Oh JavaFX, why, why, why?

Correction

As noted by one of the comments on this post. The code I mention below only relates to files not urls. This negatives my statement about slow servers. My apologies for the misrepresentation, I should have been more careful.

If you’ve ever done any programming you’ve probably had to deal with I/O (Input/Output) at some point. Read a file, open a url, open a database connection. It’s inevitable that you interact with other systems via I/O in some way or another if you want to achieve something useful.

I’ve recently been trying to nail down a performance issue I noticed with opening a menu in JavaFX. The first time it opens it displays almost instantly, the second time there is a noticeable delay, at least a quarter of a second.

Obviously this shouldn’t be happening but after checking my code there was no roadblock that could be causing the delay. Firing up the excellent YourKit Java Profiler (they gave me a year’s license for free!) showed that on the second opening of the menu the stylesheets for the application are being reloaded and a digest (a hashcode) is being generated to determine whether it has changed (more on why this is a bad idea later).

But the most puzzling issue are the following lines of codes (taken from StyleManager):

try (final InputStream stream = url.openStream();
     final DigestInputStream dis = new DigestInputStream(stream, MessageDigest.getInstance("MD5")); ) {
   dis.getMessageDigest().reset();
   while (dis.read() != -1) { /* empty loop body is intentional */ }
   return dis.getMessageDigest().digest();
}

If you’ve ever done any Java coding before and dealt with streams I’m sure you can spot the problem immediately.

Not seeing it?

This is the problem line:

DigestInputStream dis = new DigestInputStream(stream, MessageDigest.getInstance("MD5"));

The “stream” variable is not wrapped in a BufferedStream. This means that the stream is reading a single byte from the stylesheet (file or url) then adding that to the digest. This single problem is making the digest code take at least 10 times longer than it should. But if I change the code to add a BufferedStream around the stream, thus:

try (final InputStream stream = url.openStream();
     final DigestInputStream dis = new DigestInputStream(new BufferedStream (stream), MessageDigest.getInstance("MD5")); ) {
   dis.getMessageDigest().reset();
   while (dis.read() != -1) { /* empty loop body is intentional */ }
   return dis.getMessageDigest().digest();
}

the time taken to read and digest my stylesheet drops from 270ms to 15ms.

It took me a while to come to grips with this since it is such a rookie mistake. This is the type of mistake that new grads fresh from University make in the first six months of their first job. It’s naive code, an easy mistake to make when you don’t know better.

Buffering is so fundamental to how streams and Java I/O works that it has its own section in the Java tutorial. The first line of that page reads:

Most of the examples we’ve seen so far use unbuffered I/O. This means each read or write request is handled directly by the underlying OS. This can make a program much less efficient, since each such request often triggers disk access, network activity, or some other operation that is relatively expensive.

https://docs.oracle.com/javase/tutorial/essential/io/buffers.html

This tells me a number of things about JavaFX.

  1. They aren’t doing code reviews. There is no way that this rookie error would pass a code review (in my first job at Nortel Networks we tried hard to be ISO 9000 compliant and punishing, detailed code reviews, for every line of code you produced, by a team of senior colleagues was normal). Unbuffered streams are one of the first no-nos you learn when coding Java I/O. If even a single pair of other eyeballs had seen this code it would be flagged.
  2. The JavaFX developers don’t care about performance. Clearly no one working on JavaFX is doing large scale performance testing of JavaFX. It’s obviously being tested but not at scale and performance doesn’t seem to be a consideration. No one has ever asked the question, is this causing a performance issue?
  3. The base layers of JavaFX were clearly rushed and haven’t been revisited to be improved. This sort of issue should not be occurring in production code that is released to others. We all take shortcuts, it’s inevitable in larger systems, but it’s clear that a lot of things have been rushed and not revisited in JavaFX. For example, why hasn’t this code been updated to use the java.nio.file package? It was introduced in Java 1.7 in 2011. Why hasn’t JavaFX moved to the infinitely superior java.nio.file?

The bigger problem

I mentioned earlier that JavaFX is creating a digest of the stylesheet (each stylesheet in fact) and that it is a problem. To me this is the bigger problem, the performance issue is annoying (and bewildering) but JavaFX creating the digest is the real issue because it is deciding that if the stylesheet has changed then it should re-apply it.

This is stupid for a number of reasons. The main one is that I can’t find anywhere that this behaviour is described and frankly it’s very unwelcome behaviour. If I set a stylesheet in my application it is up to me and me alone to change it. Otherwise the UI may change at some random time, a time not triggered by me.

Consider, JavaFX allows you to use a URL to reference a stylesheet. Let’s say I decide to use a CSS file on a remote server, for example, http://myserver.com/css/myapp.css I may not have control of that file and so if it changes it might change my application and at odd times. The triggering of whether the file should be re-applied is made when JavaFX decides that a stylesheet check is required not me.

Also, since when would anyone want their application to change, without notification, if a file changes? For the http example I gave, what happens if the server is slow or has a huge delay in returning the file? Combined with the code reading one byte at a time it could minutes to update the UI with the changed stylesheet.

Again, why did the JavaFX developers think this was a good idea?

Captain Picard is facepalming so hard right now…

9 thoughts on “Oh JavaFX, why, why, why?

  1. alucardnoir

    Again, people have been complaining of Java’s poor performance for decades. Why would you ever think another product in the same family, developed by the same guys at SUN would be any different. Java was hurried along when it was initially launched, nothing’s changed ever since.

  2. Scott Palmer

    For the record, it is only doing this with “file” URLs, so it is unlikely to hit a “slow server”. Though I also agree that it seems odd to check for changes in an already running application and buffering should be used. The change was part of a fix done in 2014 (https://bugs.openjdk.java.net/browse/JDK-8094828). I know they are doing code reviews on everything for the last few years, maybe this change slipped through back then?
    It’s Open Source… submit an issue and a pull request to at least fix the performance.

    1. It might have been an Oracle thing, if it happened in 2014. There have been a number of changes to java that I dislike that I can lay squarely at Oracle’s door. The static mess that is java.nio.file is one. It’s good to hear that they are doing code reviews now, probably as a result of JavaFX being split off from the Oracle behemoth. I did raise this issue at the time, I raised a bug. But yes, you are right about the file protocol, I was (mostly) wrong there. Hopefully, if they are re-examining this bit of code they will move it to use java.nio.file as well.

      There is a rendering issue with WebView in 13+ versions that I also need to raise.

      1. What I’d like to say is that for me personally if something is given to me for free, and when I find something is amiss, I find it hard to go at it with a stretched leg (and this blog, especially the tone, is a stretched leg).

        If I pay, then I expect a certain service / quality. If it’s free, when it’s free I feel I do not have that right. I can only be grateful for the parts that work, and if I don’t like the library, no one is stopping me from trying to find something else.

      2. Sorry but I completely disagree. “Free” and “open source” are not shields against either criticism or are an excuse for poor quality. This is my blog and I am free to use any tone I desire. I owe the JavaFX developers nothing and they owe me nothing. The JavaFX developers are able to use any tone to disparage me or call me whatever they want (I really don’t care). However, you don’t get to police my tone on my blog, you can dislike it but you don’t get to tell me how I should say anything and similarly I will never allow myself to be policed by others. Your argument amounts to “you should be grateful for the scraps that were thrown down from the table at you, so shut up and only give praise”. Sorry, not buying that one.

        Nothing is “free” in this world. In this case a substantial fraction of my time was wasted on a rookie mistake that should not have happened, there is no excuse for this, free and open source don’t cut it. I stand by my inferences and my criticisms. If you can’t stand a little heat, don’t work next to a furnace.

        I did not aim my post at any individual and nor would I. If I ever did direct a communication at an individual or request a change then I would be respectful. But on my blog, I’ll say whatever I want in whatever way I want. You’ll note that the JavaFX developers only became aware of my post over a year after it was written. If I have posted my blog on their mailing list you might have a point but I didn’t and nor would I.

    1. Thanks for letting me know. It will be good to see it fixed.

  3. On the JavaFX developer mailing list a discussion has been started regarding the digest creation and possible caching options.

  4. And a second ticket has now been created regarding the re-reading of CSS stylesheets: https://bugs.openjdk.java.net/browse/JDK-8263886

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