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USENIX Symposium on Internet Technologies and Systems, 1997    [Technical Program]

Pp. 73–82 of the Proceedings

BIT: A Tool for Instrumenting Java= Bytecodes


Han Bok Lee
Department of Computer Science
University of Colorado, Boulder 80309
Benjamin G. Zorn
Department of Computer Science
University of Colorado, Boulder 80309



BIT (Bytecode Instrumenting Tool) is a collection of Java classes that allow one to build customized tools to instrument Java Virtual Machine (JVM) bytecodes. Because understanding program behavior is an= essential part of developing effective optimization algorithms, researchers and= software developers have built numerous tools that carry out program analysis.= Although there are existing tools that analyze and modify executables on a variety of operating systems and machine architectures, there currently is no= framework for carrying out the same task for JVM bytecodes. In this paper, we describe BIT, which allows the user to insert calls to analysis methods anywhere in the bytecode, so that information can be extracted from the user program while it is being executed. In this paper, we describe several simple tools built using BIT and also report on BIT=92s performance. We found that the overhead for the execution speed and size were between 23% to 150%.

1. Introduction

It is often important for software developers and= researchers to be able to measure and understand both the static structure and dynamic behavior of a program. Such information is used to identify critical pieces of code; for debugging purposes; to evaluate and compare the performance of different software or hardware implementations such as branch prediction, cache replacement, and instruction scheduling; and in support of= profile-driven optimizations [31]. Over the years, researchers have built numerous tools that allow them to obtain this information.

This paper describes BIT (Bytecode Instrumenting Tool) [20], a tool that allows JVM bytecodes to be instrumented for the purpose of extracting measurements of their dynamic behavior. The JVM is an abstract machine specification designed to support the Java programming language, and JVM bytecodes are equivalent to binaries on other machines [21].= Although there are tools that allow binary instrumentation on a number of different operating systems and machine architectures, BIT is the first framework of which we are aware that supports JVM bytecode instrumentation. BIT is a set of Java classes that allow the user to observe the dynamic behavior of programs by inserting calls to user analysis methods at any point in the bytecode execution. Because BIT is written in Java, tools written using it are portable across platforms. Also, there are other programming= languages that can be compiled into JVM bytecodes such as Kawa [6], which compiles Scheme code into JVM bytecodes and AppletMagic [17], which translates Ada 95 to JVM bytecodes. Furthermore, Hardwick and Sipelstein studied the= feasibility of using Java as an intermediate language [14]. Because BIT instruments JVM bytecodes, it can be used to instrument programs written in any language that has been compiled to the JVM, and instrumentation does not require that the program source code be available.

In this paper we describe the design and implementation of BIT, present example tools built using BIT, and describe results based on measuring BIT=92s overhead on five Java programs, including BIT itself. BIT=92s instrumentation makes the instrumented JVM executables both larger and longer running. We found that the overhead for the execution speed and code size ranged from 23% to 150%.

This paper has the following organization. In Section 2, we discuss related work. In Section 3, we describe BIT=92s design and introduce a sample tool written using BIT. In Section 4, we discuss some details of the implementation and in Section 5 we present performance= results based on instrumenting several Java applications. Finally, in Section 6, we summarize the paper and discuss future directions for research.

2. Related Work

There are many tools that employ techniques based on= program instrumentation to carry out different tasks. These tasks range from= emulation and tracing to optimization [19]. The Wisconsin Wind Tunnel architecture simulator [27], for example, allows the emulation of a cycle counter, which the underlying hardware does not provide. Techniques based on program= instrumentation have also been used in optimizations [31, 32]. However, most of the tools that have been developed using program instrumentation techniques are used for studying program or system behavior. Tools such as QPT [18], Pixie [28], and Epoxie [33] generate address traces and instruction counts by rewriting program executables. MPTRACE [13] and ATUM [1] generate data and instruction traces, and PROTEUS [5] and Shade [7] emulate other= architectures. Also, software testing and quality assurance tools that detect memory leaks and access errors such as Purify [15] catch programming errors by using these techniques. Purify inserts instructions directly into the object code produced by existing compilers. These instructions, in turn, check the validity of every memory access performed by the program and report when there are errors.

There are limitations to these tools, however, since they are designed for a specific task and are difficult if not impossible to modify to meet users=92 changing needs. It would be difficult, for example, for a user to modify a customized tool to obtain more or less detailed information about a trace than what is already provided. To modify a= customized tool, a user has to have access to the source code and have a good= understanding of how the tool works, including low-level details that deal directly with modifying the binaries. Moreover, many of these tools use inter-process communication or files to relay program behavior to the analysis routines, which are expensive [30].

There is another group of tools, sometimes called binary editing or executable editing tools, which have different design goals and offer a library of routines for modifying executable files. The tools in this group include the OM system [32], EEL [19], ATOM [30], and Etch [4], which are explained in more detail below. These tools differ in that they offer a library of routines for modifying executable files. Users, in turn, can design and build their own customized tools to meet their needs using these tools.

OM works on object files, and it represents machine= instructions as Register Transfer language (RTL), which can later be manipulated and written back to the disk in the form of machine instructions. EEL also uses an intermediate representation to represent machine instructions. The difference between OM and EEL is that while OM uses relocation= information in the object files to relocate edited code, EEL analyzes and modifies the program=92s instructions directly. Furthermore, EEL can edit fully= linked executables and emphasizes portability in its design. However, EEL currently works only on workstations with SPARC processors, under Solaris and SunOS, and therefore its claim of portability is yet to be realized.

ATOM provides a framework on top of OM, and a number of customized tools from basic block counting to cache simulators can be built on top of that framework. ATOM, unlike OM and EEL, does not allow one to arbitrarily modify the object code, but simplifies the instrumentation process by providing an API to access program constructs such as procedures, basic blocks, and instructions, and it also provides a library to easily manipulate those constructs. These library routines include operations such as iterating through these constructs and inserting procedure calls before and after them. However, ATOM does not allow removing or replacing existing instructions in the binary files as EEL does. Another drawback of ATOM is that it is not portable. Currently, ATOM runs only on the Alpha AXP under OSF/1.

Etch is an application program performance evaluation and optimization system running on Intel x86 platforms running the= Windows/NT operating system. Etch allows the user to instrument existing binaries with arbitrary instructions.

The tools mentioned above operate on object codes for a variety of operating systems and architectures, but none of them work on JVM class files. However, the Java interpreter provides some profiling information, which includes the method invocation sequence and the size of objects allocated, when invoked with the prof switch. There is a tool called NetProf [26] that visualizes Java profile information by translating Java bytecodes to Java source code. There are also tools that carry out post-processing on class files such as osjcfp [25] and the work by Cattell [23] to make classes persistence-capable. However, the inner workings of these tools have not been published. Furthermore, these are also customized tools and have the same limitations mentioned above.

BIT follows ATOM=92s design by providing a set of classes that users can employ to build their own program analysis tools for JVM bytecodes.

3. BIT Architecture

This section describes the design of BIT at a high level and illustrates how BIT is used with an example. Like ATOM, the architecture of BIT is based on the observation that many of the dynamic behaviors of a program can be obtained by instrumenting a few key locations, e.g., before and after methods, before and after basic blocks, and before and after instructions. Thus, BIT provides classes and methods for inserting a method invocation at each of these key locations.

Figure 1. The Process of Using BIT =96= Instrumentation Code uses BIT classes to read in User Program and to insert calls to= Analysis Code to produce Instrumented User Program.

Figure 1 illustrates the process of using BIT. BIT is a set of Java classes that are represented by the BIT box. The user=92s= application is compiled into JVM bytecodes with a Java compiler. The User Program box represents the application output. The user writes personalized= instrumentation code by using the classes and methods that BIT provides. The user also writes analysis code. Both instrumentation and analysis code are compiled into JVM bytecodes by a Java compiler and are represented by Instrumentation and Analysis Code boxes respectively. When the JVM executes the= instrumentation code, it will read in the user program, which is in the form of JVM= bytecodes, and insert calls to the analysis code at appropriate places in the user program. This process results in the instrumented user program, which then can be executed under the JVM to produce both the original program output, which is represented by the User Program Output circle, and the analysis output, which is represented by the Analysis Output circle. The inserted calls to the analysis routines do not have any semantic effect on the= instrumented program, which should produce exactly the same output as the original= program.

To provide a concrete understanding of how BIT works, we present a customized tool that could aid in branch prediction as= illustrated by Srivastava and Eustace [30]. This tool counts the number of branches taken and not taken at all the branches in different methods. Figure 2 shows the instrumentation code for this tool. BIT=92s methods are shown in bold. This instrumentation code specifies where the user program is to be instrumented and what methods are to be invoked. This tool takes two arguments: an input file and an output file. The input class file is opened and broken down into more manageable pieces (class, routine, basic block, and instruction), which are then instrumented. In this instrumentation program, we first analyze the input file by creating a new ClassInfo object, whose constructor parses the input file and stores the intermediate representation in its members. A call to the getRoutines() method is invoked to obtain the vector of Routines. A Routine represents a method in the input class file. For each of these Routines, we obtain the basic blocks by invoking the getBasicBlocks() method. To count all the conditional branches in a program, we need to insert= analysis code wherever there exists a conditional instruction in the program. This is accomplished by looking at each basic block and seeing whether the last instruction in that basic block is a conditional instruction or not.

Once we find conditional instructions, we insert calls to analysis methods before these conditional instructions are executed. In addition, calls are made when entering and leaving a method so that variables are initialized and results are printed.

Figure 3 shows the analysis code that is invoked when conditional instructions are encountered. The LeaveMethod() method prints the statistics gathered during this method=92s execution. The= Offset() method puts the offset of the conditional instruction being executed into a static variable named pc, and the Branch() method increments branch outcome counters. The analysis code uses class variables= branch and pc because the current version of BIT does not allow passing more than one argument to the analysis methods at this time, a shortcoming that will be fixed in future work.

import BIT.*;
public class BranchPrediction {
static DataOutputStream data_out =3D null;
static Hashtable branch =3D null;
static int pc =3D 0;

    public static void main(String argv[]) {
        String= infilename =3D new String(argv[0]);
        String= outfilename =3D new String(argv[1]);
        ClassInfo ci =3D new ClassInfo(infilename);
        Vector= routines =3D ci.getRoutines();
        for= (Enumeration e=3Droutines.elements();e.hasMoreElements(); ){
           = ; Routine routine =3D (Routine) e.nextElement();
           = ; Vector instructions =3D routine.getInstructions();
           = ; for (Enumeration b =3D routine.getBasicBlocks().elements();= b.hasMoreElements(); ) {
           = ;     BasicBlock bb =3D (BasicBlock) b.nextElement();
           = ;     Instruction instr =3D= (Instruction)instructions.elementAt(bb.getEndAddress());
           = ;     short instr_type =3D= InstructionTable.InstructionTypeTable[instr.getOpcode()];
           = ;     if  (instr_type =3D=3D InstructionTable.CONDITIONAL_INSTRUCTION)= {
           = ;         instr.addBefore("BranchPrediction", "Offset", new= Integer(instr.getOrigOffset()));
           = ;         instr.addBefore("BranchPrediction", "Branch", new= String("BranchOutcome"));
           = ;     }
           = ; }
        String method =3D new String(routine.getMethod());
       = routine.addBefore("BranchPrediction", "EnterMethod", method);
       = routine.addAfter("BranchPrediction", "LeaveMethod", method);
       = ci.write(outfilename);

 Figure 2. Instrumentation Code: Branch= Counting Tool


public class BranchPrediction {
    static Hashtable branch =3D= null;
    static int pc =3D 0;
    public static void EnterMethod(String s) {
       = System.out.println("method: " + s);
        branch =3D= new Hashtable();

    public static void LeaveMethod(String s) {
       = System.out.println("stat for method: " + s);
        for= (Enumeration e =3D branch.keys(); e.hasMoreElements(); ) {
           = ; Integer key =3D (Integer) e.nextElement();
           = ; Branch b =3D (Branch) branch.get(key);
           = ; int total =3D b.taken + b.not_taken;
           = ; System.out.print("PC: " + key);
           = ; System.out.print("\t\ttaken: " + b.taken + " (" + b.taken*100/total += "%)");
           = ; System.out.println("\t\tnot taken: " + b.not_taken + " (" += b.not_taken*100/total + "%)");

    public static void Offset(int offset) {
        pc =3D= offset;

    public static void Branch(int= brOutcome) {
        Integer n =3D new Integer(pc);
        Branch b =3D (Branch) branch.get(n);
        if (b =3D=3D= null)
           = ; b =3D new Branch();
        if (brOutcome =3D=3D 0)
           = ; b.taken++;
           = ; b.not_taken++;

Figure 3. Analysis Code: Branch Counting= Tool


Analysis code is likely to vary between different= customized tools depending on what their functional requirements are. However, most of the instrumentation code presented in Figure 2 is likely to be the same for different customized tools since all of them will require some sort of navigation through different constructs within a class file. For= instance, to dynamically count the number of instructions that get executed in a user program, we would only have to change the body of the loop that obtains different basic blocks as shown in Figure 4. Instead of checking whether the last instruction in a basic block is a conditional or not, we count the number of instructions present in a basic block to obtain the total instruction count.

for (Enumeration b =3D= routine.getBasicBlocks().elements(); b.hasMoreElements(); ) {
    BasicBlock bb =3D (BasicBlock)= b.nextElement();
    bb.addBefore("ICount", "count", new Integer(bb.size()));

Figure 4. Changes Required to Instrumentation Code to Count Instructions instead of Conditionals


4. BIT Implementation

There were several different approaches that could have been taken to observe and measure the dynamic behavior of Java bytecodes. One possible approach would be to modify the JVM to produce relevant= outputs. An advantage of this approach is that it is easier to obtain certain kinds of information that would either be difficult or impossible to obtain= otherwise. For example, measurements of the JVM garbage collection implementation would require JVM modifications. A drawback of this approach is that each time we wanted to create a customized tool, we would have had revisit the JVM source to add or remove tracing code. An even bigger problem would be that even if we modified the JVM source, redistributing the tools would be difficult due to licensing restrictions. Furthermore, tracking changes made to the JVM implementation, as new releases became available, would also be difficult.

We originally considered using EEL as a basis for our design, but we concluded that EEL supported more functionality than we required. EEL was designed for the SPARC architecture, which is more complex than the JVM, and it proved to be overkill for instrumenting JVM bytecodes. Furthermore, developing the BIT system in Java allowed us to create highly portable instrumentation tools. Although EEL=92s object-oriented design was still followed, we modeled BIT=92s functionality after that of ATOM (i.e., only allowing executable instrumenting and not arbitrary editing), which we felt was still highly valuable and much easier to design, implement, and use.

4.1. Adding Method Calls

Since instrumentation process requires adding new method calls to a class file, class and method name as well as other constants about these methods need to be inserted to the constant pool table. The constant pool table is a place where different string constants, class names, field names, and other constants are stored for each class file. To support the ability to add a method call before or after a certain entity (e.g., method, basic block, etc.), the descriptor, the class name, and the method name of the method being inserted need to be present in the constant pool table of the code being instrumented. The= constant pool table is also used as a place to store arguments to the analysis methods.

If the string "BranchOutcome" is used as an argument to the analysis methods, then it is interpreted as a special directive for obtaining the outcome of the branch instruction since there is no way of knowing what the outcome of the branch would be at instrumentation time. In this case, appropriate bytecode instructions are added to obtain the outcome of the branch at run-time and pass it to the analysis method.

There are several JVM method invocation instructions such as invokestatic, invokevirtual, invokespecial, and invokeinterface. In BIT, analysis method calls are inserted by using the invokestatic bytecode instruction and therefore, analysis methods have to be static. This also implies that objects cannot be associated with these methods. The invokevirtual bytecode could have been used, but to keep things simple, only the invokestatic instruction is used. To use invokevirtual, more complex sequences of bytecodes would have to be inserted in the instrumented program because an instance of the class would need to be created and manipulated.

5. Performance Results

In this section, we present results based on applying two example tools implemented using BIT to five Java applications: a= benchmark suite, a lexical analyzer generator, a Java compiler, an LALR parser= generator, and BIT itself.

We wrote several small tools, such as a branch counting tool and a dynamic instruction counting tool, to exercise BIT. The branch counting tool is a version of the tool presented in Figures 2 and 3,= modified to produce less output. We built the dynamic instruction counting tool by inserting calls to analysis methods before basic blocks. The analysis method receives the sizes of the basic blocks and adds and prints them to show how many JVM instructions were executed during the course of the user program's execution. For the results presented here, we instrumented only the application code (i.e., not the Java library classes). Had we instrumented the library classes as well, the overheads would undoubtedly be higher.

To learn about the performance of BIT, three= characteristics were measured on an Intel Pentium 200Mhz machine with 24 MB of memory= running Microsoft Windows 95 and Sun Microsystems Inc.=92s Java Development Kit= (JDK) version 1.1.4. The characteristics measured were time required to instrument user programs, execution time of the instrumented programs, and the size of instrumented programs. For these measurements, Jmark 1.2.1 [8], a JVM benchmark suite from Ziff-Davis publishing company; JLex [3], a lexical analyzer generator for Java; EspressoGrinder [24], a Java compiler; CUP [16], a parser generator; and BIT were used as user applications on which the custom tools mentioned above were run. Jmark consists of 19 class files and benchmarks 11 different areas of Java performance, JLex consists of 23 class files, EspressoGrinder is composed of 105 class files, CUP consists of 40 class files, and BIT consists of 43 class files.

Table 1 summarizes the time taken for each tool to build the instrumented programs. As shown in Table 1, the time taken to instrument each of the five applications was under four minutes for both of the= customized tools. The average time taken to instrument a single class file was about two seconds. EspressoGrinder has more classes and a larger code size, and this explains why it took more time to instrument EspressoGrinder than the other four applications. As native code compilers become available and we are able to compile BIT, the time required to instrument applications should decrease significantly. The first column in this table is the time required to compile Java files using javac compiler and is included to aid the reader in estimating cost of instrumenting class files relative to complation. . In the cases where we did not have the program sources, the compilation time is indicated as N/A.

Table 1. Time Required to Instrument User= Programs
Compilation Time
Branch Count
Dynamic Instruction
14 seconds
17 seconds
15 seconds
89 seconds
89 seconds
233 seconds
174 seconds
24 seconds
55 seconds
88 seconds
15 seconds
32 seconds
31 seconds

Table 2 shows the execution time of the instrumented= programs for each tool.

The increase in execution time of the instrumented= programs ranged from 23% to 150%. This increase is due to method invocation overhead when invoking analysis methods and the time actually spent in the analysis methods. For most of the programs, the execution time was increased by approximately a factor of one to one and a half. The lower overhead observed in Jmark is most likely due to its extensive use of the Java libraries (e.g., for the purpose of benchmarking graphics, etc.), which were not instrumented in this study.

Table 2. Execution Time of Instrumented User= Programs
(raw/% increase over uninstrumented)
(raw / % increase over= uninstrumented)
315 seconds
409 seconds / 30%
387 seconds / 23%
16 seconds
31 seconds / 94%
20 seconds / 25%
6 seconds
15 seconds / 150%
12 seconds / 100%
7 seconds
14 seconds / 100%
8 seconds / 14%
89 seconds
183 seconds / 106%
167 seconds / 88%

To get a better understanding of the programs we= instrumented, we also measured some of the basic dynamic characteristics of the= programs.  In particular, we looked at the average bytecode instructions executed per basic block. This average (computed dynamically) was measured to be 4.4 in JLex, 5.8 in EspressoGrinder, 3.2 in CUP, and 3.7 in BIT.

We also measured the dynamic frequency of conditional branch instructions in JLex, EspressoGrinder, CUP, and BIT, and observed that 11.4% of all instructions were conditional branches in JLex; 10.3% in EspressoGrinder; 12.9% in CUP; and 6.8% in BIT.

BIT instrumentation caused an increase in the program size as well, and the overhead ranged from 14% to 37% as shown in Table 3.  This increase in size is explained by the addition of entries in the constant pool table, which includes static arguments to the analysis routines, the names of class and analysis methods, and method descriptors, and by the addition of actual bytecodes to invoke the analysis routines. The size of the program instrumented with the dynamic instruction counting tool increased more than that of the program instrumented with the branch counting tool except for one application. This is because the former= includes bytecodes to invoke the analysis routines before each basic block while the latter only includes bytecodes to invoke the analysis routine before conditional instructions.  However, since EspressoGrinder has a= relatively large number of instructions per basic block compared to the other= applications, the branch counting tool had more overhead in this application.

Table 3. Code Size of Instrumented User= Programs

(raw / % increase over uninstrumented)

(raw / % increase over= uninstrumented)
34,966 bytes
44,130 bytes / 26%
47,854 bytes / 37%
86,350 bytes
107,869 bytes / 25%
111,173 bytes / 29%
295,281 bytes
379,879 bytes / 29%
374,460 bytes / 27%
117,964 bytes
147,738 bytes / 25%
151,933 / 29%
95,680 bytes
108,404 bytes / 13%
110,953 bytes / 16%

The results presented show that the prototype version of BIT has acceptable performance for several instrumentation tasks. We anticipate that the overheads of the prototype can be reduced dramatically by making a number of performance enhancements. To reduce the time required to instrument user programs, we could use arrays instead of vectors since vectors in Java tend to be two to three times slower than arrays according to our personal experiences. To increase the execution speed of the= instrumented user programs, we could inline analysis methods, removing method invocation overhead (see [30]). Allowing multiple arguments to analysis routines would significantly decrease the number of method calls required to do the= instrumentation, and would also substantially improve performance.

6. Summary

BIT is a set of interfaces that brings the functionality of ATOM and other related tracing tools to the Java world by allowing a user to instrument a JVM class file. Being able to create customized tools to observe and measure the run-time behavior of programs is valuable for many tasks including program optimization and system design.

BIT is the first framework that allows users to create customized tools to analyze JVM bytecodes quickly and easily. BIT allows the user to add calls to analysis methods any place in the JVM bytecode to obtain dynamic information about the program. We conducted a performance study based on two small tools written using BIT, and we reported the= results here. The overheads for both the code size and the execution time were between 23% to 150%.

There are issues that need to be addressed in the near future, and in the rest of this section, we discuss them. One issue is the handling of exceptions. An exception in Java bytecode contains= information about the exception handler in the code buffer, but since BIT changes the code buffer as a result of adding method calls, the information about the exception handler in an exception is no longer valid. This could result in run-time errors since incorrect exception handlers could be invoked when exceptions are raised. Checks are needed to make sure that the= information about the exception handlers are also updated if they are going to be= affected by changes in the code buffer. Exceptions are being ignored in the current implementation.

Larger customized tools using BIT need to be built to prove BIT=92s usefulness. Possible candidates includes a tool that performs hierarchical profiling of a class file such as gprof [13], HiProf [10], and mprof [34]. Recently, there have been other advances in profiling= including flow and context sensitive profiling [2] and interprocedural dataflow= analysis [11]. These advanced profiling techniques could also be applied to JVM programs with BIT.

7. Availability

BIT source is freely available. If you would like to= obtain a copy, please email or


This work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation under grant IRI-95-21046. We would like to thank Margo Seltzer and the anonymous referees for their helpful comments on drafts of this paper.


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Sun, Sun Microsystems, and Java are trademarks or= registered trademarks of Sun Microsystems, Inc. in the United States and other= countries.

This paper was originally published in the Proceedings of the USENIX Symposium on Internet Technologies and Systems, December 8-11, 1997, Monterey, California, USA
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