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Native Image Bundles

Native Image provides a feature that enables users to build native executables from a self-contained bundle. In contrast to regular native-image building, this mode of operation takes only a single *.nib file as input. The file contains everything required to build a native executable (or a native shared library). This can be useful when large applications consisting of many input files (JAR files, configuration files, auto-generated files, downloaded files) need to be rebuilt at a later point in time without worrying whether all files are still available. Often complex builds involve downloading many libraries that are not guaranteed to remain accessible later in time. Using Native Image bundles is a safe solution to encapsulate all this input required for building into a single file.

Note: The feature is experimental.

Table of Contents #

Creating Bundles #

To create a bundle, pass the --bundle-create option along with the other arguments for a specific native-image command line invocation. This will cause native-image to create a *.nib file in addition to the actual image.

Here is the option description:

                      in addition to image building, create a Native Image bundle file (*.nib
                      file) that allows rebuilding of that image again at a later point. If a
                      bundle-file gets passed, the bundle will be created with the given
                      name. Otherwise, the bundle-file name is derived from the image name.
                      Note both bundle options can be extended with ",dry-run" and ",container"
                      * 'dry-run': only perform the bundle operations without any actual image building.
                      * 'container': sets up a container image for image building and performs image building
                        from inside that container. Requires podman or rootless docker to be installed.
                        If available, 'podman' is preferred and rootless 'docker' is the fallback. Specifying
                        one or the other as '=<container-tool>' forces the use of a specific tool.
                      * 'dockerfile=<Dockerfile>': Use a user provided 'Dockerfile' instead of the default based on
                        Oracle Linux 8 base images for GraalVM (see

Creating Bundles with Maven #

Assuming a Java application is built with Maven, pass the --bundle-create as a build argument in the Maven plugin for Native Image building configuration:

      <buildArgs combine.children="append">

Then, run the Maven package command:

./mvnw -Pnative native:compile

Note: The command to create a native executable with Maven for a Micronaut project is: ./mvnw package -Dpackaging=native-image.

You get the following build artifacts:

Finished generating 'application' in 2m 0s.

Native Image Bundles: Bundle build output written to /application/target/application.output
Native Image Bundles: Bundle written to /application/target/application.nib

This output indicates that you have created a native executable, application, and a bundle, application.nib. The bundle file is created in the target/ directory. It should be copied to some safe place where it can be found if the native executable needs to be rebuilt later.

Creating Bundles with Gradle #

Assuming a Java application is built with Gradle, pass the --bundle-create as a build argument in the Gradle plugin for Native Image building configuration:

graalvmNative {
    binaries {
        main {

Then, run the Gradle build command:

./gradlew nativeCompile

You get the following build artifacts:

Finished generating 'application' in 2m 0s.

Native Image Bundles: Bundle build output written to /application/build/native/nativeCompile/application.output
Native Image Bundles: Bundle written to /application/build/native/nativeCompile/application.nib

This output indicates that you have created a native executable, application, and a bundle, application.nib. The bundle file is created in the build/native/nativeCompile/ directory.

Bundle File and Output Directory #

Obviously, a bundle file can be large because it contains all input files as well as the executable itself (the executable is compressed within the bundle). Having the native image inside the bundle allows comparing a native executable rebuilt from the bundle against the original one.

A bundle is just a JAR file with a specific layout. This is explained in detail below. To see what is inside a bundle, run:

jar tf application.nib

Next to the bundle, you can also find the output directory: application.output. It contains the native executable and all other files that were created as part of the build. Since you did not specify any options that would produce extra output (for example, -g to generate debugging information or --diagnostics-mode), only the executable can be found there.

Combining –bundle-create with dry-run #

As mentioned in the --bundle-create option description, it is also possible to let native-image build a bundle but not actually create the image. This might be useful if a user wants to move the bundle to a more powerful machine and build the image there. Modify the --bundle-create argument in the Maven / Gradle Native Image plugin configuration above to <buildArg>--bundle-create,dry-run</buildArg>. Then building a project takes only seconds and the created bundle is much smaller. For example, check the contents of target/application.nib and notice that the executable is not included:

jar tf application.nib

Note that this time you do not see the following message in the Maven output:

Native Image Bundles: Bundle build output written to /application/target/application.output

Since no executable is created, no bundle build output is available.

Building with Bundles #

Assuming that the native executable is used in production and once in a while, an unexpected exception is thrown at run time. Since you still have the bundle that was used to create the executable, it is trivial to build a variant of that executable with debugging support. Use --bundle-apply=application.nib like this:

native-image --bundle-apply=application.nib -g

After running this command, the executable is rebuilt from the bundle with debug info enabled.

The full option help of --bundle-apply shows a more advanced use case that will be discussed later in detail:

                      an image will be built from the given bundle file with the exact same
                      arguments and files that have been passed to native-image originally
                      to create the bundle. Note that if an extra --bundle-create gets passed
                      after --bundle-apply, a new bundle will be written based on the given
                      bundle arguments plus any additional arguments that have been passed
                      afterwards. For example:
                      > native-image --bundle-apply=app.nib --bundle-create=app_dbg.nib -g
                      creates a new bundle app_dbg.nib based on the given app.nib bundle.
                      Both bundles are the same except the new one also uses the -g option.

Building in a Container #

Another addition to the --bundle-create and --bundle-apply options is to perform image building inside a container image. This ensures that during the image build native-image can not access any resources that were not explicitly specified via the classpath or module path.

Modify the --bundle-create argument in the Maven / Gradle Native Image plugin configuration above to <buildArg>--bundle-create,container<buildArg>. This still creates the same bundle as before. However, a container image is built and then used for building the native executable.

If the container image is newly created, you can also see the build output from the container tool. The name of the container image is the hash of the used Dockerfile. If the container image already exists you will see the following line in the build output instead:

Native Image Bundles: Reusing container image c253ca50f50b380da0e23b168349271976d57e4e.

For building in a container you require either podman or rootless docker to be available on your system.

Building in a container is currently only supported for Linux. Using any other OS native image will not create and use a container image.

The container tool used for running the image build can be specified with <buildArg>--bundle-create,container=podman<buildArg> or <buildArg>--bundle-create,container=docker<buildArg>. If not specified, native-image uses one of the supported tools. If available, podman is preferred and rootless docker is the fallback.

The Dockerfile used to build the container image may also be explicitly specified with --bundle-create,container,dockerfile=<path-to-dockerfile>. If no Dockerfile was specified, a default Dockerfile is used, which is based on the Oracle Linux 8 container images for GraalVM from here. Whichever Dockerfile is finally used to build the container image is stored in the bundle. Even if you do not use the container option, native-image creates a Dockerfile and stores it in the bundle.

Other than creating a container image on the host system, building inside a container does not create any additional build output. However, the created bundle contains some additional files:

jar tf application.nib

The bundle contains the Dockerfile used for building the container image and stores the used container tool, its version and the name of the container image in container.json. For example:

    "containerToolVersion":"podman version 3.4.4",

The container option may also be combined with dry-run, in this case native-image does neither create an executable nor a container image. It does not even check if the selected container tool is available. In this case, container.json is omitted, or, if you explicitly specified a container tool, just contains the containerTool field without any additional information.

Containerized builds are sticky, which means that if a bundle was created with --bundle-create,container the bundle is marked as a container build. If you now use --bundle-apply with this bundle, it is automatically built in a container again. However, this does not apply to executing a bundle, a bundled application is still executed outside a container by default.

The extended command line interface for containerized builds is shown in the option help texts for --bundle-create and --bundle-apply above.

Capturing Environment Variables #

Before bundle support was added, all environment variables were visible to the native-image builder. This approach does not work well with bundles and is problematic for image building without bundles. Consider having an environment variable that holds sensitive information from your build machine. Due to Native Image’s ability to run code at build time that can create data to be available at run time, it is very easy to build an image where you accidentally leak the contents of such variables.

Passing environment variables to native-image now requires explicit arguments.

Suppose a user wants to use an environment variable (for example, KEY_STORAGE_PATH) from the environment in which the native-image tool is invoked, in the class initializer that is set to be initialized at build time. To allow accessing the variable in the class initializer (with java.lang.System.getenv), pass the option -EKEY_STORAGE_PATH to the builder.

To make an environment variable accessible to build time, use:

                      allow native-image to access the given environment variable during
                      image build. If the optional <env-var-value> is not given, the value
                      of the environment variable will be taken from the environment
                      native-image was invoked from.

Using -E works as expected with bundles. Any environment variable specified with -E will be captured in the bundle. For variables where the optional <env-var-value> is not given, the bundle would capture the value the variable had at the time the bundle was created. The prefix -E was chosen to make the option look similar to the related -D<java-system-property-key>=<java-system-property-value> option (which makes Java system properties available at build time).

Combining –bundle-create and –bundle-apply #

As already mentioned in Building with Bundles, it is possible to create a new bundle based on an existing one. The --bundle-apply help message has a simple example. A more interesting example arises if an existing bundle is used to create a new bundle that builds a PGO-optimized version of the original application.

Assuming you have already built your application into a bundle named application.nib. To produce a PGO-optimized variant of that bundle, first build a variant of the native executable that generates PGO profiling information at run time (you will use it later):

native-image --bundle-apply=application.nib --pgo-instrument

Now run the generated executable so that profile information is collected:


Once completed, stop the application.

Looking into the current working directory, you can find a new file, default.iprof. It contains the profiling information that was created because you ran the application from the executable built with --pgo-instrument. Now you can create a new optimized bundle out of the existing one:

native-image --bundle-apply=application.nib --bundle-create=application-pgo-optimized.nib,dry-run --pgo

Now take a look how application-pgo-optimized.nib is different from application.nib:

$ ls -lh *.nib
-rw-r--r-- 1 testuser testuser  20M Mar 28 11:12 application.nib
-rw-r--r-- 1 testuser testuser  23M Mar 28 15:02 application-pgo-optimized.nib

The new bundle should be larger than the original. The reason, as can be guessed, is that now the bundle contains the default.iprof file. Using a tool to compare directories, you can inspect the differences in detail.

As you can see that application-pgo-optimized.nib contains default.iprof in the directory input/auxiliary, and there are also changes in other files. The contents of META-INF/, input/stage/path_substitutions.json and input/stage/path_canonicalizations.json will be explained later. For now, look at the diff in build.json:

@@ -4,5 +4,6 @@
-  "--no-fallback"
+  "--no-fallback",
+  "--pgo"

As expected, the new bundle contains the --pgo option that you passed to native-image to build an optimized bundle. Building a native executable from this new bundle generates a PGO-optimized executable out of the box (see PGO: on in build output):

native-image --bundle-apply=application-pgo-optimized.nib

Executing a Bundled Application #

As described later in Bundle File Format, a bundle file is a JAR file with a contained launcher for launching the bundled application. This means you can use a native image bundle with any JDK and execute it as a JAR file with <jdk>/bin/java -jar [bundle-file.nib]. The launcher uses the command line arguments stored in run.json and adds all JAR files and folders in input/classes/cp and input/classes/p to the classpath and module path respectively.

The launcher also comes with a separate command-line interface described in its help text:

This native image bundle can be used to launch the bundled application.

Usage: java -jar bundle-file [options] [bundle-application-options]

where options include:

                runs the application with a native-image-agent attached
                'update-bundle' adds the agents output to the bundle-files classpath.
                '=<new-bundle-name>' creates a new bundle with the agent output instead.
                Note 'update-bundle' requires native-image to be installed

                sets up a container image for execution and executes the bundled application
                from inside that container. Requires podman or rootless docker to be installed.
                If available, 'podman' is preferred and rootless 'docker' is the fallback. Specifying
                one or the other as '=<container-tool>' forces the use of a specific tool.
                'dockerfile=<Dockerfile>': Use a user provided 'Dockerfile' instead of the Dockerfile
                bundled with the application

    --verbose   enable verbose output
    --help      print this help message

Running the bundled application with the --with-native-image-agent argument requires a native-image-agent library to be available. The output of the native-image-agent is written to _.output/launcher/META-INF/native-image/-agent_. If native image agents output should be inserted into the bundle with `,update-bundle`, the launcher then also requires `native-image`. The `update-bundle` option executes the command `native-image --bundle-apply=.nib --bundle-create=.nib -cp .output/launcher` after executing the bundled application with the `native-image-agent` attached.

The container option realizes a similar behavior to containerized image builds. However, the only exception is that in this case the application is executed inside the container instead of native-image. Every bundle contains a Dockerfile which is used for executing the bundled application in a container. However, this Dockerfile can be overwritten by adding ,dockerfile=<path-to-dockerfile> to the --container argument.

The bundle launcher only consumes options it knows, all other arguments are passed on to the bundled application. If the bundle launcher parses -- without a specified option, the launcher stops parsing arguments. All remaining arguments are then also passed on to the bundled application.

Bundle File Format #

A bundle file is a JAR file with a well-defined internal layout. Inside a bundle you can find the following inner structure:

│   └── <- Contains build bundle version info:
│                              * Bundle format version (BundleFileVersion{Major,Minor})
│                              * Platform and architecture the bundle was created on 
│                              * GraalVM / Native-image version used for bundle creation
├── <- launcher for executing the bundled application
├── input <- All information required to rebuild the image
│   ├── auxiliary <- Contains auxiliary files passed to native-image via arguments
│   │                (for example, external `config-*.json` files or PGO `*.iprof`-files)
│   ├── classes   <- Contains all class-path and module-path entries passed to the builder
│   │   ├── cp
│   │   └── p
│   └── stage
│       ├── build.json          <- Full native-image command line (minus --bundle options)
│       ├── container.json            <- Containerization tool, tool version and container
│       │                                image name (not available information is omitted)
│       ├── Dockerfile                 <- Dockerfile used for building the container image
│       ├── environment.json              <- Environment variables used in the image build
│       ├── path_canonicalizations.json  <- Record of path-canonicalizations that happened
│       │                                       during bundle creation for the input files
│       ├── path_substitutions.json          <- Record of path-substitutions that happened
│       │                                       during bundle creation for the input files                                        
│       └── run.json            <- Full command line for executing the bundled application
│                                                        (minus classpath and module path)
└── output
    ├── default
    │   ├── myimage         <- Created image and other output created by the image builder 
    │   ├── myimage.debug
    |   └── sources
    └── other      <- Other output created by the builder (not relative to image location)


The layout of a bundle file itself is versioned. There are two properties in META-INF/ that declare which version of the layout a given bundle file is based on. Bundles currently use the following layout version:


Future versions of GraalVM might alter or extend the internal structure of bundle files. The versioning enables us to evolve the bundle format with backwards compatibility in mind.

Input Data #

This directory contains all input data that gets passed to the native-image builder. The file input/stage/build.json holds the original command line that was passed to native-image when the bundle was created.

Parameters that make no sense to get reapplied in a bundle-build are already filtered out. These include:

  • --bundle-{create,apply}
  • --verbose
  • --dry-run

The state of environment variables that are relevant for the build are captured in input/stage/environment.json. For every -E argument that was seen when the bundle was created, a snapshot of its key-value pair is recorded in the file. The remaining files path_canonicalizations.json and path_substitutions.json contain a record of the file-path transformations that were performed by the native-image tool based on the input file paths as specified by the original command line arguments.

Output Data #

If a native executable is built as part of building the bundle (for example, the dry-run option was not used), you also have an output directory in the bundle. It contains the executable that was built along with any other files that were generated as part of building. Most output files are located in the directory output/default (the executable, its debug info, and debug sources). Builder output files, that would have been written to arbitrary absolute paths if the executable had not been built in the bundle mode, can be found in output/other.

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