Native Image Configuration

Native Image supports a wide range of options to configure a native image build process.

A recommended way to provide configuration is to embed a file into a project jar file. The Native Image tool will automatically pick up all configuration options provided anywhere below the resource location META-INF/native-image/ and use it to construct native-image command line arguments.

To avoid a situation when constituent parts of a non-trivial project are built with overlapping configurations, it is recommended to use “subdirectories” within META-INF/native-image. That way a jar file built from multiple maven projects cannot suffer from overlapping native-image configurations. For example:

  • foo.jar has its configurations in META-INF/native-image/foo_groupID/foo_artifactID
  • bar.jar has its configurations in META-INF/native-image/bar_groupID/bar_artifactID

A jar file that contains foo and bar will then contain both configurations without conflicting with one another. Therefore the recommended layout for storing native-image configuration data in jar files is the following:

└── native-image
    └── groupID
        └── artifactID

Note that the use of ${.} in a file expands to the resource location that contains that exact configuration file. This can be useful if the file wants to refer to resources within its “subfolder”, for example, -H:SubstitutionResources=${.}/substitutions.json.

By having such a composable file, building an image does not require any additional arguments specified on command line. It is sufficient to just run the following command:

$JAVA_HOME/bin/native-image -jar target/<name>.jar

To debug which configuration data gets applied for the image building use native-image --verbose. This will show from where native-image picks up the configurations to construct the final composite configuration command line options for the image builder.

native-image --verbose -jar build/basic-app-0.1-all.jar
Apply jar:file://~/build/basic-app-0.1-all.jar!/META-INF/native-image/io.netty/common/
Apply jar:file://~/build/basic-app-0.1-all.jar!/META-INF/native-image/io.netty/buffer/
Apply jar:file://~/build/basic-app-0.1-all.jar!/META-INF/native-image/io.netty/transport/
Apply jar:file://~/build/basic-app-0.1-all.jar!/META-INF/native-image/io.netty/handler/
Apply jar:file://~/build/basic-app-0.1-all.jar!/META-INF/native-image/io.netty/codec-http/
Executing [
    <composite configuration command line options for the image builder>

Typical examples of META-INF/native-image based native image configuration can be found in Native Image configuration examples.

Properties File Format #

A file is a regular Java properties file that can be used to specify native image configurations. The following properties are supported.


Use this property if your project requires custom native-image command line options to build correctly. For example, the native-image-configure-examples/configure-at-runtime-example has Args = --initialize-at-build-time=com.fasterxml.jackson.annotation.JsonProperty$Access in its file to ensure the class com.fasterxml.jackson.annotation.JsonProperty$Access gets initialized at image build time.


Sometimes it can be necessary to provide custom options to the JVM that runs the image builder. The JavaArgs property can used in this case.


This property can be used to specify a user-defined name for the image. If ImageName is not used, a name gets automatically chosen:

  • native-image -jar <name.jar> has a default image name <name>
  • native-image -cp ... fully.qualified.MainClass has a default image name fully.qualified.mainclass

Note that using ImageName does not prevent the user to override the name later via command line. For example, if contains ImageName=foo_app,

  • native-image -jar generates the image foo_app but
  • native-image -jar application generates the image application.

Order of Arguments Evaluation #

The arguments passed to native-image are evaluated left-to-right. This also extends to arguments that get passed indirectly via META-INF/native-image based native image configuration. Suppose you have a jar file that contains with Args = -H:Optimize=0. Then by using the -H:Optimize=2 option after -cp <jar-file> you can override the setting that comes from the jar file.

Specifying Default Options for Native Image #

If there is a need to pass some options for every image build unconditionally, for example, to always generate an image in verbose mode (--verbose), you can make use of the NATIVE_IMAGE_CONFIG_FILE environment variable. If it is set to a Java properties file, the Native Image builder will use the default setting defined in there on each invocation. Write a configuration file and export NATIVE_IMAGE_CONFIG_FILE=$HOME/.native-image/ in ~/.bash_profile. Every time native-image gets used, it will implicitly use the arguments specified as NativeImageArgs, plus the arguments specified on the command line. Here is an example of a configuration file, saved as ~/.native-image/

NativeImageArgs = --configurations-path /home/user/custom-image-configs \

Runtime vs Build-Time Initialization #

Building your application into a native image allows you to decide which parts of your application should be run at image build time and which parts have to run at image run time.

Since GraalVM 19.0 all class-initialization code (static initializers and static field initialization) of the application you build an image for will be executed at image run time by default. Sometimes it is beneficial to allow class initialization code to get executed at image build time for faster startup (e.g., if some static fields get initialized to run-time independent data). This can be controlled with the following native-image options:

  • --initialize-at-build-time=<comma-separated list of packages and classes>
  • --initialize-at-run-time=<comma-separated list of packages and classes>

In addition to that, arbitrary computations are allowed at build time that can be put into ImageSingletons that are accessible at image run time. For more information please have a look at Native Image configuration examples.

For more information, continue reading to the Class Initialization in Native Image guide.

Assisted Configuration of Native Image Builds #

Native images are built ahead of runtime and their build relies on a static analysis of which code will be reachable. However, this analysis cannot always completely predict all usages of the Java Native Interface (JNI), Java Reflection, Dynamic Proxy objects (java.lang.reflect.Proxy) or class path resources (Class.getResource). Undetected usages of these dynamic features need to be provided to the native-image tool in the form of configuration files.

In order to make preparing these configuration files easier and more convenient, GraalVM provides an agent that tracks all usages of dynamic features of an execution on a regular Java VM. It can be enabled on the command line of the GraalVM java command:

$GRAALVM_HOME/bin/java -agentlib:native-image-agent=config-output-dir=/path/to/config-dir/ ...

Note that -agentlib must be specified before a -jar option or a class name or any application parameters in the java command line.

During execution, the agent interfaces with the Java VM to intercept all calls that look up classes, methods, fields, resources or request proxy accesses. The agent then generates the files jni-config.json, reflect-config.json, proxy-config.json and resource-config.json in the specified output directory, which is /path/to/config-dir/ in the example above. The generated files are stand-alone configuration files in JSON format which contain all intercepted dynamic accesses.

It can be necessary to run the target application more than once with different inputs to trigger separate execution paths for a better coverage of dynamic accesses. The agent supports this with the config-merge-dir option which adds the intercepted accesses to an existing set of configuration files:

$GRAALVM_HOME/bin/java -agentlib:native-image-agent=config-merge-dir=/path/to/config-dir/ ...

If the specified target directory or configuration files in it are missing when using config-merge-dir, the agent creates them and prints a warning.

By default the agent will write the configuration files after the JVM process terminates. In addition, the agent provides the following flags to write configuration files on a periodic basis.

  • config-write-period-secs: Executes a periodic write every number of seconds as specified in this configuration. Supports only integer values greater than zero.
  • config-write-initial-delay-secs: The number of seconds before the first write is schedule for execution. Supports only integer values greater or equal to zero. Enabled only if config-write-period-secs is greater than zero.

For example:

$GRAALVM_HOMEbin/java -agentlib:native-image-agent=config-output-dir=/path/to/config-dir/,config-write-period-secs=300,config-write-initial-delay-secs=5 ...

It is advisable to manually review the generated configuration files. Because the agent observes only code that was executed, the resulting configurations can be missing elements that are used in other code paths. It could also make sense to simplify the generated configurations to make any future manual maintenance easier.

The generated configuration files can be supplied to the native-image tool by placing them in a META-INF/native-image/ directory on the class path, for example, in a JAR file used in the image build. This directory (or any of its subdirectories) is searched for files with the names jni-config.json, reflect-config.json, proxy-config.json and resource-config.json, which are then automatically included in the build. Not all of those files must be present. When multiple files with the same name are found, all of them are included.

Building Native Image with Java Reflection Example #

For demonstration purposes, save the following code as file:

import java.lang.reflect.Method;

class StringReverser {
    static String reverse(String input) {
        return new StringBuilder(input).reverse().toString();

class StringCapitalizer {
    static String capitalize(String input) {
        return input.toUpperCase();

public class ReflectionExample {
    public static void main(String[] args) throws ReflectiveOperationException {
        String className = args[0];
        String methodName = args[1];
        String input = args[2];

        Class<?> clazz = Class.forName(className);
        Method method = clazz.getDeclaredMethod(methodName, String.class);
        Object result = method.invoke(null, input);

This is a simple Java program where non-constant strings for accessing program elements by name must come as external inputs. The main method invokes a method of a particular class (Class.forName) whose names are passed as command line arguments. Providing any other class or method name on the command line leads to an exception.

Having compiled the example, invoke each method:

$JAVA_HOME/bin/java ReflectionExample StringReverser reverse "hello"
$JAVA_HOME/bin/java ReflectionExample StringCapitalizer capitalize "hello"

Build a native image as regularly, without a reflection configuration file and run a resulting image:

$JAVA_HOME/bin/native-image ReflectionExample
[reflectionexample:59625]    classlist:     467.66 ms
Note: Image 'reflectionexample' is a fallback image that requires a JDK for execution (use --no-fallback to suppress fallback image generation).

The reflectionexample binary is just a launcher for the Java HotSpot VM, a “fallback image” as stated in the warning message. To generate a native image with reflective lookup operations, apply the tracing agent to write a configuration file to be later feed into the native image generation together with a --no-fallback option.

  1. Create a directory META-INF/native-image in the working directory:
    mkdir -p META-INF/native-image
  2. Enable the agent and pass necessary command line arguments:
    $JAVA_HOME/bin/java -agentlib:native-image-agent=config-output-dir=META-INF/native-image ReflectionExample StringReverser reverse "hello"

    This command creates a reflection-config.json file which makes the StringReverser class and the reverse() method accessible via reflection. The jni-config.json, proxy-config.json ,and resource-config.json configuration files are written in that directory too.

  3. Build a native image:
    $JAVA_HOME/bin/native-image --no-fallback ReflectionExample

    The native image generator automatically picks up configuration files in META-INF/native-image directory or subdirectories. However, it is recommended to have META-INF/native-image location on the class path, either via a JAR file or via the -cp flag. It will help to avoid confusion for IDE users where a directory structure is defined by the tool.

  4. Test the methods, but remember that you have not run the tracing agent twice to create a configuration that supports both:
    ./reflectionexample StringReverser reverse "hello"
    ./reflectionexample  StringCapitalizer capitalize "hello"
    Exception in thread "main" java.lang.ClassNotFoundException: StringCapitalizer
     at java.lang.Class.forName(
     at ReflectionExample.main(

Neither the tracing agent nor native images generator cannot automatically check if the provided configuration files are complete. The agent only observes and records which values are accessed through reflection so that the same accesses are possible in a native image. You can either manually edit the reflection-config.json file, or re-run the tracing agent to transform the existing configuration file, or extend it by using config-merge-dir option:

$JAVA_HOME/bin/java -agentlib:native-image-agent=config-merge-dir=META-INF/native-image ReflectionExample StringCapitalizer capitalize "hello"

Note, the different option config-merge-dir instructs the agent to extend the existing configuration files instead of overwriting them. After re-building the native image, the StringCapitalizer class and the capitalize method will be accessible too.

Agent Advanced Usage #

Caller-based Filters #

By default, the agent filters dynamic accesses which native-image supports without configuration. The filter mechanism works by identifying the Java method performing the access, also referred to as caller method, and matching its declaring class against a sequence of filter rules. The built-in filter rules exclude dynamic accesses which originate in the Java VM or in parts of the Java class library directly supported by native-image (such as java.nio) from the generated configuration files. Which item (class, method, field, resource, …) is being accessed is not relevant for filtering.

In addition to the built-in filter, custom filter files with additional rules can be specified using the caller-filter-file option, for example: -agentlib:caller-filter-file=/path/to/filter-file,config-output-dir=...

Filter files have the following structure:

{ "rules": [
    {"excludeClasses": "**"},
    {"includeClasses": "*"},
    {"excludeClasses": ""}

The rules section contains a sequence of rules. Each rule specifies either includeClasses, which means that lookups originating in matching classes will be included in the resulting configuration, or excludeClasses, which excludes lookups originating in matching classes from the configuration. Each rule defines a pattern for the set of matching classes, which can end in .* or .**: a .* ending matches all classes in a package and that package only, while a .** ending matches all classes in the package as well as in all subpackages at any depth. Without .* or .**, the rule applies only to a single class with the qualified name that matches the pattern. All rules are processed in the sequence in which they are specified, so later rules can partially or entirely override earlier ones. When multiple filter files are provided (by specifying multiple caller-filter-file options), their rules are chained together in the order in which the files are specified. The rules of the built-in caller filter are always processed first, so they can be overridden in custom filter files.

In the example above, the first rule excludes lookups originating in all classes from package and from all of its subpackages (and their subpackages, etc.) from the generated configuration. In the next rule however, lookups from those classes that are directly in package are included again. Finally, lookups from the HostedHelper class is excluded again. Each of these rules partially overrides the previous ones. For example, if the rules were in the reverse order, the exclusion of** would be the last rule and would override all other rules.

For testing purposes, the built-in filter for Java class library lookups can be disabled by adding the no-builtin-caller-filter option, but the resulting configuration files are generally unsuitable for a native image build. Similarly, the built-in filter for Java VM-internal accesses based on heuristics can be disabled with no-builtin-heuristic-filter and will also generally lead to less usable configuration files. For example: -agentlib:native-image-agent=no-builtin-caller-filter,no-builtin-heuristic-filter,config-output-dir=...

Access Filters #

Unlike the caller-based filters described above, which filter dynamic accesses based on where they originate from, access filters apply to the target of the access. Therefore, access filters enable directly excluding packages and classes (and their members) from the generated configuration.

By default, all accessed classes (which also pass the caller-based filters and the built-in filters) are included in the generated configuration. Using the access-filter-file option, a custom filter file that follows the file structure described above can be added. The option can be specified more than once to add multiple filter files and can be combined with the other filter options. For example: -agentlib:access-filter-file=/path/to/access-filter-file,caller-filter-file=/path/to/caller-filter-file,config-output-dir=...

Specifying Configuration Files as native-image Arguments #

A directory containing configuration files that is not part of the class path can be specified to native-image via -H:ConfigurationFileDirectories=/path/to/config-dir/. This directory must directly contain all four files jni-config.json, reflect-config.json, proxy-config.json and resource-config.json. A directory with the same four configuration files that is on the class path, but not in META-INF/native-image/, can be provided via -H:ConfigurationResourceRoots=path/to/resources/. Both -H:ConfigurationFileDirectories and -H:ConfigurationResourceRoots can also take a comma-separated list of directories.

Injecting the agent via the process environment #

Altering the java command line to inject the agent can prove to be difficult if the Java process is launched by an application or script file or if Java is even embedded in an existing process. In that case, it is also possible to inject the agent via the JAVA_TOOL_OPTIONS environment variable. This environment variable can be picked up by multiple Java processes which run at the same time, in which case each agent must write to a separate output directory with config-output-dir. (The next section describes how to merge sets of configuration files.) In order to use separate paths with a single global JAVA_TOOL_OPTIONS variable, the agent’s output path options support placeholders:

export JAVA_TOOL_OPTIONS="java -agentlib:native-image-agent=config-output-dir=/path/to/config-output-dir-{pid}-{datetime}/"

The {pid} placeholder is replaced with the process identifier, while {datetime} is replaced with the system date and time in UTC, formatted according to ISO 8601. For the above example, the resulting path could be: /path/to/config-output-dir-31415-20181231T235950Z/.

The Configuration Tool #

When using the agent in multiple processes at the same time as described in the previous section, config-output-dir is a safe option, but results in multiple sets of configuration files. The native-image-configure tool can be used to merge these configuration files. This tool must first be built with:

native-image --tool:native-image-configure

Then, the tool can be used to merge sets of configuration files as follows:

native-image-configure generate --input-dir=/path/to/config-dir-0/ --input-dir=/path/to/config-dir-1/ --output-dir=/path/to/merged-config-dir/

This command reads one set of configuration files from /path/to/config-dir-0/ and another from /path/to/config-dir-1/ and then writes a set of configuration files that contains both of their information to /path/to/merged-config-dir/.

An arbitrary number of --input-dir arguments with sets of configuration files can be specified. See native-image-configure help for all options.

Trace Files #

In the examples above, native-image-agent has been used to both keep track of the dynamic accesses in a Java VM and then to generate a set of configuration files from them. However, for a better understanding of the execution, the agent can also write a trace file in JSON format that contains each individual access:

$GRAALVM_HOME/bin/java -agentlib:native-image-agent=trace-output=/path/to/trace-file.json ...

The native-image-configure tool can transform trace files to configuration files that can be used in native image builds. The following command reads and processes trace-file.json and generates a set of configuration files in directory /path/to/config-dir/:

native-image-configure generate --trace-input=/path/to/trace-file.json --output-dir=/path/to/config-dir/

Interoperability #

Although the agent is distributed with Graal VM, it uses the Java VM Tool Interface (JVMTI) and can potentially be used with other Java VMs that support JVMTI. In this case, it is necessary to provide the absolute path of the agent:

/path/to/some/java -agentpath:/path/to/graalvm/jre/lib/amd64/<options> ...