WebView Java Bridge (WebView#addJavascriptInterface())


This page explains ideas behind the Java ↔ JavaScript bridge implementation. This is to ensure that important use cases and scenarios, which must be preserved regardless of how the bridge is implemented, are captured. The need for this description arose while migrating the NPAPI-based implementation to a Gin-based implementation. Although a vast number of unit tests already existed, they still didn't cover all important aspects of the bridge behavior and we had to add some new tests to ensure we are preserving compatibility.

The Gin implementation was introduced in Chromium M37 (initial Android Lollipop release), with the threading issue fixed in M39 (L MR1).


An API for embedders is exposed on android.webkit.WebView class:

Important notes as defined by the API:

  • adding or removing an injected object is not reflected on the JavaScript side until the next page load;
  • only methods annotated as @JavascriptInterface are exposed to JavaScript code; Java object fields are never exposed;
  • methods of Java objects are invoked on a private, background thread of WebView; this effectively means, that the interaction originated by the page must be served entirely on the background thread, while the main application thread (browser UI thread) is blocked;

Argument and return values conversions are handled after Sun Live Connect 2 spec. In fact, there are lots of deviations from it (probably, to preserve compatibility with earlier WebView versions). What can pass the boundary between VMs is somewhat limited. This is what is allowed:

  • primitive values;
  • single-dimentional arrays;
  • “array-like” JavaScript objects (possessing “length” property, and also typed arrays from ES6);
  • previously injected Java objects (from JS to Java);
  • new Java objects (from Java to JS), those are “injected” into JavaScript as if one called addJavascriptInterface, but w/o providing a name; also, the lifecycle of such transient objects is different (see below).

Objects Lifecycle

The purpose of Java bridge is to establish interaction between two virtual machines (VMs): Java and JavaScript. Both VMs employ a similar approach to managing objects lifetime -- VMs gather and dispose unreferenced objects during garbage collection (GC) cycles. The twist that Java bridge adds is that objects in one VM can now virtually reference (and prevent from being disposed) objects from another VM. Let us consider the following Java code:

// in Java
webView.addJavascriptInterface(new MyObject(), "myObject");

The instantiated MyObject is now being virtually hold by its JavaScript counterpart, and is not garbage-collected by Java VM despite the fact that there are no explicit references to it on the Java side. The MyObject instance is kept referenced until the action of the addJavascriptInterface call is cancelled by a call to removeJavascriptInterface:

// in Java

A more interesting situation is with transient objects returned from methods of an injected Java object. Consider the following example:

// in Java
class MyObject {
    class Handler {

    public Object getHandler() { return new Handler(); }

Again, the object returned from getHandler method is not explicitly referenced on the Java side, albeit it should not be disposed until it is in use on the JavaScript side. The “in use” period is determined by the lifetime of the JavaScript interface object that has been implicitly created as a result of a call to getHandler from JavaScript. That means, the instance of Handler on the Java side should be kept alive during the period while the corresponding JavaScript interface object is still referenced:

// in JavaScript
   let handler = myObject.getHandler();

The following figure illustrates relationships between Java and JavaScript objects created in the previous examples:

relationship between Java and JavaScriptobjects

Note that Java and JavaScript VMs are absolutely independent and unaware of each other‘s existence. They can work in different processes and, in theory, even on different physical machines. Thus, the depicted references from JavaScript objects to Java objects are virtual—they don’t exist directly. Instead, it is the Java bridge who holds the Java objects for as long as it is needed. We would like to depict that, but first we need to consider the whole picture.

So far, we were thinking about Java bridge in abstract terms. But in fact, it is used in the context of a WebView-based application. The Java side of the bridge is tightly coupled to an instance of WebView class, while bridge's JavaScript side is bound to a HTML rendering engine. This is further complicated by the facts that in the Chromium architecture renderers are isolated from their controlling entities, and that Chromium is mainly implemented in C++, but needs to interact with Android framework which is implemented in Java.

Thus, if we want to depict the architecture of Java bridge, we also need to include parts of the Chromium framework that are glued to Java bridge:

Java bridge architecture

The figure is now much scarier. Let's figure out what is what here:

  • In Java VM (browser side): WebView is android.webkit.WebView class. It is exposed to the embedder and interacts with Chromium rendering machinery. WebView owns a retaining set (Set<Object>) that holds all injected objects to prevent their collection. Note that WebView class manages a C++ object called WebContents (in fact, the relationship is more complex, but these details are not relevant for us). As Java Bridge implementation is in C++, the retaining set is actually managed by the C++ side, but objects from the native side do not hold any strong references to it, as that would create a cyclic reference and will prevent the WebView instance from being collected.
  • On the C++ browser side: Here we have the aforementioned WebContents object which delegates Java Bridge-related requests to JavaBridgeHost. WebContents talks to the objects on the renderer side via Chrome's IPC mechanism.
  • On the C++ renderer side: RenderFrame corresponds to a single HTML frame and it “owns” a JavaScript global context object (aka window). For each JavaScript interface object, a corresponding JavaBridgeObject instance is maintained. In Chrome terminology, this object is called “wrapper”. In the Gin-based implementation, wrappers don't hold strong references to their corresponding JavaScript interface objects, also to prevent memory leaks due to cycles of references. Wrappers receive a notification from the JavaScript VM after the corresponding JavaScript objects has been garbage-collected.

The diagram above misses one more important detail. WebView can load a complex HTML document consisting of several frames (typically inserted using tags). Each of these frames in fact has it own global context (and can even be prevented from accessing other frames). According to Java Bridge rules, each named object is injected into contexts of all frames. So if we imagine that we have loaded an HTML document with an into WebView, and then repeated the calls from above in both main document and the , we will have the following picture:

Java bridge architecture forframes

Note that as MyObject.getHandler() returns a new Handler instance every time, we have two instances of Handler (one per frame), but still have only one instance of MyObject.

Would getHandler return the same instance of Handler every time, the latter will also have multiple JavaScript interface referencing it. Thus, transient Java object must be kept alive by Java Bridge until there is at least one corresponding JavaScript interface object (note that Java side could keep only a weak reference to the single Handler instance it returns, so Java Bridge must keep its own strong reference anyway).

To summarize the lifecycle topic, here is a state diagram of a Java object lifecycle from the Java Bridge's perspective:

Object lifecycle

In the states with bold borders, the Java object is retained by Java Bridge to prevent its collection. It is possible that a garbage-collected object still has JavaScript wrappers (that is, remains “injected”). In that case, attempts to call methods of this object will fail.

The only difference between “Not retained, injected” and “Ordinary Java object” states is that in the former, the Java object is still “known” to the JavaScript side, so it can still make calls to it.

Please also note that there is no way for a named injected object to become a transient one, although the opposite is possible.

Arguments and Return Values Conversions

Three major problems must be addressed by Java Bridge:

  1. Java primitive types are different from JavaScript types: a. JavaScript only has Number, while Java offers a range of numeric types; a. JavaScript has ‘null’ and ‘undefined’; a. JavaScript has “array-like” objects that can also have string keys.
  2. Java methods accept fixed number of arguments and can be overloaded, while JavaScript methods accept any number of arguments and thus can't be overloaded.
  3. Java objects can be returned from Java methods, and previously injected Java objects can be passed back to JavaScript interface methods.

The first problem is in fact the easiest one. Type conversions are described in Sun Live Connect 2 spec, the only issue is that Java Bridge doesn't closely follow the spec (for compatibility with earlier versions?). Such deviations are marked as LIVECONNECT_COMPLIANCE in Java Bridge code and tests.

When coercing JavaScript “array-like” objects into Java arrays, only indexed properties are preserved, and named properties are shaved off. Also, passing an arbitrary JavaScript dictionary object via an interface method is impossible -- it is simply converted into 0, "", or null (depending on the destination Java type).

For dealing with method overloading, the spec proposes a cost-based model for methods resolution, where the “most suitable” Java overloaded method version is selected. Android Java Bridge implementation in fact simply selects an arbitrary overloaded method with the number of arguments matching the actual number of parameters passed to the interface method and then tries to coerce each value passed into the destination Java type. If there is no method with matching number of arguments, the method call fails.

The problem with passing references to objects is to preserve the correspondence between Java objects and JavaScript interfaces. Curiously, the NPAPI-based Java Bridge implementation was failing to do that properly when returning Java objects from methods. With the following Java object:

// in Java
class MyObject {
    public Object self() { return this; }
webView.addJavascriptInterface(new MyObject(), "myObject");

The following equality check in JavaScript would fail (in the NPAPI implementation):

// in JavaScript
myObject.self() === myObject;

This is because the NPAPI Java Bridge implementation creates a new JavaScript wrapper every time an object is returned. This issue was fixed in the Gin-based implementation.


Threading issues need to be considered when dealing with invocations of methods of injected objects. In accordance with the API definition, methods are invoked on a dedicated thread maintained by WebView.

Calls to interface methods are synchronous -- JavaScript VM stops and waits for a result to be returned from the invoked method. In Chrome, this means that the IPC message sent from a renderer to the browser must be synchronous (such messages are in fact rarely used in Chrome).

The requirement for serving the requests on the background thread means that the following code must work (see https://crbug.com/438255):

// in Java
class Foo {
  void bar() {
    // signal the object

webview.addJavascriptInterface(new Foo(), "foo");
// wait for the object

To fulfill this, the browser UI thread must not be involved in the processing of requests from the renderer.

Security Issues

From the very beginning, Java Bridge wasn't very much secure. Until JellyBean MR1 (API level 17), all methods of injected Java objects were exposed to JavaScript, including methods of java.lang.Object, most notably getClass, which provided an elegant way to run any system command from JavaScript:

// in JavaScript
function execute(bridge, cmd) {
   return bridge.getClass().forName('java.lang.Runtime')

In JB MR1, the @JavascriptInterface annotation was introduced to explicitly mark methods allowed to be exposed to JavaScript. But this restriction only applied to applications targeting API level 17 or above, so old apps remained insecure even on new Android versions. To fix that, in KitKat MR2 we are forbidding to call getClass of java.lang.Object for all applications.

The next issue comes from the fact that injected Java objects are shared between frames. This allows frames, otherwise isolated (for example, due to cross-origin policy), to interact. For example, if an injected object has methods ‘storePassword’ and ‘getPassword’, then a password stored from one frame can be retrieved by another frame. To prevent this, instead of injecting an object itself, a stateless factory must be injected, so each frame will be creating its own set of Java objects.