11 December 2014

Hello World, meet our new experimental toolchain, Jack and Jill

Posted by Paul Rashidi, Developer Programs Engineer

We've been working on a new toolchain for Android that’s designed to improve build times and simplify development by reducing dependencies on other tools. Today, we’re introducing you to Jack (Java Android Compiler Kit) and Jill (Jack Intermediate Library Linker), the two tools at the core of the new toolchain.

We are making an early, experimental version of Jack and Jill available for testing with non-production versions of your apps. This post describes how the toolchain works, how to configure it, and how to let us know of your feature requests and any bugs you find.

So how does it work?

When the new tool chain is enabled, Jill will translate any libraries you are referencing to a new Jack library file (.jack). This prepares them to be quickly merged with other .jack files. The Android Gradle plugin and Jack collect any .jack library files, along with your source code, and compiles them into a set of dex files. During the process, Jack also handles any requested code minification. The output is then assembled into an APK file as normal. We also include support for multiple dex files, if you have enabled that support.

How do I use it?

Jack and Jill are already available in the 21.1.1+ Build Tools for Android Studio. Complementary Gradle support is also currently available in the Android 1.0.0+ Gradle plugin. To get started, all you need to do is make sure you're using these versions of the tooling and then add a single line in your build.gradle file. Perform a build of your application to receive a newly built APK.

android {
    ...
    buildToolsRevision '21.1.1'
    defaultConfig {
      // Enable the experimental Jack build tools.
      useJack = true
    }
    ...
}
If you want to build your app with both toolchains, Product Flavors are a great way to do this. Your build.gradle file might look something like the snippet below.
android {
    ...
    productFlavors {
        dev {
            ...
        }
        experimental {
            useJack = true
        }
        prod {
            ...
        }
    }
    ...
}

How do I configure my build?

We are making the transition to Jack as smooth as possible by supporting minification (shrinking and/or obfuscation), as well as repackaging (i.e. similar to tools like jarjar), while using the same input files as you are used to. Minification is available in the Gradle plugin immediately and repackaging will follow. You should continue to use the "minifyEnabled true" directive to reduce the size of your app among all other optimizations you would normally use. There are more details on our reference page (linked below) regarding the level of support for each type of optimization. We encourage you to provide feedback there if your current configuration isn't supported.

Give us your feedback

We are attempting to make the toolchain as easy to test out as possible and we're looking for your help to fine tune it. Use the reference page to find known issues, file feature requests, and report bugs. Happy building!