Jon Douglas The rantings of a developer

Multidex in depth and overriding the main dex list in Xamarin.Android

This post is a continuation of Multidex in Xamarin.Android

Today we are going to talk about the basic mechanics of the classes.dex file and how multidex handles more than 65k methods.

The classes.dex file is used as a main dex list in your application. It houses all of the classes needed for your application. An APK requires at least one classes.dex(DEX) file which has all the executable code of our application stored inside. The size of a DEX file’s method index is 16-bit which means (2^16) or 65,536 total references a single dex list can have.

However we run into scenarios where we surpass the 65,536 reference count. This is when we need to enable multidex which gives us overfill classes.dex files in the form of classes{n}.dex where n >= 1.

Now we can have as many classes/references as we desire since our application can grow over time. Let’s talk about some of the disadvantages to this however:

1) Multidex tries it’s best to know what dependencies are needed at startup. Since it only loads the main dex list classes.dex at first, you will need to ensure any startup classes/references are inside the MainDexList(classes.dex) or you will crash at startup.

2) Secondary DEX files will be added to the classloader after Multidex is initialized via install(Context) or the other two ways I described in the previous blog article - Multidex in Xamarin.Android.

3) Multidex doesn’t efficiently store classes/references to the max count in each list it creates. It’ll try it’s best however.

Okay cool, we have a rundown of what’s going on, but let’s dig a little deeper to the tooling that generates a DEX list. Let’s introduce our friend dx which is a command line tool to generate respective .dex files. There’s a couple parameters we want to keep in mind.

1) --multi-dex: This will enable multidex and create 1 or more classes{n}.dex files.

2) --main-dex-list=<file>: This will parse through a list of class file names in which classes defined will be put in the classes.dex file.

3) --minimal-main-dex: Certain classes selected by --main-dex-list above will be put in the main DEX list(classes.dex)

Typical Issues

1) Custom Application class is not found on dexPathList:

This is very straight forward now that we know what’s going on with multidex. Simply put, our custom application class is not being put on the main classes.dex list. Therefore it cannot even open the entrypoint of the application nor initialize the secondary DEX lists.

2) Other classes needed at startup are not found on dexPathList:

This is also quite straight forward. You might have a framework dependency such as MVVMCROSS or other items that register at startup which need to be on the main classes.dex list.

How to investigate Multidex issues

There is really one tool that is needed now-a-days to investigate the behavior. That tool is classyshark:

This tool can read either .dex or .apk files. Since we are primarily dealing with .dex files, we can directly drag and drop them into classyshark to see all of the classes listed, and also the total method count.

You could technically go further into reading about dx tooling, but it’s not really worth going that far into unless there’s a critical bug. Google recommends: As a general rule, you should rely on the build tools to call them as needed.

Overriding the main dex list(classes.dex)

Xamarin.Android now offers a simple way to override this list. You can do the following:

1) Create a new Text file in your main application root. (Name it multidex.keep)

2) Set the Build Action to MultiDexMainDexList

3) Include any classes you want on the main dex list inside

Note: It’s always a good idea to see a previous multidex.keep file in your obj\Debug folder for a reference.

I hope this helps!