Demystifying Java Reflective Calls

2 minute read

What the heck are Reflective Calls?

In simple terms, Reflective calls allows the programmer to access Class constructors and methods using their name as a string. For example, if you want to create an object class C1, you can do:

class C1{
  String s;
  public C1(String t) {
    this.s = t;

  private void tmethod(int a, int b,int c) {
class Test{
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    Class cls = Class.forName("C1");
    Constructor con = cls.getConstructor(String.class);
    C1 obj = (C1) con.getInstance("test-string");// ST1

Now, ideally we cannot call the tmethod function because it is private. Using reflection we can call this method.

Method meth = cls.getDeclaredMethod("tmethod", int.class, int.class, int.class);
meth.invoke(obj, 4, 5, 6);// ST2

We can invoke this function in one more way.

meth.invoke(obj, new Object[]{4, 5, 6}); // ST3

Why are Reflective calls troublesome?

As you can see from the object snippets, I could easily get the class name at runtime and change the fields at runtime. This makes life of static analyser quite difficult.

Using tamiflex and Soot

First to analyse such codes, we need tamiflex. Download/build the tamiflex’s PlayOutAgent(poa), and use it as:

javac *.java #Compile all the java files.
java -javaagent:poa-trunk.jar -cp . Refl # Here, Refl is the name of main class, change it accordingly.
java -javaagent:poa-trunk.jar -jar jar-name.jar Refl # use -help to get full information.

This dumps the refl.log and class files in out/ directory.

Now, we can analyse it in soot. Look at Soot documentation’s article on analysing dacapo benchamrk for more information.

Jimple and Absurd Call Graph

From the above code snippet you can infer that, the number of arguments in caller statement and callee statement are not going to match. In Soot, all reflective calls are represented as REFL_METHOD_INVOKE or REFL_CONSTRUCTOR_NEWINSTANCE.

In Jimple, all statements of type ST2 are converted to ST3, i.e. the varargs are converted to an array. The getInstance also supports varargs. All statements of type ST1 are converted to:

C1 obj = (C1) con.getInstance(new Object[] {"test-instance"});


In jimple all edges of this type looks like:

getInstance(Object[] args) -> C1(arg1, arg2, arg3, ... )

Now, to find which all objects can be passed to arg1 of C1 using reflection, we can do :

Value GetObjects(Unit u, int parameterNumber, SootMethod src) {
  InvokeExpr expr;
  if ( u instanceof JInvokeStmt) {
    expr = ((JInvokeStmt)u).getInvokeExpr();
  else if ( u instanceof JAssignStmt) {
    expr = (InvokeExpr)(((JAssignStmt)u).getRightOp());
  Value arg;
  arg = expr.getArg(parameterNumber);

List<Value> getObjectsPassed(SootMethod meth, int parameterNumber) { 
  Iterator<Edge> iter = cg.edgesInto(meth);   // meth is SootMethod 

  List<Value> ans = new List<>();
  while(iter.hasNext()) {
    Edge edge =;

    if (edge.kind() == Kind.REFL_CONSTR_NEWINSTANCE) {
      Value val = GetObjects(edge.srcUnit(), 0, edge.src());
      // Get the value in val's parameterNumber-th index. How to get this?
      // push to ans
  return ans;


In jimple all edges of this type looks like:

invoke(obj, Object[] args) -> C1(arg1, arg2, arg3, ... )

Similiar to REFL_CONSTRUCTOR_NEWINSTANCE, we do the exact same thing with a minor change:

Value val = GetObjects(edge.srcUnit(), 1, edge.src());

Argument 0 is actually the parameter -1, i.e. the object itself. Argument 1 contains all the parameters.