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Memory Management in Java

In Java, memory management is the process of allocation and de-allocation of objects, called Memory management. Java does memory management automatically. Java uses an automatic memory management system called a garbage collector. Thus, we are not required to implement memory management logic in our application. Java memory management divides into two major parts:

  • JVM Memory Structure
  • Working of the Garbage Collector

JVM Memory Structure

JVM creates various run time data areas in a heap. These areas are used during the program execution. The memory areas are destroyed when JVM exits, whereas the data areas are destroyed when the thread exits.

Memory Management in Java

Method Area

Method Area is a part of the heap memory which is shared among all the threads. It creates when the JVM starts up. It is used to store class structure, superclass name, interface name, and constructors. The JVM stores the following kinds of information in the method area:

  • A Fully qualified name of a type (ex: String)
  • The type's modifiers
  • Type's direct superclass name
  • A structured list of the fully qualified names of super interfaces.

Heap Area

Heap stores the actual objects. It creates when the JVM starts up. The user can control the heap if needed. It can be of fixed or dynamic size. When you use a new keyword, the JVM creates an instance for the object in a heap. While the reference of that object stores in the stack. There exists only one heap for each running JVM process. When heap becomes full, the garbage is collected. For example:

The above statement creates an object of the StringBuilder class. The object allocates to the heap, and the reference sb allocates to stack. Heap is divided into the following parts:

  • Young generation
  • Survivor space
  • Old generation
  • Permanent generation
  • Code Cache

Reference Type

There are four types of references: Strong, Weak, Soft, and Phantom reference. The difference among the types of references is that the objects on the heap they refer to are eligible for garbage collecting under the different criteria.

Strong reference: It is very simple as we use it in our daily programming. Any object which has Strong reference attached to it is not eligible for garbage collection. We can create a strong reference by using the following statement:

Weak Reference: It does not survive after the next garbage collection process. If we are not sure when the data will be requested again. In this condition, we can create a weak reference to it. In case, if the garbage collector processes, it destroys the object. When we again try to retrieve that object, we get a null value. It is defined in java.lang.ref.WeakReference class. We can create a weak reference by using the following statement:

Soft Reference: It is collected when the application is running low on memory. The garbage collector does not collect the softly reachable objects. All soft referenced object s are collected before it throws an OutOfMemoryError. We can create a soft reference by using the following statement:

Phantom Reference: It is available in java.lang.ref package. It is defined in java.lang.ref.PhantomReference class. The object which has only phantom reference pointing them can be collected whenever garbage collector wants to collect. We can create a phantom reference by using the following statement:

Stack Area

Stack Area generates when a thread creates. It can be of either fixed or dynamic size. The stack memory is allocated per thread. It is used to store data and partial results. It contains references to heap objects. It also holds the value itself rather than a reference to an object from the heap. The variables which are stored in the stack have certain visibility, called scope.

Stack Frame: Stack frame is a data structure that contains the thread?s data. Thread data represents the state of the thread in the current method.

  • It is used to store partial results and data. It also performs dynamic linking, values return by methods and dispatch exceptions.
  • When a method invokes, a new frame creates. It destroys the frame when the invocation of the method completes.
  • Each frame contains own Local Variable Array (LVA), Operand Stack (OS), and Frame Data (FD).
  • The sizes of LVA, OS, and FD determined at compile time.
  • Only one frame (the frame for executing method) is active at any point in a given thread of control. This frame is called the current frame, and its method is known as the current method. The class of method is called the current class.
  • The frame stops the current method, if its method invokes another method or if the method completes.
  • The frame created by a thread is local to that thread and cannot be referenced by any other thread.

Native Method Stack

It is also known as C stack. It is a stack for native code written in a language other than Java. Java Native Interface (JNI) calls the native stack. The performance of the native stack depends on the OS.

PC Registers

Each thread has a Program Counter (PC) register associated with it. PC register stores the return address or a native pointer. It also contains the address of the JVM instructions currently being executed.

Working of Garbage Collector

Garbage Collector Overview

When a program executes in Java, it uses memory in different ways. The heap is a part of memory where objects live. It?s the only part of memory that involved in the garbage collection process. It is also known as garbage collectible heap. All the garbage collection makes sure that the heap has as much free space as possible. The function of the garbage collector is to find and delete the objects that cannot be reached.

Object Allocation

When an object allocates, the JRockit JVM checks the size of the object. It distinguishes between small and large objects. The small and large size depends on the JVM version, heap size, garbage collection strategy, and platform used. The size of an object is usually between 2 to 128 KB.

The small objects are stored in Thread Local Area (TLA) which is a free chunk of the heap. TLA does not synchronize with other threads. When TLA becomes full, it requests for new TLA.

On the other hand, large objects that do not fit inside the TLA directly allocated into the heap. If a thread is using the young space, it directly stored in the old space. The large object requires more synchronization between the threads.

What does Java Garbage Collector?

JVM controls the garbage collector. JVM decides when to perform the garbage collection. We can also request to the JVM to run the garbage collector. But there is no guarantee under any conditions that the JVM will comply. JVM runs the garbage collector if it senses that memory is running low. When Java program request for the garbage collector, the JVM usually grants the request in short order. It does not make sure that the requests accept.

The point to understand is that "when an object becomes eligible for garbage collection?"

Every Java program has more than one thread. Each thread has its execution stack. There is a thread to run in Java program that is a main() method. Now we can say that an object is eligible for garbage collection when no live thread can access it. The garbage collector considers that object as eligible for deletion. If a program has a reference variable that refers to an object, that reference variable available to live thread, this object is called reachable.

Here a question arises that "Can a Java application run out of memory?"

The answer is yes. The garbage collection system attempts to objects from the memory when they are not in use. Though, if you are maintaining many live objects, garbage collection does not guarantee that there is enough memory. Only available memory will be managed effectively.

Types of Garbage Collection

There are five types of garbage collection are as follows:

  • Serial GC: It uses the mark and sweeps approach for young and old generations, which is minor and major GC.
  • Parallel GC: It is similar to serial GC except that, it spawns N (the number of CPU cores in the system) threads for young generation garbage collection.
  • Parallel Old GC: It is similar to parallel GC, except that it uses multiple threads for both generations.
  • Concurrent Mark Sweep (CMS) Collector: It does the garbage collection for the old generation. You can limit the number of threads in CMS collector using XX:ParalleCMSThreads=JVM option. It is also known as Concurrent Low Pause Collector.
  • G1 Garbage Collector: It introduced in Java 7. Its objective is to replace the CMS collector. It is a parallel, concurrent, and CMS collector. There is no young and old generation space. It divides the heap into several equal sized heaps. It first collects the regions with lesser live data.

Mark and Sweep Algorithm

JRockit JVM uses the mark, and sweep algorithm for performing the garbage collection. It contains two phases, the mark phase, and the sweep phase.

Mark Phase: Objects that are accessible from the threads, native handles, and other GC root sources are marked as live. Every object tree has more than one root objects. GC root is always reachable. So any object that has a garbage collection root at its root. It identifies and marks all objects that are in use, and the remaining can be considered garbage.

Memory Management in Java

Sweep Phase: In this phase, the heap is traversed to find the gap between the live objects. These gaps are recorded in the free list and are available for new object allocation.

There are two improved versions of mark and sweep:

  • Concurrent Mark and Sweep
  • Parallel Mark and Sweep

Concurrent Mark and Sweep

It allows the threads to continue running during a large portion of the garbage collection. There are following types of marking:

  • Initial marking: It identifies the root set of live objects. It is done while threads are paused.
  • Concurrent marking: In this marking, the reference from the root set are followed. It finds and marks the rest of the live objects in a heap. It is done while the thread is running.
  • Pre-cleaning marking: It identifies the changes made by concurrent marking. Other live objects marked and found. It is done while the threads are running.
  • Final marking: It identifies the changes made by pre-cleaning marking. Other live objects marked and found. It is done while threads are paused.

Parallel Mark and Sweep

It uses all available CPU in the system for performing the garbage collection as fast as possible. It is also called the parallel garbage collector. Threads do not execute when the parallel garbage collection executes.

Pros of Mark and Sweep

  • It is a recurring process.
  • It is an infinite loop.
  • No additional overheads allowed during the execution of an algorithm.

Cons of Mark and Sweep

  • It stops the normal program execution while the garbage collection algorithm runs.
  • It runs multiple times on a program.

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