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Runtime Architecture

Generated Libraries

When using jsii-pacmak to generate libraries in different programming languages, the Javascript code is bundled within the generated library, so that it can be used at runtime. This is the reason why a node runtime needs to be available in order to execute code that depends on jsii libraries.

The generated libraries have a dependency on a Runtime client library for the language, which contains the necessary logic to start a child node process with the jsii-runtime. The jsii-runtime manages JSON-based inter-process communication over its STDIN, STDOUT and STDERR, and manages a @jsii/kernel instance that acts as a container for the Javascript code that backs the jsii libraries.

Architecture Overview

A representation of the execution environment of an application using jsii libraries from a different language follows:

┌─────────────────────────┐               ┌────────────┬────┬────┬────┐
│                         │               │            │    │    │    │
│    Host Application     │               │@jsii/kernel│LibA│LibB│... │
│                         │               │            │    │    │    │
│      ┌──────────────────┤               ├────────────┴────┴────┴────┤
│      │                  │               │                           │
│      │Generated Bindings│               │       @jsii/runtime       │
│      │                  │               │                           │
│      ├──────────────────┤   Requests    ├──────┬────────────────────┤
│      │                  ├───────────────▶STDIN │                    │
│      │Host jsii Runtime │   Responses   ├──────┤                    │
│      │     Library      ◀───────────────┤STDOUT│                    │
│      │                  │    Console    ├──────┤    node            │
│      │                  ◀───────────────┤STDERR│                    │
├──────┴──────────────────┤               ├──────┘                    │
│      Host Runtime       │               │      (Child Process)      │
│  (JVM, .NET Core, ...)  │               │                           │
│                         │               │                           │
│                                                                     │
│                          Operating System                           │
│                                                                     │

Communication Protocol

As shown in the architecture overview diagram, the @jsii/runtime process receives requests via its STDIN stream, sends responses via its STDOUT stream, and sends console output through the STDERR stream.

All those messages are sent in JSON-encoded objects. On STDIN and STDOUT, the request-response protocol is defined by the kernel api specification. On STDERR messages are encoded in the following way:

  • { "stderr": "<base64-encoded data>" } when the console data is to be written on the Host Application's STDERR stream.
  • { "stdout": "<base64-encoded data>" } when the console data is to be written on the Host Application's STDOUT stream.
  • Any data that is not valid JSON, or that does not match either of the formats described avove must be written as-is on the Host Application's STDERR stream.

In order to allow the hosted original JavaScript libraries to naturally interact with process.stdout, process.stderr and all other APIs that make use of those streams (such as console.log and console.error), the @jsii/runtime process does in fact spawn a second node process to allow intercepting the console data to properly encode it. Below is a diagram describing the process arrangement that achieves this:

                                          │            │    │    │    │
                                          │@jsii/kernel│LibA│LibB│... │
                                          │            │    │    │    │
┌─────────────────────────┐               ├────────────┴────┴────┴────┤
│                         │               │                           │
│  @jsii/runtime Wrapper  │               │    @jsii/runtime Core     │
│                         │               │                           │
├──────┬──────────────────┤               ├──────┬────────────────────┤
│STDIN │                  │        X──────▶STDIN │                    │
├──────┤                  │    Console    ├──────┤                    │
│STDOUT│                  ◀───────────────┤STDOUT│                    │
├──────┤                  │    Console    ├──────┤        node        │
│STDERR│   node           ◀───────────────┤STDERR│                    │
├──────┘                  │     JSON      ├──────┤  (Child Process)   │
│                         ◀───────────────▶ FD#3 │                    │
│                         │               ├──────┘                    │
│                         │               │                           │
│                                                                     │
│                          Operating System                           │
│                                                                     │

Missing Feature

As shown on the diagram above, there is nothing connected to the Core process' FD#0 (STDIN). This feature will be added in the future, but currently this means jsii libraries have no way of accepting input though STDIN.

The Wrapper process manages the Core process such that:


It would be possible to use a single node process (the @jsii/runtime Core process) for any platform that supposed spawning child processes with additional open file descriptors. This is for example not possible in Java and C#, which is why this dual-process contraption was devised.

In such cases, the Host Application would spawn the Core process and directly operate on the file descriptors as described below.

  • Any requests received from the Host Application through the Wrapper's STDIN stream is forwarded to the Core process' FD#3.
  • Any response written to the Core's FD#3 stream is forwarded to the Host Application though the Wrapper's STDOUT.
  • Any data sent to the Core's STDERR is base64-encoded and wrapped in a JSON object with the "stderr" key, then forwarded to the Host Application through the Wrapper's STDERR
  • Any data sent to the Core's STDOUT is base64-encoded and wrapped in a JSON object with the "stdout" key, then forwarded to the Host Application through the Wrapper's STDERR


As with any file descriptor besides FD#0 (STDIN), FD#1 (STDOUT) and FD#2 (STDERR) that was not opened by the application, JavaScript libraries loaded in the @jsii/kernel instance are not allowed to interact directly with file descriptor FD#3.

Initialization Process

The initialization workflow can be described as:

  1. The host (Java, .NET, ...) application starts on its own runtime (JVM, .NET Runtime, ...)
  2. When the host code encounters a jsii entity for the first time (creating an instance of a jsii type, loading a static constant, ...), the runtime client library creates a child node process, and loads the jsii-runtime library (specified by the JSII_RUNTIME environment variable, or the version that is bundled in the runtime client library)
  3. The runtime client library interacts with the child node process by exchanging JSON-encoded messages through the node process' STDIN and STDOUT. It maintains a thread (or equivalent) that decodes messages from the child's STDERR stream, and forwards the decoded data to it's host process' STDERR and STDOUT as needed.
  4. The runtime client library automatically loads the Javascript modules bundled within the generated bindings (and their depedencies, bundled in other generated bindings) into the node process when needed.
  5. Calls into the Generated bindings are encoded into JSON requests and sent to the child node process, which will execute the corresponding Javascript code, then responds back.
  6. Upon exiting, the host process closes the communication channels with the child node process, causing it to exit.

Last update: 2021-05-07