b2fJ - Back to Future Java

Back to the Future Java (b2fJ) aims at bringing the power of Java to 8-bit home computers of the '80s. This project provides a toolchain to cross-compile Java programs under Windows.

This project is maintained by mzattera

What is b2fJ?

Back to the Future Java (b2fJ) is a Java Virtual Machine intended to run on the 8-bit home computers of the 80s.

It can be downloaded from here.

It is based on the leJOS JVM for the LEGO Mindstorms RCX brick.

In its current state, it is basically a straight port of leJOS RCX to the popular Commodore 64. As such, it has all features of leJOS…

…and all of its limitations:

In addition, b2fJ relies on a C language cross-compiler to compile the Java VM for the target platform (namely, the Commodore 64). The cc65 compiler currently used unfortunatley does not support floating-point variables, therefore types float and double, even if implmented in b2fJ, are not available in the resulting Commodore 64 JVM.

Finally, being a straight port, b2fJ is basically an interpreted machine with a 32-bit architecture running on top of a 30 year old 8-bit machine with limited RAM. This to say that much can (and hopefully will) be done to improve b2fJ speed and memory footprint. However, the current implementation shows that running Java on an 8-bit machine is possible.

A small demo

Here you can download the code for a tiny demo showing how multi-thread programming can be used to move C64 sprites. See below for instructions about how to compile and run it.

The result should be this:

Installation and Set Up

JDK

In order to compile and run your Java programs, you need first of all to have a Java Development Kit 1.8 installed.

Make sure that the JDK folder is in your path or that you have set JAVA_HOME properly.

b2fJ

Download and unzip latest b2fJ distribution. It’s easier to work if you add the bin folder in the distribution to your PATH variable; the below instructions assume you did so. If not, you obviously must specify the full path for each command in the different compilation steps.

Compile and run Java Programs

The below steps explain how to compile and run a simple Java program on your C64.

For our example, we will use a simple HelloWorld.java file. You can paste the code below into a file named HelloWorld.java, or create the file with your favorite Java editor.

public class HelloWorld {

	public static void main(String[] args) throws InterruptedException {
		while (true) {            
			System.out.print("Hello World! ");
			Thread.sleep(500);
		}
	}
}

The easy way

Unfortunately, in order to overcome the limitations of our target platform, several additional steps are required compared to standard Java development when compiling our Java programs.

The good news is that you can forget all of the details and just invoke the below command to compile your Java program and run it inside the VICE emulator provided with b2fJ:

b2fJGO HelloWorld.java

It will take some time to load, be patient ;-)

The boring details

Below, you can find a step-by-step explanation of the build process, which also sheds some light over the development toolchain.

From .java to .class (compilation)

The below command will compile HelloWorld.java into corresponding .class file.

b2fJc HelloWorld.java

It will simply invoke the JDK compiler and compile your classes using the b2fJ libraries, instead of using the standard ones.

Notice that you can provide a class-path to your own classes and libraries by setting CLASSPATH variable properly; in case you are not familiar with this, please have a look at this nicely written article.

Also, any Java 1.8 compiler can be used for compilation, as long as you make sure lib\classes.jar is used instead of standard Java class libraries.

From .class to C (linking)

In order to make the JVM more compact, we will squeeze all .class files needed by our program into a C header that is then compiled directly together with the JVM. This will then result in a single C64 executable containing both the actual Java interpreter and your java code.

Starting from the class that contains the main() method, all methods invoked by the program are retrieved and corresponding java bytecode is stored as a byte[] inside a C header (java_code.h) which is then moved into folder src\platform\c64 where the JVM source code resides, for later compilation.

The commnad to perform this “linking” operation is as follows:

b2fJl HelloWorld

The “linker” is a Java application (lib\jtools.jar); its source code can be found under src\java\tools folder.

Again, you can provide a class-path to your own classes and libraries by setting CLASSPATH variable properly.

Building the JVM

Finally, we must re-build the b2fJ Virtual Machine that, as explained above, will embed your program which will be executed when the JVM is launched.

The below command is a batch file that uses cc65, a 6502 cross-assembler (re)distributed together with b2fJ, to compile the JVM for the C64.

buildJVM

Do not be scared by the many “Warnings” you will see printed; the build will only stop on errors.

If the process is successful, a file called b2fJ.prg should have been created; this is your JVM.

Running the program

At last! You can now run your Java program on your C64.

If you don’t have a C64 at hand (and if you do, please send me a video of your Java running on it) you can use the WinVICE emulator that is (re)distributed with b2fJ, under redistr\WinVICE-3.1-x86; you can launch x64.exe then under “File > Autostart Disk/Tape image” choose the b2fJ.prg file you created above.

Expanding b2fJ

Under src\java\classes you can find the source code for the class library distributed together with b2fJ; this is made up of several classes that replace the default Java library and some custom classes to support features of the target platform (e.g. C64 sprites).

Building the library

You can improve the library by adding your classes or extending the existing ones; afterwards, the classes need to be compiled and put in a file classes.jar under lib folder. The file build.xml that you can find in the src folder is an Ant script that serves this purpose.

Install Apache Ant and use it to run the build.

Adding native methods

In the process of extending the class library, it might be necessary to add native methods to your classes; this can be done as follows: