Every time your code calls one such JSNI method, the DevMode java app asks the browser Dev plugin to call the function; the result is sent back to the DevMode java app.
Similarly, when you call Java methods from your JSNI, or when there's an even in the browser that has to be routed to Java code, the Dev browser plugin asks the DevMode to run the code in Java; and he result is sent back to the Dev browser plugin.
That way, JS code is run in the browser, and subject to browser bugs and features, and Java code runs in Java.
And what's great is that you can run the DevMode "code server" on one machine and the browser with the Dev plugin on another one, or within a VM; this allows to develop in, say, Linux, and test in DevMode in IE (on another machine or in VirtualBox).
And you can also run unit tests that way: http://code.google.com/webtoolkit/doc/latest/DevGuideTestingRemoteTesting.html
AFAICT, the GWT team runs all the GWT unit tests in a bunch of browsers (Firefox, Safari, IE6/7/8/9, etc. on Linux, MacOSX, Windows; I don't exactly) using this "remote testing" recipe; automatically as part of their continuous build.--
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