Question about reference processing in JDK6/7

Andrew Dinn adinn at
Tue Feb 25 07:04:34 PST 2014

I have identified a change in the way references are processed in the
default (parallal scavenge) GC which is having an effect on legacy
applications running on JDK6 and appears also to affect the jdk7u tree,
albeit with less severe impact.

I think I have pinned down the change to a specific change set in the
hotspot tree and, indeed, to a specific edit within that change set.
However, since the edit does not appear to relate directly to the
documented purpose of the change set I would be grateful if someone on
the gc dev list could help me identify what the point of the edit was
and comment on whether the consequences for reference processing were
intended or unintended.

Full details of the problem and my diagnosis are included below. Thanks
for any light anyone in the GC dev team can shed.


Andrew Dinn

Behavioural Manifestation of Problem

The change in reference processing behaviour was noticed between two Red
Hat releases of OpenJDK based, respectively, on tags jdk6-b24 and
jdk6-b28. The same problem has been reported in several customer
deployments all of which make use of different types of Reference
instances, whether FinalReference, PhantomReference or whatever.

Applications which ran in a large heap (1-2 GB)  with a relatively low
working set (200 MB) on the jdk6-b24 based JVM began to experience
out-of-memory exceptions on the jdk6-b28 based JVM. Heap dump analysis
indicated in each case that the heap memory included a very large number
of Reference instances. These references and their referents accounted
for the majority of the occupied heap. Some of the references had
already been discovered by the GC and some of them were still
undiscovered. The vast majority were not active. In all cases the
ReferenceProcessor and Finalizer threads were sitting waiting on empty
queues at OOM.

In order to reproduce this behaviour I developed a small program
(attached - run as "java -XX:+PrintGCDetails FinalizeTest") which
retains a large, bounded set of references to finalizable objects. It
turns over the retained set at a fairly high rate, using the finalizer
method to count and occasionally display the number of references
actually finalized (it counts in blocks of 2^29). This program can be
used to measure the rate at which the GC can keep up with dropped
Reference instances.

On the jdk6-b24 based JVM this test finalizes around 500 blocks before
the heap fills up. On the jdk6-b28 based JVM it manages at best 1 or 2
blocks. I also ran the same test on the latest jdk7u. It manages around
500 blocks before heap fills up but it sesm to run more Full GCs and
take longer to reach this limit than the jdk6-b24 based JVM.

The Culprit Change Set

The critical change which appears to make the jdk6-b28 based JVM fail is
part of the following change set

Revision: 3153
Branch: default
Author: stefank  2011-09-01 15:18:17
Committer: stefank  2011-09-01 15:18:17
Parent: 3151:27702f012017 (7087583: Hotspot fails to allocate heap with
Child:  3154:05550041d664 (Merge)

    7085906: Replace the permgen allocated sentinelRef with a
self-looped end
    Summary: Remove the sentinelRef and let the last Reference in a
discovered chain point back to itself.
    Reviewed-by: ysr, jmasa

In particular, the change set includes the following changes to method
PSMarkSweep::mark_sweep_phase1() in file

@@ -516,7 +516,6 @@
     ParallelScavengeHeap::ParStrongRootsScope psrs;
-    ReferenceProcessor::oops_do(mark_and_push_closure());
     JNIHandles::oops_do(mark_and_push_closure());   // Global (strong)
JNI handles
     CodeBlobToOopClosure each_active_code_blob(mark_and_push_closure(),
/*do_marking=*/ true);
     Threads::oops_do(mark_and_push_closure(), &each_active_code_blob);
@@ -623,7 +622,6 @@

   // General strong roots.
-  ReferenceProcessor::oops_do(adjust_root_pointer_closure());
   JNIHandles::oops_do(adjust_root_pointer_closure());   // Global
(strong) JNI handles
   Threads::oops_do(adjust_root_pointer_closure(), NULL);

This change has the consequence that references discovered during young
generation pauses do not get forwarded to the reference processor queue
and hence, in the case of FinalReference instances, that the related
referents do not get processed.

So, my questions are:

1) Why was this change made as part of this change set?

-- was it necessary or just an extra bonus change thrown in for an
independent reason?

-- was it an accident?

2) Was there meant to be some compensating change to ensure that
reference processing was not delayed?

-- in particular, has this compensating change been applied in the jdk7u

-- if so does anyone know what the relevant change is and (for bonus
points) whether we can pull it into our next OpenJDK6 release?

3) Does this change reflect a "don't care" attitude to programs which
fail with OOM because they generate references fast enough that the
modified GC cannot catch up with the mutators?

-- or was it just an accidental side-effect of the change I have identified?

-- or maybe just an unavoidable side-effect which has to be lived with?

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