# Wednesday, October 29, 2003
More Name Dropping
I finally met Miguel de Icaza at the Unofficial Mono BoF and he gave me a cool Mono T-shirt (Thanks Miguel!). I talked about IKVM with Chris Brumme and discussed reflection with Peter Drayton and Dario Russi. I asked Eric Gunnerson about a custom attribute to prevent boxing, but from his response I take it that it is unlikely that'll ever happen. I met Chris Hollander at the "alternate programming languages BoF" last night (at 11pm, ugh). He told me he got a lot of referrers from my site. Since his blog is named "Objective", this makes me wonder if people are looking for information on the objectives of IKVM. I really should write some more documentation ;-)
Wednesday, October 29, 2003 8:59:44 PM (W. Europe Standard Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Whidbey was unveiled this morning. It has lots of nice new features, but I'm particularly interested in some of the improvements to reflection.

  • Finally, there is support for custom modifiers in Reflection.Emit
  • DynamicMethod allows methods to be generated that "implement" a delegate and the code gets garbage collected along with the delegate when it is no longer reachable.
  • There is (some) support for doing more of Reflection.Emit based on tokens (a token is an Int32 that refers to metadata in a module), instead of the more heavy weight MethodInfo/FieldInfo/etc. objects.
  • Reflection objects (e.g. MethodInfo) are now kept in a weak reference cache, so that they can be garbage collected if they aren't needed anymore.

I need to do some rewriting to take advantage of the last two, but once I do, the memory usage of IKVM should (hopefully) go down significantly. I'm not entirely sure that the changes they made are powerful enough, but it is an important step in the right direction.

I know I promised I wasn't going to move to Whidbey anytime soon, but I am going to introduce some conditional compilation for Whidbey specific features, so that I can play around with them. Mainstream development will continue to be on 1.1

Tuesday, October 28, 2003 9:23:21 PM (W. Europe Standard Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Monday, October 27, 2003
Eclipse Reception

Last night I visisted the Eclipse reception at OOPSLA 2003. Chris Laffra from IBM Canada had prepared a poster on Alternative Eclipse Execution Models and he included IKVM on it. He also invited me to the Eclipse Reception. There was a fair amount of interest in IKVM and I talked to a bunch of people, including Erich Gamma and Doug Lea. That was cool.

This morning I atttended the PDC keynote by Bill Gates and Jim Allchin. See the other PDC blogs for details ;-)

If you're at the PDC, I'm wearing a red/white/blue (vertical bars, as in the Dutch flag) polo shirt with a small Java logo in the front. If you see me, say hi.

Monday, October 27, 2003 9:15:03 PM (W. Europe Standard Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Sunday, October 26, 2003

I arrived in LA last Friday. No internet access in the hotel room, but fortunately the conference center has excellent connectivity.

I'm not going to be PDC blogging, but expect more non-technical entries this week than usual.

Tonight I'm going to the Eclipse reception at OOPSLA 2003. It'll be fun to chat with some of the Eclipse developers. May be I can get them to fix their class loading ;-)

Sunday, October 26, 2003 6:07:35 PM (W. Europe Standard Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Private Super Classes

While trying to get Stuart Ballard's Japitools to work on a netexp generated export of IKVM's classpath.dll, I encountered java.awt.BufferCapabilities.FlipContents. This public (inner) class has non-public base class (java.awt.AttributeValue). What kind of a bizarre design is that?

I had never realised that the Java language allowed this. Fortunately, the C# designers didn't make the same mistake.

Note that a similar issue exists for fields (and method arguments). In Java it is legal to have a public field of a non-public type, or a public method that takes an argument of a non-public type. C# prohibits both of these.

I fixed netexp to export non-public base classes (and I should do the same for interfaces, fields and method arguments/return type).

Wednesday, October 22, 2003 6:36:30 PM (W. Europe Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)  #    Comments [4]
# Friday, October 17, 2003

It took a bit longer than I anticipated, but I finally managed to put together a new snapshot and check in the changes I made in last month and a half.

What's new?

  • Fixed bug in class load failure diagnostics code.
  • Instead of having a single Type property on TypeWrapper, we now have different properties for different usages. I already know this isn't the final way I'm going to handle things, but for now it is a nice improvement that makes it easier to treat types differently based on where they are appearing (e.g. field, local, argument, base type).
  • Simple ghost references are translated as value type wrappers. See below for details.
  • Reflection support for ghost types.
  • Fixed a few ILGenerator.Emit() bugs where incorrect argument types were passed (int instead of short or byte).
  • Added a NoPackagePrefixAttribute to allow .NET types to not be prefixed with the "cli" prefix. (Suggested by Stuart Ballard)
  • Fix to prevent non-public delegates from being visible.
  • Several fixes in the handling of unloadable types.
  • Fixed java.lang.Comparable interface and method attributes to be identitical to the real interface.
  • Fixed java.lang.Runtime.exec() support for quoted arguments.

Ghost References

First of all, why did I feel the need to change it? Imagine that java.lang.StringBuffer had the following methods:

public void append(Object o) { ... }
public void append(CharSequence cs) { ... }

Previously, CharSequence would be erased to Object, so you'd have two methods with an identical signature, thus requiring name mangling. Using the method from C# would become very inconvenient, both because of the unexpected name, but also because of the fact that it isn't at all clear what argument type is expected (and passing an incorrect type will give odd results, like ClassCastException or IncompatibleClassChangeError).

Enter the value type wrapper. Here is how the java.lang.CharSequence interface is compiled now (pseudo code):

public struct CharSequence {
  public interface __Interface {
    char charAt(int i);
    // ... other methods ...
  public object __ref;
  public static CharSequence Cast(object o) {
    CharSequence s;
    if(o is string) {
      s.__ref = o;
      return s;
    s.__ref = (__Interface)o;
    return s;
  public static bool IsInstance(object o) {
    return o is string || o is __Interface;
  public object ToObject() {
    return __ref;
  public static
    implicit operator CharSequence(string s) {
    CharSequence seq;
    seq.__ref = s;
    return seq;
  public char charAt(int i) {
    if(__ref is string) {
      return StringHelper.charAt((string)__ref, i);
    return ((__Interface)__ref).charAt(i);
  // ... other methods ...

All types that implement CharSequence will be compiled to implement CharSequence.__Interface and will also get an implicit conversion operator to convert to CharSequence. This allows C# code to easily call any methods that take a CharSequence argument, because any valid type will be implicitly convertible to the CharSequence value type.

What Are The Downsides?

There are a few cons:

  • This trick doesn't work for arrays. So a CharSequence[] is still compiled as Object[]. Hopefully arrays are far less common, so this will not be a big issue.
  • C# code implementing CharSequence, needs to implement CharSequence.__Interface and also needs to provide an implicit conversion operator to the CharSequence value type.
  • The static methods Cast and IsInstance need to be used instead of the normal language features.
  • It is very easy to accidentally box the CharSequence value type in C#, when you pass this to Java things will get very confusing. The proper way to convert CharSequence to Object is by calling ToObject() on it.

Update: I forgot to mention that the reason that you have to implement the implicit conversion on all types that implement the interface is because C# doesn't allow implicit conversion from/to interfaces, otherwise the CharSequence value type could just have an implicit conversion from CharSequence.__Interface and we'd be done. Funnily enough, while C# doesn't allow you to define them, it turns out it does consume them, but I don't know if this is guaranteed behavior or a bug. I need to find this out. If it turns out to be correct, then I'll add the implicit conversion operator to the value types, that makes life for C# implementers a tiny bit easier.

All in all, I think this is an improvement, but obviously not perfect. As always, feedback is appreciated.

The new snapshots: binaries and complete.

Friday, October 17, 2003 3:57:05 PM (W. Europe Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)  #    Comments [2]
# Thursday, October 16, 2003
GNU Classpath Meeting

We had a small GNU Classpath meeting on Tuesday at the Linux Kongress in Saarbr├╝cken, Germany. I drove down there for just that day. There were 6 others there: Dalibor Topic (Kaffe), Chris Gray (Wonka), Mark Wielaard (GNU Classpath), Sascha Brawer (GNU Classpath), Jean Daniel Fekete (Agile2D), Patrik Reali (JAOS).

I enjoyed it very much. The discussions were interesting and it was nice to finally meet some of the people involved with GNU Classpath.

We talked about how to implement Java2D. Jean Daniel has worked on Agile2D a Java2D implementation based on OpenGL. This is a nice starting point and OpenGL is available on virtually every platform. This would work for IKVM.NET as well. Sascha pointed out that I should really implement Java2D on top of the .NET System.Drawing classes (based on GDI+). That would be cool, but I think it would be too much work (for me).

I also had an interesting discussion with Patrik about JAOS, a JVM on top of Oberon (a sort of object oriented OS, if I understand it correctly). He faces some of the same problems as I do, with the integration of the two object models.

One of the conclusions of the meeting was that GNU Classpath is alive and kicking (and doing very well in terms of progress being made), but we need a little more publicity. So consider this my small drop in the bucket. If you are a Java developer and want to improve the state of free JVMs, please visit the GNU Classpath web site and consider helping out. In the near future there will be a new task list detailing some of the work that needs to be done (and it will include estimated required effort and skill set).

Thursday, October 16, 2003 2:36:50 PM (W. Europe Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)  #    Comments [1]
# Friday, October 3, 2003

I'm going on vacation again :-) I'll be back on the 12th.

I just realised I haven't blogged for a whole month. It's not because there hasn't been any progress. I've been experimenting with a way to make ghost interfaces more usable from other languages. More on that when I get back.

Friday, October 3, 2003 9:53:33 PM (W. Europe Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)  #    Comments [8]