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Types of Garbage Collectors – Impact on Performance

Types of Garbage Collectors – Impact on Performance
Types of Garbage Collectors – Impact on Performance
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When we speak about types of garbage collectors, the vast majority of us know the concept and employ it in our everyday programming. Even so, there’s much about it we don’t understand, and that’s when things get painful. One of the biggest misconceptions about the JVM is that it has one types of garbage collectors, where in fact it provides four different ones, each with its own unique advantages and disadvantages. The choice of which one to use isn’t automatic and lies on your shoulders and the differences in throughput and application pauses can be dramatic.

Lets begin with step by step procedure of types of garbage collectors.

  1. The Serial Collector

The serial collector is the simplest one, and the one you probably won’t be using, as it’s mainly designed for single-threaded environments (e.g. 32 bit or Windows) and for small heaps. This collector freezes all application threads whenever it’s working, which disqualifies it for all intents and purposes from being used in a server environment. How to use it: You can use it by turning on the -XX:+UseSerialGC JVM argument.

  1. The Parallel / Throughput collector

Next one types of garbage collectors is the Parallel collector. This is the JVM’s default collector. Much like its name, its biggest advantage is that is uses multiple threads to scan through and compact the heap. The downside to the parallel collector is that it will stop application threads when performing either a minor or full GC collection. The parallel collector is best suited for apps that can tolerate application pauses and are trying to optimize for lower CPU overhead caused by the collector. The Parallel garbage collector is efficient but will frequently cause “stop the world” events, making it better suited for backend processing where long pauses for garbage collection are acceptable. The CMS garbage collector is designed to minimize pauses, making it ideal for GUI applications where responsiveness is important. Additional fine-tuning can be accomplished by changing the size of the heap or its sections and measuring garbage collection efficiency using a tool like jstat.

  1. The CMS Collector

Following up on the parallel collector is the CMS collector (concurrent-mark-sweep) one of the most important types of garbage collectors. This algorithm uses multiple threads (concurrent) to scan through the heap (mark) for unused objects that can be recycled (sweep). This algorithm will enter “stop the world” (STW) mode in two cases: when initializing the initial marking of roots (objects in the old generation that are reachable from thread entry points or static variables) and when the application has changed the state of the heap while the algorithm was running concurrently, forcing it to go back and do some final touches to make sure it has the right objects marked.

The biggest concern when using this collector is encountering promotion failures which are instances where a race condition occurs between collecting the young and old generations. If the collector needs to promote young objects to the old generation, but hasn’t had enough time to make space clear it,  it will have to do so first which will result in a full STW collection – the very thing this CMS collector was meant to prevent. To make sure this doesn’t happen you would either increase the size of the old generation (or the entire heap for that matter) or allocate more background threads to the collector for him to compete with the rate of object allocation.

Another downside to this algorithm in comparison to the parallel collector is that it uses more CPU in order to provide the application with higher levels of continuous throughput, by using multiple threads to perform scanning and collection. For most long-running server applications which are adverse to application freezes, that’s usually a good trade off to make. Even so, this algorithm is not on by default. You have to specify XX:+USeParNewGC to actually enable it. If you’re willing to allocate more CPU resources to avoid application pauses this is the collector you’ll probably want to use, assuming that your heap is less than 4Gb in size.  However, if it’s greater than 4GB, you’ll probably want to use the last algorithm – the G1 Collector.

  1. The G1 Collector

The Garbage first collector (G1) introduced in JDK 7 update 4 was designed to better support heaps larger than 4GB. It is one of the best and fastest types of garbage collectors. The G1 collector utilizes multiple background threads to scan through the heap that it divides into regions, spanning from 1MB to 32MB (depending on the size of your heap). G1 collector is geared towards scanning those regions that contain the most garbage objects first, giving it its name (Garbage first). This collector is turned on using the –XX:+UseG1GC flag.

This strategy the chance of the heap being depleted before background threads have finished scanning for unused objects, in which case the collector will have to stop the application which will result in a STW collection. The G1 also has another advantage that is that it compacts the heap on-the-go, something the CMS collector only does during full STW collections.

Large heaps have been a fairly contentious area over the past few years with many developers moving away from the single JVM per machine model to more micro-service, componentized architectures with multiple JVMs per machine. This has been driven by many factors including the desire to isolate different application parts, simplifying deployment and avoiding the cost which would usually come with reloading application classes into memory (something which has actually been improved in Java 8).

Java 8 and PermGen

One of the biggest changes made in Java 8 was removing the permgen part of the heap that was traditionally allocated for class meta-data, interned strings and static variables. This would traditionally require developers with applications that would load significant amount of classes (something common with apps using enterprise containers) to optimize and tune for this portion of the heap specifically. This has over the years become the source of many OutOfMemory exceptions, so having the JVM (mostly) take care if it is a very nice addition. Even so, that in itself will probably not reduce the tide of developers decoupling their apps into multiple JVMs.

Each of these collectors is configured and tuned differently with a slew of toggles and switches, each with the potential to increase or decrease throughput, all based on the specific behavior of your app. We’ll delve into the key strategies of configuring each of these in our next posts.

Happy Learning !!!

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