Friday, August 19, 2011

Assorted facts about JBoss. Fact 2: classloading. Broken by default.

The classloading situation in JBoss is a mess. You know, evolutionary kind of mess. They began with something messy, then started to add more things, configuration parameters, bells and whistles ... Some old classloading problems went away, just to be replaced by new problems.

I had my share of ClassNotFoundExceptions, NoClassDefFoundErrors, and LinkageErrors before. Not all of them were caused by JBoss, but those that were caused by JBoss were the toughest to resolve.

Recently JBoss (JBoss Application Server 6) appeared again on my professional horizon. And one of the first problems I ran into was a LinkageError. Even that problem with StAX API jar happened later.

The deployment of the application fails. Sometimes. And sometimes it is OK. If it fails, the error is

loader constraint violation:
loader (instance of org/jboss/classloader/spi/base/BaseClassLoader)
previously initiated loading for a different type
with name "org/xml/sax/Attributes"
The class name is not always org.xml.sax.Attributes, but it is always a class from org.xml.sax. And if the deployment is OK, the same error happens later, at runtime.

Nothing new. This error screams "Duplicate class". So I looked around and found jtidy-4aug2000r7-dev.jar packaged in EAR/lib (and only there) which has its own copy of org.xml.sax and org.w3c.dom classes. JMX classloader bean for the application confirmed that the classes are coming from the application's EAR.

The reason why the classes are packaged into jtidy-4aug2000r7-dev.jar is not really important here. But I was really surprised (well, initially) that JBoss uses these classes instead of JDK classes. I deployed the application on the stock version of JBoss AS 6 without any modifications of classloading configuration. There was even no jboss-app.xml (I was planning to add it, just in case) let alone other classloading specific files. So I expect JBoss to have JEE compatible classloading behavior.

Initially I did not have time to investigate the problem. After notifying the project owner of the problem the decision is made: remove JTidy jar from EAR/lib and continue. JTidy is used in some really obscure piece of code that is called not that often. We can deal with this later. There is even a chance that this functionality will be rewritten to get rid of JTidy. But now we need a version of the application running in JBoss.

I did just that and went ahead. But I kept wondering. I could not understand why the presence of jtidy-4aug2000r7-dev.jar in EAR/lib causes such an error. It goes against all my knowledge, understanding of and experience with java classloading. Except that I am dealing with JBoss. But even JBoss would not do that, would it?

More importantly that problem might have a much broader effect on the project but I could not even imagine what kind of effect. More likely negative, that I was sure of.

Finally I have got some spare time. I have created a very simple application with a single EJB module with one SessionBean and jtidy-4aug2000r7-dev.jar as a dependency, packaged as an EAR application. After deploying it into JBoss I went into JMX classloader bean and verified that org.xml.sax classes are coming from the test application. The SessionBean has a business method that does Class.forName() and then returns getProtectionDomain().getCodeSource() of the loaded class. I created a simple EJB client application that calls the business method with different class names. All the org.xml.sax and org.w3c.dom classes present in jtidy-4aug2000r7-dev.jar were indeed coming from this jar file.

Next I have created another jar file manually packaging some classes from various places and packages like javax.xml.bind, org.dom4j, org.hibernate, java.text,, etc. I replaced jtidy jar with this new jar file and repeated the test. Only with java.* classes the business method was returning null which means that only those classes were coming from the primordial class loader. All other classes present in the jar were loaded from it. Well, well, well, JBoss at it again.

Trying to find anything specific about the problem on the net did not help. Classloading problems in JBoss is a really hot topic after all!

If nothing else helps ... Use the Source Luke!

Actually even before going deep I noticed one interesting thing in JBoss JMX Console. It appears that my demo application has a classloader domain JMX even if I did not have JBoss specific deployment descriptors. I clicked on it and again one thing stood out just screaming "Look at me":
ParentPolicyName, MBean Attribute, AFTER_BUT_JAVA_BEFORE.

"After but java before". Sounds familiar. pseudoTransactionEnlistment anyone? Or maybe BOZOSLIVEHERE?

The rest was easy. The biggest problem was to get the right source files quickly. You can't nowadays just download a fat zip or gz file with all the sources in it. After that was done, a bit of grepping and the like reveals the truth:

Class org.jboss.classloader.spi.ParentPolicy with some predefined instances like BEFORE, AFTER, BEFORE_BUT_JAVA_ONLY, etc. The comments around these predefined instances explained the meaning. In my case it was AFTER_BUT_JAVA_BEFORE. Except that the source file claims that AFTER_BUT_JAVA_BEFORE means "Java and Javax classes before, everything else after" and my tests show that javax.* classes also come from the jar file in EAR/lib. A bit more looking around led me to this piece of code in class org.jboss.classloading.spi.dependency.Module:
public ParentPolicy getDeterminedParentPolicy()

if (isJ2seClassLoadingCompliance())
return ParentPolicy.BEFORE;

Since I do not have any JBoss specific deployment descriptors isJ2seClassLoadingCompliance() returns false resulting in ParentPolicy.AFTER_BUT_ONLY_JAVA_BEFORE being used. Not AFTER_BUT_JAVA_BEFORE. The comments next to AFTER_BUT_ONLY_JAVA_BEFORE in clearly match the observed behavior: "Java classes before, everything else after". What am I missing?

Turns out there is one more small thing: a copy-paste error in the definition of AFTER_BUT_ONLY_JAVA_BEFORE:
/** Java and Javax classes before, everything else after */

public static final ParentPolicy AFTER_BUT_JAVA_BEFORE =
new ParentPolicy(ClassFilterUtils.JAVA_ONLY,

/** Java classes before, everything else after */
public static final ParentPolicy AFTER_BUT_ONLY_JAVA_BEFORE =
new ParentPolicy(ClassFilterUtils.NOTHING_BUT_JAVA,
Mystery solved. I have added jboss-app.xml to the EAR with <loader-repository-config>java2ParentDelegation=true</loader-repository-config> (might just as well have added jboss-classloading.xml), redeployed the application and sure enough I have got BEFORE as ParentPolicyName in JMX Console, but more importantly I have now the expected classloading behavior. For each class present the test jar in EAR/lib both JMX Console and my SessionBean load the class not from the test jar but form some other place like JDK or jars from <jboss>/common/lib.

I have mentioned above that I was planning to add jboss-app.xml to the application anyway because I do not trust JBoss. Boy I was right. The end result for me would have been the same but I would have missed all that fun.

But ... Who in their right mind comes up with such interesting classloading logic?? What they were trying to achieve? Why the hell I have to explicitly "opt in" to get the most sensible classloading configuration? *

* Note: ideally. The current state of classloading affairs in JEE containers makes it much harder than necessary. Internal container classes and classes from various third-party jars that container is using leak into an application. This is a big deal even if the application does not have conflicts with those third-party jars. In case of conflicts all bets are off. Granted containers provide some mechanisms to fine tune classloading, but these mechanisms do not always work. Yes, JBoss, it is about you. But I do think that this "delegate to the parent first except when in WAR" is the most sensible classloading configuration and definitely the one to start with and to try to stick to as much as possible.

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