Mchr3k - InMemProfiler

Implementation Details

The purpose of this tool is to track the lifetime of object instances. At its core this means finding a way to detect the following two events.

  • Instance allocation
  • Instance garbage collection

API Choice

The Sun JVM exposes a number of interfaces which I considered for this purpose.


The JVM Profiler Interface is a good candidate and it even includes the following two interfaces which look ideal.


Unfortunately the JVMPI was disabled in Java 6 and is set to be removed in Java 7 (details).

Instrumentation API

The Instrumentation API looks like an ideal candidate for inserting profiling code. However, there are a few reasons why this isn’t as simple as it seems.

  • The Hotspot JVM crashes if a javaagent is used with a stack size of less than 220k
    • NOTE: This has actually been fixed in more recent Java 6 releases.
  • Instrumenting system classes is a non trivial problem.
    • NOTE: I have now managed this in my InTrace project so I may port that knowledge to InMemProfiler.


The JVM Tools Interface replaces the JVMPI. However, the API does not come with such immediately useful methods. Instead, the suggested way of achieving this functionality is bytecode instrumentation.

It’s not initially very appealing to do this instrumentation using the JVMTI as it could equally be done from Java using the Instrumentation API .

Thankfully, the JDK includes some JVMTI demos. java_crw_demo includes code for adding static method calls to the java.lang.Object constructor and after every array allocation. Perfect! In the end I chose to use the JVMTI for bytecode instrumentation and to lookup the size of instances. All the rest of the code is written in Java.

GC of instances is tracked by creating a WeakReferences to allocated instances and tracking these using a ReferenceQueue

Object Allocation

Given the choice to implement the runtime tracking part of this tool entirely in Java I now had a recursive problem. I want to track instance allocations but performing this tracking involves allocating some instances. Getting this recursion wrong in the JVM is not pretty.


In cases where I enabled the profiling code “too early” I saw the following output.

# An unexpected error has been detected by Java Runtime Environment:
#  Internal Error (53484152454432554E54494D450E435050020F), pid=17576, tid=15156
# Java VM: Java HotSpot(TM) Client VM (1.6.0-b105 mixed mode)
# An error report file with more information is saved as hs_err_pid17576.log
# If you would like to submit a bug report, please visit:

Which was just as unhelpful in the log file:

---------------  T H R E A D  ---------------

Current thread (0x003b7000):  JavaThread "Unknown thread" [_thread_in_Java, id=15156]

Stack: [0x008c0000,0x00910000)
[error occurred during error reporting, step 110, id 0xe0000000]

Alternatively, in cases where I enabled the profiling code but failed to stop the allocation recursion I hit the following error:

FATAL ERROR in native method: processing of -javaagent failed

When running in a debugger I could see that this was caused by a StackOverflowError.

Synchronous mode

My first working implementation was to make the profiling method synchronous and have a static boolean variable which indicated whether a profiling call was in progress and hence whether further allocations should be recorded. I initially tried to use a ThreadLocal variable to remove the need for synchronization but this turned out to be unsuitable as calling get() on a ThreadLocal can cause an object to be allocated and I needed to be able to detect whether the current allocation should be recorded without causing any further allocations.


I managed to remove the synchronization by making using of the UncaughtExceptionHandler field which every thread has. My profiling method relies on setting the UncaughtExceptionHandler as a marker that any further allocations by this thread should not be recorded until the UncaughtExceptionHandler is restored.

The only case in which this would cause a problem is if one of the allocated objects relied on setting the UncaughtExceptionHandler as this update would be lost when this method returned and restored the previous handler. Thankfully, none of the objects currently used by my ProfilerDataCollector class rely on setting the UncaughtExceptionHandler.