Android Notes

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Here are some miscellaneous notes on Android. See Android on OMAP, too.

Technical information about system components

OOM Killer information

Google (Android) developer Arve Hjonevag added a lowmemorykiller feature to the staging area of the Linux kernel in January of 2009. This feature tries to reclaim memory before the system runs out (acting as a kind of cache manager, according to Arve). In Linus' 2.6.28-rc tree this appears in

Application lifecycle (and activity states) can be found here:

Applications in different stages of their lifecycle receive a different oom_adj value, which affects the probability of their being reaped.

Initial lowmemorykiller thresholds are set by /etc/init.rc (with the following lines):

# Define the oom_adj values for the classes of processes that can be killed by the kernel. These are used in ActivityManagerService.
   setprop ro.FOREGROUND_APP_ADJ 0
   setprop ro.VISIBLE_APP_ADJ 1
   setprop ro.SECONDARY_SERVER_ADJ 2
   setprop ro.HIDDEN_APP_MIN_ADJ 7
   setprop ro.CONTENT_PROVIDER_ADJ 14
   setprop ro.EMPTY_APP_ADJ 15

# Define the memory thresholds at which the above process classes will be killed. These numbers are in pages (4k).
   setprop ro.FOREGROUND_APP_MEM 1536
   setprop ro.VISIBLE_APP_MEM 2048
   setprop ro.SECONDARY_SERVER_MEM 4096
   setprop ro.HIDDEN_APP_MEM 5120
   setprop ro.CONTENT_PROVIDER_MEM 5632
   setprop ro.EMPTY_APP_MEM 6144

# Write value must be consistent with the above properties.
   write /sys/module/lowmemorykiller/parameters/adj 0,1,2,7,14,15

   write /proc/sys/vm/overcommit_memory 1
   write /sys/module/lowmemorykiller/parameters/minfree 1536,2048,4096,5120,5632,6144

   class_start default

   # Set init its forked children's oom_adj.
   write /proc/1/oom_adj -16

Routines to actually calculate the oom_adj value, based on application state are in the ActivityManager. See frameworks/base/services/java/com/android/server/am/ and frameworks/base/core/java/android/os/ => frameworks/base/core/jni/android_util_Process.cpp:android_os_Process_setOomAdj()

Init sequence

See this blog entry for an overview of the sequence of operations performed by the 'init' program:

Kernel power management

See for a discussion of kernel modifications to support power management.

(Also, the comments are interesting, in that they delve into (and speculate about) the possible history of certain components of the Android system.)

C Library (bionic) information

See the excellent article: for an overview of bionic.


Google developed a custom library for the C compiler (libc) called Bionic. This was necessary for three main reasons:

  • License: they wanted to keep GPL out of user-space. Bionic code uses the BSD license.
  • Size: the library has to be loaded in each process, so it needs to be small. Bionic is about 200K, or half the size of glibc (the GNU version of libc).
  • Speed: limited CPU power means it needs to be fast. Bionic has a small size and fast code paths, including a very fast and small custom pthread implementation.

Bionic has built-in support for important Android-specific services such as system properties and logging. It doesn’t support certain POSIX features, like C++ exceptions and wide chars, which were not needed on Android. Thus it’s not quite compatible with the GNU libc. All native code must be compiled against bionic, not glibc.


The bionic C library has its own thread API, not the same as either original LinuxThreads or NPTL.


Android thread library (from bionic libc) is minimalist:
 - Uses most of the Linux kernel thread features (futex, CLONE_THREAD)
 unlike old linuxpthread.
- It doesn't support thread cancellation (see CAVEATS file)
- It misses some pthread functions: for example, no barrier, missing 
*timedwait variant, etc.
- Very basic GDB support that only works through gdbserver
- Some theoretic race

Development Tools


Android ships with a utility suite (called 'toolbox') that is not BusyBox.

You can get a binary BusyBox for Android here. The site includes instructions for easy installation on your device.


The 'init' program in Android has built-in capability to gather the data needed to produce a bootchart image. See README.BOOTCHART in the directory system/core/init directory of the Android source repository for details.

See Using Bootchart on Android


Apparently, droidbench is an integrated benchmark program for Android.

Development Tips

Debugging tips

Quick stack dump - "kill -3 <pid>" will put a stack trace in the log file. (Use logcat to view.)

Using 'fastboot'

Re-flashing a device

See How (not) to brick the Android Developer Phone, Feb. 2009,

Android 101 by Haykuro - describes basic re-flashing of a G1 (so has some non-ADP1 information).

Tutorial on Android flash partitions

HOWTO: Unpack, Edit, and Repack Boot Images is a good tutorial on Android Flash partitions.

Nandroid (NAND flash backup tool)

Nandroid is a tool for backing up your flash partitions. It is highly recommended if you plan to experiment with customizations of your system software. It requires BusyBox (not in regular Android images).

Compiling native applications

Because Android uses its own C library (not glibc), it is tricky to compile native applications for.

Here are some instructions for compiling "hello world" on the android phone:


See Updating and rebuilding Android, May 2009

Building the kernel from scratch



Android taxonomy

The information in this wiki needs to be better organized. So I'm creating a taxonomy of topics for Android system developers. NOTE: This section of the page is a work-in-progress.

Categories of information:

  • Kernel
    • Where to obtain
    • How to install on phone, on emulator
    • What version to use
    • Kernel features unique to android (wakelocks, binder)
    • Code names for boards/hardware
    • msm bsp highlights
  • libc (bionic)
    • Where to obtain
    • License
    • How to install on phone, on emulator
    • Comparison with glibc, uclibc
  • Development tools
    • Eclipse (I still can't use it)
    • traceview
    • Logs
    • Toolchains
    • Repository
    • ADB, Android, emulator
  • Booting
    • Boot sequences (firmware, partitions, images)
    • Bootchart
    • Init
  • Power management
    • Wakelocks
    • Application life-cycle
  • Memory usage
    • OOM Killer, app life-cycle
    • Smem reports
    • Dalvik memory usage
  • Security
  • Programs (outside scope of this wiki - many other resources available)
    • API
    • Toolchains
    • Dalvik
    • DEX
    • JNI
  • Scripts
    • ASE
  • Hardware
  • Distributions