September 16, 2008

You know your port is in trouble when…

Filed under: Software — Tags: — Doug @ 11:15 pm

In porting BioJava, I came across the following comment:

Don’t use this class directly. This class contains deep voodoo code. Run away while you still can.

Looking a bit deeper at the class, it generates code on the fly.  That wouldn’t, in itself, be too bad, except it doesn’t generate Java and compile it, it generates bytecode!

Here is a small snippet:

        GeneratedCodeMethod init = pclass.createMethod(
                new CodeClass[]{

        InstructionVector initIV = new InstructionVector();
        pclass.setCodeGenerator(init, initIV);

Uh, yeah.  I can read and write Java, but I’m no expert, and I’ve certainly never looked at Java bytecode.  To make matters worse, the code uses the “continue label” construct, like the following (the “more code” placeholder is about 150 additional lines):

        for (Iterator methIt = faceClassC.getMethods().iterator(); methIt.hasNext();) {
          CodeMethod faceMethod = (CodeMethod);
          Set baseMethods = baseClassC.getMethodsByName(faceMethod.getName());

          if (baseClassC.getMethodsByName(faceMethod.getName()).size() > 0) {
            for(Iterator i = baseMethods.iterator(); i.hasNext(); ) {
              CodeMethod meth = (CodeMethod);
              if( (meth.getModifiers() & CodeUtils.ACC_ABSTRACT) == 0) {
                //System.err.println("Skipping defined method: " + faceMethod.getName());
                continue METHOD_MAKER;

          // ...more code...

I’m not saying it’s bad code; I’m just saying it’s not going to be much fun to port, especially given the lack of unit tests on these bits and the fact that I’ve never generated C# code on the fly, either.

Ah, well, at least they warned me with that comment up top.


  1. Generating byte code on the fly is VERY BAD and it IS bad code for several reasons. Why on earth would they want to generate byte code?

    Couldn’t they just have used something more comprehensible and better maintainable like reflection? There must be a better way of doing this…

    Comment by openlandscape — December 5, 2008 @ 3:11 am

  2. Speaking as one of the architects of BioJava I would say I agree and don’t agree.

    Generating bytecode on the fly can be very good if you do it right and a major headache if you don’t.

    The primary reason to use it and not reflection is that bytecode generation is super fast and reflection is ungodly slow.

    The main reason not to use it is very few people understand it.

    Comment by Mark Schreiber — February 21, 2009 @ 8:45 am

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