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Google offers new Android compilers and SDKs

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December 4, 2014

Google is offering new Android compilers. The compilers are in the Android SDK 21.1 and are currently called jack.jar and jill.jar.

They are not enabled by default, but require the directive “useJack true” in the configuration file for the make the build tool work.

Presuming an Android application is written in Java, the normal build process is compilation into Java bytecode (.class files) using the Oracle javac compiler, and then compilation of the bytecode into a .dex (Dalvik Executable) using dx.jar, part of the Android SDK.

Although Android applications are usually written in Java, they are not executed by a JVM (Java Virtual Machine), but by Google’s Dalvik VM, or in more recent versions, a runtime called ART (Android Runtime).

If useJack is enabled, jack.jar compiles Java code to .dex format, bypassing Oracle’s compiler. It uses an intermediate bytecode format called .jayce.

What about compatibility with binary library code in .class files? This is where jill.jar comes in, compiling .class files into another .jayce so that Jack can compile them into the .dex output.

What is the purpose of the new compilers? Google has said nothing so this is open to speculation; and since this is preview material, they could be dropped entirely.

Maybe Google sees an advantage in optimizing the compiling chain for Android by using its own compiler?

“The Jack and Jill compilers will streamline the Android build process and improve build performance,” says Google.

What about future compatibility with Oracle Java? Jack and Jill are not compatible with Java 8, released in March of this year, Google noted.

If they become the official Android compilers, it could signify increased divergence between Oracle Java and Android Java.

Source: Google.

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