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Creating Palm Pilot Software Using J2ME

  • July 26, 2000
  • By David Fox
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So you want to be a J2ME developer? Get ready for quite a ride.

Part one of this two part article: Java 2 Micro Edition and the Kilobyte Virtual Machine

If you have any experience creating Java applications or applets, then programming for the KVM won't seem like such a stretch. The steps are basically the same:
  1. Write your program
  2. Compile it
  3. Preverify it
  4. Test It
  5. Debug It
  6. Release it!
The only thing that should set off your mental alarms is step number 3 — preverification. This may sound weird and complicated, but is actually quite easy. The purpose of preverification, theoretically, is to go through your bytecode and set hints up so that the actual verification of bytecode on the Palm will happen much more quickly, saving you valuable startup time.

Getting Set Up

For the sake of this tutorial, we'll assume you're using a Windows system and developing on the C drive. But if you're a Linux user, or even playing on Mac, this should still be useful — just make obvious changes to the directory structure and file syntax.

So let's start from the beginning. There's quite a bit of setup work required before you can begin programming. Also, I recommend that you clean out your Palm pilot's memory as much as possible. You may also want to use a program like FlashPro to give yourself a few extra megs to work with.

Now, the first thing you'll need is Java itself (JDK1.2 2 or better), which has all the engines and libraries necessary to compile code. If you don't already have the JDK, you can grab it here . Be sure to install it per directions, with all the proper settings for classpaths and paths.

Next, download the CLDC from Sun's site. If you're not already a member of the Sun Download Center, you'll have to register and get a valid name and password. You should wind up with two files:


Unzip the first file to your root directory — it will create a directory called

. Unzip the second file to the
directory, using the overwrite feature.

In the

directory you'll find
programs. Install these on your Palm in the usual fashion. You are now the proud owner of the KVM!

Before you can really begin, though, you'll need to compile your own set of tools. Why Sun didn't just include them compiled for you is anyone's guess. In the DOS command line, move to the

directory. Compile the tools and put them in the CLDC class directory by typing:

javac -d c:\j2me_cldc\bin\api\classes\ *.java

Just for uniformity's sake, you'll also want to copy

to the new set of classes in the

Good. You're ready to roll!

Write Your Program

Just like an applet is based on the
class, a KVM app's superclass always extends
. A Spotlet handles basic event handling and can be thought of as the one and only "window" that your application runs within. Unlike an applet's AWT, a Spotlet includes pretty much no graphical user interface. The
classes, however, have many useful widgets such as Button, Bitmap, List, and Dialog.

Enough talk. Let's look at some code. Who could pass up the wonderful cliche of a nice Hello World program? This version will display the words "Hello World" along with a button saying "Goodbye World". When you tap the button, the program will die a tragic death.

Here it is:

import com.sun.kjava.*;public class HelloWorld extends Spotlet {    // The Graphics object is always a singleton    static Graphics g = Graphics.getGraphics();    // A button allowing us to quit    Button byeButton;         /**     * Create the Spotlet, register event handlers.     */    public static void main(String[] args)     {(new HelloWorld()).register(NO_EVENT_OPTIONS);    }        /**     * Create any components     */    public HelloWorld()     {// create the buttonbyeButton = new Button("Goodbye World",60,110);paint();    }        /**     * Draw the screen and all components!     */    private void paint()     {g.clearScreen();g.drawString("Hello World",60, 80);// Always draw components here, as wellbyeButton.paint();    }        /**     * Handle a pen down event.     */    public void penDown(int x, int y)     {        // Does (x,y) fall within the button's boundaries?if (byeButton.pressed(x,y))         {    System.exit(0);}    }}

Pretty easy, eh? Note that

must be called explicitly, and that it does not take a Graphics object as a parameter. Instead, there is one singleton
object you can and must write to if you want something to appear.

Compile and Preverify It

Now you'll need to compile the Java into a class file. This is done the same way you'd compile any Java program, really — just be sure to include the CLDC classes. For now, I'll spell out the entire process step by step. You may notice that some of these commands get a little lengthy! I highly recommend you plop all these steps into an easy batch file. This can serve as a quick makefile to compile and preverify all your code.

First, create a working directory such as

and copy your
file there. In your DOS prompt, switch to the working directory and compile the code using the KVM classes:

javac -g:none -classpath c:\j2me_cldc\bin\api\classes;. -bootclasspath

This will create a

file. You now need to preverify this file to make it kosher:

c:\j2me_cldc\bin\preverify -classpath c:\j2me_cldc\bin\api\classes;.

The HelloWorld code will be verified and placed in a new output directory, beneath the current working directory.

Test It

To quickly see the program, Sun includes a utility called
. It pops up a little Palm-looking window that lets you run your Spotlet:

c:\j2me_cldc\bin\kvm -classpath c:\j2me_cldc\bin\api\classes;output

When done executing,

will also tell you how many bytecodes were executed, the number of thread switches, the total number of classes loaded, objects allocated, garbage collections, bytes collected, and other useful stats which can help you fine tune your program.

Debug or Release It

Everything look good? Then let's actually create a Palm application! You'll need to run the MakePalmApp class which you compiled at the beginning of this tutorial. The easiest way to do this is to change to the
directory and run MakePalmApp, pointing it toward your working directory:

java palm.database.MakePalmApp -v -bootclasspath
c:\j2me_cldc\bin\api\classes -classpath c:\working\output HelloWorld
If all goes well, a nifty
Palm application should appear in the current directory. Note that you can also use the MakePalmDatabase class in a similar way if you wish to create a Palm database file instead of an application. This database can be used to hold libraries of classes that other KVM applications can tap into.

To be cautious, you should install KVM.prc on a Palm emulator such as POSE. This allows you to test our your application right on your Windows desktop. Start the emulator and choose the Install Application/Database menu item. Select the

file then hit the Reset menu item to refresh the list of programs.

You can now easily debug your program. Run it and put it through its paces. You should use the KVMUtil app to set the maximum heap size and to pipe

to the screen. You can even save output in a buffer. By putting lots of
markers in your program, you can easily trace its execution.

When you're ready for the big leagues, simply install the final

file on a real, live Palm Pilot. That's it! You can now bask in the glow that only a true Palm programmer deserves.

Final Tips

As you go forth into the world coding Spotlets more complicated than HelloWorld, be sure to remember that every byte counts! Try to avoid Hashtables and Vectors, and recycle any objects you no longer need. For example, instead of creating two buttons on two separate screens, try to merely change the label on an existing button. Avoid using costly operations like string concatenations use a StringBuffer instead. As for interface design, remember your audience and the limitation of the device. Use few, large, simple components that require as few stylus presses as possible to get to.

While your application is running, you can sniff out the memory using

. Remember to strategically garbage collect using
whenever resources fall too low.

Since the

classes only contain a basic set of graphic user interface controls, you might want to opt for a better library. A site called Trantor in Germany offers a package known as kAWT. This is a lightweight version of AWT specially tailored for the Palm pilot. It allows your Spotlets to use things like Panels and Containers and makes the Spotlet code truly upwardly compatible with applets. The only caveat is that kAWT requires about 3 seconds longer of startup time and will suck away an additional 27K or so of memory.

Finally, I highly recommend you use a code packer or obfuscator to compress your bytecode as much as possible. A good obfuscator such as IBM's jax can make your final application as much as 30 percent smaller!


The complete J2ME and CLDC API and other bits of documentation are in the
directory. You may have to unzip some files to check out the HTML version of the API. These documents can help you wind through the full range of methods and classes available to you.

For some great tutorials and sample programs, check out:

Visit the J2ME Archive with tons of sample applications, many of which include source code:

About the Author

David Fox is vice president of games at PlayLink, Inc. He's also the author of numerous books and articles about cyberculture and technology.

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