling of JNI_ABORT. For example, you might want to get an array, modify it in place, pass pieces to other functions, and then discard the changes. If you know that JNI is making a new copy for you, there's no need to create another "editable" copy. If JNI is passing you the original, then you do need to make your own copy.

It is a common mistake (repeated in example code) to assume that you can skip the Release call if*isCopy is false. This is not the case. If no copy buffer was allocated, then the original memory must be pinned down and can't be moved by the garbage collector.

Also note that the JNI_COMMIT flag does not release the array, and you will need to call Release again with a different flag eventually.


Region calls

There is an alternative to calls like Get<Type>ArrayElements and GetStringChars that may be very helpful when all you want to do is copy data in or out. Consider the following:


This grabs the array, copies the first len byte elements out of it, and then releases the array. Depending upon the implementation, the Get call will either pin or copy the array contents. The code copies the data (for perhaps a second time), then calls Release; in this case JNI_ABORT ensures there's no chance of a third copy.

One can accomplish the same thing more simply:


This has several advantages:

Similarly, you can use the Set<Type>ArrayRegion call to copy data into an array, and GetStringRegion orGetStringUTFRegion to copy characters out of a String.


You must not call most JNI functions while an exception is pending. Your code is expected to notice the exception (via the function's return value, ExceptionCheck, or ExceptionOccurred) and return, or clear the exception and handle it.

The only JNI functions that you are allowed to call while an exception is pending are:

Many JNI calls can throw an exception, but often provide a simpler way of checking for failure. For example, if NewString returns a non-NULL value, you don't need to check for an exception. However, if you call a method (using a function like CallObjectMethod), you must always check for an exception, because the return value is not going to be valid if an exception was thrown.

Note that exceptions thrown by interpreted code do not unwind native stack frames, and Android does not yet support C++ exceptions. The JNI Throw and ThrowNew instructions just set an exception pointer in the current thread. Upon returning to managed from native code, the exception will be noted and handled appropriately.

Native code can "catch" an exception by calling ExceptionCheck or ExceptionOccurred, and clear it withExceptionClear. As usual, discarding exceptions without handling them can lead to problems.

There are no built-in functions for manipulating the Throwable object itself, so if you want to (say) get the exception string you will need to find the Throwable class, look up the method ID for getMessage "()Ljava/lang/String;", invoke it, and if the result is non-NULL use GetStringUTFChars to get something you can hand to printf(3) or equivalent.


Extended checking

JNI does very little error checking. Errors usually result in a crash. Android also offers a mode called CheckJNI, where the JavaVM and JNIEnv function table pointers are switched to tables of functions that perform an extended series of checks before calling the standard implementation.

The additional checks include:

(Accessibility of methods and fields is still not checked: access restrictions don't apply to native code.)

There are several ways to enable CheckJNI.

If you’re using the emulator, CheckJNI is on by default.

If you have a rooted device, you can use the following sequence of commands to restart the runtime with CheckJNI enabled:


In either of these cases, you’ll see something like this in your logcat output when the runtime starts:


If you have a regular device, you can use the following command:


This won’t affect already-running apps, but any app launched from that point on will have CheckJNI enabled. (Change the property to any other value or simply rebooting will disable CheckJNI again.) In this case, you’ll see something like this in your logcat output the next time an app starts:


You can also set the android:debuggable attribute in your application's manifest to turn on CheckJNI just for your app. Note that the Android build tools will do this automatically for certain build types.

Native libraries

You can load native code from shared libraries with the standard System.loadLibrary.

In practice, older versions of Android had bugs in PackageManager that caused installation and update of native libraries to be unreliable. The ReLinker project offers workarounds for this and other native library loading problems.

Call System.loadLibrary (or ReLinker.loadLibrary) from a static class initializer. The argument is the "undecorated" library name, so to load libfubar.so you would pass in "fubar".

There are two ways that the runtime can find your native methods. You can either explicitly register them with RegisterNatives, or you can let the runtime look them up dynamically with dlsym. The advantages of RegisterNatives are that you get up-front checking that the symbols exist, plus you can have smaller and faster shared libraries by not exporting anything but JNI_OnLoad. The advantage of letting the runtime discover your functions is that it's slightly less code to write.

To use RegisterNatives:

The static initializer should look like this:


The JNI_OnLoad function should look something like this if written in C++:


To instead use "discovery" of native methods, you need to name them in a specific way (see the JNI spec for details). This means that if a method signature is wrong, you won't know about it until the first time the method is actually invoked.

If you have only one class with native methods, it makes sense for the call to System.loadLibrary to be in that class. Otherwise you should probably make the call from Application so you know that it's always loaded, and always loaded early.

Any FindClass calls made from JNI_OnLoad will resolve classes in the context of the class loader that was used to load the shared library. Normally FindClass uses the loader associated with the method at the top of the Java stack, or if there isn't one (because the thread was just attached) it uses the "system" class loader. This makes JNI_OnLoad a convenient place to look up and cache class object references.


64-bit considerations

To support architectures that use 64-bit pointers, use a long field rather than an int when storing a pointer to a native structure in a Java field.


Unsupported features/backwards compatibility

All JNI 1.6 features are supported, with the following exception:

For backward compatibility with older Android releases, you may need to be aware of:


FAQ: Why do I get UnsatisfiedLinkError?

When working on native code it's not uncommon to see a failure like this:


In some cases it means what it says — the library wasn't found. In other cases the library exists but couldn't be opened by dlopen(3), and the details of the failure can be found in the exception's detail message.

Common reasons why you might encounter "library not found" exceptions:

Another class of UnsatisfiedLinkError failures looks like:


In logcat, you'll see:


This means that the runtime tried to find a matching method but was unsuccessful. Some common reasons for this are:

Using javah to automatically generate JNI headers may help avoid some problems.

FAQ: Why didn't FindClass find my class?

(Most of this advice applies equally well to failures to find methods with GetMethodID or GetStaticMethodID, or fields with GetFieldID or GetStaticFieldID.)

Make sure that the class name string has the correct format. JNI class names start with the package name and are separated with slashes, such as java/lang/String. If you're looking up an array class, you need to start with the appropriate number of square brackets and must also wrap the class with 'L' and ';', so a one-dimensional array of String would be [Ljava/lang/String;. If you're looking up an inner class, use '$' rather than '.'. In general, using javap on the .class file is a good way to find out the internal name of your class.

If you're using ProGuard, make sure that ProGuard didn't strip out your class. This can happen if your class/method/field is only used from JNI.

If the class name looks right, you could be running into a class loader issue. FindClass wants to start the class search in the class loader associated with your code. It examines the call stack, which will look something like:


The topmost method is Foo.myfunc. FindClass finds the ClassLoader object associated with the Fooclass and uses that.

This usually does what you want. You can get into trouble if you create a thread yourself (perhaps by calling pthread_create and then attaching it with AttachCurrentThread). Now there are no stack frames from your application. If you call FindClass from this thread, the JavaVM will start in the "system" class loader instead of the one associated with your application, so attempts to find app-specific classes will fail.

There are a few ways to work around this:


FAQ: How do I share raw data with native code?

You may find yourself in a situation where you need to access a large buffer of raw data from both managed and native code. Common examples include manipulation of bitmaps or sound samples. There are two basic approaches.

You can store the data in a byte[]. This allows very fast access from managed code. On the native side, however, you're not guaranteed to be able to access the data without having to copy it. In some implementations, GetByteArrayElements and GetPrimitiveArrayCritical will return actual pointers to the raw data in the managed heap, but in others it will allocate a buffer on the native heap and copy the data over.

The alternative is to store the data in a direct byte buffer. These can be created with java.nio.ByteBuffer.allocateDirect, or the JNI NewDirectByteBuffer function. Unlike regular byte buffers, the storage is not allocated on the managed heap, and can always be accessed directly from native code (get the address with GetDirectBufferAddress). Depending on how direct byte buffer access is implemented, accessing the data from managed code can be very slow.

The choice of which to use depends on two factors:

  1. Will most of the data accesses happen from code written in Java or in C/C++?
  2. If the data is eventually being passed to a system API, what form must it be in? (For example, if the data is eventually passed to a function that takes a byte[], doing processing in a direct ByteBuffermight be unwise.)

If there's no clear winner, use a direct byte buffer. Support for them is built directly into JNI, and performance should improve in future releases.