JEP 435: Asynchronous Stack Trace VM API

AuthorJohannes Bechberger
OwnerChristoph Langer
Componenthotspot / svc
Discussionserviceability dash dev at openjdk dot org
Reviewed byAndrei Pangin, Christoph Langer, Jaroslav Bachorík
Created2022/04/04 11:02
Updated2023/01/19 13:08


Define an efficient and reliable API to collect stack traces asynchronously and include information on both Java and native stack frames.




The AsyncGetCallTrace API is used by almost all available profilers, both open-source and commercial, including, e.g., async-profiler. Yet it has two major disadvantages:

These issues make implementing profilers and related tooling more difficult. Some additional information can be extracted from the HotSpot VM via complex code, but other useful information is hidden and impossible to obtain:

Such data can be helpful when profiling and tuning a VM for a given application, and for profiling code that uses JNI heavily.


We propose a new AsyncGetStackTrace API, modeled on the AsyncGetCallTrace API:

void AsyncGetStackTrace(ASGST_CallTrace *trace, jint depth, void* ucontext, uint32_t options);

This API can be called by profilers to obtain the stack trace for the current thread. Its implementation will be at least as stable as AsyncGetCallTrace or the JFR stack walking code, due to fuzzing and stability tests in the JDK and extensive safety checks in the implementation itself. The VM fills in information about the frames, the number of frames, and the trace kind. The used jmethodIDs have to be pre-allocated outside a signal handler using JVM/TI when calling the API itself from a signal handler. The caller of the API should allocate the CallTrace array with sufficient memory for the requested stack depth.


Currently, only the lowest two of the options are considered, all other bits are considered to be 0:

enum ASGST_Options {
  ASGST_INCLUDE_C_FRAMES         = 1, // include C/C++ and stub frames too
  ASGST_INCLUDE_NON_JAVA_THREADS = 2, // walk the stacks of C/C++, GC and deopt threads too

There are different kinds of traces depending on the purpose of the current thread:

  ASGST_CPP_TRACE      = 1,
  ASGST_GC_TRACE       = 2,

The trace struct

typedef struct {
  jint num_frames;                // number of frames in this trace,
                                  // (< 0 indicates the frame is not walkable).
  uint8_t kind;                   // kind of the trace
  ASGST_CallFrame *frames;        // frames that make up this trace. Callee followed by callers.
  void* frame_info;               // more information on frames
} ASGST_CallTrace;

is filled in by the VM. Its num_frames field contains the actual number of frames in the frames array or an error code. The frame_info field in that structure can later be used to store more information, but is currently NULL.

The error codes are a subset of the error codes for AsyncGetCallTrace, with the addition of THREAD_NOT_JAVA related to calling this procedure for non-Java threads without using the INCLUDE_NON_JAVA_THREADS option:

enum ASGST_Error {
  ASGST_NO_JAVA_FRAME         =   0,
  ASGST_NO_CLASS_LOAD         =  -1,
  ASGST_GC_ACTIVE             =  -2,
  ASGST_UNKNOWN_JAVA          =  -5,
  ASGST_UNKNOWN_STATE         =  -7,
  ASGST_THREAD_EXIT           =  -8,
  ASGST_DEOPT                 =  -9,

Every CallFrame is the element of a union since the information stored for Java and non-Java frames differs:

typedef union {
  uint8_t type;     // to distinguish between JavaFrame and NonJavaFrame
  ASGST_JavaFrame java_frame;
  ASGST_NonJavaFrame non_java_frame;
} ASGST_CallFrame;

There are several distinguishable frame types:

enum ASGST_FrameTypeId {
  ASGST_FRAME_JAVA         = 1, // JIT compiled and interpreted
  ASGST_FRAME_JAVA_INLINED = 2, // inlined JIT compiled
  ASGST_FRAME_NATIVE       = 3, // native wrapper to call C methods from Java
  ASGST_FRAME_STUB         = 4, // VM generated stubs
  ASGST_FRAME_CPP          = 5  // C/C++/... frames

The first two types are for Java frames, for which we store the following information in a struct of type JavaFrame:

typedef struct {
  uint8_t type;            // frame type
  int8_t comp_level;      // compilation level, 0 is interpreted, -1 is undefined, > 1 is JIT compiled
  uint16_t bci;            // 0 < bci < 65536
  jmethodID method_id;
} ASGST_JavaFrame;         // used for FRAME_JAVA, FRAME_JAVA_INLINED and FRAME_NATIVE

The comp_level indicates the compilation level of the method related to the frame, with higher numbers representing higher levels of compilation. It is modeled after the CompLevel enum in HotSpot but is dependent on the compiler infrastructure used. A value of zero indicates no compilation, i.e., bytecode interpretation.

Information on all other frames is stored in NonJavaFrame structs:

typedef struct {
  uint8_t type;      // frame type
  void *pc;          // current program counter inside this frame
} ASGST_NonJavaFrame; // used for FRAME_STUB, FRAME_CPP

Although the API provides more information, the amount of space required per frame (e.g., 16 bytes on x86) is the same as for the existing AsyncGetCallTrace API.

We propose to place the above declarations in a new header file, profile.h, which will be placed in the include directory of the JDK image. The header’s license should include the Classpath Exception so that it is consumable by third-party profiling tools.

The implementation can be found in the jdk-sandbox repository, and a demo combining it with a modified async-profiler can be found here.

Risks and Assumptions

Returning information on C/C++ frames leaks implementation details, but this is also true for the Java frames of AsyncGetCallTrace since they leak details of the implementation of standard library files and include native wrapper frames.


The implementation contains several stress and fuzzing tests to identify stability problems on all supported platforms, sampling the renaissance benchmark suite repeatedly with small profiling intervals (<= 0.1ms). The fuzzing tests check that AsyncGetStackTrace can be called with modified stack and frame pointers without crashing the VM. We also added several tests which cover the basic usage of the API.