JVM Memory Management Primer: Groovy PermGen the Prequel

I am shortly going to be writing a post about managing PermGen memory with Groovy in production, but before getting to that this is a primer/reminder on some key parts of JVM memory management.

Out of Memory: Heap Space

Throughout dev on a JVM project, it is not entirely uncommon to see an OOM exception along the way. The most common will be a "Heap Space" OOME - The Heap is the part of memory that the JVM stores data/objects that are created by your application. For example, if you create a class called "User" and then create an instance of it, the instance of the class will be placed in the Heap.  This class of OOM are more common as it can happen if you attempt to load to much data or if your application is growing during dev and you haven't configured max heap space size (e.g. if you have a low heap space size defined and load a lot of data into your application you may see this error)

The Heap is split in to two** sections (also called generations) - the Young(sometimes called nursery) and the Old (sometimes called tenured generation). The JVM uses a generational Garbage Collection approach:

  • Young Generation - This is where most newly instantiated objects are placed. As many objects are relatively short lived, many are born and then die in this space. This space is collected more frequently and quickly.  This itself is normally split into two generations - Eden & Survivor - These just represent the age of the object, and as an object survives more GC it is promoted up, after a set threshold it is promoted into..
  • Old/Tenured Generation - This space stores objects that have outlived the young generation. These are assumed to be long lived objects, GC of this generation is less frequent and takes a lot longer (as it has to inspect all objects)

There are several GC strategies that handle GC of the heap, and can be tuned for your application (depending on what is important to you) - you can read more on the Oracle docs about strategies.

** In some versions/JVMs PermGen space is also part of the heap, so that would make it three. Also the Young generation is sometimes split further, but for a high level review of OOM Heap Space - we will consider two

Out of Memory: PermGen

The other class of OOME you might see is a PermGen OOM.  By and large this is rarer than the heap space errors as the Permanent Generation (PermGen) is the part of memory that stores Classes. In our User class example, the instances of the User class are on the heap, but the Class itself will be stored in the Perm Gen (in this example, there maybe any number of instances of the User class - one per user! - but there should only be one version of the Class). Just using standard Java, perm gen won't often be a problem, as there should be a static number of total classes for your application and as long as you haven't set the PermGen size too low then this shouldn't happen, but with the use of dynamic languages the risk of PermGen errors become more frequent, with languages like Groovy dynamically creating adhoc classes.

Whilst PermGen stores classes rather than object data, it still obeys the simple principle of GC: If a class no longer has any references to it, then that class could be subject to GC; whilst there are still objects that hold reference to a class then it cannot be GC'd.

A final important thing to note is as the norm in Java/JVM is for a static number of classes to be used, the default GC strategy is to not collect PermGen - So if you are doing anything that involves changing PermGen and adding more classes to that memory then you will inevitably see a memory leak.

Next post I will go into details about a few Groovy memory gotchas I have come across after 18months of production Groovy code.

rob hinds

I'm on to the next one, on to the next one..

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    I was really looking forward to the Groovy-memory-gotchas blog-article but unfortunately I could not find it ...