Carl Mastrangelo

A programming and hobby blog.

Accidental Class Loading in Java

Recently I’ve been working on improving the ergonomics of my tracing library PerfMark. One of the interesting things I noticed is that the JVM was loading some classes I didn’t expect it to. Let’s find out why!

“That’s Weird”

PerfMark works on much older JVM’s, but strives to be as fast as possible. To accomplish this, the code bootstraps itself based on what advanced JVM features are available (MethodHandles, VarHandles, Hidden Classes, etc.). Because of this, the library needs to avoid loading classes that aren’t usable. In the event that no advanced features are available, the library safely disables itself. The code shows how to load optionally available classes safely:

// SecretPerfMarkImpl.PerfMarkImpl

static {
  Generator gen = null;
  Throwable problem = null;
  try {
    Class clz = 
    gen = clz.asSubclass(Generator.class).getConstructor().newInstance();
  } catch (Throwable t) {
    problem = t;
  if (gen != null) {
    generator = gen;
  } else {
    generator = new NoopGenerator();
  // More Initialization code.

As we can see, the static initializer tries to load a special class that requires Java 7 or higher. If it isn’t available, we fall back to the no-op implementation. The actual types of the classes are not as important, except that Generator is an abstract class. We can check to see what is actually loaded by passing the


flag to the JVM. This lets us see what classes are loaded and when:

[1.685s][info][class,load] io.perfmark.PerfMark 
[1.693s][info][class,load] io.perfmark.Impl 
[1.694s][info][class,load] io.perfmark.impl.SecretPerfMarkImpl$PerfMarkImpl
[1.695s][info][class,load] java.util.concurrent.ConcurrentHashMap$ForwardingNode 
[1.697s][info][class,load] java.lang.AssertionError 
[1.701s][info][class,load] io.perfmark.impl.Generator 
[1.702s][info][class,load] io.perfmark.impl.NoopGenerator
[1.704s][info][class,load] io.perfmark.Tag
[1.706s][info][class,load] io.perfmark.Link
[1.707s][info][class,load] io.perfmark.impl.SecretPerfMarkImpl
[1.712s][info][class,load] java.lang.Long$LongCache
[1.714s][info][class,load] java.lang.invoke.LambdaForm$MH/0x00000008000c5000
  source: __JVM_LookupDefineClass__
[1.718s][info][class,load] java.lang.invoke.LambdaForm$MH/0x00000008000c5400
  source: __JVM_LookupDefineClass__
[1.721s][info][class,load] java.lang.invoke.LambdaForm$BMH/0x00000008000c5800 
  source: __JVM_LookupDefineClass__

This is kind of strange. The MethodHandleGenerator class is definitely available, but it loads after the NoopGenerator. Worse, it seems like both classes end up being loaded. What’s going on?

“When Flags Aren’t Enough”

Let’s ratchet up the verbosity to see what the loader is doing:


Running with this shows that the class loading it caused by the verification step the JVM performs when loading classes:

[1.826s][info ][class,load   ] io.perfmark.Impl 
[1.826s][debug][class,resolve] io.perfmark.Impl java.lang.Object (super)
  java.lang.Class io.perfmark.Impl (explicit)
[1.828s][info ][class,load   ] io.perfmark.impl.SecretPerfMarkImpl$PerfMarkImpl 
  io.perfmark.impl.SecretPerfMarkImpl$PerfMarkImpl io.perfmark.Impl (super)
  java.lang.Class io.perfmark.impl.SecretPerfMarkImpl$PerfMarkImpl (explicit)
[1.828s][debug][class,resolve] io.perfmark.Impl java.lang.Throwable (verification)
[1.832s][debug][class,resolve] io.perfmark.Impl java.lang.AssertionError  (verification)
  io.perfmark.impl.SecretPerfMarkImpl$PerfMarkImpl java.lang.Throwable
[1.835s][info ][class,load   ] io.perfmark.impl.Generator 
[1.835s][debug][class,resolve] io.perfmark.impl.Generator java.lang.Object (super)
[1.836s][debug][class,resolve] java.lang.Class io.perfmark.impl.Generator (explicit)
  io.perfmark.impl.SecretPerfMarkImpl$PerfMarkImpl io.perfmark.impl.Generator (verification)
[1.837s][info ][class,load   ] io.perfmark.impl.NoopGenerator 
[1.837s][debug][class,resolve] io.perfmark.impl.NoopGenerator io.perfmark.impl.Generator (super)
[1.837s][debug][class,resolve] java.lang.Class io.perfmark.impl.NoopGenerator (explicit)
[1.838s][info ][class,load   ]
  Found Noop: io.perfmark.impl.NoopGenerator
  io.perfmark.impl.SecretPerfMarkImpl$PerfMarkImpl io.perfmark.impl.NoopGenerator (verification)
 io.perfmark.impl.SecretPerfMarkImpl$PerfMarkImpl java.lang.Object (verification)
 io.perfmark.impl.SecretPerfMarkImpl$PerfMarkImpl java.lang.Object (verification)
 io.perfmark.impl.SecretPerfMarkImpl$PerfMarkImpl java.util.concurrent.atomic.AtomicLong
[1.848s][info ][class,load   ]

While the JVM is well documented, it is hard to penetrate for someone who isn’t making their own implementation. What we want to know is why this class is relevant to verification. Rather than go over the Specification with a fine tooth comb, let’s just put a breakpoint into the JVM itself!

Instrumenting the JVM

First, let’s get a copy:

git clone

After fumbling with the configuration arguments, let’s try out a slowdebug build.

bash configure \
  --with-boot-jdk=/home/carl/.gradle/jdks/adoptium-19-x64-hotspot-linux/jdk-19.0.1+10/ \
  --with-debug-level=slowdebug  \
  --enable-headless-only \

I (ab)used the JDK that Gradle downloaded for me, but the rest of the configuration is pretty regular. I am using slowdebug and with-native-debug-symbols because for some reason GDB was unable to find the function names in the back trace. I used --enable-headless-only because I don’t have all the header files locally. Okay, let’s build!

CONF=linux-x86_64-server-slowdebug make

This takes about 8 minutes on my Skylake processor. Soon enough, we have a fully functional JDK. Because this is a hack, I modified the java command Gradle builds for me manually to call GDB.:

-   exec "$JAVACMD" "$@"
+   exec gdb --args "$JAVACMD" "$@"

Finally, let’s see that it works:

$ JAVA_HOME=~/git/jdk/build/linux-x86_64-server-slowdebug/jdk/ \

GNU gdb (Debian 12.1-4+b1) 12.1
Copyright (C) 2022 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
License GPLv3+: GNU GPL version 3 or later 
This is free software: you are free to change and redistribute it.
There is NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by law.
Type "show copying" and "show warranty" for details.
This GDB was configured as "x86_64-linux-gnu".
Type "show configuration" for configuration details.
For bug reporting instructions, please see:
Find the GDB manual and other documentation resources online at:

For help, type "help".
Type "apropos word" to search for commands related to "word"...
Reading symbols from /home/carl/git/jdk/build/linux-x86_64-server-slowdebug/jdk//bin/java...

Alright, We can boot our JVM with GDB, and we are ready to see what it’s doing. However, we need a way to see when the NoopGenerator class really get’s loaded. After some walking through the code, I find that verification happens in a file called verifier.cpp. Let’s add a print in Verifier::trace_class_resolution:

void Verifier::trace_class_resolution(
    Klass* resolve_class, InstanceKlass* verify_class) {
  assert(verify_class != nullptr, "Unexpected null verify_class");
  ResourceMark rm;
  Symbol* s = verify_class->source_file_name();
  const char* source_file = (s != nullptr ? s->as_C_string() : nullptr);
  const char* verify = verify_class->external_name();
  const char* resolve = resolve_class->external_name();

  if (strstr(resolve, "NoopGenerator") != nullptr) {
    log_info(class, load)("Found NoopGenerator: %s", resolve);

  // print in a single call to reduce interleaving between threads
  if (source_file != nullptr) {
    log_debug(class, resolve)(
      "%s %s %s (verification)", verify, resolve, source_file);
  } else {
    log_debug(class, resolve)("%s %s (verification)", verify, resolve);

As of this writing, this happens on line 129. Let’s rebuild and re-run:

CONF=linux-x86_64-server-slowdebug make
$ JAVA_HOME=~/git/jdk/build/linux-x86_64-server-slowdebug/jdk/ \


At this point, we need to make GDB not pester us as we are stepping through. The JVM uses Segmentation Faults to implement efficient NullPointerException calls, so we want to avoid being notified of that. It also uses other signals (i.e. SIGUSR2) for thread pausing and resuming, which we aren’t interested in:

Reading symbols from /home/carl/git/jdk/build/linux-x86_64-server-slowdebug/jdk//bin/java...
(gdb) handle SIGSEGV noprint nostop
Signal        Stop  Print   Pass to program Description
SIGSEGV       No    No  Yes     Segmentation fault
(gdb) handle SIGUSR2 noprint nostop
Signal        Stop  Print   Pass to program Description
SIGUSR2       No    No  Yes     User defined signal 2

Okay, let’s insert a breakpoint:

(gdb) break verifier.cpp:129
No source file named verifier.cpp.
Make breakpoint pending on future shared library load? (y or [n]) y
Breakpoint 1 (verifier.cpp:129) pending.

Alright, let’s run!

(gdb) run
Starting program: /home/carl/git/jdk/build/linux-x86_64-server-slowdebug/jdk/bin/java
//   .... Lot's of output
Thread 2 "java" hit Breakpoint 1, Verifier::trace_class_resolution 
    (resolve_class=0x8000c44d8, verify_class=0x8000c4000) 
    at /home/carl/git/jdk/src/hotspot/share/classfile/verifier.cpp:129
129     log_info(class, load)("Found NoopGenerator: %s", resolve);

Now that we have hit out break point, let’s see how the class loader actually got here.

(gdb) bt
#0  Verifier::trace_class_resolution (resolve_class=0x8000c44d8, verify_class=0x8000c4000) at /home/carl/git/jdk/src/hotspot/share/classfile/verifier.cpp:129
#1  0x00007ffff6c99e82 in VerificationType::resolve_and_check_assignability (klass=0x8000c4000, name=0x7ffff05705c8, from_name=0x7ffff0570d48, from_field_is_protected=false, from_is_array=false, 
    from_is_object=true, __the_thread__=0x7ffff0032830) at /home/carl/git/jdk/src/hotspot/share/classfile/verificationType.cpp:85
#2  0x00007ffff6c9a055 in VerificationType::is_reference_assignable_from (this=0x7ffff571b5a0, from=..., context=0x7ffff571c870, from_field_is_protected=false, __the_thread__=0x7ffff0032830)
    at /home/carl/git/jdk/src/hotspot/share/classfile/verificationType.cpp:122
#3  0x00007ffff6b1827f in VerificationType::is_assignable_from (this=0x7ffff571b5a0, from=..., context=0x7ffff571c870, from_field_is_protected=false, __the_thread__=0x7ffff0032830)
    at /home/carl/git/jdk/src/hotspot/share/classfile/verificationType.hpp:289
#4  0x00007ffff6cad7ad in StackMapFrame::pop_stack (this=0x7ffff571bdf0, type=..., __the_thread__=0x7ffff0032830) at /home/carl/git/jdk/src/hotspot/share/classfile/stackMapFrame.hpp:236
#5  0x00007ffff6ca8321 in ClassVerifier::verify_field_instructions (this=0x7ffff571c870, bcs=0x7ffff571bd80, current_frame=0x7ffff571bdf0, cp=..., allow_arrays=true, __the_thread__=0x7ffff0032830)
    at /home/carl/git/jdk/src/hotspot/share/classfile/verifier.cpp:2367
#6  0x00007ffff6ca439a in ClassVerifier::verify_method (this=0x7ffff571c870, m=..., __the_thread__=0x7ffff0032830) at /home/carl/git/jdk/src/hotspot/share/classfile/verifier.cpp:1693
#7  0x00007ffff6c9d1c6 in ClassVerifier::verify_class (this=0x7ffff571c870, __the_thread__=0x7ffff0032830) at /home/carl/git/jdk/src/hotspot/share/classfile/verifier.cpp:645
#8  0x00007ffff6c9b499 in Verifier::verify (klass=0x8000c4000, should_verify_class=true, __the_thread__=0x7ffff0032830) at /home/carl/git/jdk/src/hotspot/share/classfile/verifier.cpp:201
#9  0x00007ffff6444437 in InstanceKlass::verify_code (this=0x8000c4000, __the_thread__=0x7ffff0032830) at /home/carl/git/jdk/src/hotspot/share/oops/instanceKlass.cpp:752
#10 0x00007ffff6444a91 in InstanceKlass::link_class_impl (this=0x8000c4000, __the_thread__=0x7ffff0032830) at /home/carl/git/jdk/src/hotspot/share/oops/instanceKlass.cpp:873
#11 0x00007ffff64444c2 in InstanceKlass::link_class (this=0x8000c4000, __the_thread__=0x7ffff0032830) at /home/carl/git/jdk/src/hotspot/share/oops/instanceKlass.cpp:758
#12 0x00007ffff644539d in InstanceKlass::initialize_impl (this=0x8000c4000, __the_thread__=0x7ffff0032830) at /home/carl/git/jdk/src/hotspot/share/oops/instanceKlass.cpp:1027
#13 0x00007ffff64443a2 in InstanceKlass::initialize (this=0x8000c4000, __the_thread__=0x7ffff0032830) at /home/carl/git/jdk/src/hotspot/share/oops/instanceKlass.cpp:740
#14 0x00007ffff659bc52 in find_class_from_class_loader (env=0x7ffff0032b50, name=0x7ffff0572b78, init=1 '\001', loader=..., protection_domain=..., throwError=0 '\000', __the_thread__=0x7ffff0032830)
    at /home/carl/git/jdk/src/hotspot/share/prims/jvm.cpp:3537
#15 0x00007ffff658c395 in JVM_FindClassFromCaller (env=0x7ffff0032b50, name=0x7ffff571edd0 "io/perfmark/impl/SecretPerfMarkImpl$PerfMarkImpl", init=1 '\001', loader=0x7ffff571ef08, caller=0x7ffff571ef00)
    at /home/carl/git/jdk/src/hotspot/share/prims/jvm.cpp:825
#16 0x00007ffff54bff29 in Java_java_lang_Class_forName0 (env=0x7ffff0032b50, this=0x7ffff571eef0, classname=0x7ffff571ef18, initialize=1 '\001', loader=0x7ffff571ef08, caller=0x7ffff571ef00)
    at /home/carl/git/jdk/src/java.base/share/native/libjava/Class.c:145
#17 0x00007fffe855aaad in ?? ()
#18 0x0000000000000002 in ?? ()
#19 0x00007fffbc187288 in ?? ()
#20 0x0000000000000000 in ?? ()

I highlighted the relevant methods. It seems like the JVM is keen on making sure that NoopGenerator is assignable to Generator, in the event that line is executed. With this is mind, we can guess how to fix it.

Cheating the Verifier

So far, the class hierarchy looks something like:

public abstract class Generator {
  // ...
final class NoopGenerator extends Generator {
  // ...

Recall the original function that triggers this behavior:

// SecretPerfMarkImpl.PerfMarkImpl

static {
  Generator gen = ...
  if (gen != null) {
    generator = gen;
  } else {
    generator = new NoopGenerator();
  // More Initialization code.

The JVM wants to be sure that in case NoopGenerator is loaded, it will actually be Generator. The problem is that it is eagerly doing the verification of the type, even if it is seldom loaded. With this in mind, we can come up with a solution.

Warning: Hacks

Do not write the following code without a pretty beefy comment:

static {
  Generator gen = ...
  if (gen != null) {
    generator = gen;
  } else {
    generator = (Generator) (Object) new NoopGenerator();
  // More Initialization code.

This double cast (Object masking?) modifies the byte code to doubt itself about it’s assignment. Note the change in the byte code:

       176: aload_0
       177: ifnonnull     196
       180: new           #3                  // class io/perfmark/impl/NoopGenerator
       183: dup
       184: invokespecial #4                  // Method io/perfmark/impl/NoopGenerator."":()V
       187: checkcast     #2                  // class io/perfmark/impl/Generator
       190: putstatic     #26                 // Field generator:Lio/perfmark/impl/Generator;
       193: goto          200
       196: aload_0
       197: putstatic     #26                 // Field generator:Lio/perfmark/impl/Generator;
       200: iconst_0
       201: istore_2
       202: iconst_0
       203: istore_3
       204: ldc           #108                // String io.perfmark.PerfMark.startEnabled
       206: invokestatic  #109                // Method java/lang/Boolean.getBoolean:(Ljava/lang/String;)Z

This minor change causes the verifier to not double check the type until runtime. I won’t re-paste all the debug output, but let’s see that the change had an effect. We will use JMH with the classloader profiler to measure the changes:

Benchmark                                             Mode  Cnt     Score     Error        Units
forName_init                         ss  400  8730.958 ± 142.833        us/op
forName_init:·class.load             ss  400     1.166 ±   0.015  classes/sec
forName_init:·class.load.norm        ss  400    72.105 ±   0.112   classes/op
forName_init:·class.unload           ss  400       ≈ 0            classes/sec
forName_init:·class.unload.norm      ss  400       ≈ 0             classes/op

Benchmark                                             Mode  Cnt     Score     Error        Units
forName_init                         ss  400  8411.036 ± 148.305        us/op
forName_init:·class.load             ss  400     1.136 ±   0.016  classes/sec
forName_init:·class.load.norm        ss  400    71.040 ±   0.113   classes/op
forName_init:·class.unload           ss  400       ≈ 0            classes/sec
forName_init:·class.unload.norm      ss  400       ≈ 0             classes/op

As we can see the number of classes loaded drops by about one. We won’t read too much into the speed up, since the error bars are pretty high already.


The JVM checks our safety by making sure our classes are sound, but sometimes we want to defer those checks until later. This post shows how to diagnose such cases, and how to avoid doing unnecssary class loads.


You can find me on Twitter @CarlMastrangelo