RAII, JNI, and Android NDK

April 7, 2014

If you have been doing multi-threaded C++ code, you’ll know that RAII (Resource Acquisition is Initialisation) idiom is very valuable to ease the burden of manually typing resource initialisation and release. You might have applied that for mutex, threads, and other kind of locks. But how about JNI? I’ll show you in this post.

When you’re using JNI and multithreading, once in a while you’ll stumble upon AttachCurrentThread or GetEnv method to obtain the JNIEnv environment and able to access the JVM. I usually cache the JavaVM instance within JNI_OnLoad() function, so other than catching the env variable via JNI function signature, from time to time I just want to get the env variable for current thread by using GetEnv like this:

JNIEnv *env;

// gVM is the cached global JavaVM pointer  
gVM->GetEnv((void**) &env, JNI_VERSION_1_6);

However, this function only able to get the env information if you called it from the same thread where you started the JNI. If you create app with more than one thread, you need to call AttachCurrentThread if your thread is not the same as the thread where you call the JNI function. This thread is called Detached Thread

JNIEnv *env;

// attach current thread and get the env  
gVM->AttachCurrentThread(env, 0);

// ... code ...


As you can see, we need to call DetachCurrentThread. If we don’t do this, the JVM wil complain if the thread exits without detaching. Because one of my module in Compo can run in either main thread or worker thread, I decided to do detection. Luckily, GetEnv() returns value of JNI_EDETACHED if called from thread that is not attached yet.

I think it’s a perfect case to do RAII on the JNI environment. Therefore, I create a simple class to detect and attach the thread if it’s not attached, and detach the thread automatically.

#include <jni.h>  
template <const unsigned int jni_version=JNI_VERSION_1_6>  
class ScopedJNI  
  inline ScopedJNI(JavaVM *vm, JNIEnv **env) : mVM(vm),  
    mStat(mVM->GetEnv((void**) env, jni_version)  
    // Detect if initial value is detached  
    if (JNI_EDETACHED == mStat) {  
      mVM->AttachCurrentThread(env, NULL);  
  inline ~ScopedJNI() {  
    if (JNI_EDETACHED == mStat) {  
  // no copy constructor and default constructor  
  ScopedJNI(const CompoScopedJNI &);

  JavaVM *mVM;  
  const int mStat;  

This way we can use the code like this

// start a scope for JNI calls  
JNIEnv *env;  
ScopedJNI startJNI(gVM, &env);

// ** do JNI CALLS *//  
jclass str_Clazz = env->FindClass("java/lang/String");  
// the env and startJNI is automatically released and destroyed  

Hope this helps!

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RAII, JNI, and Android NDK - April 7, 2014 - Didiet Noor