Reading assembly from the JVM

The second important step on the way to Hotspot JIT understanding (after building a debug JVM) is to look at generated assembly - the code that java actually runs on your behalf. Unfortunately, few developers do this or even know that you can do this. It doesn’t have to be this way - while this requires a little work, its very doable. Here are a few different ways to do it.

A Simple example

I’ve written up a quick program which contains a function I want to look at - getLen, which simply returns the length of a string. This wrapper calls it over and over on random input, saving the output to make ensure Hotspot doesn’t try and get too clever.

import java.util.Random;

public class Test {
  static Random random = new Random();

  public static int getLen(String s) {
    return s.length();

  public static void main(String[] args) {
    long res = 0;
    for(int i = 0; i < 50000000; i++) {
      res += getLen(Integer.toString(random.nextInt(1000)));


If you have a debug jdk built and running, this is the easiest but is also very unreadble. Simply run your JVM with -XX+PrintOptoAssembly and you’re done! (I recommend piping the output for easier parsing).

jackson@serv ~ $ dev/openjdk8/build/linux-x86_64-normal-server-fastdebug/jdk/bin/java \
-XX:+PrintOptoAssembly Test > out.s

Its worth mentioning that -XX:+PrintOptoAssembly only prints the output of the c2 (aka ‘server’) compiler and not every method may get compiled by it.

Since the output is so messy, I’m going to skip looking at it.


PrintAssembly generates much more readable output, shows you code from both c1 and c2 compilers, and is usable from a regular jvm. Great! Unfortunately, you need to compile a library that does the actual disassembling, hsdis, which does require a copy of the jdk source code. This isn’t too bad though - this wiki page of the great JitWatch project has links for how to do this on Windows, Mac, or Linux. I follow the linked linux steps without issue. Once you’ve built your library (on x86_64 this is, copy it to the /lib/<platform>/server directory of your java install.

jackson@serv ~ $ dev/openjdk8/build/linux-x86_64-normal-server-fastdebug/jdk/bin/java \
-XX:+UnlockDiagnosticVMOptions -XX:+PrintAssembly -XX:-UseCompressedOops \
Test > out.s

1. I’ve manually turned off UseCompressedOops here to simplify the output

Our output file will actually contain 2 versions of getLen - the first generated by the c1 compiler, the second by c2. Lets take a look at the 2nd, more optimized, version:

Decoding compiled method 0x00007fd3d920e190:
[Entry Point]
[Verified Entry Point]
  # {method} {0x00007fd015c013a8} 'getLen' '(Ljava/lang/String;)I' in 'Test'
  # parm0:    rsi:rsi   = 'java/lang/String'
  #           [sp+0x20]  (sp of caller)
  ;; N1: #      B1 <- B4 B5 B3  Freq: 1

  ;; B1: #      B4 B2 <- BLOCK HEAD IS JUNK   Freq: 1

  0x00007fd3d920e2c0: mov    %eax,-0x16000(%rsp)
  0x00007fd3d920e2c7: push   %rbp
  0x00007fd3d920e2c8: sub    $0x10,%rsp         ;*synchronization entry
                                                ; - Test::getLen@-1 (line 9)

  0x00007fd3d920e2cc: mov    0x10(%rsi),%r10    ;*getfield value
                                                ; - java.lang.String::length@1 (line 611)
                                                ; - Test::getLen@1 (line 9)
                                                ; implicit exception: dispatches to 0x00007fd3d920e2e0
  ;; B2: #      B5 B3 <- B1  Freq: 0.999999

  0x00007fd3d920e2d0: mov    0x10(%r10),%eax    ;*arraylength
                                                ; - java.lang.String::length@4 (line 611)
                                                ; - Test::getLen@1 (line 9)
                                                ; implicit exception: dispatches to 0x00007fd3d920e2f1
  ;; B3: #      N1 <- B2  Freq: 0.999998

  0x00007fd3d920e2d4: add    $0x10,%rsp
  0x00007fd3d920e2d8: pop    %rbp
  0x00007fd3d920e2d9: test   %eax,0x18055d21(%rip)        # 0x00007fd3f1264000
                                                ;   {poll_return}
  0x00007fd3d920e2df: retq

(The code below the return is exception handling, and will be covered at a later date).

Even without much assembly experience, this isn’t too bad to understand - here’s whats happening:

  1. Our function is passed its String in the %rsi register
  2. It finds the pointer to the string’s value character array which it stores in %r10
  3. It then gets the length field from the array (all arrays in Java have a length field) and puts that in %eax to return to the caller
  4. The test instruction is doing what is known as a safepoint poll, and can be ignored for now.

Notice that we don’t see any actual calls to String.length - thats because Hotspot has decided to inline that function for us.


As you probably noticed in the last example, PrintAssembly prints output for every single method it compiles, including internal JVM functions. A lot of the time we only want to see a single method or class. Thats where CompileCommand comes in handy - you can specify only to print output for certain classes/methods. The full documentation is available here, but for this example, we only care about the print command. To print our getLen function in class Test, we can pass the following

jackson@serv ~ $ dev/openjdk8/build/linux-x86_64-normal-server-fastdebug/jdk/bin/java \
-XX:+UnlockDiagnosticVMOptions -XX:CompileCommand=print,Test.getLen \
-XX:-UseCompressedOops Test > out.s

If our class Test was in package, we would pass print,com/foo/Test.getLen instead. You can also pass * as a Wildcard for the method or the class, so print,Test.* would print for all methods in class Test and *.getLen would print any getLen method no matter which class implemented it. Otherwise, this produces very similar output to PrintAssembly (and similarly requires the hsdis library).