Vengatc techology logs

Java Memory and Garbage Collection [GC] – Internals

Posted in Architecture, java, JVM, Performance by vengatc on October 14, 2008

Java 5 has provided architects to scale applications memory wise based on the charactersitics of the application’s memory usage pattern.

Java Garbage collector basics

           The default GC of java is a serial collection GC. i.e when java decides to do the GC your application threads are suspended until the GC thread finishes.


           On a single processor machine, this type of GC is good , but on multiple processor machine this is a kill. Imagine  you have your Jboss or IBM WS that runs for banking project , for sure there would be a high hardware investment with muliple processor (not less than 12 processor machine).With this dedicated setup with serial collection your application that ran on 12 processor stops and only one processor is used for the GC activity. Ur applicaitn is in hault. So the throughput of the applicatino is directly impacted by your GC and it worsens with the increase in processors.

So it is a must to customize the GC collections , But remember until you understand the intricasis of the Java Heap and GC dont meddle with the GC collection,leave it to default because a non-expert is more likely to spoil than to increase the throughput.

See the throughput distribution in the below graph..

Java garbage collection design

     What would you do if you are given a chance to decide the GC. IF you have a serial algorithm to sweep to all the objects in the memory and then dealocate the unreferenced objects then the BigO of the algorithm  you design is directly propositonal to the nubmer of objects in the memory. So the time complexity of the algo you design will worsen for larger system.

How Sun Microsystem gets across with this Time complexity issue???

As far as memory conceptions is concerned based on research it is identified that the young object has the highest probability to die first. That means if an object is created recently it is more likely to die first than an object that has survived for a while. Current GC algo efficiently uses this principle of memory usage to product better BigO numbers.

Entire Jave Heap is seggregated into multiple segment to take advantage of this young die first fact.

The figure shows how the heap is seggregated, The entire Heap is seperated into Young, Tenured and Perm space.

GC algo is split into minor and major runs.

Minor run does GC only in the Young space, and major run does GC on Both Young and Tenured space. That is Major run is the maximum time a GC could take and we dont want this to run that often. To avoid doing the major runs , Java GC uses the Young die first fact and runs GC on the Young space. IF the object survives the run it is moved to Tenured. When Tenured is filled then Major run is triggered. This means major run is mostly avoided.

What this implies for architects?

          Intelligently manupulating the young and Tenured size we can inpact the various characteristics of the application.

1. Frequency of GC runs.

2. Time taken for the GC to complete its run.

3. Throughput of the application.

Im not going to explain why it is impacted, readers are expected to understand the relation at this portion of the turtorial.

Java 5 provides you ablity to maniupalte the relative size of the memory segments.

What next?

      Yes i agree the throughput problem of the serial collector is still open. Java 5 has allowd us to tackle this by providing 2 alternative GC Algos to the traditional Serial Collector method.

1. Throughput collector

2.  Concurrent Low Pause Collector

I will attempt to give a short decription of the Above collectors

1. Throughput collector

        The throughput collector is a generational collector similar to the serial collector but with multiple threads used to do the minor collection. The major collections are essentially the same as with the serial collector. By default on a host with N CPUs, the throughput collector uses N garbage collector threads in the minor collection. The number of garbage collector threads can be controlled with a command line option (see below). On a host with 1 CPU the throughput collector will likely not perform as well as the serial collector because of the additional overhead for the parallel execution (e.g., synchronization costs). On a host with 2 CPUs the throughput collector generally performs as well as the serial garbage collector and a reduction in the minor garbage collector pause times can be expected on hosts with more than 2 CPUs.

2. Concurrent Low Pause Collector

The concurrent low pause collector is a generational collector similar to the serial collector. The tenured generation is collected concurrently with this collector. This means the pause in the application is close to nil.



Aspiring memory manupulators:)

To start with just observe the memory conceptions of your software system. 

java -verbose:gc xyz.jar

[GC 325407K->83000K(776768K), 0.2300771 secs] 
[GC 325816K->83372K(776768K), 0.2454258 secs] 
[Full GC 267628K->83769K(776768K), 1.8479984 secs


Gather enough understanding of the GC behaviour of your system against the hardware. Just remember a system that is best in Single process will be a pain in Multiprocessor.  And the system that is in good in Multiprocessor will be a kill in single. And the effeciency also differs with the applicaitn characterstics.  So leave it to default until you are confortable with the details. 

So GC tuning by architects is a ever on task through out the lifecycle of the project. And it requires practics.

Reference :

As always technical queries alone accepted regarding GC tuning at


One Response

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  1. Dileep said, on August 17, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    A very clear and crisp explanation of Java GC. Thanks a lot!

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