A Jolokia short story

Please follow me on my trip through debug hell, happy end included (or jump to the end of the post for a tl;dr, but you’ll miss quite something).

While I was preparing an excercise for a Jolokia workshop, strange things happened. For the sake of simplicity (and because I like its small footprint), I’ve chosen Jetty as platform for some JMX programing exercise. A simple servlet should expose som JMX MBeans. I added some simple counters to the Servlet, but wanted to show also how easily Jolokia can serialize complex objects. Ok, why not exposing the ServletContext itself ? Seems to be a sufficient complex object.

Here is this innocent Servlet:

public class Demo implements Servlet, DemoMBean {

    private ServletContext ctx;

    public void init(ServletConfig config) throws ServletException {
        ctx = config.getServletContext();
        try {
                                            new ObjectName("demo:name=demo"));
        } catch (Exception e) { e.printStackTrace(); }

    // Implementation for DemoMBean Interface
    public ServletContext getServletContext() {
        return ctx;

After deploying this servlet with the Maven Jetty Plugin and with Jolokia enabled, everything looked fine. Except until this URL where called: http://localhost:8080/jolokia/read/demo:name=demo/ServletContext?ignoreErrors=true. I expected quite some lengthy JSON response here, but got:

[INFO] Started Jetty Server
# A fatal error has been detected by the Java Runtime Environment:
#  SIGBUS (0xa) at pc=0x000000010b0a715e, pid=80469, tid=32771
# JRE version: 7.0_11-b21
# Java VM: Java HotSpot(TM) 64-Bit Server VM
#           (23.6-b04 mixed mode bsd-amd64 compressed oops)
# Problematic frame:
# C  [libzip.dylib+0x315e]  newEntry+0x154


Never mind, blame it on Java.

Next try:

$ mvn jetty:start
[INFO] --- jetty-maven-plugin:8.1.9.v20130131:start (default-cli) @ jmx-2 ---
Feb 12, 2013 7:57:29 AM org.sonatype.guice.bean.reflect.Logs$JULSink warn
WARNING: Error injecting: org.mortbay.jetty.plugin.JettyStartMojo
java.lang.NoClassDefFoundError: org/eclipse/jetty/server/handler/ContextHandler
   at java.lang.ClassLoader.defineClass1(Native Method)
   at java.lang.ClassLoader.defineClass(ClassLoader.java:791)

Ehm. Whats going on here ?

What next ?

A mvn clean install, of course:

$ mvn clean install
[INFO] -------------------------------------------------------------
[ERROR] error: error reading /Users/roland/.m2/repository/org/
       spring-web-3.2.1.RELEASE.jar; zip file is empty
[ERROR] error: error reading /Users/roland/.m2/repository/org/
       spring-aop-3.2.1.RELEASE.jar; zip file is empty

       (Note: the original version of this example used Spring MVC)

$ ls -l src/main/webapp/WEB-INF/web.xml
-rw-r--r-- 1 roland staff 0 Feb 12 07:57 src/main/webapp/WEB-INF/web.xml

WTF ??????

Can it really be, that a Java crash nukes out files ? Maybe all open filedescriptors, all open JARs, all descriptors ? This can not be true. Or ?

Next step: Debugger. I really wanted to see this crash live. But this was really a marathon, since Jetty’s ServletContext is not only a ‘complex’ object but a real monster. It has a reference to its Server object and from there to everything else. Beside being a questionable architectural decision (can I maybe even reach other web modules, which are supposed to be separated ?), stepping through the serialization steps is not something you wish on friday afternoon, also because I had to start over and over, restoring all the deleted files including the local maven repository again and again. But at the end I stopped the debugger before:

res = Reflection.filterMethods(this, getDeclaredMethods0(publicOnly));

and ended in Nirvana afterwards.

Where to go next ?

Maybe it’s the Jolokia JVM agent used and there are issues with the Java Attach API ? Nope, the very same problem happened with the WAR agent, too.

Maybe the serialization stuff itself ? Next try:

public void init(ServletConfig config) throws ServletException {
    try {
        ServletContext sCtx = config.getServletContext();
        Converters converters = new Converters();
        JsonConvertOptions opts = new JsonConvertOptions.Builder()
    } catch (Exception e) {

Peng ! Same problem, killed JVM, nuked files …

1 … 2 … 3 …. hours later: Tested and debugged with multiple plattforms (linux, os x), various JDK (,, …), almost everywhere the same behaviour.

But wait: On Linux with, the JVM didn’t crash. But nevertheless the files were still zeroed ! And then, the hammer hit me: It’s not the crash which cause the files to be nuked, but the other way round: The files (including jars on the classpath) were stripped down to zero and that caused the crash.

Now it’s clear: There must be happening something very nasty during the serialization process. Since Jolokia serialization uses reflection to extract all get-methods recursively, there must be a dark spot somewhere in that.

And then, another hour later, tae-tae-tae, here it is:

package org.eclipse.jetty.util.resource;

public class FileResource extends URLResource
   /* --------------------------------------------------------- */
    * Returns an output stream to the resource
   public OutputStream getOutputStream()
     throws java.io.IOException, SecurityException
      return new FileOutputStream(_file);

Wow. FileResource is a Jetty utility class which wraps a file and is used most of the time for read-only scenarios (getInputStream(), exists(), ….), but also has some destructive methods (delete()). But a getter which destroys existing files ? Remember, creating an FileOutputStream on an existing File will delete it first. So you better call this getter only if you really want to override this file in some way.

Lessons learned

  • Blind serialization is harmful. There shouldn’t be side effects when getting properties, but these are out there.
  • Jolokia will never examing getter returing OutputStream or Writers anymore. (Fixed in 1.1.0, please be careful with earlier versions)
  • The JVM is good (apologies ;-)
  • Use a maxDepth parameter when diving in dark waters.
  • Don’t expose monster objects via JMX.
  • Don’t use utility getters for something trivial and potentially harmful stuff. What about a new FileOutputStream() in write scenarios as alternative (or at least not a get-method) ?
  • Debugging recursive structures is f*cking painful (even with conditional breakpoints)


Avoid destructive side effects in get-methods, PLEASE ! All your reflection based serializers out there will thank you.

Author: Roland Huß
Tags: Jolokia
Categories: jolokia