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1. Overview

We may wonder how widely recognized IDEs like IntelliJ IDEA and Eclipse implement debugging features. These tools rely heavily on the Java Platform Debugger Architecture (JPDA).

In this introductory article, we'll discuss the Java Debug Interface API (JDI) available under JPDA.

At the same time, we'll write a custom debugger program step-by-step, familiarizing ourselves with handy JDI interfaces.

2. Introduction to JPDA

Java Platform Debugger Architecture (JPDA) is a set of well-designed interfaces and protocols used to debug Java.

It provides three specially designed interfaces, to implement custom debuggers for a development environment in desktop systems.

To begin, the Java Virtual Machine Tool Interface (JVMTI) helps us interact and control the execution of applications running in the JVM.

Then, there's the Java Debug Wire Protocol (JDWP) which defines the protocol used between the application under test (debuggee) and the debugger.

At last, the Java Debug Interface (JDI) is used to implement the debugger application.

3. What Is JDI?

Java Debug Interface API is a set of interfaces provided by Java, to implement the frontend of the debugger. JDI is the highest-layer of the JPDA.

A debugger built with JDI can debug applications running in any JVM which supports JPDA. At the same time, we can hook it into any layer of debugging.

It provides the ability to access the VM and its state along with access to variables of the debuggee. At the same time, it allows to set the breakpoints, stepping, watchpoints and handle threads.

4. Setup

We'll require two separate programs – a debuggee and a debugger – to understand JDI's implementations.

First, we'll write a sample program as the debuggee.

Let's create a JDIExampleDebuggee class with a few String variables and println statements:

public class JDIExampleDebuggee {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        String jpda = "Java Platform Debugger Architecture";
        System.out.println("Hi Everyone, Welcome to " + jpda); // add a break point here

        String jdi = "Java Debug Interface"; // add a break point here and also stepping in here
        String text = "Today, we'll dive into " + jdi;

Then, we'll write a debugger program.

Let's create a JDIExampleDebugger class with properties to hold the debugging program (debugClass) and line numbers for breakpoints (breakPointLines):

public class JDIExampleDebugger {
    private Class debugClass; 
    private int[] breakPointLines;

    // getters and setters

4.1. LaunchingConnector

At first, a debugger requires a connector to establish a connection with the target Virtual Machine (VM).

Then, we'll need to set the debuggee as the connector's main argument. At last, the connector should launch the VM for debugging.

To do so, JDI provides a Bootstrap class which gives an instance of the LaunchingConnector. The LaunchingConnector provides a map of the default arguments, in which we can set the main argument.

Therefore, let's add the connectAndLaunchVM method to the JDIDebuggerExample class:

public VirtualMachine connectAndLaunchVM() throws Exception {
    LaunchingConnector launchingConnector = Bootstrap.virtualMachineManager()
    Map<String, Connector.Argument> arguments = launchingConnector.defaultArguments();
    return launchingConnector.launch(arguments);

Now, we'll add the main method to the JDIDebuggerExample class to debug the JDIExampleDebuggee:

public static void main(String[] args) throws Exception {
    JDIExampleDebugger debuggerInstance = new JDIExampleDebugger();
    int[] breakPoints = {6, 9};
    VirtualMachine vm = null;
    try {
        vm = debuggerInstance.connectAndLaunchVM();
    } catch(Exception e) {

Let's compile both of our classes, JDIExampleDebuggee (debuggee) and JDIExampleDebugger (debugger):

javac -g -cp "/Library/Java/JavaVirtualMachines/jdk1.8.0_131.jdk/Contents/Home/lib/tools.jar" 

Let's discuss the javac command used here, in detail.

The -g option generates all the debugging information without which, we may see AbsentInformationException.

And -cp will add the tools.jar in the classpath to compile the classes.

All JDI libraries are available under tools.jar of the JDK. Therefore, make sure to add the tools.jar in the classpath at both compilation and execution.

That's it, now we are ready to execute our custom debugger JDIExampleDebugger:

java -cp "/Library/Java/JavaVirtualMachines/jdk1.8.0_131.jdk/Contents/Home/lib/tools.jar:." 

Note the “:.” with tools.jar. This will append tools.jar to the classpath for current run time (use “;.” on windows).

4.2. Bootstrap and ClassPrepareRequest

Executing the debugger program here will give no results since we haven't prepared the class for debugging and set the breakpoints.

The VirtualMachine class has the eventRequestManager method to create various requests like ClassPrepareRequest, BreakpointRequest, and StepEventRequest.

So, let's add the enableClassPrepareRequest method to the JDIExampleDebugger class.

This will filter the JDIExampleDebuggee class and enables the ClassPrepareRequest:

public void enableClassPrepareRequest(VirtualMachine vm) {
    ClassPrepareRequest classPrepareRequest = vm.eventRequestManager().createClassPrepareRequest();

4.3. ClassPrepareEvent and BreakpointRequest

Once, ClassPrepareRequest for the JDIExampleDebuggee class is enabled, the event queue of the VM will start having instances of the ClassPrepareEvent.

Using ClassPrepareEvent, we can get the location to set a breakpoint and creates a BreakPointRequest.

To do so, let's add the setBreakPoints method to the JDIExampleDebugger class:

public void setBreakPoints(VirtualMachine vm, ClassPrepareEvent event) throws AbsentInformationException {
    ClassType classType = (ClassType) event.referenceType();
    for(int lineNumber: breakPointLines) {
        Location location = classType.locationsOfLine(lineNumber).get(0);
        BreakpointRequest bpReq = vm.eventRequestManager().createBreakpointRequest(location);

4.4. BreakPointEvent and StackFrame

So far, we've prepared the class for debugging and set the breakpoints. Now, we need to catch the BreakPointEvent and display the variables.

JDI provides the StackFrame class, to get the list of all the visible variables of the debuggee.

Therefore, let's add the displayVariables method to the JDIExampleDebugger class:

public void displayVariables(LocatableEvent event) throws IncompatibleThreadStateException, 
AbsentInformationException {
    StackFrame stackFrame = event.thread().frame(0);
    if(stackFrame.location().toString().contains(debugClass.getName())) {
        Map<LocalVariable, Value> visibleVariables = stackFrame
        System.out.println("Variables at " + stackFrame.location().toString() +  " > ");
        for (Map.Entry<LocalVariable, Value> entry : visibleVariables.entrySet()) {
            System.out.println(entry.getKey().name() + " = " + entry.getValue());

5. Debug Target

At this step, all we need is to update the main method of the JDIExampleDebugger to start debugging.

Hence, we'll use the already discussed methods like enableClassPrepareRequest, setBreakPoints, and displayVariables:

try {
    vm = debuggerInstance.connectAndLaunchVM();
    EventSet eventSet = null;
    while ((eventSet = vm.eventQueue().remove()) != null) {
        for (Event event : eventSet) {
            if (event instanceof ClassPrepareEvent) {
                debuggerInstance.setBreakPoints(vm, (ClassPrepareEvent)event);
            if (event instanceof BreakpointEvent) {
                debuggerInstance.displayVariables((BreakpointEvent) event);
} catch (VMDisconnectedException e) {
    System.out.println("Virtual Machine is disconnected.");
} catch (Exception e) {

Now firstly, let's compile the JDIDebuggerExample class again with the already discussed javac command.

And last, we'll execute the debugger program along with all the changes to see the output:

Variables at com.baeldung.jdi.JDIExampleDebuggee:6 > 
args = instance of java.lang.String[0] (id=93)
Variables at com.baeldung.jdi.JDIExampleDebuggee:9 > 
jpda = "Java Platform Debugger Architecture"
args = instance of java.lang.String[0] (id=93)
Virtual Machine is disconnected.

Hurray! We've successfully debugged the JDIExampleDebuggee class. At the same time, we've displayed the values of the variables at the breakpoint locations (line number 6 and 9).

Therefore, our custom debugger is ready.

5.1. StepRequest

Debugging also requires stepping through the code and checking the state of the variables at subsequent steps. Therefore, we'll create a step request at the breakpoint.

While creating the instance of the StepRequest, we must provide the size and depth of the step. We'll define STEP_LINE and STEP_OVER respectively.

Let's write a method to enable the step request.

For simplicity, we'll start stepping at the last breakpoint (line number 9):

public void enableStepRequest(VirtualMachine vm, BreakpointEvent event) {
    // enable step request for last break point
    if (event.location().toString().
        contains(debugClass.getName() + ":" + breakPointLines[breakPointLines.length-1])) {
        StepRequest stepRequest = vm.eventRequestManager()
            .createStepRequest(event.thread(), StepRequest.STEP_LINE, StepRequest.STEP_OVER);

Now, we can update the main method of the JDIExampleDebugger, to enable the step request when it is a BreakPointEvent:

if (event instanceof BreakpointEvent) {
    debuggerInstance.enableStepRequest(vm, (BreakpointEvent)event);

5.2. StepEvent

Similar to the BreakPointEvent, we can also display the variables at the StepEvent.

Let's update the main method accordingly:

if (event instanceof StepEvent) {
    debuggerInstance.displayVariables((StepEvent) event);

At last, we'll execute the debugger to see the state of the variables while stepping through the code:

Variables at com.baeldung.jdi.JDIExampleDebuggee:6 > 
args = instance of java.lang.String[0] (id=93)
Variables at com.baeldung.jdi.JDIExampleDebuggee:9 > 
args = instance of java.lang.String[0] (id=93)
jpda = "Java Platform Debugger Architecture"
Variables at com.baeldung.jdi.JDIExampleDebuggee:10 > 
args = instance of java.lang.String[0] (id=93)
jpda = "Java Platform Debugger Architecture"
jdi = "Java Debug Interface"
Variables at com.baeldung.jdi.JDIExampleDebuggee:11 > 
args = instance of java.lang.String[0] (id=93)
jpda = "Java Platform Debugger Architecture"
jdi = "Java Debug Interface"
text = "Today, we'll dive into Java Debug Interface"
Variables at com.baeldung.jdi.JDIExampleDebuggee:12 > 
args = instance of java.lang.String[0] (id=93)
jpda = "Java Platform Debugger Architecture"
jdi = "Java Debug Interface"
text = "Today, we'll dive into Java Debug Interface"
Virtual Machine is disconnected.

If we compare the output, we'll realize that debugger stepped in from line number 9 and displays the variables at all subsequent steps.

6. Read Execution Output

We might notice that println statements of the JDIExampleDebuggee class haven't been part of the debugger output.

As per the JDI documentation, if we launch the VM through LaunchingConnector, its output and error streams must be read by the Process object.

Therefore, let's add it to the finally clause of our main method:

finally {
    InputStreamReader reader = new InputStreamReader(vm.process().getInputStream());
    OutputStreamWriter writer = new OutputStreamWriter(System.out);
    char[] buf = new char[512];

Now, executing the debugger program will also add the println statements from the JDIExampleDebuggee class to the debugging output:

Hi Everyone, Welcome to Java Platform Debugger Architecture
Today, we'll dive into Java Debug Interface

7. Conclusion

In this article, we've explored the Java Debug Interface (JDI) API available under the Java Platform Debugger Architecture (JPDA).

Along the way, we've built a custom debugger utilizing the handy interfaces provided by JDI. At the same time, we've also added stepping capability to the debugger.

As this was just an introduction to JDI, it is recommended to look at the implementations of other interfaces available under JDI API.

As usual, all the code implementations are available over on GitHub.

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