Ephemerons

Gil Tene gil at azul.com
Fri Jan 22 18:12:45 UTC 2016


Peter,

I've been following Ephemerons in other GC'ed environments, and wondering when someone will bring it up for Java. Happy to see attentions given to it. The "conditional weak reference hashmap/table/dictionary" use case seems to be a common primary motivator, and it's a very valid one. Given that we currently do completely concurrent ref processing (in Zing at least) for all reference types, adding Ephemerons to the spec'ed behavior will add some interesting challenges for keeping things concurrent, but I don't think that it is fundamentally undoable (just "hard" and interesting to fully work out).

Scanning through the proposal and Java class (mostly JavaDoc spec), I have the following question:

Do we really need a separate "ephemerally reachable" strength below week? The was you extended the definition to the weak definition to say "An object is weakly reachable if it is neither strongly nor softly reachable but can be reached by traversing a weak reference or by traversing an ephemeron through it's value while the ephemeron's key is at least weakly reachable." would [naively] seem to be sufficient to add and fully describe the desired Ephemeron behavior from a reference strength perspective.

Specifically, would modifying your implementation such that Ephemeron<K, V> extended WeakReference<K> (instead of Reference<K>), and it's V value was tracked with "private WeakReference<V> valueRef" (instead of "private V value") [along with the semi-obvious internal changes that would result] provide what is needed to support proper Ephemeron behavior we just added the "…or by traversing an ephemeron through it's value while the ephemeron's key is at least weakly reachable." to the spec'ed definition of "weakly reachable" (and modified the associated JVM ref processing accordingly, which you already have to do to support your wider definitions anyway)?

— Gil.

> On Jan 17, 2016, at 10:18 AM, Peter Levart <peter.levart at gmail.com> wrote:
> 
> Hi,
> 
> Ephemerons are special kind of references described by Barry Hayes [1]. In the simple variant, they contain two "referents". One is called the key, which can be viewed as a "weak" referent in the style of Java reference types (SoftReference, WeakReference, PhantomReference), the other is called the value, which is also treated specially by GC. It's reachability is dependent on the reachability of the key.
> 
> Ephemerons solve the problem seen for example in the java.util.WeakHashMap when a value in this map directly or indirectly refers to it's key. Such entry will never be purged as the value is always reachable from the WeakHashMap instance and through the value, it's key is reachable too. There are other places where Ephemerons could be used - for example in ClassValue API. Try googling for "java ephemeron" (without quotes) to find out other situations where Ephemerons would be beneficial.
> 
> If one was to implement Ephemerons in Java, the main question he would be asking is how Ephemeron(s) were supposed to interact with existing Java reference types. Hayes only defines their behavior in isolation, but Java already has 4 "weak" reference types with different "strengths": SoftReference, WeakReference, FinalReference (for implementing finalization) and PhantomReference. In the prototype I choose to define Ephemerons as a new reference type with it's own "strength" for the key referent positioned between WeakReference and FinalReference. It would be possible to merge it with an existing reference type like WeakReference or position it between SoftReference and WeakReference or even entirely "on the top" of the strength list, but I think it would not be wise to position it below FinalReference or even PhantomReference. What's best is an open question. What is also not so obvious is how to define the reachability of the Ephemeron's value and it's interaction with existing reference types. I think I defined it soundly (see the reachability types in the javadoc of [4]). The reason for defining the reachability of the value to alternate between ephemeraly-reachable and weakly-reachable and not between ephemeraly-reachable and strongly-reachable, while theoretically possible, is the desire to have a separate phase of processing for each reachability strength, like it is done currently, and which doesn't affect the performance of processing of existing reference types.
> 
> Having skimmed through the reference processing code in the VM for a couple of times, I thought it should not be too complicated to implement another type of "weak" reference. Encouraged by how little changes were needed to remove the sun.misc.Cleaner special type of reference [2], I began experimenting and came up with a prototype that seems to work [3]. Luckily most of the logic to process Reference objects in VM is encapsulated in the ReferenceProcessor class and this logic is invoked from various GC implementations of the hotspot. Changes needed are therefore mostly localized to this class. The webrev also contains recent changes from JDK-8143847 [2] that have not yet propagated to the jdk9-dev repo. When they do, I will prepare a rebased webrev without those changes.
> 
> I'm publishing this prototype here to get the answer to the main question: Is there an interest to have Ephemeron reference type in Java?
> 
> Given that there was interest, I would also like to initiate a discussion about:
> - What would be the most appropriate "strength" of reachabillity for Epehmeron referents (key and value) and the desired interactions with existing reachabilities.
> - The prototype itself. Since I'm new to this part of code (that's my 1st not so shallow dive into the VM), I surely must have missed places that should be changed. Although the prototype seems to work, I have not created extensive tests for the functionality and have not exposed it to all the various GC algorithms and situations yet. I could use some advise on how to exercise all GC algorithm combinations possible in the VM (what flags to use, for example).
> 
> Regards, Peter
> 
> [1] https://static.aminer.org/pdf/PDF/000/522/273/ephemerons_a_new_finalization_mechanism.pdf
> [2] https://bugs.openjdk.java.net/browse/JDK-8143847
> [3] http://cr.openjdk.java.net/~plevart/misc/Ephemeron/
> [4] http://cr.openjdk.java.net/~plevart/misc/Ephemeron/webrev.jdk.01/src/java.base/share/classes/java/lang/ref/Ephemeron.java.html
> 
> P.S.
> 
> To wet some appetite, with the above prototype (applied to current jdk9-dev), it is possible to run the following example:
> 
> import java.lang.ref.Ephemeron;
> import java.util.ArrayList;
> import java.util.List;
> 
> public class EphemeronTest {
> 
>    static class Key {
>        final int i;
> 
>        Key(int i) {
>            this.i = i;
>        }
> 
>        @Override
>        public String toString() {
>            return "k" + i;
>        }
>    }
> 
>    static class Value {
>        final Key key;
> 
>        Value(Key key) {
>            this.key = key;
>        }
> 
>        @Override
>        public String toString() {
>            return "v(" + key + ")";
>        }
>    }
> 
>    static class Eph extends Ephemeron<Key, Value> {
>        public Eph(Key key, Value value) {
>            super(key, value);
>        }
> 
>        @Override
>        public String toString() {
>            return getKey() + "=" + getValue();
>        }
>    }
> 
>    static void test(int size, boolean forwardChaining) throws Exception {
>        System.out.println();
>        System.out.println((forwardChaining ? "Forward" : "Backward") +
>                           " chaining of value->key ...");
>        System.out.println();
>        List<Eph> ephs = new ArrayList<>(size);
> 
>        Key k1 = new Key(1);
>        {
>            Key kp = k1;
>            for (int i = 2; i <= size; i++) {
>                Key ki = new Key(i);
>                ephs.add(
>                    forwardChaining
>                    ? new Eph(kp, new Value(ki))
>                    : new Eph(ki, new Value(kp))
>                );
>                kp = ki;
>            }
>            ephs.add(
>                forwardChaining
>                ? new Eph(kp, new Value(k1))
>                : new Eph(k1, new Value(kp))
>            );
>            kp = null;
>        }
> 
>        System.gc();
>        System.out.println("1: " + ephs);
>        k1.getClass(); // reachabilityFence
> 
>        k1 = null;
>        System.gc();
>        System.out.println("2: " + ephs);
>    }
> 
>    public static void main(String[] args) throws Exception {
> 
>        int size = (args.length < 1)
>                   ? 5
>                   : Math.max(2, Integer.parseInt(args[0]));
> 
>        test(size, true);
>        test(size, false);
>    }
> }
> 
> 
> Which prints:
> 
> Forward chaining of value->key ...
> 
> 1: [k1=v(k2), k2=v(k3), k3=v(k4), k4=v(k5), k5=v(k1)]
> 2: [null=null, null=null, null=null, null=null, null=null]
> 
> Backward chaining of value->key ...
> 
> 1: [k2=v(k1), k3=v(k2), k4=v(k3), k5=v(k4), k1=v(k5)]
> 2: [null=null, null=null, null=null, null=null, null=null]
> 
> 
> If you compile the JDK with --enable-debug and use the following VM switches when running: -XX:+PrintGCDetails -XX:+TraceReferenceGC, you can also observe the inner workings of the reference processing, including Ephemerons.
> 

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