TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Writing Java Cross-Platform

Volume Number: 14 (1998)
Issue Number: 5
Column Tag: Javatech

Writing Java on the Mac for All Platforms

by Ken Ryall

Here are several of the pitfalls of writing multi-platform Java code

It's easier than ever to write your Java code on the Mac for multi-platform use. You can write once on the Mac, then run anywhere, but you'll learn a lot about the way Java is implemented on each platform along the way.

Ironically, the Mac is a good Pure Java starting point. If it works on the Mac it should work on other Java platforms. However, there are differences, often subtle ones. These differences between Java on the Mac and Java on other platforms are often reflections of each underlying operating system. In addition to differences in how each virtual machine is implemented, other potential problem areas include threads, networking, file systems, and user interface elements.

Java Threads

Unlike most other Java platforms, Macintosh Java uses cooperative threads rather than preemptive ones. Java's preemptive threads are simulated on the Mac by a cooperative VM. It will yield time to other Java threads and to the Mac OS when a Java thread's state becomes "not runnable". This happens when a thread is waiting for I/O to complete, is put to sleep, is suspended and in a few other cases.

This difference in underlying thread implementation means you should avoid making assumptions about thread scheduling, priority or timing beyond what is specified in the Java API. Threads of equal priority will get very different treatment depending on the VM.

Also, be aware of what kind of code will let the VM run other threads. For example, when opening a socket and listening for connection requests, the VM will run other threads while waiting for Socket.accept() to return a connected socket.

// bind a socket on port 3000
ServerSocket mySocket = new ServerSocket(3000);
// listen for connection requests
Socket clientSocket = mySocket.accept();

However, the loop below contains no calls to I/O and may block other threads on the Mac. On platforms such as Windows NT other threads would still be allowed to run.

int count = 5000000; // busy pointless loop
while (count > 0)
   count -; // While in loop VM may run other threads, maybe not.

If you have CPU intensive loops like this you'll need to call Thread.yield() to allow the VM to service other threads.

If your application uses threads in more than a casual way you'll need to experiment to find best cross-platform performance. For example, here is a thread with an idle loop that checks things now and again and shares time with other threads by calling Thread.yield():

public void run()
{
   boolean keepGoing = true;
   while(keepGoing)
   {
      // do some stuff...
      // yield time to other threads
      yield();
   }
}

Calling Thread.yield() while looping seems to work fine on the Mac. However, on Windows NT constantly calling Thread.yield() will leave the VM hogging as much of the CPU time as it can get. Putting the thread to sleep for short periods is a better cross platform solution.

public void run()
{
   boolean keepGoing = true;
   while(keepGoing)
   {
      // do some stuff...
      // sleep for ten seconds, this will let other threads run
      sleep(1000 * 10);
   }
}

Developing on the Mac will also make you keep your use of threads simple: more than a few running Java threads hurts performance more than on other platforms.

Networking

The network classes in the java.net package use whatever native TCP/IP services the host machine offers. This means your Java networking code will pick up any eccentricities in the native libraries. A common complaint of cross platform Java developers is that their network sockets work with one platform/VM combination but not another. Results can even vary from machine to machine and network to network.

Networking problems can include socket/stream combinations that don't return all the data until asked multiple times. Other sockets don't seem to want to send their data until closed, even after being flushed.

In one case, my server was returning some data by writing to a stream and closing the socket. This worked fine on Mac OS and Windows NT but sent empty packets from some Windows 95 machines on some networks. The fix? Insert a tiny delay between flushing the stream and closing the socket. How did I find it? Desperate trial and error.

Most of these problems are related to bugs in the various VMs, whose intensive revision has produced evolving levels of functionality and stability. Reviewing some of the many Java networking examples can help identify problems and workarounds. In particular, the web server Jigsaw http://www.w3.org/jigsaw/ is a good example of a complex multi-threaded application. Jigsaw works cross-platform and has undergone more extensive testing than most examples available.

Unix Subtleties

Java includes cross-platform classes for handling files and tries to present a platform neutral API, but it helps to remember that the whole thing came from the Unix world. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the way the File class works. In fact, the Java File class probably creates more cross-platform problems than any other because of its assumptions about the native file system.

To begin with, file names can be longer than the 31 characters that the current Mac file system allows. ( HFS+ supports longer file names internally, but there isn't an API to access them yet.) Lots of Java sample code that has never seen a Mac has files like: "MyReallyCoolJavaThreadedNetworkingClass.java". VMs on the Mac have no problem with longer names in JAR files, you just can't have the original source files. This can be a problem if you're working with developers on other platforms who like very long file names. Until the long filenames in HFS+ are accessible, you'll either have to get them to be less verbose, or build their work into libraries so you won't have to work with their source files directly.

Various VMs also make different assumptions about case-sensitivity of file names and allowable characters in file names. Remember that most virtual machines began life as Unix source code and may be incompletely ported to their new native file systems.

In Java, files are specified by path name, but trying to build a path name in a platform neutral fashion is difficult because VMs return inconsistent and conflicting values for descriptions of parent directories and separator characters. Making a path name that will work with one VM isn't too difficult, making one that is cross platform friendly is often much more difficult.

Cross platform Java developers are frustrated by this and usually try to simplify file specification so they don't have to build path names. If you do, be sure to use File.pathSeparator() instead of hard coding a path separator. Also, examine your file naming schemes and remove characters that aren't allowed on any of your target platforms.

User Interface

Differences in platform user interface mean that a some of your interface may not come out looking like you intended. Fortunately you can often tweek placements, sizes etc. in a platform neutral way, you'll just need to try out the results on each of your target platforms as you go. Be sure to use layout managers, not absolute locations, to place items and avoid assumptions about things like font metrics and screen size.

Also, every VM on every platform has its own AWT bugs and display glitches, and these change as the VMs are revised. Most of these you'll be able to see and work around.

Don't forget that while you can write a lot of pure java cross platform code, you can still determine what platform is running your Java code and act accordingly.

      String whichOS = System.getProperty("os.name");
      if (whichOS.contains("Mac"))
      {
         // do mac specific stuff here
      }

Testing

Testing cross-platform Java applications is simple if tedious; you just have to try it with every VM/platform combination you hope to use it with. In particular, exercise the features that use networking, threads, and deal with files. Check the UI carefully for missing elements and overlapping items.

Some of the Java tools are less mature than their C++ equivalents so there aren't as many debuggers and other testing utilities to work with. Of course, there is the old fashioned way: System.out.println(). Finding out how things work with virtual machine X on platform Y is mostly a matter of trial and error.

It's also helpful to find other developers who are sharing their experiences with the VMs you are targeting. For Mac VMs a good place to start is the MRJ mailing list at http://www.lists.apple.com/mrj.html and there is also the Metrowerks newsgroup at news://news.metrowerks.com/comp.sys.mac.programmer.codewarrior.

Installing

Java's platform independence quickly vanishes when its time to install and launch your application. Each platform has its own VM installation and method for launching a Java application. If you want to look just like any other professional application you'll need to build an installer for each platform that includes a VM and puts all your pieces where you want them: maybe the "Startup Items" folder on the Mac or as a service on NT.

This can be complex and tough to maintain, but is no worse than installing a complex cross platform C++ application. A more Java-oriented solution is InstallAnywhere, available from Zero G Software http://www.zerog.com. InstallAnywhere is written in Java and lets you build an single universal installer that will work on any platform, including setting the runtime environment, and installing a VM.

Write Once...

Developing cross platform Java code on the Mac really works if you'll keep a few things in mind. You can write once and run anywhere as long as you test and make a few adjustments. Finding solutions to cross-platform problems will often reveal problem code that slipped by the original complier or VM and needs to be reworked anyway. If you'll willing to deal with a few platform-specific problems and a wider variety of VM behavior, you'll have the satisfaction of developing your code on the Mac, and the ability to drop the result on an NT machine and find that it all just works.


Ken Ryall, kryall@outer.net, has been developing on the Mac since 1985 and is currently working on the debugger at Metrowerks in Austin, TX. When not at work he's usually out flying or at home trying to convince his border terrier not to chew up the ISDN line again.

 
AAPL
$94.72
Apple Inc.
+0.78
MSFT
$44.83
Microsoft Corpora
-0.01
GOOG
$594.74
Google Inc.
+5.27

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Airmail 1.4 - Powerful, minimal email cl...
Airmail is a powerful, minimal mail client.It was designed to retain the same experience with a single or multiple accounts and provide a quick, modern and easy-to-use user experience. Airmail... Read more
Macs Fan Control 1.1.12 - Monitor and co...
Macs Fan Control allows you to monitor and control almost any aspect of your computer's fans, with support for controlling fan speed, temperature sensors pane, menu-bar icon, and autostart with... Read more
A Better Finder Rename 9.37 - File, phot...
A Better Finder Rename is the most complete renaming solution available on the market today. That's why, since 1996, tens of thousands of hobbyists, professionals and businesses depend on A Better... Read more
MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update 2.9 - Fo...
MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update is recommended for MacBook Air (Mid 2011) models. This update addresses an issue where systems may take longer to wake from sleep than expected and fixes a rare issue... Read more
FileZilla 3.9.0.1 - Fast and reliable FT...
FileZilla (ported from Windows) is a fast and reliable FTP client and server with lots of useful features and an intuitive interface.Version 3.9.0.1: MSW: Fix installation issue with locked DLLs... Read more
OS X Yosemite 10.10 DP4 - Developer Prev...
Note: This is a Developer Preview. You must be a registered Apple Mac Developer to download this update. OS X Yosemite is Apple's newest operating system for Mac. An elegant design that feels... Read more
FinderPop 2.5.6 - Classic Mac utility, n...
FinderPop is a Universal preference pane that extends OS X's contextual menus using a FinderPop Items folder much as the Apple Menu Items folder used to do for the Apple menu. It has other features... Read more
SpiderOak 5.1.7 - Secure cloud backup, s...
SpiderOak is a multi-platform secure online backup, storage, access, and sharing solution engineered for the consumer and small businesses. You must first sign up to use SpiderOak. Running natively... Read more
Espionage 3.6 - Simple, state of the art...
Espionage offers state-of-the-art encryption and plausible deniability for your confidential data. Sometimes, encrypting your data isn't enough to protect it. That's why Espionage 3 goes beyond data... Read more
calibre 1.45.0 - Complete e-library mana...
Calibre is a complete e-book library manager. Organize your collection, convert your books to multiple formats, and sync with all of your devices. Let Calibre be your multi-tasking digital... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Celebrate Summer With a Cat in the Hat L...
Celebrate Summer With a Cat in the Hat Learning Library Sale Posted by Ellis Spice on July 22nd, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
MyTaskList Review
MyTaskList Review By Jennifer Allen on July 22nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: EFFECTIVE IF PLAINUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad It’s not the most stylish of task management apps, but MyTaskList has all the features you could... | Read more »
FlyCraft Herbie: Crazy Machines Review
FlyCraft Herbie: Crazy Machines Review By Jennifer Allen on July 22nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: TRICKY FLYINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad A tough game of careful thrusting and navigation, FlyCraft Herbie: Crazy Machines... | Read more »
MTN Review
MTN Review By Jessica Fisher on July 22nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: ADORABLE, SERENE, AND AMUSINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad MTN is an adorable, talking pet mountain that is less game and more zen garden.   | Read more »
Fly High with Ninja UP! Now Available o...
Fly High with Ninja UP! Now Available on the App Store Posted by Jessica Fisher on July 22nd, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Bio Inc. Review
Bio Inc. Review By Nadia Oxford on July 22nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: SICKENING - IN A COMPELLING WAYUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Bio Inc is about orchestrating the medical destruction of a single person. If that doesn’... | Read more »
HELMUT Review
HELMUT Review By Andrew Fisher on July 21st, 2014 Our Rating: :: TRUNDLE SIMULATOR 2014Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad HELMUT is a fun, fleeting time-sink that offers a momentary distraction and nothing else.   | Read more »
Walkr Review
Walkr Review By Jennifer Allen on July 21st, 2014 Our Rating: :: ORIGINAL WALKINGiPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad Walking is a bit more exciting thanks to this planet building/discovering sim reliant... | Read more »
Zombie Commando Review
Zombie Commando Review By Jennifer Allen on July 21st, 2014 Our Rating: :: MINDLESS SLAUGHTERUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Briefly fun but ultimately forgettable, Zombie Commando will scratch an itch then be... | Read more »
Swords & Poker Adventures Review
Swords & Poker Adventures Review By Jennifer Allen on July 21st, 2014 Our Rating: :: SOULLESS POKER PLAYUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Swords & Poker Adventures is a mishmash of Poker and RPGing, but it lacks... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

15-inch 2.0GHz MacBook Pro Retina on sale for...
B&H Photo has the 15″ 2.0GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $1829 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $170 off MSRP. B&H will also include free copies of Parallels... Read more
Apple restocks refurbished Mac minis for up t...
The Apple Store has restocked Apple Certified Refurbished Mac minis for up to $150 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each mini, and shipping is free: - 2.5GHz Mac... Read more
Twelve South HiRise For MacBook – Height-Adju...
If you use your MacBook as a workhorse desktop substitute, as many of us do, a laptop stand combined with an external keyboard and pointing device are pretty much obligatory if you want to avoid... Read more
Why The Mac Was Not Included In The Apple/IBM...
TUAW’s Yoni Heisler cites Fredrick Paul of Network World whoi blogged last week that the Mac’s conspicuous absence from Apple and IBM’s landmark partnership agreement represents a huge squandered... Read more
Save $100 on 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros, plu...
Adorama has 13″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges sales tax in NY & NJ only: - 13″ 2.4GHz/128GB MacBook Pro with Retina Display: $1199 - 13″ 2.... Read more
Blurr it 2.3 for iOS – Quickly Blurs Selected...
Hyderabad, India based TouchLabs has announced a new update of Blurr it 2.3, their photography app for iOS users. Blurr it allows you to blur part of the image to hide potentially sensitive or... Read more
MacBook Airs on sale for $100 off MSRP, start...
Best Buy has the new 2014 MacBook Airs on sale for up to $100 off MSRP on their online store. Choose free home shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Prices valid for online orders only... Read more
Amazon Announces Kindle Unlimited: Unlimited...
Amazon.com has introduced Kindle Unlimited — a new subscription service which allows customers to freely read as much as they want from over 600,000 Kindle books, and listen as much as they want to... Read more
New Linksys Wireless Range Extenders Boost Wi...
Linksys has announced its new lineup of Linksys Wi-Fi Range Extenders. Consumers often experience a weak wireless signal in some parts of their house or apartment caused by blocking elements such as... Read more
MacBook Airs available starting at $719
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 2013 & 2012 MacBook Airs in stock today starting at $719. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is free: 2013... Read more

Jobs Board

Sr Software Lead Engineer, *Apple* Online S...
Sr Software Lead Engineer, Apple Online Store Publishing Systems Keywords: Company: Apple Job Code: E3PCAK8MgYYkw Location (City or ZIP): Santa Clara Status: Full Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Sr *Apple* Engineer - IT - Requisition #: -...
For more information about TIAA-CREF, visit our website . The Apple Engineer will provide engineering and third-level incident support for 300- 500 MacOS desktop/laptop Read more
*Apple* Systems Administrator - DISH (United...
…satellite service provider, and Dish is currently looking for an experienced Apple /Mac Systems Administrator. Apple systems administrator will be responsible for Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.