JEP 309: Dynamic Class-File Constants

AuthorBrian Goetz
OwnerLois Foltan
Created2017/03/20 20:26
Updated2017/08/18 21:51
Componenthotspot / runtime
Discussionamber dash dev at openjdk dot java dot net
Reviewed byMark Reinhold
Relates toJEP 303: Intrinsics for the LDC and INVOKEDYNAMIC Instructions


Extend the Java class-file format to support a new constant-pool form, CONSTANT_Dynamic. Loading a CONSTANT_Dynamic will delegate creation to a bootstrap method, just as linking an invokedynamic call site delegates linkage to a bootstrap method.


We seek to reduce the cost and disruption of creating new forms of materializable class-file constants, which in turn offers language designers and compiler implementors broader options for expressivity and performance. We do so by creating a single new constant-pool form that can be parameterized with user-provided behavior, in the form of a bootstrap method with static arguments.

We will also adjust the link-time handshake between the JVM and bootstrap methods, so as to adapt the bootstrap API used by invokedynamic to apply also to dynamic constants.

Based on experience with invokedynamic we will make adjustments to the bootstrapping handshake of both invokedynamic and dynamic constants, loosening certain restrictions on the processing of argument lists to bootstrap methods.

This work requires some prototyping of JDK library support for a representative sample of a few kinds of constant types, notably variable handles (JEP 193). In support of such prototyping, this work will coordinate with other work on basic language support for constant expressions (JEP 303).


This JEP aims to support arbitrary constants in the constant pool. Although there are proposals for still other uses of bootstrap methods, such as method recipes, this JEP concentrates on one use.

The success of this JEP does not depend on support from the Java language or the Java compiler backend, although it is more likely to succeed if it is used by the compiler backend.

Although large aggregate constants are a weak point in Java's translation strategy, this JEP cannot solve for aggregates until there are better ways to encapsulate them in constant forms, such as frozen arrays or primitive-specialized lists.

Success Metrics

As a minimal requirement, it should be practical to expose constant-pool forms to describe primitive class mirrors (int.class), null, enum constants, and most forms of VarHandle in terms of CONSTANT_Dynamic.

Dynamic constants must be usable in any context which currently allows general constant pool constants, such as CONSTANT_String and CONSTANT_MethodType. Thus, they must be valid operands to the ldc instruction and must be allowed as static parameters to bootstrap methods.

The bootstrap-method handshake should support complex constants which contain thousands of component arguments, lifting the current limit of 251 constant arguments. As a stretch goal, there should also be a way for the bootstrap method to more accurately control linkage errors produced by resolving bootstrap method arguments.

At the end of the work we should also have cause to believe that this mechanism can be made to work for a wide variety of library types, such as derived method handles, small immutable collections (lists, maps, sets), numerics, regular expressions, string formatters, or simple data classes.

Followup work should be identified and documented. See "Possible extensions" below.


Section 4.4 of the Java Virtual Machine Specification describes the format of the constant pool. Adding new constant-pool forms, such as the support for MethodHandle and MethodType introduced in Java 7, is a significant endeavor, and sends ripples through the ecosystem, as it affects all code that parses or interprets class files. This presents a very high bar to creating new constant-pool forms.

With invokedynamic, the value of storing complex data in the constant pool is multiplied, since the static argument list for an invokedynamic bootstrap is a sequence of constants. Designers of invokedynamic protocols (such as the LambdaMetafactory added in Java 8) routinely struggle with the need to encode behavior in terms of the existing constant set—which in turn necessitates additional error-prone validation and extraction logic in the bootstrap itself. Richer, more flexible, more highly-typed constants remove friction from the development of invokedynamic protocols, which in turn facilitates the movement of complex logic from run time to linkage time, improving program performance and simplifying compiler logic.


Just as the linkage of an invokedynamic call site involves an upcall from the JVM to Java-based linkage logic, we can apply this same trick to the resolution of a constant-pool entry. A CONSTANT_Dynamic constant-pool entry encodes the bootstrap method to perform the resolution (a MethodHandle), the type of the constant (a Class), and any static bootstrap arguments (an arbitrary sequence of constants, barring cycles in the constant pool between dynamic constants.)

We add a new constant-pool form, CONSTANT_Dynamic (new constant tag 17), which has two components following its tag byte: the index of a bootstrap method, in the same format as the index found in a CONSTANT_InvokeDynamic, and a CONSTANT_NameAndType, which encodes the expected type.

Behaviorally, a CONSTANT_Dynamic constant is resolved by executing its bootstrap method on the following parameters: 1. a local Lookup object, 2. the String representing the name component of the constant, 3. the Class representing the expected constant type, and 4. any remaining bootstrap arguments. As with invokedynamic, multiple threads can race to resolve, but a unique winner will be chosen and any other contending answers discarded. Instead of returning a CallSite object, as the invokedynamic instruction requires, the bootstrap method would return a value which would be immediately converted to the required type.

As with invokedynamic, the name component is an additional channel, besides the type, for passing expression information to the bootstrap method. It is expected that just as invokedynamic instructions find uses for the name component (e.g., a method name or some ad-hoc descriptor) dynamic constants will also find uses for the name (e.g., the name of a enum constant or the spelling of a symbolic constant). Putting the CONSTANT_NameAndType in both places makes for a more regular design. In effect, CONSTANT_Methodref and CONSTANT_Fieldref constants are used to refer to named members of classes, while the analogous CONSTANT_InvokeDynamic and CONSTANT_Dynamic constants are used to refer to named entities with user-programmed bootstraps.

The type component of the constant, with both invokedynamic and CONSTANT_Dynamic, determines the effective type of the call site or constant (respectively). The bootstrap method does not contribute or constrain this type information, so that bootstrap methods may be (and often are) weakly typed whereas the bytecodes themselves are always strongly typed.

To relax length restrictions on bootstrap specifiers, the language which defines the invocation of bootstrap methods will be adjusted (with complete backward compatibility) to allow variable arity (ACC_VARARGS) bootstrap methods to absorb, into their trailing arguments, all remaining static arguments, even if there are 2^16-1 of them. (The class-file format already allows this, although there is no way to read over-long bootstrap argument lists.) For consistency, the invokeWithArguments methods of MethodHandle will also be expanded in this way, if the target method has variable arity. In this way the invocation of bootstrap methods can be specified in terms of the weakly typed methods invokeWithArguments and invoke, just as today it is specified in terms of invoke alone.

Control of bootstrap linkage errors has proven to be a recurring source of bugs and RFEs from users of invokedynamic and the trend is likely to accelerate as bootstrap methods become more complex (as they must, with dynamic constants). If we can find a way to offer fuller control over exceptions to bootstrap methods, and it can be done simply, we will consider delivering it as part of this JEP. Otherwise, it will go on the list of future enhancements.

Possible extensions

Possible future extensions include:

Discussion of design choices can be found in JDK-8161256, which deals with a number of related RFEs. The present JEP was distilled from this larger list of features.


Many uses of CONSTANT_Dynamic can be replaced by equivalent invokedynamic calls. (The call would take zero arguments and be bound to a method handle that returns the desired constant.) Such a workaround does not helps with a key requirement, however, which is to be able to pass synthetic constants as bootstrap arguments.

Another alternative to CONSTANT_Dynamic is using static final fields to name the desired constants, and computing their values in the static initializer (<clinit>). This approach requires extra metadata (a throwaway field definition per constant) and is not lazy enough to avoid bootstrap cycle problems. Those problems are routinely solved by building private nested classes with decoupled static initializers, but that too requires extra metadata. If languages evolve to use many such constants, there will be application bloat from the excessive metadata.

Another approach is spinning static methods which perform the constant elaboration logic, and then calling them lazily from invokedynamic. Again, such throwaway methods are a metadata overhead which is large compared to CONSTANT_Dynamic.

In practice the metadata overheads for simulating these features are too large.


This feature is JVM-centric, and so does not depend on higher software layers.

In order to ensure correct design, it requires at least experimental adoption by several use cases. Library prototyping is a must, even if the prototypes are thrown away.

As with invokedynamic, wide adoption requires use by the javac back end, which in turn may require language extensions. As a basic first step, translation workarounds which require hidden static methods, such as translation of int.class or switch mapping tables should be examined and reformulated with new constants, if possible.