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Whenever your application is using the G1 garbage collection algorithm, a phenomenon called humongous allocations can impact your application performance in regards of GC. To recap, humongous allocations are allocations that are larger than 50% of the region size in G1.

Having frequent humongous allocations can trigger GC performance issues, considering the way that G1 handles such allocations:

  • If the regions contain humongous objects, space between the last humongous object in the region and the end of the region will be unused. If all the humongous objects are just a bit larger than a factor of the region size, this unused space can cause the heap to become fragmented.
  • Collection of the humongous objects is not as optimized by the G1 as with regular objects. It was especially troublesome with early Java 8 releases – until Java 1.8u40 the reclamation of humongous regions was only done during full GC events. More recent releases of the Hotspot JVM free the humongous regions at the end of the marking cycle during the cleanup phase, so the impact of the issue has been reduced significantly for newer JVMs.

To check whether or not your application is allocating objects in humongous regions, the first step would be to turn on GC logs similar to the following:

java -XX:+PrintGCDetails -XX:+PrintGCTimeStamps -XX:+PrintReferenceGC -XX:+UseG1GC -XX:+PrintAdaptiveSizePolicy -Xmx128m MyClass

Now, when you check the logs and discover sections like these:

 0.106: [G1Ergonomics (Concurrent Cycles) request concurrent cycle initiation, reason: occupancy higher than threshold, occupancy: 60817408 bytes, allocation request: 1048592 bytes, threshold: 60397965 bytes (45.00 %), source: concurrent humongous allocation]
 0.106: [G1Ergonomics (Concurrent Cycles) request concurrent cycle initiation, reason: requested by GC cause, GC cause: G1 Humongous Allocation]
 0.106: [G1Ergonomics (Concurrent Cycles) initiate concurrent cycle, reason: concurrent cycle initiation requested]
 0.106: [GC pause (G1 Humongous Allocation) (young) (initial-mark) 0.106: [G1Ergonomics (CSet Construction) start choosing CSet, _pending_cards: 0, predicted base time: 10.00 ms, remaining time: 190.00 ms, target pause time: 200.00 ms]

you have evidence that the application is indeed allocating humongous objects. The evidence is visible in the cause for a GC pause being identified as G1 Humongous Allocation and in the “allocation request: 1048592 bytes” section, where we can see that the application is trying to allocate an object with the size of 1,048,592 bytes, which is 16 bytes larger than the 50% of the 2 MB size of the humongous region specified for the JVM.

The first solution for humongous allocation is to change the region size so that (most) of the allocations would not exceed the 50% limit triggering allocations in the humongous regions. The region size is calculated by the JVM during startup based on the size of the heap. You can override the size by specifying -XX:G1HeapRegionSize=XX in the startup script. The specified region size must be between 1 and 32 megabytes and has to be a power of two.

This solution can have side effects – increasing the region size reduces the number of regions available so you need to be careful and run extra set of tests to see whether or not you actually improved the throughput or latency of the application.

A more time-consuming but potentially better solution would be to understand whether or not the application can limit the size of allocations. The best tools for the job in this case are profilers. They can give you information about humongous objects by showing their allocation sources with stack traces.