Gunnar Morling

Gunnar Morling

Random Musings on All Things Software Engineering

Gunnar Morling

Gunnar Morling

Random Musings on All Things Software Engineering

ByteBuffer and the Dreaded NoSuchMethodError

Posted at Dec 21, 2020

The other day, a user in the Debezium community reported an interesting issue; They were using Debezium with Java 1.8 and got an odd NoSuchMethodError:

java.lang.NoSuchMethodError: java.nio.ByteBuffer.position(I)Ljava/nio/ByteBuffer;
  at io.debezium.connector.postgresql.connection.Lsn.valueOf(Lsn.java:86)
  at io.debezium.connector.postgresql.connection.PostgresConnection.tryParseLsn(PostgresConnection.java:270)
  at io.debezium.connector.postgresql.connection.PostgresConnection.parseConfirmedFlushLsn(PostgresConnection.java:235)
  ...

A NoSuchMethodError typically is an indication for a mismatch of the Java version used to compile some code, and the Java version used for running it: some method existed at compile time, but it’s not available at runtime.

Now indeed we use JDK 11 for building the Debezium code base, while targeting Java 1.8 as the minimal required version at runtime. But there is a method position(int) defined on the Buffer class (which ByteBuffer extends) also in Java 1.8. And as a matter of fact, the Debezium code compiles just fine with that version, too. So why would the user run into this error then?

To understand what’s going on, let’s create a very simple class for reproducing the issue:

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import java.nio.ByteBuffer;

public class ByteBufferTest {
  public static void main(String... args) {
    ByteBuffer buffer = ByteBuffer.wrap(new byte[] { 1, 2, 3 });
    buffer.position(1); (1)
    System.out.println(buffer.get());
  }
}
1 Why does this not work with Java 1.8 when compiled with JDK 9 or newer?

Compile this with a current JDK:

$ javac --source 1.8 --target 1.8 ByteBufferTest.java

And sure enough, the NoSuchMethodError shows up when running this with Java 1.8:

$ java ByteBufferTest

Exception in thread "main" java.lang.NoSuchMethodError: java.nio.ByteBuffer.position(I)Ljava/nio/ByteBuffer;
	at ByteBufferTest.main(ByteBufferTest.java:6)

Whereas, when using 1.8 to compile and run this code, it just works fine. Now, if we take a closer look at the error message again, the missing method is defined as ByteBuffer position(int). I.e. for an invoked method like position(), not only its name, parameter type(s), and the name of the declaring class are part of the byte code for that invocation, but also the method’s return type. A look at the byte code of the class using javap confirms that:

$ javap -p -c -s -v -l -constants ByteBufferTest

...
public static void main(java.lang.String...);
  descriptor: ([Ljava/lang/String;)V
  flags: ACC_PUBLIC, ACC_STATIC, ACC_VARARGS
  Code:
    stack=4, locals=2, args_size=1
...
      19: aload_1
      20: iconst_1
      21: invokevirtual #13 // Method java/nio/ByteBuffer.position:(I)Ljava/nio/ByteBuffer;
...

And this points us to the right direction; In Java 1.8, indeed there is no such method, only the position() method on Buffer, which, of course, returns Buffer and not ByteBuffer. Whereas since Java 9, this method (and several others) is overridden in ByteBuffer — leveraging Java’s support for co-variant return types — to return ByteBuffer. The Java compiler will now select that method, ByteBuffer position(int), and record that as the invoked method signature in the byte code of the caller class.

This is per-se a nice usability improvement, as it allows to invoke further ByteBuffer methods on the return value, instead of just those methods declared by Buffer. But as we’ve seen, it comes with this little surprise when compiling code on JDK 9 or newer, while trying to keep compatibility with older Java versions. And as it turns out, we were not the first or only ones to encounter this issue. Quite a few open-source projects ran into this, e.g. Eclipse Jetty, Apache Pulsar, Eclipse Vert.x, Apache Thrift, the Yugabyte DB client, and a few others.

How to Prevent This Situation?

So what can you do in order to prevent this issue from happening? One first idea could be to enforce selection of the right method by casting to Buffer:

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((java.nio.Buffer) buffer).position(1);

But while this produces the desired byte code indeed, it isn’t exactly the best way for doing so. You’d have to remember to do so for every invocation of any of the affected ByteBuffer methods, and the seemling unneeded cast might be an easy target for some "clean-up" by unsuspecting co-workers on our team.

Luckily, there’s a much better way, and this is to rely on the Java compiler’s --release parameter, which was introduced via JEP 247 ("Compile for Older Platform Versions"), added to the platform also in JDK 9. In contrast to the more widely known pair of --source and --target, the --release switch will ensure that only byte code is produced which actually will be useable with the specified Java version. For this purpose, the JDK contains the signature data for all supported Java versions (stored in the $JAVA_HOME/lib/ct.sym file).

So all that’s needed really is compiling the code with --release=8:

$ javac --release=8 ByteBufferTest.java

Examine the bytecode using javap again, and now the expected signature is in place:

21: invokevirtual #13 // Method java/nio/ByteBuffer.position:(I)Ljava/nio/Buffer;

When run on Java 1.8, this virtual method call will be resolved to Buffer#position(int) at runtime, whereas on Java 9 and later, it’d resolve to the bridge method inserted by the compiler into the class file of ByteBuffer due to the co-variant return type, which itself calls the overriding ByteBuffer#position(int) method.

Now let’s see what happens if we actually try to make use of the overriding method version in ByteBuffer by re-assigning the result:

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...
ByteBuffer buffer = ByteBuffer.wrap(new byte[] { 1, 2, 3 });
buffer = buffer.position(1);
...

Et voilà, this gets rejected by the compiler when targeting Java 1.8, as the return type of the JDK 1.8 method Buffer#position(int) cannot be assigned to ByteBuffer:

$ javac --release=8 ByteBufferTest.java

ByteBufferTest.java:6: error: incompatible types: Buffer cannot be converted to ByteBuffer
        buffer = buffer.position(1);

To cut a long story short, we — and many other projects — should have used the --release switch instead of --source/--target, and the user would not have had that issue. In order to achieve the same in your Maven-based build, just specify the following property in your pom.xml:

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...
<properties>
  <maven.compiler.release>8</maven.compiler.release>
</properties>
...

Note that theoretically you could achieve the same effect also when using --source and --target; by means of the --boot-class-path option, you could advise the compiler to use a specific set of bootstrap class files instead of those from the JDK used for compilation. But that’d be quite a bit more cumbersome as it requires you to actually provide the classes of the targeted Java version, whereas --release will make use of the signature data coming with the currently used JDK itself.

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