JEP 383: Foreign-Memory Access API (Second Incubator)

OwnerMaurizio Cimadamore
StatusClosed / Delivered
Discussionpanama dash dev at openjdk dot java dot net
Relates toJEP 370: Foreign-Memory Access API (Incubator)
JEP 393: Foreign-Memory Access API (Third Incubator)
Reviewed byPaul Sandoz
Endorsed byMark Reinhold
Created2020/04/10 15:41
Updated2021/08/28 00:14


Introduce an API to allow Java programs to safely and efficiently access foreign memory outside of the Java heap.


The Foreign-Memory Access API was proposed by JEP 370 and targeted to Java 14 in late 2019 as an incubating API. This JEP proposes to incorporate refinements based on feedback, and re-incubate the API in Java 15. The following changes have been included as part of this API refresh:




Many Java programs access foreign memory, such as Ignite, mapDB, memcached, Lucene, and Netty's ByteBuf API. By doing so they can:

Unfortunately, the Java API does not provide a satisfactory solution for accessing foreign memory:

In summary, when it comes to accessing foreign memory, developers are faced with a dilemma: Should they choose a safe but limited (and possibly less efficient) path, such as the ByteBuffer API, or should they abandon safety guarantees and embrace the dangerous and unsupported Unsafe API?

This JEP introduces a safe, supported, and efficient API for foreign memory access. By providing a targeted solution to the problem of accessing foreign memory, developers will be freed of the limitations and dangers of existing APIs. They will also enjoy improved performance, since the new API will be designed from the ground up with JIT optimizations in mind.


The Foreign-Memory Access API is provided as an incubator module named jdk.incubator.foreign, in a package of the same name; it introduces three main abstractions: MemorySegment, MemoryAddress, and MemoryLayout:

Memory segments can be created from a variety of sources, such as native memory buffers, memory-mapped files, Java arrays, and byte buffers (either direct or heap-based). For instance, a native memory segment can be created as follows:

try (MemorySegment segment = MemorySegment.allocateNative(100)) {

This will create a memory segment that is associated with a native memory buffer whose size is 100 bytes.

Memory segments are spatially bounded, which means they have lower and upper bounds. Any attempt to use the segment to access memory outside of these bounds will result in an exception. As evidenced by the use of the try-with-resource construct, memory segments are also temporally bounded, which means they must be created, used, and then closed when no longer in use. Closing a segment is always an explicit operation and can result in additional side effects, such as deallocation of the memory associated with the segment. Any attempt to access an already-closed memory segment will result in an exception. Together, spatial and temporal bounding guarantee the safety of the Foreign-Memory Access API and thus guarantee that its use cannot crash the JVM.

Dereferencing the memory associated with a segment is achieved by obtaining a var handle, which is an abstraction for data access introduced in Java 9. In particular, a segment is dereferenced with a memory-access var handle. This kind of var handle has an access coordinate of type MemoryAddress that serves as the address at which the dereference occurs.

Memory-access var handles are obtained using factory methods in the MemoryHandles class. For instance, to set the elements of a native memory segment, we could use a memory-access var handle as follows:

VarHandle intHandle = MemoryHandles.varHandle(int.class,

try (MemorySegment segment = MemorySegment.allocateNative(100)) {
    MemoryAddress base = segment.baseAddress();
    for (int i = 0; i < 25; i++) {
        intHandle.set(base.addOffset(i * 4), i);

Memory-access var handles can acquire extra access coordinates, of type long, to support more complex addressing schemes, such as multi-dimensional addressing of an otherwise flat memory segment. Such memory-access var handles are typically obtained by invoking combinator methods defined in the MemoryHandles class. For instance, a more direct way to set the elements of a native memory segment is through an indexed memory-access var handle, constructed as follows:

VarHandle intHandle = MemoryHandles.varHandle(int.class, 
VarHandle indexedElementHandle = MemoryHandles.withStride(intHandle, 4);

try (MemorySegment segment = MemorySegment.allocateNative(100)) {
    MemoryAddress base = segment.baseAddress();
    for (int i = 0; i < 25; i++) {
        indexedElementHandle.set(base, (long) i, i);

To enhance the expressiveness of the API, and to reduce the need for explicit numeric computations such as those in the above examples, a MemoryLayout can be used to programmatically describe the content of a MemorySegment. For instance, the layout of the native memory segment used in the above examples can be described in the following way:

SequenceLayout intArrayLayout
    = MemoryLayout.ofSequence(25,

This creates a sequence memory layout in which a given element layout (a 32-bit value) is repeated 25 times. Once we have a memory layout, we can get rid of all the manual numeric computation in our code and also simplify the creation of the required memory access var handles, as shown in the following example:

SequenceLayout intArrayLayout
    = MemoryLayout.ofSequence(25,

VarHandle indexedElementHandle
    = intArrayLayout.varHandle(int.class,

try (MemorySegment segment = MemorySegment.allocateNative(intArrayLayout)) {
    MemoryAddress base = segment.baseAddress();
    for (int i = 0; i < intArrayLayout.elementCount().getAsLong(); i++) {
        indexedElementHandle.set(base, (long) i, i);

In this example, the layout object drives the creation of the memory-access var handle through the creation of a layout path, which is used to select a nested layout from a complex layout expression. The layout object also drives the allocation of the native memory segment, which is based upon size and alignment information derived from the layout. The loop constant in the previous examples (25) has been replaced with the sequence layout's element count.

Checked vs. unchecked addresses

Dereference operations are only possible on checked memory addresses. Checked addresses are typical in the API, such as the address obtained from a memory segment in the above code (segment.baseAddress()). However, if a memory address is unchecked and does not have any associated segment, then it cannot be dereferenced safely, since the runtime has no way to know the spatial and temporal bounds associated with the address. Examples of unchecked addresses are:

To dereference an unchecked address, a client has two options. If the address is known to fall within a memory segment the client already had, the client can perform a so called rebase operation (MemoryAddress::rebase), where the unchecked address' offset is re-interpreted relative to the segment's base address, yielding a new address instance which can be safely dereferenced. Alternatively, if no such segment exists, the client can create one unsafely, using the special MemorySegment::ofNativeRestricted factory. This factory effectively attaches spatial and temporal bounds to an otherwise unchecked address, so as to allow dereference operations.

As the name suggests, this operation is, however, unsafe by its very nature, and must be used with care. For this reason, the Foreign Memory Access API only allow calls to this factory when the JDK property foreign.restricted is set to a value other than deny. The possible values for this property are:

We plan, in the future, to make access to restricted operations more integrated with the module system; that is, certain modules might require restricted native access; when an application which depends on said modules is executed, the user might need to provide permissions to said modules to perform restricted native operations, or the runtime will refuse to build the application's module graph.


In addition to spatial and temporal bounds, segments also feature thread-confinement. That is, a segment is owned by the thread which created it, and no other thread can access the contents on the segment, or perform certain operations (such as close) on it. Thread-confinement, while restrictive, is crucial to guarantee optimal memory access performance even in a multi-threaded environment. If thread-confinement restrictions were to be removed, it would be possible for multiple threads to access and close the same segment concurrently - which might invalidate the safety guarantees provided by the Foreign Memory Access API, unless some very expensive form of locking was introduced to prevent access vs. close races.

The Foreign Memory Access API provides two ways to relax the thread-confinement barriers. First, threads can cooperatively share segments by performing explicit handoff operations, where a thread releases its ownership on a given segment and transfers it onto another thread. Consider the following code:

MemorySegment segmentA = MemorySegment.allocateNative(10); // confined by thread A
var segmentB = segmentA.withOwnerThread(threadB); // confined by thread B

This pattern of access is also known as serial confinement and might be useful in producer/consumer use cases where only one thread at a time needs to access a segment. Note that, to make the handoff operation safe, the API kills the original segment (as if close was called, but without releasing the underlying memory) and returns a new segment with the correct owner. The implementation also makes sure that all writes by the first thread are flushed into memory by the time the second thread accesses the segment.

Secondly, the contents of a memory segment can still be processed in parallel (e.g. using a framework such as Fork/Join) — by obtaining a Spliterator instance out of a memory segment. For instance to sum all the 32 bit values of a memory segment in parallel, we can use the following code:

SequenceLayout seq = MemoryLayout.ofSequence(1_000_000, MemoryLayouts.JAVA_INT);
SequenceLayout seq_bulk = seq.reshape(-1, 100);
VarHandle intHandle = seq.varHandle(int.class, PathElement.sequenceElement());    

int sum =, seq_bulk), true)
                .mapToInt(slice -> {
					int res = 0;
        			MemoryAddress base = slice.baseAddress();
        			for (int i = 0; i < 100 ; i++) {
            			res += (int)intHandle.get(base, (long)i);
        			return res;

The MemorySegment::spliterator takes a segment, a sequence layout and returns a spliterator instance which splits the segment into chunks which corresponds to the elements in the provided sequence layout. Here, we want to sum elements in an array which contains a million of elements; now, doing a parallel sum where each computation processes exactly one element would be inefficient, so instead we use the layout API to derive a bulk sequence layout. The bulk layout is a sequence layout which has the same size of the original layouts, but where the elements are arranged in groups of 100 elements — which should make it more amenable to parallel processing.

Once we have the spliterator, we can use it to construct a parallel stream and sum the contents of the segment in parallel. While the segment here is accessed from multiple threads concurrently, the access occurs in a regular fashion: a slice is created from the original segment, and given to a thread to perform some computation. The foreign memory access runtime knows if a thread is currently accessing a slice of the segment through the spliterator, and can hence enforce safety by not allowing a segment to be closed while parallel processing on same segment is taking place.


Keep using existing APIs such as java.nio.ByteBuffer or sun.misc.Unsafe or, worse, JNI.

Risks and Assumptions

Creating an API to access foreign memory in a way that is both safe and efficient is a daunting task. Since the spatial and temporal checks described in the previous sections need to be performed upon every access, it is crucial that JIT compilers be able to optimize away these checks by, e.g., hoisting them outside of hot loops. The JIT implementations will likely require some work to ensure that uses of the API are as efficient and optimizable as uses of existing APIs such as ByteBuffer and Unsafe.


The API described in this JEP will likely help the development of the native interoperation support that is a goal of Project Panama. This API can also be used to access non-volatile memory, already possible via JEP 352 (Non-Volatile Mapped Byte Buffers), in a more general and efficient way.