Wwx2014 Talk – Hxcpp magic

Just got back from the haxe conference, wwx2014, after having a great time. Plenty of fantastic people to talk to.

The talk consists of some slides, with a demo at the end. To run the demo, you need to run the binary version on either mac or windows, but the slides can be viewed with flash.

Or, you can build it yourself for you preferred platform and explore the source code with:

haxelib install nme
haxelib install gm2d
haxelib run nme demo gm2d 10-wwx2014 cpp

Edit – must mention that you might need an dev version of haxe to build the demo.

HXCPP Built-in Debugging

The latest version of hxcpp has increased control over how much debugging information is included in the compiled code, as well as some built-in debugging and profiling tools.

Debugging is normally added with the -debug flag to the compiler. This flag turns off compiler optimisation, adds source-line and call-stack tracking and adds additional runtime checks – eg for null pointer access. This is useful for locating problems, but it can make the code run several times slower.

Depending on the application, you may not need all these debugging features. For example, if you do not intend to attach a native debugger, then you probably do not need to turn off compiler optimisations. If you are trying to profile the code, you probably only want the call-stack symbols, but not the other runtime checks. These scenarios are now supported by HXCPP, via compiler defines.

Quick recap: To add a define to the haxe compiler, you can use the “-D DEFINE” syntax on the command line or hxml file, or <haxedef name="DEFINE" /> from an nmml file.

Now, for testing performance, I will be using BunnyMark, and add bunnies until there the a measurable drop in performance. In this case, I added 20000 bunnies to get a frame-rate of about 50fps on my macbook air.

Adding the -debug flag brings the frame-rate down to about 40fps. This is not a huge drop – I guess because the CPU is not that taxed, it the the GPU that is doing more work.

So instead of adding the -debug flag, we can add various defines to achieve the effect we are after.


Adding this define will keep the symbol tables in the final executable. This is probably not something you want to do in your final release build for external use, but it is something that that is good to have otherwise. This flag will allow you to get meaningful information if you attach your system debugger. Runtime performance hit: none.


This define will allow you to get a haxe stack trace that includes function names when an exception is thrown, or when the stack is queried directly. There is a small overhead incurred per function call when this is on. Runtime performance hit: very small.


This define implies DHXCPP_STACK_TRACE and adds line numbers to the function names. There is additional overhead per line of haxe code, however I had trouble measuring this overhead on the bunnymark – probably because it is not too CPU intensive. Runtime performance hit: small to medium.


This define explicitly checks pointers for null access and throws an informative exception, rather than just crashing. There is an overhead per member-access. Again, for the bunnymark, it was hard to measure a slowdown. Runtime performance hit: small.

So, these defines can be added without using the -debug flag, which removes the compiler optimisations, which accounts for over 80% of the performance drop.

Built-in Profiler

So where is all the time spent? To answer this question, you can use the built-in profiler. The profiler needs HXCPP_STACK_TRACE, and is started by calling cpp.vm.Profiler.start(filename) from the haxe thread you are interested in. You can call this, say, in response to a button-press, but in this example, I will call it from the mainline. You can provide a log filename, or you can just let it write to stdout. If you use a relative filename in an nme project, the file will be written into the executable directory.

  private static function create()
     Lib.current.addChild (new BunnyMark());

We can then analyse the log. The entries are sorted by total time (including child calls) spent in the routine. The first few are all about 100%, as they look for somewhere to delegate the actual work to. Soon enough, we get to this entry:

Stage::nmeRender 95.60%/0.07%
   DisplayObjectContainer::nmeBroadcast 39.6%
   extern::cffi 60.3%
   (internal) 0.1%

Here the Stage::nmeRender call is almost always active, and is broadcasting an event (the ENTER_FRAME event) for 40% of its time, and calling into cffi (nme c++ render code) for 60% of the time. So we have learnt something already.

You can trace ENTER_FRAME the calls though the event dispatcher until we get to the routine actually in bunnymark:

TileTest::enterFrame 36.55%/8.26%
   Lib::getTimer 0.1%
   Tilesheet::drawTiles 70.2%
   Graphics::clear 6.6%
   DisplayObject::nmeSetY 0.0%
   DisplayObject::nmeSetX 0.0%
   DisplayObject::nmeGetWidth 0.2%
   DisplayObject::nmeGetHeight 0.1%
   DisplayObject::nmeGetGraphics 0.2%
   GC::realloc 0.1%
   (internal) 22.6%

Here the “36.55%/8.26%” means that 35% of the total exe time is spent in this routine, including its children, but only 8% of the total time is spent internally (ie, not in child calls).

And, looking at the drawTiles call:

Tilesheet::drawTiles 25.65%/0.01%
   Graphics::drawTiles 99.9%
   (internal) 0.1%

We see 25% of the total time is spend in the NME Graphics::drawTiles call. So this app spends 60% of the time in drawing routine, and 25% of the time in preparing the draw call. From this, you can assume that it is pretty well optimised!

It is also interesting to note the GC entry:

GC::new 0.17%/0.15%
   GC::collect 12.0%
   (internal) 88.0%

Which is very small, indicating that techniques such as object pooling would have no effect here.

This technique is available on all platforms – you just might have to be a little bit careful about where you write your output file.

Built-in Debugger

The built-in debugger requires you to compile with the HXCPP_DEBUGGER define. Starting the debugger is similar to starting the profiler.

  private static function create()
     new hxcpp.DebugStdio(true);
     Lib.current.addChild (new BunnyMark());

You will note that the “DebugStdio” class is in the hxcpp project, so you will need to add the “-lib hxcpp” command, or via nmml: < haxelib name="hxcpp" />.

The “true” parameter means that the debugger stops as soon as you hit this line. This allows you to set breakpoints etc. Running the above, I get an empty display window (no draw calls have been made yet), and a prompt on the command line:

help  - print this message
break [file line] - pause execution of one thread [when at certain point]
breakpoints - list breakpoints
delete N - delete breakpoint N
cont  - continue execution
where - print call stack
files - print file list that may be used with breakpoints
vars - print local vars for frame
array limit N - show at most N array elements
mem - print memory usage
collect - run Gc collection
compact - reduce memory usage
exit  - exit programme
bye  - stop debugging, keep running

Entering “files” shows the input files with indexes 0 to 93. You can use either the filename or file number for setting breakpoints. For example:

debug>break BunnyMark.hx 41

Will set a breakpoint for line 41 on BunnyMark.hx. Currently, you are going to need to have the file handy to look up the line number. So now we want to go back to executing:

debug> c

And immediately, the debugger prints “stopped”. This is because the breakpoint has been hit. To find out where, you can use the “w” command:

Must break first.

The “you must break first” is a little bug in the debugger due to the fact that the break is async. But trying again seems to have fixed this. So here you can see the full call stack. Using the “vars” command shows the local variables, and using the “p” command (short for “print”) shows the values.

debug>p e
debug>p this
nmeChildren=2 elements
name=BunnyMark 3

So now we have a little fun (in a very nerdy sort of way):

debug>set fps.y = 200

And you can see that the fps counter has moved down the screen. The more astute reader will notice that the “y” member is actually a “property” and that setting this property has actually caused some haxe code to be run. You can also print the value of a function call to get arbitrary functions to run.
While the code is running you can use “break” to stop it wherever it happens to be.
Using the “exit” command is a quick way out – this can be useful on android when you want to make sure the process is actually dead.

You can jump into a different function on the stack via the "frame" command (notice the "*" has moved), and examine the vars there:

 => frame 17
 => where
 => vars
 => p title

The command line is all well and good for desktop apps, but it is not much use for mobile apps. To use the debugger on mobile, you can create a debug socket server - the mobile will then connect over WiFi. On your desktop, create and run the hxcpp DdebugTool:

haxe -main hxcpp.DebugTool -lib hxcpp -neko server.n
neko server.n
Waiting for connection on

You can see the ip:port that the server is waiting on. Then, back in your code, replace the "DebugStdio" line with a "DebugSocket" line, using the ip:port from the server:

private static function create()
   new hxcpp.DebugSocket("",8080,true);
   Lib.current.addChild (new BunnyMark());

And then the operation is exactly the same as before.

The debug code is designed to allow different protocols and backends. It should be possible to replace the code in the hxcpp library with code of your own to present the debug information in any way you like. The "worker" classes are in cpp.vm.Debugger, and you can build your own debugger on top of these.
As a final trick, you can call the debugger functions directly (eg, to always add a breakpoint), or cpp.vm.Debugger.breakBad() (I've been watching too much TV) to allow complex conditions to generate breakpoints, eg:

   if (items.length>0 && !found)
      Debugger.breakBad(); // WTF ?

WWX Conference

I recently got back from ‘WWX’, the World Wide Haxe conference. I had a fantastic time – got to meet a whole bunch of people from the community.

I gave a presentation about the architecture and some details of the hxcpp backend. The slide are in wwx2012-hxcpp.pdf.

NME From Scratch

Part 1 – Get The Basics Going

I’ve just got a shiny new computer at home – nothing installed. So it seems like a good chance to go through exactly what it takes to get and NME sample up and running on a new Windows 7 box.

8:20pm For starters, I’ll need a c++ compiler, so first thing is to start the MSVC 2010 Express downloading: 2010-Visual-CPP.

8:25pm OK – I’ve signed my rights away and that is downloading. The next thing I’ll need is haxe. It is easy to install from here.

8:28pm Haxe 2.07, neko 1.81 downloaded and installed. Windows complained that it might not have installed correctly, but this is just because the exe had “installer” in the name, and did not write an “uninstall” entry.

Test: Start a “cmd” prompt by clicking on the Windows start circle and type “cmd[Enter]” into the search box. And in this box, type “haxe [Enter]”. I am now rewarded with the haxe help message.

8:35pm Visual C++ Express in successfully installed.
Test: Start up a new cmd shell, and type “cl“. This does not work because the exe can’t be found in my path. But here is the trick. Type “c:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio 10.0\Common7\Tools\vsvars32.bat” at the prompt (note:include the quotes!), and get the message “Setting environment for using Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 x86 tools.”. Now “cl” is rewarded with the Microsoft banner.

8:41pm I’m on a bit of a roll here, so I’ll see if I can get an haxe project going. As I said, I have nothing installed, so I’ll go old-school. First thing is to make a directory. The cmd prompt starts in my home directory (c:\Users\Hugh), and I will make a directory:
mkdir projects
cd projects
mkdir hello
cd hello

And now, do the best I can:
notepad.exe Hello.hx (yes I do want to create the file)

class Hello
  public static function main()

And switch back to the cmd prompt:
haxe -main Hello -neko hello.n
neko hello.n

Hello.hx:5: Hello!

Woo Hoo! 8:48pm and I’ve run my own program.

Now lets get even more adventurous, and try a c++ example. Trying:
haxe -main Hello -cpp bin
Tells me that “Project hxcpp is not installed” – so let’s install it:
haxelib install hxcpp
And try again:
haxe -main Hello -cpp bin
And test:
8:43pm, I have my first hxcpp prgram working!

Now, try for some graphics:
haxelib intall nme
and start a new project:
cd ..
mkdir graphics1
cd graphics1
copy “c:\Motion-Twin\haxe\lib\nme\2,0,1\samples\02-Text\Sample.hx”
haxe -main Sample -cpp bin -lib nme

9:05pm And there it is. Haxe, neko, hxcpp, nme VC2010 installed and run in 40 minutes, including this write up.

Part 2 – Compile NME From Source

Well, that went much better than I expected, so I will now attempt some bleeding-edge stuff. The version on NME used above is old, and I have no one to blame but myself. My intentions are to do a release soon, but I just have not got my finger out. Which leave me with the option of compiling NME from source if I want the latest features.

First thing, is to create a place where I can download various bits of source code for compiling. I’m going to put it a “e:\code.google”, because my C drive is a fast SSD, and has limited room.

mkdir code.google
cd code.google

Following the instructions from the source page, but changing the name, I can get a copy with:
svn checkout http://nekonme.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/ nme
– if only I had svn installed. So first install this, I’ll be using this version. Once installed, I have to restart the cmd prompt and do the vsvars32.bat thing again. Now when I try again, I get the required files. There is also a companion project to go with NME, and that is the “sdl-static” project, which contains libraries required by NME. To get this, simply do:
svn checkout http://sdl-static.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/ sdl-static
This takes a while….

Time to build –
cd nme\project
haxelib run hxcpp Build.xml

The “haxelib” tool looks for a file called “run.n” in an installed haxe library and runs it. In the hxcpp project, the run.n file gathers compiler options to build the haxe output. This same program can be used to build other projects – including the NME project. Unfortunately, compiling NME like this gives the error ” cannot open input file ‘ddraw.lib'”. This is because the VC express install does not have all the required system support files. This file can be found in the “DirectX SDK”, and I’ll be using the June 2010 version. This is a huge file, so it will take a while. If you think it is a lot of effort for a tiny lib, then you are right.

10:10pm and the download has finished. I have chosen to install it in “e:\SDKs\Microsoft DirectX SDK (June 2010)”, because I’m trying not to put crap on my C drive, and I will be installing quite a few SDKs, and it is nice to have them all together.

This does not immediately fix the problem, because the NME project does not know where I installed it. This is where the per-machine hxcpp config comes in.

Following the instructions in BuildCommon.xml, I create a file in “C:\Users\Hugh” called “.hxcpp_config.xml”, and put the following in it:

  <section id="exes">
     <linker id="dll" if="windows">
        <flag value = "-libpath:e:\SDKs\Microsoft DirectX SDK (June 2010)\Lib\x86"/>

Oh crikey! Looks like Microsoft in their wisdom have dropped support for this ddraw.lib, and I’m currently using a version of SDL that needs it! It’s OK, problem solved – I’ve added it to the NME project, but you still need the SDK for dxguid.lib, which I guess I should also add.

Anyhow, after a long delay, at 10:30pm I have NME building!

Now, going back to the original graphics1 example, the first thing to do is tell haxe to use our SVN haxe code instead of the 2.0.1 dowloaded from haxelib. This is done via:
haxelib dev nme e:/code.google/nme

Then build & test:
haxe -main Sample -cpp bin -lib nme

Which works as before. But now we can test some of the new features in NME. First get the new sample, and the new associated project file:
copy e:\code.google\nme\samples\02-Text\Sample.hx .
copy e:\code.google\nme\samples\02-Text\Sample.nmml .

Then you can use the NME build tool, with the command “test” (which is “build” and “run”) on the Sample.nmml project file, and for the target “neko”.
haxelib run nme test Sample.nmml neko
And you can see the result. Then you can test for cpp:
haxelib run nme test Sample.nmml cpp

So it’s now 10:45pm (had to catch the end of “Dexter”) and I’ve successfully compiled the latest version of NME and tested the new project feature.

Part 3 – Android

Things seem to still be going well, so I’m going to take one more step – android (spoiler – this is going to take longer than expected). First thing to so is install the Java Development Kit. (NOTE: Install the “windows” version, not the “x64” version) Then, the android SDK.
I installed java JRE and JDK in my SDK directory, but Google’s (always painful) build tools seem to think I have not installed java, even though it works from the cmd prompt. Thank guys. So I’ve uninstalled it, and reinstalled the JRE in the default location, and now it seems happy. The Android SDK download is just the start – it now runs and downloads a whole bunch more. This looks like it may take some time…

I may as well get on with downloading the NDK too. And while I wait for those I’ll get my phone ADB USB drivers installed. My HTC phone actually installs the drivers when I install HTCSync, found on my sdcard that was shipped with it.
EDIT: The android ndk r5b still has issues with exceptions/c++. However, these can be solved by dropping this version of libstdc++.a from the Crystax r4 distribution over the top of sources/cxx-stl/gnu-libstdc++/libs/armeabi/libstdc++.a in your downloaded ndk. If google ever manage to write a good build system, they might end up being a successful company.

The Google build tools also require the “Cygwin” utilities, so install these too.

Finally, we will need a new version of hxcpp, which we can get with:
svn checkout http://hxcpp.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/ hxcpp
haxelib dev hxcpp e:\code.google\hxcpp

11:45pm, I have finally downloaded and installed the Android prerequisites (I think) but will give up now.

Next day – Here we go again. Now to use the google android NDK, you need to have the cygwin dlls in your exe path. To change the path, right click in the “Computer” shortcut in the start menu, and choose “properties”, then on the left “Advance system settings”, then the “Environment Variables” button and scroll through the top bit for “PATH” and click “edit”. This already has haxe and neko in it, so we add the cygwin:
Now restart the cmd prompt, and typing “ls” should work.
And one more thing – in lieu of using “eclipse” for java building (which I just can’t stand – don’t get me started), the google tools need the “ant” program, which you install by unzipping somewhere.

Tell the build system where we installed these things.

set ANT_HOME=e:/SDKs/ant
set ANDROID_SDK=e:\SDKs\android-sdk
set ANDROID_NDK_ROOT=e:\SDKs\android-ndk
set JAVA_HOME=e:\SDKs\Java\jdk1.6.0_24

And rebuild nme, like before, except that the “obj” directory should be removed first, because I have not yet allowed 2 compilers to be running at the same time.
haxelib run hxcpp Build.xml -Dandroid

Now, back in the original directory, we can build + run for android:
haxelib run nme test Sample.nmml android

Which, finally, works! You can terminate the debug log with control-c.

So, an awful lot of set up, but subsequent projects should only be a single line.

Four Years – Still Kicking

Wow, I missed the 4-year anniversary. I have been a bit remiss in updating the old social-media postings of late, but will try harder. So apologies to those whose comments I have not answered, and I hope to do better in the future.

I would also like say a big thanks to those who have donated to the site – it is nice to feel useful.

The main change since last update was the release of hxcpp 2.07. This goes with the latest haxe release and fixes many bugs, making the platform more robust.

Work on NME continues. There has been some increased interest of late, and a new release is well overdue. I’m currently working on a “project” system to help with getting up-and-running on the various platforms. This will replace the iPhone template system and extend it to all supported platforms.

You can always checkout the svn version of NME, but you will need to build the binaries yourself. Although I have quite a few outstanding issues, I think I will do a release once I get the project system up-and-running.

Android + HXCPP – a Quickstart Guide

After having some success with making an Xcode template, I thought it would be relatively easy make something similar for eclipse and Android. However, there was nothing but pain for me when I tried, so instead I’ve decided to write this guide.


There are quite a few prerequisites you need to organize before you can get things going. Android allows building from Windows, Mac and Linux. The procedures are quite similar, except that Windows requires some messing about with Cygwin binaries. The method described here avoids most of the Cygwin pain \- and the google make sytem pain \- by avoiding the google make sysem altogether.

  • Download and install the Android SDK. This is the Java tools and libraries required for building and debugging byte-code applications.
  • Download and install eclipse IDE. This is the IDE that runs the SDK – follow the instructions on the Android SDK page and install the Android plugins too.
  • Install the USB drivers for your device (if required). For my device (HTC Legend) I found the drivers on the phone itself by using it as a thumb drive.

You should now be in a position to build some sample (byte-code) applications for your device.

  • Download the Android Native Development Kit. This allows you to build binary code for your device. Now for HXCPP, it is very important to download the latest build provided at Crystax.net, which is a build done by a generous community member that corrects some of the glaring omissions of the official build, namely RTTI and exceptions. If it is all the same to you, extract it to c:/tools/android-ndk for Windows, and ~/tools/android-ndk for other systems, and this will make the remaining instructions easier.
  • Currenly on Windows, you need the svn version of HXCPP (slightly newer that 2.06.1) which has some include path fixes. See the instructions at http://code.google.com/p/hxcpp/ for getting the latest version.
  • Also on windows, you need the Cygwin dlls in your path. One way to do this is to install the whole Cygwin toolchain and put it in your path. The other way so to drop the two dlls from cygwin-extra.tgz into the ndk binary directory, ie c:/tools/android-ndk/build/prebuilt/windows/arm-eabi-4.4.0/bin.

Project structure

An android project consists several components that all work together.

  • Java Code. The Java code provided in the sample project comes from a couple of places. Because the project is graphics based, the copy NME Java code is included. If the version of NME increases, it may be desirable to update the NME code, either by copying the new code in, or instead linking to the NME code directly. Also, the HXCPP bootstrap Java code is included along with a small Activity wrapper file.
  • Native code. The shared object files provide native code for running on the device. These include the standard libraries, the NME library and the haxe code compiled with hxcpp.
  • AndroidManifest.xml. This controls how your application is deployed, and quite a few things can be done with this file. It is best to consult the Android documentation about what can be done here.
  • Resources & Assets. These can be useful if you want to add standard menus or other GUI elements to your application.

The basic workflow starts by making a change to your haxe source files. You then compile the haxe code to Android cpp, which is in turn is compiled to an android shared object. This .so file is then copied to the libs/armeabi directory in the project. Because eclipse does not recognize a change to the shared objects as a important update, it is then necessary to touch one of the Java files so that eclipse rebuilds the project. These steps are handled by the build_haxe batch/shell scripts provided with the project, so all you should have to do is change the code and run the script. Then, press the “play” button in eclipse(the first time you do this, you may need to specify Run-As Android Project) and your application should launch.

The haxe code included in the sample directory uses a fixed class name, AndroidMain, as the bootstrap point for building the haxe shared object, libAndroidMain.so. By fixing these names, the build script is simplified. I encourage you to put your main code for the application outside the provided project directory, and edit the AndroidMain.hx and build.hxml files to point to this external application code. This will help with cross-platform development, and keep the boiler-plate code separate from your precious source code.

Creating a New Project

I could not find a very nice way to make a project template, so this is what I’ve come up with. First, download and extract the example project, android-2.06.1.tgz. You may like to rename the parent directory from android-2.06 to something more meaningful at this stage.

At this point, you should be able to build the sample haxe code using the build-scripts provided. This requires your prerequisite installations to be good, so it is worth testing. If you have downloaded the android-ndk to a different location, you can edit the appropriate build script to reflect this. You will need the latest NME code from haxelib. Windows users may also need the svn version of HXCPP.

So that all worked? Congratulations, your system is set up for development.

Next, fire up eclipse, and create a “File – New Project..”, then select “Android Project”, then select “Create project from existing source”, and browse to your newly created directory. You will notice that down the bottom of the Dialog, the properties are filled out with names from the sample project – we will change these next. Once you select “Finish”, your project should be created, and ready to run on your device.

The project and package names are tied into Java and Android naming conventions, as well as the Android manifest, and can be difficult to budge. It is easiest to use the eclipse Refactor-Rename menu option to change the name from “MyActivity” to something more appropriate for you, say “CircleDisplay”. Then in the source tree under “src”, there is a file in com.company called “MyActivity.Java”. Select this, and use the menu option to change its name to “CircleDisplay” too. Similarly, select the “com.company” and change this to something else, in my case “com.gamehaxe” (select preview and agree to everything). There is one final change required – the refactor option misses a reference in the AndroidManifest.xml because it starts with a period. Double click this and in the “AndroidManifest.xml” tab, change the “.MyActivity” to “.CircleDisplay”.

It is important to rename these items because it effects how your application is ultimately stored in the device.

So now you should be good to go – press the play button and select “Android Project”.

There are quite a few things that can go wrong with so many things to install, so I’ve got my fingers crossed for you.

Android Port – Second Look

I have looked into some of the performance aspects of the Android port, and I’ve come to some conclusions. Firstly, after looking at the disassembly, there did not seem to be any additional code associated with exception handling, so there was no optimizing to be done there. Secondly, the compile flags meant that software floating point operations were used, rather than the built-in hardware FPU.

So I added compile flags to force hardware floats, and added armv6 instructions while I was at it. You can get the installer here.

This gives my phone a nice 50% boost in frame-rate to about 15fps. However, on some devices this app may fail to run. This change brings the performance in line with iPhone performance for the simulation side of the program. However the OpenGL seemed slower. I guess the Qualcomm MSM 7227 does not have strong 3D acceleration \- or perhaps I am still missing something?

For comparison, you can test the flash version of the code in this directory. I get about 6\-7 fps, which is not too far from my initial software-float based results and is quite impressive. I’m not sure if the flash renderer is using software or hardware rendering \- maybe it’s worth a closer look to find out what it’s doing.

Android Port – First Light

I bought myself and Android (2.1) HTC Legend phone. Obviously, the first thing I wanted to do was to get haxe/NME running on it. Now the Android platform is very well setup for Java development but, unfortunately, the haxe Java target is not fully developed at the moment. Luckily, there is also a “native” development kit (NDK) that allows you to run c++ code on the device using a Java bootstrap to load the code and JNI.

The NDK is based in the GCC toolchain, and therefore is already pretty well supported by the hxcpp haxe backend. The problem is that the standard NDK is somewhat crippled – it does not support exceptions or the STL. It is possible to rework the hxcpp backend to work without the STL, but removing exceptions may take a bit more work. I managed to work around this by using a slightly modified NDK, created by a very helpful member of the comminity over at crystax.net. In theory this should have been all that was required, however the NDK also lacks proper wchar_t support. When I finally worked this out, it was reasonably easy to substitute a simple translation layer to fix these wide-char problems.
So far, I have only implemented the rendering API, with no interactive options. The OpenGL ES rendering code is exactly the same as for the iPhone, except that the initial context and display surface are setup in the Java code, rather than the Objective C code.

Developing with haxe for the Android target requires several modules to work together. First, you compile your haxe code as normal to a shared object – which is actually a JNI module. This exposes a single “main” function that can be called from Java. Your actual Android application starts with Java code, and you can setup the properties etc. from eclipse. Ultimately this will be boilerplate code and you will only need to change the bits you need to. This Java code then calls the haxe main function. In the graphical/NME environment the main thing this does is dynamically load the nme native library and setup a callback for when the graphics are finally initialized. You then return to Java code and setup a OpenGL ES context. When this is done, a JNI call is made into the nme dynamic library, which in turn calls back into your haxe application to complete setup. The “MainLoop” is then processed in Java, and events such as “Redraw” (and later “OnMouse” etc) are passed into the nme library, and then into the haxe application as registered “addEventListeners”.

So in this somewhat convoluted way, Java maintains full control of the app, and therefore correct interaction with the OS, while almost all the real work is done in the haxe code. In the example shown here, no changes were necessary to the haxe code, and the internal garbage collection also worked without modification, so it is a pretty solid cross-platform solution.

Now the bad news. The performance is way down compared to my 2nd generation iPod touch. This example is 10fps on the Android device, and about 24 on the iPod. Which is strange, because the core should actually be running a bit faster. The slowdown seems to be on both the OpenGL side, and the physics calculation side. It should also be noted that this is a first pass, so there is quite a bit of room for improvement. My guess is that the gcc compiler is generating significant runtime overhead per function because of the exception code. This is what I noted while compiling for the iPhone (it was doing a pthread lock per function!) \- but in that case the penalty was only incurred in functions that actually “threw”, so I simply moved the throwing code into a separate function. Which brings me to my second problem …

No easy profiling or debugging support for native code. This is a real pain for debugging (back to “log” debugging) and the lack of profiling makes it very hard to work out what needs optimizing for the target. I may be able to use a simple “setjump” style system for exceptions because the use of garbage collection means that there are no real destructors required for cleanup. But I would need to be sure this would help – premature optimization and all that.

I would also count the fact that you really need to use eclipse as an IDE as a big negative, but I think that this is just my personal dislike of the program. I think there may ultimately be ways around this with command-line compilers etc.

Native compiling tools for the Android target are still in active development and moving forwards, so I’m assuming that most of these problems will be overcome eventually. And of course, the big advantage of the Android OS is the openness \- so I can provide you with the actual application to run on your device \- give it a go, and let me know if it runs for you.

JavaScript – ready or not.

JavaScript Performance

There have been some very promising improvements in JavaScript performance, but exactly how good is it? It turns out, that there is a pretty easy way to work this out – thanks to haxe.

Haxe allows the same code base to be compile to Flash, JavaScript, neko and cpp. The graphics is handled differently – Flash uses its plugin, JS uses canvas and neko is using the NME library, running opengl. To compare these, I’ve chosen the Physaxe library, which is optimized for all these platforms, and can give a feeling for an app that has a computational and graphics load.

Into this mix, I will add another interesting option: The V8 JS engine, running using the NME library in opengl mode. This cross-over mode is actually quite easy to implement because of 3 stars aligning: 1. The NME library has a external interface that uses opaque handles that map very naturally to the v8::Value *. 2. The haxe compiler makes it possible to program JS without losing your mind, and all the existing library code is valid for this target. and 3: The Google V8 JS engine has a clean API that makes it easy to embed (you would almost think they designed it that way – dispite the frugal documentation).

The benchmark I have chosen is the “Pentagonal Rain”, which is nice and stressful for the CPU. You can try for yourself – use the ‘5’ key to switch to this demo.

Engine FPS
Neko/nme 9
Chrome 4.1, JS 11
Opera 10.5.3, JS 18
V8VM/nme 23
Flash 37
CPP/nme 130

So as you can see, the V8VM option is actually quite viable as a scripting vm. Since there is a lot in common between neko, v8vm and cpp haxe targets and plugin architectures, it should be relatively straight forward to switch between them.

The JS demo can run on the iPhone. But just because you can do something, it doesn’t not mean you should \- at about 2 FPS on the title screen, I can’t imagine how slow it would run in the Pentagonal Rain demo. And probably not great for your battery either 🙂

Bravo, Apple

Finally, Apple is doing away with those arrogant upstarts who think then can write a few lines in a high level language and call it a program. Their new developer agreement requires:

3.3.1 – Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

This has a couple of good points – firstly banning stupid languages (used by those people who are not smart enough to learn c++), and secondly getting rid of translation layers. Apple has clearly put a lot of thought into their APIs, so why would anyone want to put a layer on top of them – it’s just going to make things harder to use.


There has been a lot of talk recently about compiling “foreign” languages, such as haxe, as3, javascript, java, .net based languages, into binaries that will run extremely well on the iPhone. But like all foreigners (who are responsible for all the terrorism in the world) these languages should be cleansed from all iPhones to maintain the iPhones mono-lingual purity. Putting such insidious diversity into a beautifully designed device can be shown to confuse consumers, most of whom don’t even know their device and been compromised by these so call “high level” languages.

By raising the barrier of entry, and only permitting “real” programming languages (ie, “C” based ones), Apple ensures that the quality of apps will remain at its current lofty levels. “Natural Selection” will then weed out those people who are too lazy or too stupid to learn a proper language. In fact, I think Apple has not gone far enough here and should dabble in a bit of “Intelligent Design” by requiring that all developers who wish to submit apps hold at least a 4 year degree in computer science. Just imagine a world where any kid can work out of his garage and build an application with an original language, or bit of hardware, that snubs its nose at the establishment – anarchy would ensue. Therefore, it is important that the responsible companies out there vet such potentially disruptive ideas before they can cause too much damage.

It can’t be said that Apple don’t like new langauges, after all, they championed the greatest NeXT Step in programming ever, Objective-C, it’s just that all the other languages are utter crap. Some of then do away with the beautiful square bracket, some use commas to separate function arguments and nearly all the modern ones perform “Garbage Collection”. What a joke! Apple solved this problem years ago be simply not creating garbage in the first place. Again, it is only those too lazy to learn about how to use allocation pools and correct reference counting that need anything as dirty as Garbage Collection.

The new langages, such as haxe, are so terse that you do not even know when you are using a delegate. How can anyone possibly understand that code like:
addEventListener(KeyboardEvent.KEY_DOWN, function(event) { trace(event); });
Is supposed to do? I mean where is the delegate? Where is the class that implements the UITextFieldDelegate protocol? (And why must these languages continue to call things “Interfaces” when they are clearly “Protocols” ?)

I think Apple are right to ban code generators, such as the haxe c++ backend. While these produce code that could in theory be produced by hand, the code it robotic and lacks the “soul” of hand written code. To err is human, and without the quirks introduced bu a human coding c++ we may as well hand the future over to SkyNet and let the machines run everything.

Layers and Tools

Thankfully, Apple has also done its research into programming techniques as well as programming languages. The problem with programming these days is that where are too many layers and tools to learn, and they are taking us back to a simpler times where you are “close to the metal”. Apple rightfully shuns these extra layers, and focuses only on code. Once you understand Objective-C, Interface Builder, NIB, XIB, Frameworks, .app layouts, provisioning, xml, plist, controllers, delegates, owners and outlets, then you can create pure lovely code, without any of that layering crap getting in your way.

Programmers must beware of code that essentially “lies” by pretending that the beautiful, native API actually looks like one of the ill-conceived APIs from another language. For example, why would anyone want to view a native UIView image as the practically unsable as3 “equivalent” (I use the term loosly) of BitmapData? I don’t think there is a single successful application ever written that uses this BitmapData class.

Isolating your code from the native API will cause your code to lose its identity. If you can compile it for another (obviously inferior) device then your code will become tainted by the lower class device, even it it performs identically on the Apple device. How quickly people forget that the upper class should not mingle with the lower class.

I hope Apple’s ban extends to the gzip “translation layer”. Programmers should not be using this library because it has security implications, and they should simply use the streaming classes and do the decompression in their own code. If more programmers thought like Apple, then there would be a lot fewer security holes in software.

Don’t get me started on Game Making programs. Thank god these are banned – imagine letting a non-programmer create an App. What next, Artist creating games? Don’t make me laugh.


Apple has made a huge stride forwards by tightening the definition of what a real developer is, and I’m looking forward to what’s next. I think they have a little way to go – for example, what about all those people using foreign editors, rather than XCode? Surely if XCode is not good enough for a developer, then that developer is not good enough for Apple. The best way I can see for them enforcing this is for them to install a “watchdog” application the the developer’s machine, and send screenshots back to Apple periodically. That way, if the developer does not conform to the coding purity required by Apple, they could be identified and sent to a camp to help them concentrate on being better programmers. Win-win, what a great idea.