Monday, June 27, 2011

Replacing bits of the Android system code

If you've been googling around trying to figure out why your Android device doesn't seem to want to load your custom-built framework.jar (or other file in /system/framework), you may have come across this reply from Android framework engineer Dianne Hackborn:
You need to flash the entire device with your own build.  You can't just selectively replace pieces of a user build.
That didn't sound right to me, since I'd done exactly that on the HTC Dream and was just now having trouble doing it on a Nexus One.  Then again, I was running Cupcake on the old phone, so maybe this was an effect of a newer version of Android?

Nah, I was just missing a couple steps.

The first clue that something was different was that /system/framework was littered with a bunch of extra .odex files, one for each jar/apk file.  These files are optimized versions of the classes.dex files that would otherwise live inside each jar/apk file, generated at first boot by dexopt.  There's a great article over at AddictiveTips that gives an overview of why those files exist.

One nasty misconception I got from reading that article, though, is that the .odex files inside /system/framework are re-generated on boot if they're missing.  This is not the case!  Or at the very least, it's not as simple as that.  If you do like I did - e.g. deleting framework.odex and replacing framework.jar with your rebuilt version - you may be greeted by an unbootable phone.  The reason for this is that the .odex files also store dependency information, the unfortunate result of which is that if you touch one, you probably have to regenerate them all.  This process is scriptable, sure, but it seems easy to get wrong.

So, rather than mucking about with generating .odex files on the phone, I decided to just track down a deodexed ROM, flash it, and then ignore .odex entirely from that point forward.  Luckily, it didn't take me too long to find a custom deodexed ROM of Android 2.3.4 for the Nexus One.  Turns out that deodexing is something that ROM makers do all the time, probably for similar reasons to mine.

Once you've flashed a deodexed ROM, the .odex files are gone, and replacing any of the files in /system/framework is as simple as replacing the file with your custom-built copy (making sure to build with the right device-specific setup and backing up the original files first).

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Building for the right device

I don't know all the reasons for this, and it may be obvious to more seasoned Android hackers than myself, but:

If you're rebuilding framework.jar for a device, it's important to set up your build environment for that specific device.

Though I'm focusing on framework.jar at the moment, this probably pertains to several other of the core system-level classes.

I'm using a Nexus One (aka HTC Passion), so for me, this meant roughly following the directions discussed in this somewhat outdated, but still useful, post.

Here's the short version (the main steps that resolved things for me):
  1. Make sure your Android source tree contains a device/htc/passion folder.
    (The name will be different depending on your device.)
  2. Change to that folder and run the script.
    You'll need your device running and connected via USB (with USB debugging enabled, naturally) to do this.
  3. Set up your build environment by running . ./build/ from the top directory of the source tree.
    This should be familiar if you've spent any time at all working with the Android source.
  4. Type lunch full_passion-userdebug.
    This is the key step; as far as I can tell, it sets variables and pulls in the right files to build system classes and JARs specific to the Nexus One. (Again, the exact command will vary depending on your device; try print_lunch_menu to see the available options. Also, you may need to clone the relevant git repository under device/<vendor>/<model>.
  5. Type make to build the new configuration.
This assumes that, like me, you've already built the generic source tree, tried to replace something like framework.jar on the phone, and had it fail mysteriously. (In my case, there was a NullPointerException while loading resources pertaining to the mobile carrier - something that sounded suspiciously related to something device-specific.) Unfortunately, this does require rebuilding everything from the start, into a new subdirectory of out/target/product/. Once it's done, though, building the individual piece you're interested in changing will be quick.

I get the sense that this is a pretty basic step that Android porters deal with all the time, but when I was building for the HTC Dream, the generic build (that is, lunch 1 or lunch generic-eng) was sufficient for replacing services.jar. Maybe it's more that framework.jar has some device-specific components that I wasn't aware of.

Friday, June 24, 2011

File System Navigator

So, I think I had actually heard this a while ago, but I was still amused to (re-)discover today that my new blog's namesake was actually a real (albeit demo) tool developed by SG IRIX. :D

How not to break the world

Turns out, having a backup is a Good Thing™.

This is of course obvious, but the subtler point is having a backup is a Good Thing™ even when you don't think you need one.

If, like me, you're hacking on pieces of an Android system, you should probably be abiding by this simple rule that I've now (after many painful lessons) set in place for myself: have a backup in place before you do anything that touches anything you need root perms for, in any way.

Fortunately, there are some really easy ways to do this, which make it pretty much second nature. If you've already rooted your phone, you can simply go to the Android Market and install ROM Manager. This is a brilliant little piece of software that vastly simplifies the process of playing with system-level bits.

If you're not willing to go all out and root your phone (e.g. maybe you're using a dev phone that only does root through "adb root"), you can still install ClockworkMod Recovery by itself, using fastboot. This is actually a component of ROM Manager, made by the same developer. For full details on how to install and use it, I refer you to this excellent post. (I must make a note to visit Addictive Tips more often; their guides are extremely thorough and useful. They're like the Ars Technica of random, obscure knowledge.)

ClockworkMod Recovery actually does a lot of other nice things that the stock recovery mode doesn't, like letting you mount /system and /data or giving you a root shell, all without booting the phone. Very useful when you broke something that makes the phone stop booting.

With either of these options in place, you can now do a one-step backup whenever you're about to do something dangerous. The backup is saved to your device's SD card, but it's just a directory with a bunch of flashable images (.img files) and an md5 checksum, so you can copy them off the SD card to store on another machine, if you want. (I think. YMMV; I haven't actually tried this.)

Now that I'm safe and sound with a simple and reliable backup method, next time I will talk about how to actually make some of the changes that I've just prevented from breaking the world. Here's a teaser: deodexing. If you know what that means, you might already know how to do this. Makers of custom ROMs are doing it all the time. Anyways, more on that next time.