Is AspectJ Still Useful for Android? Part 2

In the first part of this post, I showed some ways that AspectJ would be useful in android development when it comes to testing. This final part demonstrates one way of incorporating AspectJ, and how I manage to make the aspect weaving somewhat configurable in the build process.

Android + AspectJ

A search on the internet will show that there are various ways of integrating AspectJ into the Android build process, including doing it manually or using a gradle plugin. I have been using the android-gradle-aspectj plugin for the last few years, since it has some useful features and the author seems to keep it maintained fairly well.

A basic setup for this plugin requires adding it to the buildscript repositories and dependencies blocks. I have this in build.gradle in the project root directory.

buildscript {
  repositories {
    mavenCentral()
  }
  dependencies {
    classpath 'com.android.tools.build:gradle:x.x.x'
    classpath 'com.archinamon:android-gradle-aspectj:x.x.x'
  }
}

Then apply the plugin where required, so in the module build.gradle:

apply plugin: 'com.archinamon.aspectj'

or

plugins {
    id 'com.android.application'
    id 'com.archinamon.aspectj'
}

This should be enough to run a simple case, such as the example from the first post. Please see the plugin documentation for more advanced configurations.

To verify that the aspect has been compiled and weaved during the build process, you can check:

  • the aspectj directory in the module build directory, containing the compiled aspect class files
  • some log files generated by the plugin in the module build directory, ajc-transform.log and ajc-compile.log
  • the build output log for the AspectJ plugin tasks, compile[Build variant]Aspectj and transformClassesWithAspectjFor[Build variant].

Determining When to Use Aspects or Not

If we’re only using aspects for testing, most of the time we don’t want the aspect code to be incorporated into the build process. An easy way to determine when to weave the aspect code or not is to use a Boolean condition.
For instance, in the aspect file include a Boolean condition in the pointcut to determine whether the advice will apply or not:

pointcut myPointcut(): if (aspectjEnabled) && ... // the rest of the pointcut

Here the Boolean value ‘aspectjEnabled‘ is used as a flag that will determine whether the aspect code will apply the advice.

One way of passing this flag to the aspect class is to use the generated BuildConfig class, which can be set in the build file (build.gradle) of the app.

android {
  buildTypes {
    debug {
      // Flags for Aspect testing
      buildConfigField 'boolean', 'aspectjEnabled', true
    }
  }
}

Then in the pointcut of the aspect file, include the flag as a conditional.

pointcut myPointcut(): if (BuildConfig.aspectjEnabled) && ... // the rest of the pointcut

Of course we can go further and set that flag from a gradle project property, rather than hardcoding it in build.gradle.

Now when the build is done, pass a project property to determine whether we want the aspect flag to be set or not.

-PaspectjEnabledProperty=true

I also have this extra bit to set the aspect flag to false if the project property was not specified (which is the default when we want to do a normal build without aspects).

ext.aspectjEnabledProperty = getAspectJEnabledFlag()

def getAspectJEnabledFlag() {
  if (project.hasProperty('aspectjEnabledProperty'))
    return project.property('aspectjEnabledProperty')
  else
    return false
}

Then in the build file for the app, the value of the aspect flag to be put into the BuildConfig class will be set dynamically.

android {
  buildTypes {
    debug {
      // Flags for Aspect testing
      buildConfigField 'boolean', 'aspectjEnabled', "${aspectjEnabledProperty}"
    }
  }
}

In sumary, this means that if the property ‘aspectjEnabledProperty’ is not passed to the build or is set to false, then the AspectJ weaving does not happen. Then when required, the property can be set for testing that particular bit of code.

Of course you are not restricted to one aspect flag, you can set as many flags as you like for the different tests you want to run.

-PexceptionTestProperty=true -PcrashTestProperty=false -PservicesTestProperty=true

Testing Multiple Types of Errors

In the configuration above, I’ve used a boolean value as the flag to enable/disable aspect weaving in the pointcut. Using a boolean flag is the simplest case, and probably the most common type that used.

However what about if you want to test multiple types of errors and error handling. For instance, if you want to test having the adviced method throw different types of exceptions. Another example is if you want to simulate different status codes as the response from a network call.

Then instead of using a boolean value as the flag, use an integer (or any other simple type) for example.

-PaspectjTestingProperty=1

Then in the build file:

ext.aspectTestingFlag = getAspectTestingFlag()

def getAspectTestingFlag() {
  if (project.hasProperty('aspectjTestingProperty'))
    return project.property('aspectjTestingProperty')
  else
    // default value if property not specified
    return 0
}

android {
  buildTypes {
    debug {
      // Flags for Aspect testing
      buildConfigField 'int', 'aspectTestingFlag', "${aspectjTestingProperty}"
    }
  }
}

Then in the aspect, you can use the integer flag both as a conditional in the pointcut and as an indicator run different code in the advice.

aspect TestAspect {

  pointcut myPointcut(): if (BuildConfig.aspectjTestingFlag != 0) && ... // the rest of the pointcut

  int around(): myPointcut() {
    switch (BuildConfig.aspectjTestingFlag) {
      case 1:
      // return a particular status code, or throw a particular exception type

      case 2:
      // return a different status code, or throw a different exception type

      case 3:
      // return yet another status code, or throw a third different exception type

      default:
      return proceed();
    }
  }
}

Caveats

Just a few things to be aware of:

  1. As already mentioned, since we can only have AspectJ compile time weaving for Android development, this means some additional build time for the AspectJ tasks.
  2. Unfortunately Android Studio doesn’t have IDE support for AspectJ, since it is based on the community edition of IntelliJ IDEA.
    While the Ultimate version of Intellij does support AspectJ, I prefer using Android Studio.

    Tip:
    Sometimes to get the pointcuts correct I will copy files with the aspect, the classes I want to advice and their lib dependencies into a dummy Eclipse project so that I can use the AspectJ Development Tools (AJDT) to fine tune the pointcut. This allows me to see if the pointcuts are being applied correctly to the joinpoints I want.

  3. Using a Gradle plugin to handle incorporating AspectJ into the build process does make things easier. However this sometimes means having to wait for the authors of the plugin to keep up to date with the latest versions of the android gradle plugin or gradle.

Gradle Dependencies for Java, use compile or implementation?

While I was explaining to a colleague about using Gradle for Java projects (he was moving away from Maven), we came across various code samples. Some of the examples were using the compile configuration for dependencies, while others were using implements and api.


dependencies {
compile 'commons-httpclient:commons-httpclient:3.1'
compile 'org.apache.commons:commons-lang3:3.5'
}


dependencies {
api 'commons-httpclient:commons-httpclient:3.1'
implementation 'org.apache.commons:commons-lang3:3.5'
}

This post was a summary based on the documentation and StackOverflow questions to explain to him which configurations to use.

New Dependency Configurations

Gradle 3.4 introduced the Java-library plugin, which included the then new configurations implementation and api (amongst others). These were meant to replace the compile configuration which was deprecated for this plugin. The idea was that the new configurations would help to prevent leaking of transitive dependencies for multi-module projects.

Please note that in this post I am just using the compile vs implementation/api configurations as an example. Other new replacement configurations were introduced as well, please read the documentation for further information.

Java

For a Java project using Gradle 3.4+, then it depends on whether you are build an application or a library.

For a library project or a library module in a multiple module project, it is recommended to use the Java-library plugin, so in build.gradle use this

apply plugin: 'java-library'

instead of

apply plugin: 'java'

Then you would use either implementation or api, depending on whether you want to expose the dependency to consumers of the library.

For a plain application project, you can stick with the java plugin and continue to use the compile configuration. Having said that, I have tried using the Java-library plugin for an app project and it seems to work fine.

Android

For an Android project, the new configurations came with the Android Gradle Plugin 3.0. So unless you are still using the 2.x version of Android Studio / Android Gradle plugin, the use of compile is deprecated. So you should use implementation, even for an app.

In fact, when I recently upgraded my Android Studio, it came up with the message:

Configuration ‘compile’ is obsolete and has been replaced with ‘implementation’.
It will be removed at the end of 2018

I think this also applies if you use Kotlin instead of Java.

Groovy

How about a project with Groovy as well as Java? This can be for a mixed Groovy / Java project, or for a Java project which needs Groovy for some support tools (such as Spock or Logback configuration).

In the past I have used the Groovy plugin instead of the Java plugin for mixed projects. The Groovy plugin extends the Java plugin and will handle the compilation for Java sources as well as Groovy sources.

apply plugin: 'groovy'

You can continue to do this for Java application modules, but the documentation states that the Groovy plugin has compatibility issues with the Java-library plugin so will need a work around for library modules.

Of course this short post is for newbies, and has only scratched the surface in terms of learning about all the new dependency configurations.

 

JRebel for a Gradle Spring Boot App

There is some documentation on how to add JRebel to a Spring Boot app that uses Gradle as the build tool. It is basic but works fine.

All you have to do is to add a few lines to build.gradle:

if (project.hasProperty('rebelAgent')) {
 bootRun.jvmArgs += rebelAgent
}

Then set the property in gradle.properties:

rebelAgent=-agentpath:[path/to/JRebel library]

However there are several ways to improve on this.

Make JRebel Optional

For instance, what if you don’t always want JRebel everytime you start the app with ‘bootRun’? JRebel plugins for IDE’s like Intellij IDEA are smart enough to give you the option of running your app with or without JRebel

There would be several ways of doing this, but one would be to add the JRebel startup configuration in an optional task.


task addRebelAgent << {
  if (project.hasProperty('rebelAgent')) {
    bootRun.jvmArgs += rebelAgent
  }
  else
    println 'rebelAgent property not found'
}

task rebelRun(dependsOn: ['addRebelAgent', 'bootRun'])

Now running ‘bootRun’ would start the app normally, and if you want JRebel then use the ‘rebelRun’ task instead. I have also added a debug message if the ‘rebelAgent’ property is not available.

Another way would be to pass an optional property to the ‘bootRun’ task to use as a flag whether to add JRebel or not.

if (project.hasProperty('rebelAgent') &&
    project.hasProperty('addJRebel')) {
 bootRun.jvmArgs += rebelAgent
}

Then to use JRebel you just need to add the extra property.

gradle bootRun -PaddJRebel=true

Finding the Rebel Base

Putting the path to the JRebel library to use as the agent in a properties file allows multiple developers to have their own version. However the path is still hard-coded, which is something that should be avoided if possible.

Another way to specify the path is to use a system environment variable to point to where JRebel is installed. JetBrains recommends using REBEL_BASE. Once set up, that allows you to use the environment variable in multiple ways, e.g. Gradle build files, command line, build scripts, etc.

Here is an example using the additional ‘addRebelAgent’ task that I specified earlier, that I use on my Windows 64 machine.


task addRebelAgent << {
  project.ext {
    rebelAgent = "-agentpath:${System.env.REBEL_BASE}${rebelLibPath}"
  }
  if (project.hasProperty('rebelAgent')) {
    bootRun.jvmArgs += rebelAgent
  }
  else
    println 'rebelAgent property not found'
}

task rebelRun(dependsOn: ['addRebelAgent', 'bootRun'])

And in gradle.properties I have specified the path to the agent library from the JRebel installation location.


rebelLibPath=\\lib\\jrebel64.dll

All I’ve done here is to build the path in the ‘rebelAgent’ property from the REBEL_BASE environment variable and another property specifying the internal path to the library.


rebelAgent = "-agentpath:${System.env.REBEL_BASE}${rebelLibPath}"

 

 

Android Studio 3.0 – Initial Impressions of Tool Support

I have been using Android Studio 3.0 since since the alpha versions, and it is good to see it finally released.

This is just some initial comments on using some common and new Android tools and libraries with the 3.0 version of Android Studio and the associated Android Gradle plugin.

Hopefully this will be useful for anyone thinking of upgrading from Android Studio 2.x.

Java 8 Finally, Maybe

Java 8 was released back in 2014, and with Android Studio 3.0 it is finally supported in Android. Finally I can say goodbye to RetroLambda (although many thanks to the authors for this very useful library).

Just be aware that many of the Java 8 language features will only be available if the minSkdVersion is 24.

Since devices running Nougat or Oreo are still in the minority, supporting older versions will continue to be an issue for a while if you want to use Java 8. Some ideas floated around to support older API version, are to have min API version flavors or  do Build.VERSION checks for the API version in the code to provide alternative code paths.

Desugar

The Jack tool chain has been replaced with the desugar tranformation process to support Java 8. Some older libraries and code may have some problems with this build stage.

JUnit 5

JUnit 5 has also been released recently, and with the help of this plugin you can use it for unit testing in Android Studio.

However if you use JUnit 4 Rules in your tests, there is limited support in JUnit 5 as they are meant to be replaced with extensions. Some Rules may be supported with the JUnit 5 migration support, but if not you will have to wait until the Rules are rewritten as extensions or not use the Rules at all.

Of course this is only for unit testing. Instrumentation tests still depend on JUnit 4 and the AndroidJUnitRunner.

Update (7 Dec 2017)

The authors of the JUnit5 plugin have stated that they now have support for JUnit 5 in instrumentation tests. I won’t be using it for a while since it requires the minSkdVersion to be 26. If anyone has tried this, please let me know how well it works.

Architecture Components, RxJava

I have also been using some of Google’s Architecture Components, but only the ViewModel and LiveData. This is another alternative to design patterns such as MVP or MVVM with Databinding.

If you use RxJava, then this will of course continue to work as it is compatible with Java 6. You may consider replacing RxJava with the more light weight LiveData for activities and fragments, and they can be adapted to each other.

Dependency Injection with Dagger

I have had no problems with Google’s Dagger, but be aware of the API changes for the Android Gradle plugin 3.0 in the gradle build file (e.g. implemention instead of compile, annotationProcessor instead of apt, etc).

See the Android Gradle plugin 3.0 migration guide.

Butterknife, Timber

Some common utilities like Butterknife and Timber for logging are working fine. I’m also using the slf4j binding for Timber without any trouble.

JRebel for Android

During the Android Studio alpha and beta process, JRebel for Android was always playing catch up with the latest version. I still have issues with the current version (2.4.14) of their free edition, so I am using instant run instead at the moment.

I’m a big fan of JRebel so I’m hoping they will have a stable version of their android plugin for Android Studio 3.0 soon.

Update (31 Jan 2018)

JRebel for Android is no longer being actively developed.

AOP with AspectJ

There are various AspectJ plugins for Android,  and the one I have been using in Android Studio 2.x was this one. Unfortunately it doesn’t support the Android plugin for Gradle 3.0 yet, but the author seem to be working on it so hopefully the support will be there soon.

Update (15 Nov 2017)

Version 3.2.0 of the GradleAspectJ-Android plugin now supports the Android plugin for Gradle 3.0. I like this plugin because it supports both aj files and annotation style aspects.

Things will get better

Of course since Android Studio 3.0 has only recently got general release, we should expect tool and library support to improve going forward.

I have only scratched the surface with some common Android tools and libraries, and there are many more around. Please let me know of your experiences with others.

Pluggable Tools with Docker Data Containers

There are some apps that have a simple installation process. When using them with other applications in Docker, they may be able to be installed in their own data volume container and used in a pluggable way.

The kind of apps I’m talking about are some Java apps (and in fact, Java itself) which follow this installation process:

  1. Install the contents of the app into a single directory
  2. Set an environmental variable to point to the installation directory, e.g. XXX_HOME
  3. Add the executables of the app to the PATH environmental

 

That’s it.

An example of an app installation that follows this pattern is Gradle:

  1. Uncompress the Gradle files from an archive to a directory.
  2. Set the enviromental variable GRADLE_HOME to point to the gradle installation directory
  3. Add GRADLE_HOME/bin to the PATH

 

Docker

Using Gradle as an example, here is a Dockerfile that installs it in a data volume container:

# Install Gradle as a data volume container. 
#
# The app container that uses this container will need to set the Gradle environmental variables.
# - set GRADLE_HOME to the gradle installation directory
# - add the /bin directory under the gradle directory to the PATH

FROM mini/base

MAINTAINER David Wong

# setup location for installation
ENV INSTALL_LOCATION /opt

# install Gradle version required
ENV GRADLE_VERSION 2.2.1

WORKDIR ${INSTALL_LOCATION}
RUN curl -L -O http://services.gradle.org/distributions/gradle-${GRADLE_VERSION}-bin.zip && \
    unzip -qo gradle-${GRADLE_VERSION}-bin.zip && \
    rm -rf gradle-${GRADLE_VERSION}-bin.zip
    
# to make the container more portable, the installation directory name is changed from the default
# gradle-${GRADLE_VERSION} to just gradle, with the version number stored in a text file for reference
# e.g. instead of /opt/gradle-2.2.1, the directory will be /opt/gradle

RUN mv gradle-${GRADLE_VERSION} gradle && \
    echo ${GRADLE_VERSION} > gradle/version
    
VOLUME ${INSTALL_LOCATION}/gradle

# echo to make it easy to grep
CMD /bin/sh -c '/bin/echo Data container for Gradle'

(From github https://github.com/davidwong/docker/blob/master/gradle/Dockerfile)

Build the image and container from the Dockerfile. Here I’ve tagged the image with the version number of the Gradle installation, and named the container gradle-2.2.1.


docker build -t yourrepo/gradle:2.2.1 .

docker run -i -t --name gradle-2.2.1 yourrepo/gradle:2.2.1

A few things to note about this installation:

  • I have changed the directory name where Gradle is installed from the default, by removing the version number in order to make it generic.
  • no environmental variables have been set, that will be done later
  • you can use any minimal image as the basis for the container, it justs need curl or wget in order to download the Gradle archive file

Now we have the Gradle installation in a docker data volume that can be persisted and shared by other containers.

You can then repeat this process with difference versions of Gradle to create separate data containers for each version (of course giving the containers different names, e.g. gradle-2.2.1, gradle-1.9, etc).

Use Case

I originally got this idea when I was running my Jenkins CI docker container. Some of the Jenkins builds required Gradle 2.x while others were using Gradle 1.x.

So instead of building multiple Jenkins + Gradle images for the different versions of Gradle required, I can now just run the Jenkins container with the appropriate Gradle data container. This is done by using –volumes-from to get access to the Gradle installation directory and setting the require environmental variables.

To use the data container with Gradle 2.2.1 installed:

docker run -i -t --volumes-from gradle-2.2.1 -e GRADLE_HOME=/opt/gradle -e PATH=/usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin:/opt/gradle/bin myjenkins</pre>

To use the one with Gradle 1.9:

docker run -i -t --volumes-from gradle-1.9 -e GRADLE_HOME=/opt/gradle -e PATH=/usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin:/opt/gradle/bin myjenkins</pre>

Of course there are limitations to this technique since Docker data volume containers were designed to share persistant data rather than application installs. In particular they do not allow sharing of environmental variables.

However this work around that can be useful in some circumstances.

Another Defection to Android Studio

Like many other developers out there, I have been using Eclipse as my main IDE for many years now. However for Android development I have decided to take the plunge and migrate to Android Studio (especially since it has finally been released).

Here is a blog post I found that closely echoes what I have long thought regarding the issues with Eclipse:

http://engineering.meetme.com/2014/02/a-tale-of-migrating-from-eclipse-to-android-studio/

Build, build, build

For me, another reason was that the Ant build files I was using to handle building different versions (free vs paid, dev vs release, etc) were getting too complicated to manage easily. So I can now change over to Gradle at the same time, since that’s what Android Studio uses by default.

Gradle has the concept of build variants to handle building different versions of an Android app.

The Recurring Eclipse Re-install

Here are some other problems that I personally have had with using Eclipse.

  • Plugins, well not the plugins themselves, but having too many plugins. I’ve found that having lots of plugins in one Eclipse installation can cause Eclipse to misbehave , especially after several updates. There are several ways I use to get around this:
    • Keep separate Eclipse installations for different types of development, e.g one for Java, one for Android, one for Cloud, etc. Therefore each installation will only have a few plugins relevant to the type of development. However this is not always convenient if a project does require multiple types of development.
    • Every so often, when Eclipse starts to play up, do a fresh re-install of Eclipse (along with the latest version of the plugins required).
  • Intermittent miscellaneous bugs, e.g. cut and paste stops working, builds not alway done automatically, etc. A lot of these issues are more of a nuisance rather than being a serious problem, but all the same it tends to kill your productivity (and isn’t that why we use IDE’s in the first place?).

No Pain, No …

Make no mistake, despite what the Android Studio documentation might try to tell you, migrating a non-trivial project will take some time and probably involve some pain. But worth the effort I think.