Useful message about NullPointerException

Peter Levart peter.levart at
Tue Jan 27 16:01:23 UTC 2015

On 01/27/2015 03:34 PM, kedar mhaswade wrote:
> When the JVM executes instructions like getfield
> <>,
> getstatic, invokevirtual etc. with *objref* on the operand stack and if
> *objref* is null, an NPE is thrown. It appears that the JVM could tell us
> more about which *objref* was null at run-time. Candidate for an RFE?

In general it is hard to deduce the meaningfull source of null *objref* 
on the operand stack by analyzing the surrounding bytecodes. It could be 
a result of complex logic executed by bytecodes. Imagine the following:

int length(boolean first, String s1, String s2) {
     return (first ? s1 : s2).length();

...the analysis would have to trace the live execution so that it could 
be rolled-back to the meaningful source of null *objref*.

All VM might semi-realistically do is report the action VM was trying to 
perform when it dereferenced a null *objref*. Like 
"NullPointerException: while invoking method Xxxx.yyyy on a null 
target", or "NullPointerException: while de-referencing instance field 
Xxxx.yyyy of a null reference"

But what does this help if you don't have access to sources? Might be a 
hint, but not much.

If you have access to sources, then perhaps an easier solution would be 
for stack traces to include column number in addition to line number of 
location in source that resulted in bytecodes that include the one that 
triggered the NPE.

There is already a RFE for that:

It seems that javac part is already there. The VM part and public API 
part (StackTraceElement) is not, though.

Regards, Peter

> That aside, (and Chris's trick is nice), but if you have no access to the
> source for the offending code, life is hard in general, isn't it? Because
> if you can't have control over the source, making that source run on a
> platform where such an RFE would be perhaps fixed (a future release of the
> JDK) would be even harder, no?
> On Tue, Jan 27, 2015 at 5:14 AM, Florian Weimer <fweimer at> wrote:
>> On 01/21/2015 01:45 PM, pike wrote:
>>> We frequently see NullPointerException in our logs. It's really a big
>>> headache when we see a NullPointerException and it is encapsulated in
>>> another exception as we don't know which object is null and it is
>> throwing
>>> an Exception. Is there any way we can get to know the object type or the
>>> object variable name where the object is null and it is throwing a
>>> NullPointerException?
>> The line number gives you the position in the source code, and from
>> that, you can usually figure out the static type.  If this is not
>> helpful in your case, you need to say why (no debugging information?
>> multiple candidates per line?).
>> The dynamic type is a different matter though, because null has no
>> specific type at run time.  It may be possible to provide type
>> information in theory, at a cost, but this would best be prototyped
>> through byte code rewriting.  Nullable annotations would also help to
>> pin-point location of the first leak, and you could record that
>> (including a stack trace) if you want something really fancy.  Whether
>> it is helpful for legacy code, I don't know.  There should be some
>> research projects out there covering this area.
>> --
>> Florian Weimer / Red Hat Product Security

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