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Garbage First Overview

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This chapter is from the book

Concurrent Mark Sweep (CMS) GC

CMS GC was developed in response to an increasing number of applications that demand a GC with lower worst-case pause times than Serial or Parallel GC and where it is acceptable to sacrifice some application throughput to eliminate or greatly reduce the number of lengthy GC pauses.

In CMS GC, young garbage collections are similar to those of Parallel GC. They are parallel stop-the-world, meaning all Java application threads are paused during young garbage collections and the garbage collection work is performed by multiple threads. Note that you can configure CMS GC with a single-threaded young generation collector, but this option has been deprecated in Java 8 and is removed in Java 9.

The major difference between Parallel GC and CMS GC is the old generation collection. For CMS GC, the old generation collections attempt to avoid long pauses in application threads. To achieve this, the CMS old generation collector does most of its work concurrently with application thread execution, except for a few relatively short GC synchronization pauses. CMS is often referred to as mostly concurrent, since there are some phases of old generation collection that pause application threads. Examples are the initial-mark and remark phases. In CMS’s initial implementation, both the initial-mark and remark phases were single-threaded, but they have since been enhanced to be multithreaded. The HotSpot command-line options to support multithreaded initial-mark and remark phases are -XX:+CMSParallelInitialMarkEnabled and -XX:CMSParallelRemarkEnabled. These are automatically enabled by default when CMS GC is enabled by the -XX:+UseConcurrentMarkSweepGC command-line option.

It is possible, and quite likely, for a young generation collection to occur while an old generation concurrent collection is taking place. When this happens, the old generation concurrent collection is interrupted by the young generation collection and immediately resumes upon the latter’s completion. The default young generation collector for CMS GC is commonly referred to as ParNew.

Figure 1.3 shows how Java application threads (gray arrows) are stopped for the young GCs (black arrows) and for the CMS initial-mark and remark phases, and old generation GC stop-the-world phases (also black arrows). An old generation collection in CMS GC begins with a stop-the-world initial-mark phase. Once initial mark completes, the concurrent marking phase begins where the Java application threads are allowed to execute concurrently with the CMS marking threads. In Figure 1.3, the concurrent marking threads are the first two longer black arrows, one on top of the other below the “Marking/Pre-cleaning” label. Once concurrent marking completes, concurrent pre-cleaning is executed by the CMS threads, as shown by the two shorter black arrows under the “Marking/Pre-cleaning” label. Note that if there are enough available hardware threads, CMS thread execution overhead will not have much effect on the performance of Java application threads. If, however, the hardware threads are saturated or highly utilized, CMS threads will compete for CPU cycles with Java application threads. Once concurrent pre-cleaning completes, the stop-the-world remark phase begins. The remark phase marks objects that may have been missed after the initial mark and while concurrent marking and concurrent pre-cleaning execute. After the remark phase completes, concurrent sweeping begins, which frees all dead object space.

Figure 1.3

Figure 1.3 How Java application threads are impacted by the GC threads when CMS is used

One of the challenges with CMS GC is tuning it such that the concurrent work can complete before the application runs out of available Java heap space. Hence, one tricky part about CMS is to find the right time to start the concurrent work. A common consequence of the concurrent approach is that CMS normally requires on the order of 10 to 20 percent more Java heap space than Parallel GC to handle the same application. That is part of the price paid for shorter GC pause times.

Another challenge with CMS GC is how it deals with fragmentation in the old generation. Fragmentation occurs when the free space between objects in the old generation becomes so small or nonexistent that an object being promoted from the young generation cannot fit into an available hole. The CMS concurrent collection cycle does not perform compaction, not even incremental or partial compaction. A failure to find an available hole causes CMS to fall back to a full collection using Serial GC, typically resulting in a lengthy pause. Another unfortunate challenge associated with fragmentation in CMS is that it is unpredictable. Some application runs may never experience a full GC resulting from old generation fragmentation while others may experience it regularly.

Tuning CMS GC can help postpone fragmentation, as can application modifications such as avoiding large object allocations. Tuning can be a nontrivial task and requires much expertise. Making changes to the application to avoid fragmentation may also be challenging.

Summary of the Collectors

All of the collectors described thus far have some common issues. One is that the old generation collectors must scan the entire old generation for most of their operations such as marking, sweeping, and compacting. This means that the time to perform the work scales more or less linearly with the Java heap size. Another is that it must be decided up front where the young and old generations should be placed in the virtual address space, since the young and old generations are separate consecutive chunks of memory.

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