Class Verification Failures

What's this all about?

This document aims to explain class verification on Android, how this can affect app performance, how to identify problems, and chromium-specific solutions. For simplicity, this document focuses on how class verification is implemented by ART, the virtual machine which replaced Dalvik starting in Android Lollipop.

What is class verification?

The Java language requires any virtual machine to verify the class files it loads and executes. Generally, verification is extra work the virtual machine is responsible for doing, on top of the work of loading the class and performing class initialization.

A class may fail verification for a wide variety of reasons, but in practice it‘s usually because the class’s code refers to unknown classes or methods. An example case might look like:

public class WindowHelper {
    // ...
    public boolean isWideColorGamut() {
        if (Build.VERSION.SDK_INT >= Build.VERSION_CODES.O_MR1) {
            return mWindow.isWideColorGamut();
        return false;

Why does that fail?

In this example, WindowHelper is a helper class intended to help callers figure out wide color gamut support, even on pre-OMR1 devices. However, this class will fail class verification on pre-OMR1 devices, because it refers to Window#isWideColorGamut() (new-in-OMR1), which appears to be an undefined method.

Huh? But we have an SDK check!

SDK checks are completely irrelevant for class verification. Although readers can see we‘ll never call the new-in-OMR1 API unless we’re on >= OMR1 devices, the Oreo version of ART doesn‘t know isWideColorGamut() was added in next year’s release. From ART's perspective, we may as well be calling methodWhichDoesNotExist(), which would clearly be unsafe.

All the SDK check does is protect us from crashing at runtime if we call this method on Oreo or below.

Class verification on ART

While the above is a mostly general description of class verification, it's important to understand how the Android runtime handles this.

Since class verification is extra work, ART has an optimization called AOT (“ahead-of-time”) verification¹. Immediately after installing an app, ART will scan the dex files and verify as many classes as it can. If a class fails verification, this is usually a “soft failure” (hard failures are uncommon), and ART marks the class with the status RetryVerificationAtRuntime.

RetryVerificationAtRuntime, as the name suggests, means ART must try again to verify the class at runtime. ART does so the first time you access the class (right before class initialization/<clinit>() method). However, depending on the class, this verification step can be very expensive (we've observed cases which take several milliseconds). Since apps tend to initialize most of their classes during startup, verification significantly increases startup time.

Another minor cost to failing class verification is that ART cannot optimize classes which fail verification, so all methods in the class will perform slower at runtime, even after the verification step.

¹ AOT verification should not be confused with AOT compilation (another ART feature). Unlike compilation, AOT verification happens during install time for every application, whereas recent versions of ART aim to apply AOT compilation selectively to optimize space.

Chromium's solution

In Chromium, we try to avoid doing class verification at runtime by manually out-of-lining all Android API usage like so:

public class ApiHelperForOMR1 {
    public static boolean isWideColorGamut(Window window) {
        return window.isWideColorGamut();

public class WindowHelper {
    // ...
    public boolean isWideColorGamut() {
        if (Build.VERSION.SDK_INT >= Build.VERSION_CODES.O_MR1) {
            return ApiHelperForOMR1.isWideColorGamut(mWindow);
        return false;

This pushes the class verification failure out of WindowHelper and into the new ApiHelperForOMR1 class. There's no magic here: ApiHelperForOMR1 will fail class verification on Oreo and below, for the same reason WindowHelper did previously.

The key is that, while WindowHelper is used on all API levels, it only calls into ApiHelperForOMR1 on OMR1 and above. Because we never use ApiHelperForOMR1 on Oreo and below, we never load and initialize the class, and thanks to ART‘s lazy runtime class verification, we never actually retry verification. Note: will still list ApiHelperFor* classes in its output, although these don’t cause performance issues.

Creating ApiHelperFor* classes

There are several examples throughout the code base, but such classes should look as follows:

 * Utility class to use new APIs that were added in O_MR1 (API level 27).
 * These need to exist in a separate class so that Android framework can successfully verify
 * classes without encountering the new APIs.
public class ApiHelperForOMR1 {
    private ApiHelperForOMR1() {}

    // ...
  • @VerifiesOnO_MR1: this is a chromium-defined annotation to tell proguard (and similar tools) not to inline this class or its methods (since that would defeat the point of out-of-lining!)
  • @TargetApi(Build.VERSION_CODES.O_MR1): this tells Android Lint it's OK to use OMR1 APIs since this class is only used on OMR1 and above. Substitute O_MR1 for the appropriate constant, depending when the APIs were introduced.
  • Don't put any SDK_INT checks inside this class, because it must only be called on >= OMR1.

Out-of-lining if your method has a new type in its signature

Sometimes you‘ll run into a situation where a class needs to have a method which either accepts a parameter which is a new type or returns a new type (e.g., externally-facing code, such as WebView’s glue layer). Even though it‘s impossible to write such a class without referring to the new type, it’s still possible to avoid failing class verification. ART has a useful optimization: if your class only moves a value between registers (i.e., it doesn‘t call any methods or fields on the value), then ART will not check for the existence of that value’s type. This means you can write your class like so:

public class FooBar {
    // FooBar needs to have the getNewTypeInAndroidP method, but it would be
    // expensive to fail verification. This method will only be called on >= P
    // but other methods on the class will be used on lower OS versions (and
    // also can't be factored into another class).
    public NewTypeInAndroidP getNewTypeInAndroidP() {
        assert Build.VERSION.SDK_INT >= Build.VERSION_CODES.P;
        // Stores a NewTypeInAndroidP in the return register, but doesn't do
        // anything else with it
        return ApiHelperForP.getNewTypeInAndroidP();

    // ...

public class ApiHelperForP {
    public static NewTypeInAndroidP getNewTypeInAndroidP() {
        return new NewTypeInAndroidP();

    // ...

Note: this only works in ART (L+), not Dalvik (KitKat and earlier).

Investigating class verification failures

Class verification is generally surprising and nonintuitive. Fortunately, the ART team have provided tools to investigate errors (and the chromium team has built helpful wrappers).

Listing failing classes

The main starting point is to figure out which classes fail verification (those which ART marks as RetryVerificationAtRuntime). This can be done for any Android app (it doesn't have to be from the chromium project) like so:

# Install the app first. Using Chrome as an example.
autoninja -C out/Default chrome_public_apk
out/Default/bin/chrome_public_apk install

# List all classes marked as 'RetryVerificationAtRuntime'
build/android/ --package=""
W    0.000s Main  Skipping deobfuscation because no map file was provided.

“Skipping deobfuscation because no map file was provided” is a warning, since many Android applications (including Chrome‘s release builds) are built with proguard (or similar tools) to obfuscate Java classes and shrink code. Although it’s safe to ignore this warning if you don't obfuscate Java code, the script knows how to deobfuscate classes for you (useful for is_debug = true or is_java_debug = true):

build/android/ --package="" \
  --mapping=<path/to/file.mapping> # ex. out/Release/apks/ChromePublic.apk.mapping

Googlers can also download mappings for official builds.

Understanding the reason for the failure

ART team also provide tooling for this. You can configure ART on a rooted device to log all class verification failures (during installation), at which point the cause is much clearer:

# Enable ART logging (requires root). Note the 2 pairs of quotes!
adb root
adb shell setprop dalvik.vm.dex2oat-flags '"--runtime-arg -verbose:verifier"'

# Restart Android services to pick up the settings
adb shell stop && adb shell start

# Optional: clear logs which aren't relevant
adb logcat -c

# Install the app and check for ART logs
adb install -d -r out/Default/apks/ChromePublic.apk
adb logcat | grep 'dex2oat'
... I dex2oat : Soft verification failures in boolean org.chromium.content.browser.selection.SelectionPopupControllerImpl.b(android.view.ActionMode, android.view.Menu)
... I dex2oat : boolean org.chromium.content.browser.selection.SelectionPopupControllerImpl.b(android.view.ActionMode, android.view.Menu): [0xF0] couldn't find method android.view.textclassifier.TextClassification.getActions ()Ljava/util/List;
... I dex2oat : boolean org.chromium.content.browser.selection.SelectionPopupControllerImpl.b(android.view.ActionMode, android.view.Menu): [0xFA] couldn't find method android.view.textclassifier.TextClassification.getActions ()Ljava/util/List;
Note: you may want to avoid adb wrapper scripts (ex. out/Default/bin/chrome_public_apk install). These scripts cache the package manager state to optimize away idempotent installs. However in this case, we do want to trigger idempotent installs, because we want to re-trigger AOT verification.

In the above example, SelectionPopupControllerImpl fails verification on Oreo (API 26) because it refers to TextClassification.getActions(), which was added in Pie (API 28). If SelectionPopupControllerImpl is used on pre-Pie devices, then TextClassification.getActions() must be out-of-lined.

See also

  • Bugs or questions? Contact
  • ART team's Google I/O talks: 2014 and later years
  • Analysis of class verification in Chrome and WebView (Google-only doc)
  • Presentation on class verification in Chrome and WebView (Google-only slide deck)