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Building an Audio CD Player, Part 1

By Michael Hamilton

This article outlines my recent experiences writing Jcd, a Java CD player. It is aimed at people who have browsed through an introductory Java or C++ text and feel they know their way around either language. While reading the article, I think it would be a good idea to have a Java textbook on hand to fill in any items I might gloss over.

I have been experimenting with Java in order to evaluate its usefulness as a general purpose language. One of the things I've written is a GUI CD player with a track-title database. I chose to write a CD player because it requires the use of a large part of the language and its associated libraries: graphical user interfaces, threads, file I/O sockets, text parsing, image manipulation, data entry forms and native C calls to interface to the kernel's CD drivers. Since this is one of my initial attempts at using Java, you shouldn't assume everything you read below is authoritative or definitive--I'm just reporting what worked for me.

Features of Jcd

Jcd has the following features:

The finished system is shown here:

Java Application Programming on Linux

Jcd is a Java application, not a Java applet. That is, it can't be run in the secure sand box of a Web browser. This is because Jcd reads and writes files in your local file system, and because it requires a native-machine-language driver specific to your operating system and processor architecture. In the future it may be possible to make Jcd an Applet, as Sun is working on standards for controlled accessed to local files and for portable access to hardware such as CD audio drives. Until then, Jcd must be run in a Java run-time environment, such as that provided by Sun's Java Development Kit. I developed Jcd using the Linux Java Porting Project's port of the Java Development Kit 1.0.2 and 1.1.1. You can find out how to obtain the JDK for Linux by pointing your browser at http://java.blackdown.org/.

This article will lead you through the code of a cut-down version of Jcd, much as it appeared in the early stages of its development. At the end of the article, we will have a working command-line-driven player that can be built upon to create a GUI player such as Jcd.

Linux supports a set of Sun ioctl commands--device I/O control calls to the kernel, for controlling audio CD operations. The kernel's CD-ROM ioctl interface is defined in the /usr/include/linux/cdrom.h file. This interface provides a set of calls for functions such as play, stop, pause, cd-info and others. The Java interface described below closely parallels the functions the kernel provides.

Listing 1 shows a test rig for testing my Java interface. Ignoring the details for the moment, you can see in lines 26 through 71 that I have a loop reading from cmd_stream. On lines 31 through 65, I check the command read for a keyword. If I match a keyword, I call the appropriate cd_drive operation.

At line 1 I declare that Jcd.java is part of the package Jcd; that is, all classes defined in Jcd.java are part of the package Jcd. This serves to keep the Jcd classes together and grants them mutual access to each other's data and methods, except where the data and methods are explicitly declared private. All classes outside the package can only access the data and methods that are explicitly declared public. The Java run-time environment locates the Jcd package by looking for a Jcd subdirectory in the directories listed in the CLASSPATH environment variable. While developing Jcd, I put my working directory . (dot) in the CLASSPATH and created a dummy Jcd subdirectory by using a symbolic link pointing back to my working directory:

ln -s . Jcd
Later, when I installed the finished Jcd, I put the Jcd package in the /usr/local/lib/jcd/Jcd directory and added that directory to my CLASSPATH.

On lines 8 and 10 of Listing 1, I import the standard Java I/O classes--a wild card is used to get them all--and I import the Jcd.Drive class that calls the kernel interface. When referring to the Drive class I have used the package qualifier Jcd, as well as the class name Drive.

At line 14 I declare the main method. The main method is static, which makes it a class method, so it doesn't belong to any particular Jcd instance; instead, it belongs to the class as a whole. This is the method that will be invoked when I run Jcd by typing:

java Jcd.Jcd
The Java loader looks for a static method called main in the class you tell it to run. One implication of this, is that every class you write can have its own test rig by including a static main method in its implementation.

At lines 16 through 18, I declare cd_drive and assign it to a new instance of the Drive object. I pass both the drive device name, /dev/cdrom, and the location of the compiled C shared object module, Jcd_Drive.so, to the object constructor so that the object can initialize itself appropriately.

At line 19 I wrap a DataInputStream object around the System.in standard input object. DataInputStream is a filter that allows me to read a byte stream as strings terminated by newlines. The idea of layering filters over data streams to add new processing functionality is very prominent in the Java I/O classes.

The only remaining unexplained pieces of code in Listing 1 are the try-catch statements that surround most of the code. In Java, errors are signalled by throwing exceptions which, if un-caught, cause the program to issue a diagnostic error. These ``Thowables'' are divided into two sub-classes: Errors, major problems that will probably result in a program crash (such as running out of memory); and Exceptions, problems that you are expected to be able to handle inside the program (such as reading past end-of-file). Any action that can result in an Exception has to be handled in one of two ways: the method in which it can occur must either have a try-catch statement that handles the exception, or the method must declare that it can cause the exception, which passes the buck to callers of the method. Because this is enforced by the compiler, it's a very nice mechanism for ensuring that exceptions do not go unconsidered by the programmer.

In Listing 1, the System.in class can throw an IOException, such as end-of-file. The Jcd main() method either has to catch each IOException or pass it on. In this case, my empty catch body will effectively ignore I/O errors. After catching an exception, execution continues from the catch statement. The cd_drive object that the main method uses to control the CD-ROM can also return a DriveException. The main method has to catch these too--I just print the reason for the exception and let the program continue.

Jcd Design Details

Now look at Drive.java Listing 2. This file declares the Java to C interface as a set of body-less native methods on lines 69 through 138. These native methods are implemented in the Jcd_Drive_ix86-Linux.c C module (Listing 4). The native methods in Listing 2 are augmented by some Java methods that add additional operations to make life simpler for the users of the class--for example on lines 139 to 152, there are several variations of the play() method to simplify the most common types of requests.

On lines 13 through 35 of Listing 2 the Drive class defines static class constants for all the instances of the Drive object to share. The keyword final means a value is constant. There seems to be a convention amongst Java programmers for representing constants in uppercase. All the constants in the Drive class are related to the kernel interface. For example, the frames per second defines the address unit used by CD-ROM drives; the lead out track number defined on line 18 is a dummy track that contains info on the total playing time of the CD.

Lines 35 through 51 define data unique to each Drive object that is created. The C module that carries out the kernel calls will access and update some of this data.

Most of the methods can throw a DriveException. DriveException is defined on line 157, and below it a series of sub-classes define the full range of exceptions that a DriveException may actually represent. The bodies of these exception classes are almost empty because the actual processing is passed on to the super (parent) class to handle which is ultimately the standard Java library's Exception class. The super-class constructors accept calls with and without an explanation string, so I've defined both. It would be nice if the official Java language supported default values for arguments, so that the excessive repetition of nearly identical constructors could be avoided (one of the features of the Python language that I miss the most).

All of my native methods are declared to be ``synchronized''. Making the methods synchronized gives each method exclusive access to the Drive when it is called. This prevents a multi-threaded application from issuing multiple conflicting (or overlapping) calls to the kernel. Synchronized methods carry more overhead than non-synchronized ones, but in this case we are unlikely to request more than a few CD operations per second, so we needn't worry about the overhead.

Having defined the interface, I used the javah utility from Sun's Java Development Kit to help me generate the code for the C module. I used javah to generate the C header file, Jcd_Drive.h, and the C stubs file, Jcd_Drive.c.

javah Jcd.Drive
javah -stubs Jcd.Drive
@lay:Place 2397l3 around here

The Jcd_Drive.h file contains data definitions and function prototypes that define the native C interface. The generated header file is a little messy, so a more readable version of it is presented in Listing 3. It contains a define for each of the final static data items in the Drive class. Note that javah has used the package name (Jcd) and class name (Drive) to form the Jcd_Drive prefix for the native data and function names.

The Jcd_Drive.c that javah generates provides code that handles the messy details of taking the data Java passes and making it more palatable before passing it on to the actual C routines. Aside from compiling this file and including its object with my own code, I pretty much ignore its existence. All I have to do is implement the interface defined in Jcd_Drive.h, I don't need to know which part Jcd_Drive.c plays in the process.

Integrating Java with C

For me, the ease with which Java and C can be integrated is one of Java's biggest selling points. I know there's much talk about sticking to pure Java, but I'm interested in using Java as a general purpose language. I'm sure I'll still need to fall back on C both for reasons of performance, and in order to integrate Java into existing systems. If I can write 90% of my systems code in Java and 10% in a well-defined C module, that may still make for good portability. For example, after writing a CD-ROM module in C for Linux, it only took me a few hours to create another C module for SGI IRIX. The Java code in my final player interrogates its environment to find out which operating system and architecture it's running on and then dynamically loads the appropriate native shared object module.

On line 16 of Listing 3, the Jcd_Drive.h file defines the ClassJcd_Drive structure that the C run-time environment and Java run-time environments can use to gain mutual access to data belonging to Drive objects. The raw data structure has to be augmented with some Java-environment bookkeeping by the HandleTo(Jcd_Drive) macro call which creates a new structure called HJcd_Drive on line 26. The C functions that make up the native interface are always passed HJcd_Drive as their first argument. The prototypes for these functions are listed on lines 28 through 45.

Listing 4 details Jcd_Drive_ix86-Linux.c, the Linux Intel version of the C module. I've used a methodical architecture/OS naming convention based on properties I can retrieve from the Java runtime environment. This allows Jcd to select and locate the appropriate native module for each platform at runtime--for the cut down version of Jcd, I've just hard-coded the module (see line 17 of Listing 1).

Most of the code in Listing 4 is concerned with making the kernel ioctl calls. Before discussing these calls, I'll get the Java to C native call side of the equation squared away. Looking at a simple case first: on lines 181 through 189 of Listing 4, the Jcd_Drive_status() C function implements the Jcd native status() method (from Listing 2 line 122). When called, the status() function is passed the HJcd_Drive struct and can access the ClassJcd_Drive it contains by using the unhand() function. It first checks a C file descriptor to see if the drive has previously been opened successfully. If the file descriptor is -1, the drive isn't currently assigned, so the function just returns the last known status (which was stored in the ClassJcd_Drive structure). Otherwise, if the file descriptor is valid, the new_status() function is called to retrieve a new status value into the ClassJcd_Drive structure.

A slightly more complex case is seen on lines 217 to 234, where the Jcd_Drive_trackAddress() function implements the Jcd native trackAddress() method. The trackAddress() method returns the address of a track as the number of 75ths of a second from the start of the CD. The function is passed two parameters: the HJcd_Drive structure that contains the Java object's data and the track number in the form of a long integer. The integer is declared as Java_Int, but as you can see on line 39, this is just my way of getting around the differences between the Kaffe and Sun Java compilers--looks like native call implementations can vary a bit between compilers-- hopefully this is something that will be standardized. In fact under JDK 1.1.1, my Java_Int should be defined as int32_t.

The trackAddress function sets up a cdrom_tocentry structure (defined in /usr/include/linux/cdrom.h) for passing to a kernel ioctl program. In Unix/Linux, ioctl calls provide access to a variety of kernel services related to devices. The device the ioctl is to work on is determined by the file descriptor passed as its first parameter--in Unix all devices can usually be accessed as special files resident in /dev. The kind of service an ioctl performs is determined by its second parameter. In our case we are doing a CDROMREADTOCENTRY, i.e., CD-ROM read table of contents entry. The third parameter to an ioctl is usually the address of some structure specific to that particular ioctl call. In this case the third parameter, the cdrom_tocentry structure, is initialized to contain the track number, and the kernel will copy the result into fields within the same structure.

If an ioctl call goes wrong, perhaps due to a drive fault or to the drive being empty, the ioctl call returns -1. If this happens, we need to raise a Java exception in the calling Java module. Line 228 accomplishes this by calling SignalError and passing it the text name of the exception as the second parameter--in this case, one of the exceptions declared in Listing 2. The first parameter to SignalError is used to control the environment in which the error handling will occur (I left it to default). The last parameter is any extra text explanation that we may wish to provide--in this case I'm simply translating the C error number to a text string. It's important to note that SignalError sets up an exception that will be processed when the C error routine returns. On returning to the calling Java routine, only the last of any SignalError calls will have any effect, i.e., you can't communicate multiple errors via multiple SignalError calls in one C call.

If the ioctl call succeeds, we take the address the kernel returned in tocentry.cdte_addr.msf and translate it from minute-second frame to an integer number of 75ths of a second. This value is returned as the result of the native method call on line 231.

As we have seen above, passing numerical data backward and forward between Java and C is pretty easy. Character strings are almost as easy, but do require conversion. These two functions do the necessary conversions:

Hjava_lang_String *makeJavaString(char *from,
	int len);
char *javaString2CString(Hjava_lang_String *from, char *to, int max_len);
The function Jcd_Drive_cddbID() on lines 263 to 279 computes the CDDB ID for a CD-ROM and uses makeJavaString() to convert it to a Java string before returning it (CDDB is the database format used by the Xmcd CD player). On lines 64 and 65 the take_player() function uses javaString2CString() to make a C version of the Java string containing the device name of the CD-ROM.

Practical Design Issues

If you look at almost any C routine in Listing 4, you will see that the C code is constantly checking things like whether the drive is open or not. I'm trying to avoid monopolizing the drive. This is especially important on ejecting the drive tray. When the user uses Jcd to eject the tray, I relinquish the the drive by closing it and won't access it again until the user issues another Jcd request. This allows the user to use the drive for other purposes without leaving Jcd. It also prevents a problem on my system--if I keep polling the drive status after an eject, the drive will immediately close again. There's quite a bit of code that attempts to tip-toe around issues such as this one.

I also found that with my particular CD-ROM, if I issue an inappropriate pause or resume (for example, pause when the drive isn't playing anything), the kernel driver may become confused, and further ioctl calls to the drive will hang indefinitely. Once this happens the only way to get the drive to respond is to reboot. The pause/resume code on Lines 359 to 386 is careful to check before proceeding.

I also found that some kernel CD-ROM drivers won't respond to a play command while they are already playing. That's why the STOP_PLAY flag is defined on line 34 in Listing 2.

You would think that CDs would include an ID unique to the album's artist and title, and perhaps even artist and track information--well, apparently, this isn't so. As a result, the writers of CD-players such as Xcd and my own Jcd use a hash-key ID computed from the lengths of the CDs and the lengths of their tracks. The hash key is used to look up a database of CD artists, titles and track-titles. There is a problem with using track lengths to create an ID. For an artist/title album there may be many pressings (if that's the right word) manufactured in different counties and states, and the different pressings may have slightly different lead-in/lead-out times and time intervals between tracks. The ID is constructed so that all approximate matches can be identified-- if there isn't a unique match, the GUI interface of Jcd will present a list of possibilities.

Making the Makefile

The final thing I'd like to discuss is the Makefile that builds this lite version of Jcd. Inter-module/inter-class dependencies in Java tend to depend more on whether a class has changed its interface. Just because a source file has been modified, it does not necessarily follow that defined interfaces within it have changed. If you construct a Makefile using file based inter-dependencies, you are going to do a lot of needless re-compiles. I don't have a solution to this problem--maybe a new kind of Java-aware build tool is necessary. This aside, the Makefile in Listing 5 does the job. The CFLAGS option -fPIC is very important; it makes the gcc compiler generate position-independent code suitable for loading as a shared library. The LDFLAGS option -shared is obvious enough--it tells the loader to create a shared object. The LDFLAGS options -Wl,-soname,Jcd_Drive passes the -soname option to the linker so that the shared object will be named Jcd_Drive. Otherwise, the linker will include its path in its name, and we may get a mismatch on loading a module called Jcd_Drive. The Makefile adds a new default rule--a .class file depends on a corresponding .java file. The Makefile installs the native shared library in an appropriate directory structure to support multiple architectures and operating systems.

That's about all you need to know to create a simple CD player. My next article will examine the Abstract Windowing Toolkit in order to add a GUI and multi-threading in order to add programmed play.


ftp://sunsite.unc.edu/pub/Linux/apps/sound/cdrom/: The sunsite directory where the latest Jcd can be found. Currently this would be jcd-1.1.tar.gz

http://www.actrix.gen.nz/users/michael/: Patches or news concerning Jcd can be found on my home page.

http://www.blackdown.org/: The Linux Java site.

Java in a Nutshell, David Flanagan, O'Reilly & Associates, 1996. Very nice introduction, with enough detail to build things like Jcd if you team it up with Sun's on-line documentation. By the time you read this article, the second edition will be out--you can use O'Reilly's web page, http://www.ora.com/, to check on its status.

The Java Language Specification, Gosling, Joy, Steele, Addison-Wesley 1996. Good reference on the language and class libraries but doesn't cover the Abstract Windowing Toolkit.

InfoMagic Java CD-ROM, Spring 1996: I used this CD-ROM to gain access to Sun's HTML documentation via my browser. This was my main source of AWT documentation. You can't use the JDK on this CD, as it is out of date--but the documentation was still useful.

The Java Class Libraries, Chan and Lee, Addison-Wesley, 1997. This book covers the AWT, but also repeats much of what I found in the previous two. This is the heaviest book I own--I think I would prefer a lighter AWT only reference. On brief inspection, Java AWT Reference, John Zukowski, O'Reilly & Associates, 1997, looks like a good possibility, and it covers the latest AWT too.

Advanced Programming in the UNIX Environment, W. Richard Stevens. Great general reference on Unix programming and provides a good background for ioctl basics and other stuff.

http://sunsite.unc.edu/~cddb/xmcd/ : The Xmcd and CDDB home page. Ti Kan and Steve Scherf developed a Motif CD player, and its CDDB database format has become a popular standard for free and shareware CD players. They've defined a protocol for remote look ups via TCP sockets.

All listings referred to in this article are available by anonymous download in the file hamilton.tgz.

Copyright © 1998, Michael Hamilton
Published in Issue 28 of Linux Gazette, May 1998