Generate less bytecode with default methods

Java’s default methods (introduced back in Java 8) are one of those features that solve the intended problem reasonably well, while at the same time allowing all kinds of nasty code and weird inheritance stuff when used in a general-purpose kind of way. Indeed, they’ve been the subject of a ton of posts and the way they (fail to) work still surprises people. They’ve been around for a while now, and there’s a lot of good advice out there on how they should and shouldn’t be used, so that’s not what I’m going to talk about in this post.

What I am going to talk about, however, is the way I’m using them in Moxy, as a way to do a lot less work in runtime-generated bytecode.

A bit of background

Moxy is a mock framework, and it does it’s job by generating mock classes at runtime. These mock classes naturally use a fair bit of bytecode generation, replacing real method implementations with new methods that implement the mock behaviour.

These mock methods do the standard mock thing of recording their invocation, and then they implement behaviour that has been set-up on the mock beforehand.

The problem

In order to implement this behaviour, mock objects need access to all kinds of state that’s specific to the instance – stubbed return values, exceptions they should throw, and more. They also need to have easy access to the mock engine that created them (so they can record invocations, for example).

This is often implemented via static methods on some class somewhere whose job it is to store state. The generated code will typically be peppered with a ton of invokestatic instructions that calls out to methods on those classes in order to get things done.

This works, but it has a few problems:

  • Some kind of mapping between instances and their state must be maintained.
  • It can make it difficult to swap out mock strategies in a clean fashion.
  • It can make testing (of the framework) difficult.

The Moxy approach

Instead of storing state statically, Moxy stores it right there in the mock, and all interaction with the state is done with instance methods. These methods can’t be inherited from a superclass (since mocks usually subclass the mocked class), and I really don’t want to generate them (I like to keep generated code to a minimum, as it’s harder to maintain and test that regular Java), so instead Moxy abuses default methods.

It works like this:

  • All mocks implement an interface, ASMMockSupport.
  • This interface defines one abstract method, __moxy_asm_ivars(). This method is implemented in generated code (since interfaces don’t have instance variables, the mocks hold the variables and expose them via this method)*.
  • The support interfaces defines a ton of default methods that do various kinds of work based on those instance variables.
  • The actual generated code for mocked methods uses invokeinterface calls on this to get stuff done as needed.
  • Other parts of the framework that interact with the mocks (e.g. stubbers) simple cast the mock instance to ASMMockSupport and call the methods they need.

* Yes, that’s a strange name for a method. Moxy does this to lessen the chances of its built-in methods clashing with methods being mocked.

 

The default methods on the support interface handle things like finding the engine that created the mock, adding stubbing, finding appropriate stubbing for a given invocation, running delegate methods and actions, and determining whether the current thread is currently in what Moxy calls a monitored invocation (used for recording purposes only, when mock behaviour is disabled).

This has the benefit that a whole lot of fairly-complex code that would otherwise be either generated, or stuffed into static methods, is now implemented, in Java, as instance methods. They’re easy to unit-test, and they’re easy to maintain. The added bonus is the generated bytecode is also easier to maintain, since it’s as short as possible.

Is this the intended use of default methods? Not at all. Is it correct, or appropriate? I’ll leave that to you to decide. I firmly believe, however, that in this very limited use-case it’s a good solution to a tricky problem, all things considered.

If you’re interested in looking at the code, you’ll find it here.

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