Embedded Java with GCJ

You don't always need a Java Virtual Machine to run Java in an embedded system.
Configuring the Root Filesystem

The first thing to compile with your newly minted cross compiler is the root filesystem. The root filesystem, in this case, is compliments of BusyBox. For the uninitiated, BusyBox is a single binary that encapsulates mini versions of the most popular UNIX utilities in a surpassingly small executable. Built for people that count bytes, BusyBox has hundreds of knobs to turn to create a filesystem with the utilities you need within your desired space constraints. For the purpose of this article, we change the BusyBox configuration so that it cross compiles, leaving size optimization as an exercise for the reader.

BusyBox is a mainstay of the embedded Linux world and is maintained by Erik Anderson. One way to get BusyBox is to download it at www.busybox.net/downloads/busybox-1.01.tar.bz2.

To create a BusyBox root filesystem, you need to invoke make menuconfig in the directory where BusyBox was untarred. The menuconfig program works just like the 2.4/2.6 menuconfig kernel configuration interface. Here's what you'll need to do to build the root filesystem.

First, select the build options. Check the Do you want to build BusyBox with a Cross Compiler? box. Fill in the prefix of the cross compiler in the input control that appears when you click this option, in this case, powerpc-750-linux-gnu-. The BusyBox build scripts concatenate the necessary tool name during compilation (gcc, ld and so on). Make sure that the compiler is on your $PATH.

Next, run make and install:

make install

BusyBox puts the newly minted root filesystem at ./_install. You'll notice that BusyBox compiles in much less time than GCC.

Populating the Root Filesystem with Libraries

Almost there! The root filesystem BusyBox creates does not contain any libraries. GCJ programs require some libraries and so does BusyBox, shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Libraries Required by GCJ and BusyBox

Library FileFunction
ld.so.1Dynamically linked file loader. Invoked when the program is run, loads required libraries and performs dynamic linking.
libdl.so.2Helper functions for manipulating dynamic libraries.
libgcc_s.so.1Defines interfaces for handling exceptions.
libgcj.so.6The GCJ run-time library. Contains implementations of the standard Java library.
libm.so.6Library of math functions.
libpthread.so.0POSIX threads library.

These libraries match those used by the cross compiler. In this case, the files are stored in the $RESULT_TOP/gcc-4.0.1-glibc-2.2.2/powerpc-750-linux-gnu/powerpc-750-linux-gnu/lib (not a typo!) directory. The easiest way to get them into the root filesystem is simply to copy them:

for f in ld.so.1 lib libdl.so.2 libgcc_s.so.1libgcj.so.6 libm.so.6 libpthread.so.0 ; do

<busybox install directory>/lib

pc-750-linux-gnu-strip <busybox install directory>/lib/$f


You also need to create a folder in the root filesystem, /proc, to use as a mountpoint for the proc filesystem. Keen eyes will notice that I'm not preserving the symlinks used to accommodate different versions of the libraries—that's a shortcut typical in embedded systems where library configuration won't change over the life of the device, unlike a desktop system. Running strip greatly reduces the amount of disk space required by the files, almost by 50%.

At this point, the root filesystem can be copied to the target system into the /tmp/bbox directory. To tell the system to use this as the root filesystem, start a terminal as root and execute the chroot command:

chroot /tmp/bbox /bin/ash

This command remaps the / mountpoint into /tmp/busybox and runs /bin/ash to get a terminal. Did it work? Congratulations! You've created a complete root filesystem for an embedded system from scratch. Pat yourself on the back.

GCJ also needs the proc filesystem mounted. After the chroot, you need to remount the proc filesystem into the current root filesystem by doing the following:

mkdir /proc
mount -t proc none /proc

Although this root filesystem resides on a standard drive, the root filesystem deployed on a production embedded system wouldn't be much different. The only changes necessary would be creating inittab, so the board will run the right scripts at the start and add a /dev filesystem with the right device files for the target board.



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Commission Blueprint

John Maven's picture

I compiled it and it didn't work. I repeat: it did NOT work.

Rather unfortunate.

Typographical Error

lumkichi's picture

While everyone noted the sample "hello" program does not compile as-is, I'm surprised no one expressed why but instead offered alternatives. The reason the sample program does not compile is because there are two typographical errors in it (I'm sure it was unintended - an artifact as a result of using a Word Processor such as MS Word).

Class hello {
  Static public void main(String argc[]) {
    System.out.println("hello from GCJ");

The keywords "Class" and "Static" should not be capitalized. It should look like this:

class hello {
  static public void main(String argc[]) {
    System.out.println("hello from GCJ");

The capitalization changed the keywords "class" and "static" into Object names. The compiler was trying to find a "Class.class" to make a "Class" object named "hello" and couldn't. The same with "Static."

This is a great article, and the author did a great job writing it. Unfortunately formatting the document (and the code, especially) is a bear. Just to get the code snippet above look the way is does was a lot of work - way more work than just typing.


Won't compile with gcj-4.1 on my Debian

Olivier Berger's picture

Hmmm... maybe this is not related to the specifics of embedded environment at all, but I noticed that the hello world example won't compile with "gcj-4.1 hello.class --main=hello -o hello-java" on my Debian testing system :

hello.class:1: error: Class or interface declaration expected.
Class hello {
hello.class:2: error: Class or interface declaration expected.
Static public void main(String argc[]) {
hello.class:3: error: Class or interface declaration expected.
System.out.println("hello from GCJ");
hello.class:4: error: Class or interface declaration expected.
hello.class:5: error: Class or interface declaration expected.
5 errors

Dunno what's wrong

After a quick search on the

Olivier Berger's picture

After a quick search on the net, I found that writing this way, it compiles :

public class hello {
static public void main(String argc[]) {
System.out.println("hello from GCJ");

This worked for me:class

Anonymous's picture

This worked for me:

class hello
static public void main( String argc[] )
System.out.println( "hello from GCJ" );

Notice that none of the keywords like "class" are capitalized. Also, typical naming convention for java is to call the source file hello.java and using the javac command turns the byte code into hello.class We're not using javac, so there won't be a hello.class file. So, if you name your file this way, the compile step would be:

gcj hello.java --main=hello -o hello-java

Hope this helps.

After reading this article, I

mathews's picture

After reading this article, I just realized how we can simplify our seemingly complicated problems which in fact can actually be solved very easily! It actually helps us to use GCJ which is really a part of the GCC compiler suite, in a Linux project! The advantage is that it can be code with a high-level language like Java! It gives us a detailed tutorial about its advantages and pitfalls, the host and target configuration and lastly if you are happy with what you have read, the step by step instructions to build your GCJ cross compiler! Very cool and informative read indeed!!RFID Tags

Statically linking

Dan's picture

I tried statically linking a simple "Hello, World!" program but received the following error:

/usr/bin/ld: cannot find -lgcj

Here's the command I used to compile:

gcj -static-libgcj -o hello --main=hello hello.java

Any ideas?