Validating Java Profiling APIs

In my last post, I covered a correctness bug in the fundamental Java profiling API AsyncGetCallTrace that I found just by chance. Now the question is: Could we find such bugs automatically? Potentially uncovering more bugs or being more confident in the absence of errors. I already wrote code to test the stability of the profiling APIs, testing for the absence of fatal errors, in my jdk-profiling-tester project. Such tools are invaluable when modifying the API implementation or adding a new API. This post will cover a new prototypical tool called trace_validation and its foundational concepts. I focus here on the AsyncGetCallTrace and GetStackTrace API, but due to the similarity in the code, JFR should have similar correctness properties.

The tool took far longer to bring to a usable(ish) state, this is why I didn’t write a blog post last week. I hope to be on schedule again next week.

AsyncGetCallTrace and GetStackTrace

A short recap from my blog series „Writing a Profiler from Scratch“: Both APIs return the stack trace for a given thread at a given point in time (A called B, which in turn called C, …):

AsyncGetCallTrace

The only difference is that AsyncGetCallTrace (ASGCT) returns the stack trace at any point in the execution of the program and GetStackTrace (GST) only at specific safe points, where the state of the JVM is defined. GetStackTrace is the only official API to obtain stack traces but has precision problems. Both don’t have more than a few basic tests in the OpenJDK.

Correctness

But when is the result of a profiling API deemed to be correct? If it matches the execution of the program.

This is hard to check if we don’t modify the JVM itself in general. But it is relatively simple to check for small test cases, where the most run-time is spent in a single method. We can then just check directly in the source code whether the stack trace makes sense. We come back to this answer soon.

The basic idea for automation is to compare the returns of the profiling API automatically to the returns of an oracle. But we sadly don’t have an oracle for the asynchronous AsyncGetCallTrace yet, but we can create one by weakening our correctness definition and building up our oracle in multiple stages.

Weakening the correctness definition

In practice, we don’t need the profiling APIs to return the correct result in 100% of all cases and for all frames in the trace. Typical profilers are sampling profilers and therefore approximate the result anyway. This makes the correctness definition easier to test, as it let’s us make the trade-off between feasibility and precision.

Layered oracle

The idea is now to build our oracle in different layers. Starting with basic assumptions and writing tests to verify that the layer above is probably correct too. Leading us to our combined test of asynchronous AsyncGetCallTrace. This has the advantage that every check is relatively simple, which is important, because the whole oracle depends on how much we trust the basic assumptions and the tests that verify that a layer is correct. I describe the layers and checks in the following:

Different layers of trace_validation

Ground layer

We start with the most basic assumption as our ground layer: An approximation of the stack traces can be obtained by instrumenting the byte code at runtime. The idea is to push at every entry of a method the method and its class (the frame) onto a stack and to pop it at every exit:

class A {
 void methodB() {
   // ...
 }
}

Is transformed into:

class A {
 void methodB() {
   trace.push("A", "methodB");
   // ...
   trace.pop();
 }
}

The instrumentation agent modifies the bytecode at runtime, so every exit of the method is recorded. I used the great Javassist library for the heavy lifting. We record all of this information in thread-local stacks.

This does not capture all methods, because we cannot modify native methods which are implemented in C++, but it covers most of the methods. This is what I meant by an approximation before. A problem with this is the cost of the instrumentation. We can make a trade-off between precision and usefulness by only instrumenting a portion of methods.

We can ask the stack data structure for an approximation of the current stack trace in the middle of every method. These traces are by construction correct, especially when we implement the stack data structure in native code, only exposing the Trace::push and Trace::pop methods. This limits the code reordering by the JVM.

GetStackTrace layer

This API is, as I described above, the official API to get the stack traces and it is not limited to basic stack walking, as it walks only when the JVM state is defined. One could therefore assume that it returns the correct frames. This is what I did in my previous blog post. But we should test this assumption: We can create a native Trace::check which calls GetStackTrace and checks that all frames from Trace are present and in the correct order. Calls to this method are inserted after the call to Trace::push at the beginning of methods.

There are usually more frames present in the return of GetStackTrace, but it is safe to assume that the correctness attributes approximately hold true for the whole GetStackTrace too. One could of course check the correctness of GetStackTrace at different parts of the methods. I think that this is probably unnecessary, as common Java programs call methods every few bytecode instructions.

This layer gives us now the ability to get the frames consisting of method id and location at safe points.

Safe point AsyncGetCallTrace layer

We can now use the previous layer and the fact that the result of both APIs has almost the same format, to check that AsyncGetCallTrace returns the correct result at safe points. Both APIs should yield the same results there. The check here is as simple as calling both APIs in the Trace::check method and comparing their results (omitting the location info as this is less stable). This has of course the same caveats as in the previous layer, but this is acceptable in my opinion.

If you’re curious: The main difference between the frames of both APIs is the magic number that ASGCT and GST use to denote native methods in the location field.

Async AsyncGetCallTrace layer

Our goal is to convince ourselves that AsyncGetCallTrace is safe at non safepoints under the assumption that AsyncGetCallTrace is safe at safe points (here the beginning of methods). The solution consists of two parts: The trace stack which contains the current stack trace and the sample loop which calls AsyncGetCallTrace asynchronously and compares the returns with the trace stack.

The trace stack datastructure allows to push and pop stack traces on method entry and exit. It consists of a large frames array which contains the current frames: index 0 has the bottom frame and index top contains the top most frame (the reverse order compared to AsyncGetCallTrace). The array is large enough, here 1024 entries, to be able to store stack traces of all relevant sizes. It is augmented by a previous array which contains the index of the top frame of most recent transitive caller frame of the current top frame.

Trace stack data structure used to store the stack of stack traces

We assume here that the caller trace is a sub trace of the current trace, with only the caller frame differing in the location (lineno here). This is due to the caller frame location being the beginning of the method where we obtained the trace. The calls to other methods have different locations. We mark the top frame location therefore with a magic number to state that this information changes during the execution of the method.

This allows us to store the stack of stack traces in a compact manner. We create such a data structure per thread in thread local storage. This allows us to obtain a possibly full sub trace at every point of the execution, with only the top frame location of the sub trace differing. We can use this to check the correctness of AsyncGetCallTrace at arbitrary points in time:

We create a loop in a separate thread which sends a signal to a randomly chosen running Java thread and use the signal handler to call AsyncGetCallTrace for the Java thread and to obtain a copy of the current trace stack. We then check that the result is as expected. Be aware of the synchronization.

With this we can be reasonably certain that AsyncGetCallTrace is correct enough, when all layer tests run successfully on a representative benchmark like renaissance. An prototypical implementation of all of this is my trace_validation project: It runs with the current head of the OpenJDK without any problems, except for an error rate of 0.003% percent for the last check (depending on the settings, but also with two caveats: the last check still has the problem of sometimes hanging, but I’ll hope to fix it in the next few weeks and I only tested it on Linux x86.

There is another possible way to implement the last check which I didn’t implement (yet), but which is still interesting to explore:

Variant of the Async AsyncGetCallTrace check

We can base this layer on top of the GetStackTrace layer too by exploiting the fact that GetStackTrace blocks at non safe points until a safe point is reached and then obtain the stack trace (see JBS). Like with the other variant of the check, we create a sample loop in a separate thread, pick a random Java thread, send it a signal, and then call AsyncGetCallTrace in the signal handler. But directly after sending the signal, we call GetStackTrace, to obtain a stack trace at the next safe point. The stack trace should be roughly the same as the AsyncGetCallTrace trace, as the time delay between their calls is minimal. We can compare both traces and thereby make an approximate check.

The advantage is that we don’t do any instrumentation with this approach and only record the stack traces that we really need. The main disadvantage is that it is more approximate as the time between timing of AsyncGetCallTrace and GetStackTrace is not obvious and certainly implementation and load specific. I did not yet test it, but might do so in the future because the setup should be simple enough to add it to the OpenJDK as a test case.

Update 20th March: I implemented this variant (and it will be soon the basis of a JTREG test) and found an error related to custom class loaders.

Update 21st March: I implemented the reduced version in a stand-alone agent that can be found on GitHub.

Conclusion

I’ve shown you in this article how we can test the correctness of AsyncGetCallTrace automatically using a multi level oracle. The implementation differs slightly and is more complicated then expected, because of the percularities of writing an instrumentation agent with a native agent and a native library.

I’m now fairly certain that AsyncGetCallTrace is correct enough and hope you’re too. Please try out the underlying project and come forward with any issues or suggestions.

This blog post is part of my work in the SapMachine team at SAP, making profiling easier for everyone.

Do you trust profilers? I once did too

Profilers are great tools in your toolbox, like debuggers, when solving problems with your Java application (I’ve been on a podcast on this topic recently). I’ll tell you some of their problems and a technique to cope with them in this blog post.

There are many open-source profilers, most notably JFR/JMC, and async-profiler, that help you to find and fix performance problems. But they are just software themself, interwoven with a reasonably large project, the OpenJDK (or OpenJ9, for that matter), and thus suffer from the same problems as the typical problems of application they are used to profile:

  • Tests could be better
  • Performance and accuracy could be better
  • Tests could be more plentiful, especially for the underlying API, which could be tested well
  • Changes in seemingly unrelated parts of the enclosing project can adversely affect them

Therefore you take the profiles generated by profilers with a grain of salt. There are several blog posts and talks covering the accuracy problems of profilers:

I would highly recommend you to read my Writing a profiler from scratch series If you want to know more about how the foundational AsyncGetCallTrace is used in profilers. Just to list a few.

A sample AsyncGetCallTraceTrace bug

A problem that has been less discussed is the lacking test coverage of the underlying APIs. The AsyncGetCallTrace API, used by async-profiler and others, has just one test case in the OpenJDK (as I discussed before). This test case can be boiled down to the following:

import java.lang.reflect.InvocationTargetException;
import java.lang.reflect.Method;

public class Main {

    static { /** load native library */ }

    public static void main(String[] args) throws Exception {
        Class<?> klass = Main.class;
        Method mainMethod = klass.getMethod("main");
        mainMethod.invoke(null);
    }

    public static void test() {
        if (!checkAsyncGetCallTraceCall()) {
            throw ...;
        }
    }

    public static native boolean checkAsyncGetCallTraceCall();
}

This is the simplest test case that can be written in the OpenJDK JTREG test framework for OpenJDK. The problem with this test case? The implementation of checkAsyncGetCallTraceCall only checks for the topmost frame. To test AsyncGetCallTrace correctly here, one should compare the trace returned by this call with the trace of an oracle. We can use GetStackTrace (the safepoint-biased predecessor of ASGCT) here as it seems to return the correct trace.

GetStackTrace returns something like the following:

Frame 0: Main.checkAsyncGetStackTraceCall
Frame 1: Main.test
Frame 2: java.lang.invoke.LambdaForm$DMH.[...].invokeStatic
Frame 3: java.lang.invoke.LambdaForm$MH.[...].invoke
Frame 4: java.lang.invoke.Invokers$Holder.invokeExact_MT
Frame 5: jdk.internal.reflect.DirectMethodHandleAccessor
                             .invokeImpl
Frame 6: jdk.internal.reflect.DirectMethodHandleAccessor.invoke
Frame 7: java.lang.reflect.Method.invoke
Frame 8: Main.main

AsyncGetCallTrace, on the other hand, had problems walking over some of the reflection internals and returned:

Frame 0: Main.checkAsyncGetStackTraceCall
Frame 1: Main.test
Frame 2: java.lang.invoke.LambdaForm$DMH.[...].invokeStatic

This problem can be observed with a modified test case with JFR and async-profiler too:

public class Main {

    public static void main(String[] args) throws Exception {
        Class<?> klass = Main.class;
        Method mainMethod = klass.getMethod("test");
        mainMethod.invoke(null);
    }

    public static void test() {
        javaLoop();
    }

    public static void javaLoop() {
        long start = System.currentTimeMillis();
        while (start + 3000 > System.currentTimeMillis());
    }
}
The expected flame graph is on the left (obtained after fixing the bug), and the actual flame graph is on the right.

So the only test case on AsyncGetCallTrace in the OpenJDK did not properly test the whole trace. This was not a problem when the test case was written. One can expect that its author checked the entire stack trace manually once and then created a small check test case to test the first frame, which is not implementation specific. But this is a problem for regression testing:

The Implementation of JEP 416: Reimplement Core Reflection with Method Handle in JDK 18+23 in mid-2021 modified the inner workings of reflection and triggered this bug. The lack of proper regression tests meant the bug had only been discovered a week ago. The actual cause of the bug is more complicated and related to a broken invariant regarding stack pointers in the stack walking. You can read more on this in the comments by Jorn Vernee and Richard Reingruber to my PR.

My PR improves the test by checking the result of AsyncGetCallTrace against GetStackTrace, as explained before, and fixing the bug by slightly loosening the invariant.

My main problem with finding this bug is that it shows how the lack of test coverage for the underlying profiling APIs might cause problems even for profiling simple Java code. I only found the bug because I’m writing many tests for my new AsyncGetStackTrace API. It’s hard work, but I’m convinced this is the only way to create a reliable foundation for profilers.

Profilers in a loop

Profilers have many problems but are still helpful if you know what they can and cannot do. They should be used with care, without trusting everything they tell you. Profilers are only as good as the person interpreting the profiler results and the person’s technique.

I have a background in computer science, and every semester I give students in a paper writing lab an hour-long lecture on doing experiments. I started this a few years back and continue to do it pro-bono because it is an important skill to teach. One of the most important things that I teach the students is that doing experiments is essentially a loop:

You start with an abstract model of the experiment and its environment (like the tool or algorithm you’re testing). Then you formulate a hypothesis in this model (e.g., „Algorithm X is faster as Y because of Z“). You might find problems in your model during this step and go back to the modeling step, or you don’t and start evaluating, checking whether the hypothesis holds. During this evaluation, you might find problems with your hypothesis (e.g., it isn’t valid) or even your model and go back to the respective step. Besides problems, you usually find new information that lets you refine your model and hypothesis. Evaluating without a mental model or a hypothesis makes it impossible to interpret the evaluation results correctly. But remember that a mismatch between hypothesis and evaluation might also be due to a broken evaluation.

The same loop can be applied to profiling: Before investigating any issue with a program, you should acquire at least a rough mental model of the code. This means understanding the basic architecture, performance-critical components, and the issues of the underlying libraries. Then you formulate a hypothesis based on the problem you’re investigating embedded in your mental model (e.g., „Task X is slow because Y is probably slow …“). You can then evaluate the hypothesis using actual tests and a profiler. But as before, remember that your evaluation might also contain bugs. You can only discover these with a mental model and a reasonably refined hypothesis.

This technique lets you use profilers without fearing that spurious errors will lead you to wrong conclusions.

I hope you found this article helpful and educational. It is an ongoing effort to add proper tests and educate users of profilers. See you in the next post when I cover the next step in writing a profiler from scratch.

This blog post is part of my work in the SapMachine team at SAP, making profiling easier for everyone.

JFR Timestamps and System.nanoTime

Did you ever wonder whether JFR timestamps use the same time source as System.nanoTime? This is important when you have miscellaneous logging besides JFR events; otherwise, you could not match JFR events and your logging properly. We assume here that you use System.nanoTime and not less-suited timing information from System.currentTimeMillis.

The journey into this started with a question on the JDK Mission Control slack channel, which led me into a rabbit hole:

Could I have a question regarding JFR timestamps? (working with Linux) Is there any difference between JFR timestamp implementation and System#nanoTime (any optimization)?

Petr Bouda

This question essentially boils down to comparing both methods‘ OS time sources. We’re only considering Unix systems in the following.

Source of JFR timestamps

The JFR event time stamps are set in the JFR event constructor, which is defined in jfrEvent.hpp (and not in the Java code, as one might expect):

  JfrEvent(EventStartTime timing=TIMED) : 
    _start_time(0), _end_time(0),
    _untimed(timing == UNTIMED),
    _should_commit(false), _evaluated(false)
#ifdef ASSERT
  , _verifier()
#endif
  {
    if (!T::isInstant && !_untimed && is_enabled()) {
      set_starttime(JfrTicks::now());
    }
  }

Looking further reveals that JFRTicks calls FastUnorderedElapsedCounterSource which uses two different time sources:

FastUnorderedElapsedCounterSource::Type 
 FastUnorderedElapsedCounterSource::now() {
#if defined(X86) && !defined(ZERO)
  static bool valid_rdtsc = Rdtsc::initialize();
  if (valid_rdtsc) {
    return Rdtsc::elapsed_counter();
  }
#endif
  return os::elapsed_counter();
}

The RDTSC instruction reads the time stamp counter on x86 processors:

The time stamp counter (TSC) is a hardware counter found in all contemporary x86 processors. The counter is implemented as a 64-bit model-specific register (MSR) that is incremented at every clock cycle. The RDTSC („read time stamp counter“) register has been present since the original Pentium.

Already because of the access method, TSC provides a low-overhead and high-resolution way to obtain CPU timing information. This traditional premise was violated when such factors as system sleep states, CPU „hotplugging“, „hibernation“, and CPU frequency scaling were introduced to the x86 lineage. This was however mainly a short abruption: in many new x86 CPUs the time stamp counter is again invariant with respect to the stability of the clock frequency. Care should be however taken in implementations that rely on this assumption.

NETBSD MANUAL

This instruction allows the OS to implement a monotonic real-time clock.

On non-x86 systems os::elapsed_counter is used, which, surprise, calls os::javaTimeNanos:

jlong os::elapsed_counter() {
  return os::javaTimeNanos() - initial_time_count;
}

Source of System.nanoTime

Now the remaining question is: Does System.nanoTime also call os::javaTimeNanos? The method is defined in the jvm.cpp:

JVM_LEAF(jlong, JVM_NanoTime(JNIEnv *env, jclass ignored))
  return os::javaTimeNanos();
JVM_END

So System.nanoTime is just a tiny wrapper around os::javaTimeNanos. So this solves the original question on non-x86 CPUs. But what about x86 CPUs?

First for Mac OS: It boils down to calling mach_absolute_time:

Returns current value of a clock that increments monotonically in tick units (starting at an arbitrary point), this clock does not increment while the system is asleep.

ApplE DEVELOPER DOCUMENTATION

Information on the implementation of this method is scarce, but source code from 2007 suggests that mach_absolute_time is RDTSC based. So there is (probably) no difference between JFR timestamps and System.nanoTime on Mac OS, regardless of the CPU architecture.

Now on Linux: Here, the used os::javaTimeNanos is implemented using clock_gettime(CLOCK_MONOTONIC, ...):

CLOCK_MONOTONIC Clock that cannot be set and represents monotonic time since some unspecified starting point.

Linux MAN PAGE

I tried to find something in the Linux Kernel sources, but they are slightly too complicated to find the solution quickly, so I had to look elsewhere. Someone asked a question on clock_gettime on StackOverflow. The answers essentially answer our question too: clock_gettime(CLOCK_MONOTONIC, ...) seems to use RDTSC.

Conclusion

JFR timestamps and System.nanoTime seem to use the same time source on all Unix systems on all platforms, as far as I understand it.

You can stop the JVM from using RDTSC by using the -XX:+UnlockExperimentalVMOptions -XX:-UseFastUnorderedTimeStamps JVM flags (thanks to Richard Startin for pointing this out). You can read Markus Grönlunds Mail on Timing Differences Between JFR and GC Logs for another take on JFR timestamps (or skip ahead):

JFR performance as it relates to event generation, which is also functional for JFR, reduce to a large extent to how quickly a timestamp can be acquired. Since everything in JFR is an event, and an event will have at least one timestamp, and two timestamps for events that represent durations, the event generation leans heavily on the clock source. Clock access latencies is therefore of central importance for JFR, maybe even more so than correctness. And historically, operating systems have varied quite a bit when it comes to access latency and resolution for the performance timers they expose.

What you see in your example is that os::elapsed_counter() (which on Windows maps to QueryPerformanceCounter() with a JVM relative epoch offset) and the rdtsc() counter are disjoint epochs, and they are treated as such in Hotspot. Therefore, attempting to compare the raw counter values is not semantically valid.

Relying on and using rdtsc() come with disclaimers and problems and is generally not recommended. Apart from the historical and performance related aspects already detailed, here is a short description of how it is treated in JFR:

JFR will only attempt to use this source if it has the InvariantTSC property, with timestamp values only treated relative to some other, more stable, clock source. Each „chunk“ (file) in JFR reifies a relative epoch, with the chunk start time anchored to a stable timestamp (on Windows this is UTC nanoseconds). rdtsc() timestamps for events generated during that epoch are only treated relative to this start time during post-processing, which gives very high resolution to JFR events. As JFR runs, new „chunks“, and therefore new time epochs, are constructed, continuously, each anchored anew to a stable timestamp.

The nature of rdtsc() querying different cores / sockets with no guarantee of them having been synchronized is of course a problem using this mechanism. However, over the years, possible skews have proven not as problematic as one might think in JFR. In general, the relative relations between the recorded JFR events give enough information to understand a situation and to solve a problem. Of course, there are exceptions, for example, when analyzing low-level aspects expecting high accuracy, usually involving some correlation to some other non-JFR related component. For these situations, an alternative is to turn off rdtsc() usages in JFR using the flags: -XX:+UnlockExperimentalVMOptions -XX:-UseFastUnorderedTimeStamps. JFR will now use os::elapsed_counter() as the time source. This comes with higher overhead, but if this overhead is not deemed problematic in an environment, then this is of course a better solution.

As other have already pointed out, there have been evolution in recent years in how operating systems provide performance counter information to user mode. It might very well be that now the access latencies are within acceptable overhead, combined with high timer resolution. If that is the case, the rdtsc() usages should be phased out due to its inherent problems. This requires a systematic investigation and some policy on how to handle older HW/SW combinations – if there needs to be a fallback to continue to use rdtsc(), it follows it is not feasible to phase it out completely.

Markus Grönlund

Difference between System.currentTimeMillis and System.nanoTime

This is not directly related to the original question, but nonetheless interesting. System.currentTimeMillis is implemented using clock_gettime(CLOCK_REALTIME, ...) on all CPU architectures:

CLOCK_REALTIME System-wide realtime clock. Setting this clock requires appropriate privileges.

Linux MAN PAGE

This clock is not guaranteed to be monotonic:

CLOCK_REALTIME represents the machine’s best-guess as to the current wall-clock, time-of-day time. […] this means that CLOCK_REALTIME can jump forwards and backwards as the system time-of-day clock is changed, including by NTP.

CLOCK_MONOTONIC represents the absolute elapsed wall-clock time since some arbitrary, fixed point in the past. It isn’t affected by changes in the system time-of-day clock.

Ciro Santilli on STACKOVERFLOW

So does it make a difference? Probably only slightly, especially if you’re running shorter profiling runs. For longer runs, consider using System.nanoTime.

I hope you enjoyed coming down this rabbit hole with me and learned something about JFR internals along the way.

This blog post is part of my work in the SapMachine team at SAP, making profiling easier for everyone.

Using Firefox Profiler beyond the web

This blog post is the base for the second half of my upcoming talk at FOSDEM 2023 on the topic „Firefox Profiler beyond the web: Using Firefox Profiler to view Java profiling data.“

I detailed in my last blog post how the Firefox Profiler can be used to view Java profiling data:

But I’m of course not the only one who uses Firefox Profiler beyond the web, because using it has many advantages: You’re essentially getting a prototypical visualization for your data in an afternoon.

Other tools that use Firefox Profiler

There are other tools that output use Firefox Profiler for their front end. A great example is the Rust profiler samply by Markus Stange, the initial developer of Firefox Profiler:

samply is a command line CPU profiler which uses the Firefox profiler as its UI.

At the moment it runs on macOS and Linux. Windows support is planned. samply is still under development and far from finished, but works quite well already.

Give it a try:

% cargo install samply
% samply record ./your-command your-arguments
GiTHUB

Another example is the python profiler FunctionTrace:

A graphical Python profiler that provides a clear view of your application’s execution while being both low-overhead and easy to use.

FunctionTrace supports all of the useful profiling views you’re familiar with, including Stack Charts, Flame Graphs, and Call Trees, thanks to its integration with the Firefox Profiler.

There are also non-open source uses of Firefox Profiler, Luís Oliveira, for example, works on integration with Lisp:

We’re using the Firefox Profiler to debug performance issues at the Dutch Railways dispatching center.

Basic Structure

I hope I convinced you that the Firefox Profiler is really great for visualizing profiling data, even if this data comes from the world beyond web UIs. If not, please read my previous article. The main part of adapting to Firefox Profiler is to convert your data into the profiler format. The data is stored as JSON in a (optionally zipped) file and can be loaded into Firefox Profiler. See Loading in profiles from various sources for more information.

The basic structure of a tool using Firefox Profiler can be as follows, using my plugin as an example:

You have a converter from your profile format to the Firefox Profiler format. The converted file is then passed to the Firefox Profiler, either from profiler.firefox.com or a custom fork. You typically then wrap your UI and the converter, hosting both on a small webserver. This web server runs then on e.g. localhost. Hosting your own Firefox Profiler instance has two main advantages: First, you have always a tested combination of Firefox Profiler and Converter. Second, it works offline. The web server can then be embedded into a larger application, showing the UI using an embedded browser.

You can find the type definitions in the types folder of the Firefox Profiler repository. All of the following will be based on this. This part of the article will not focus on all the details, like markers, but more on a bird’s eye view of the format, so it will probably still apply with future revisions. I’ll also omit parts that are not that useful for non-web use cases. If you have any questions on the file format, feel free to ask them in the matrix channel.

The type definitions are written with flow. It is helpful to read its documentation if you want to understand the intricacies. But for now, it should suffice to know that x?: type means that the property x is optional and that | denotes either types.

Layout

A short interlude: The layout of Firefox Profiler consists basically of a timeline view and a methods and timing view:

The timeline allows you to select specific threads and a time slice to view the details in the detail section below the timeline.

Overview

The following shows the main components of the profile format, omitting and summarizing many properties. This diagram should give a rough overview of what comes next:

Profile

The topmost level of a profile is the Profile type:

type Profile = {|
  meta: ProfileMeta,    // meta information, like application name
  libs: Lib[],          // used shared native libraries
  ...
  counters?: Counter[], // CPU and memory counters
  ...
  threads: Thread[],    // samples per thread
  ...
|};

A profile consists of the metadata, shared libraries, CPU and memory counters, and the rest of the data per thread.

ProfileMeta

A profile can have lots of metadata shown in the UI. The ProfileMeta type specifies this:

type ProfileMeta = {|
  // The interval at which the threads are sampled.
  interval: Milliseconds,
  // The number of milliseconds since midnight January 1, 1970 GMT.
  startTime: Milliseconds,
  // The number of milliseconds since midnight January 1, 1970 GMT.
  endTime?: Milliseconds,
  ...
  // The list of categories as provided by the platform. The categories are present for
  // all Firefox profiles, but imported profiles may not include any category support.
  // The front-end will provide a default list of categories, but the saved profile
  // will not include them.
  categories?: CategoryList,
  // The name of the product, most likely "Firefox".
  product: 'Firefox' | string,
  ...
  // Arguments to the program (currently only used for imported profiles)
  arguments?: string,
  ...
  // The amount of logically available CPU cores for the program.
  logicalCPUs?: number,
  ...
  symbolicated?: boolean,  // usually false for imported profiles
  symbolicationNotSupported?: boolean, // usually true for imported profiles
  // symbolication is usually not important for imported and converted profiles
  ...
  // Profile importers can optionally add information about where they are imported from.
  // They also use the "product" field in the meta information, but this is somewhat
  // ambiguous. This field, if present, is unambiguous that it was imported.
  importedFrom?: string,

  // The following are settings that are used to configure the views for
  // imported profiles, as some features do not make sense for them

  // Do not distinguish between different stack types?
  usesOnlyOneStackType?: boolean, // true in our use case
  // Hide the "implementation" information in the UI (see #3709)?
  doesNotUseFrameImplementation?: boolean, // true in our use case
  // Hide the "Look up the function name on Searchfox" menu entry?
  sourceCodeIsNotOnSearchfox?: boolean,    // true in our use case
  // Indexes of the threads that are initially visible in the UI.
  // This is useful for imported profiles for which the internal visibility score
  // ranking does not make sense.
  initialVisibleThreads?: ThreadIndex[],
  // Indexes of the threads that are initially selected in the UI.
  // This is also most useful for imported profiles where just using the first thread
  // of each process might not make sense.
  initialSelectedThreads?: ThreadIndex[],
  // Keep the defined thread order
  keepProfileThreadOrder?: boolean,
|};

And there is more. It might feel overwhelming, but this data structure also allows you to tailor the profiler UI slightly to your needs.

Category

Many parts of the profile are associated with a Category and a subcategory. A category is defined as:

type Category = {|
  name: string,
  color: string,
  subcategories: string[],
|};

Categories are referenced by their index in the category list of the ProfileMeta data structure and subcategories by their index in the field of their parent category.

The categories are used to assign a color to the squares in front of the method names and give more information on every call tree node in the sidebar:

Now to the individual threads:

Thread

The thread data structure combines all information related to a single thread. There can be multiple threads per process Id. The thread with the name GeckoMain is handled differently than the others. It is the main thread that is shown in the process timeline.

type Thread = {|
  ...
  processStartupTime: Milliseconds,
  processShutdownTime: Milliseconds | null,
  registerTime: Milliseconds,
  unregisterTime: Milliseconds | null,
  ...
  name: string,
  ...
  pid: Pid,
  tid: Tid,
  ...
  // Strings for profiles are collected into a single table, and are referred to by
  // their index by other tables.
  stringTable: UniqueStringArray,
  ...
  samples: SamplesTable,
  ...
  stackTable: StackTable,
  frameTable: FrameTable,
  funcTable: FuncTable,
  resourceTable: ResourceTable,
  ...
|};

The file format stores all stack traces in a space-efficient format which the front end can handle fast. It uses an array of strings (stringTable) to store all strings that appear in the stack traces (like function names), the other data structures only refer to strings by their index in this array.

SampleS Table

This data structure associates a captured stack with a capture time and an optional weight:

/**
 * The Gecko Profiler records samples of what function was currently being executed, and
 * the callstack that is associated with it. This is done at a fixed but configurable
 * rate, e.g. every 1 millisecond. This table represents the minimal amount of
 * information that is needed to represent that sampled function. Most of the entries
 * are indices into other tables.
 */
type SamplesTable = {|
  ...
  stack: Array<IndexIntoStackTable | null>,
  time: Milliseconds[],
  // An optional weight array. If not present, then the weight is assumed to be 1.
  // See the WeightType type for more information.
  weight: null | number[],
  weightType: WeightType,  // 'samples' or 'tracing-ms'
  // CPU usage value of the current thread. Its values are null only if the back-end
  // fails to get the CPU usage from operating system.
  threadCPUDelta?: Array<number | null>,
  length: number,
|};

Filling this with data from a sampling profiler is easy, just add references to the stacks and their occurrence time. For example consider you sampled the stack A-B at 0 and A-B-C at 2, then the samples table is:

SamplesTable = {
  stack: [A-B, A-B-C], // references into the stack table
  time:  [0, 2],
  weigth: null,
  weigthType: 'samples',
  length: 2
}

Filling the threadCPUDelta property allows you to specify the CPU time a thread has used since the last sample. The Firefox Profiler uses this property to show the CPU usage curves in the timeline:

Stack Table

All stacks are stored in the stack table using a prefix array:

type StackTable = {|
  frame: IndexIntoFrameTable[],
  // Imported profiles may not have categories. In this case fill the array with 0s.
  category: IndexIntoCategoryList[],
  subcategory: IndexIntoSubcategoryListForCategory[],
  prefix: Array<IndexIntoStackTable | null>,
  length: number,
|};

Category and subcategory of a stack n gives information on the whole stack, the frame just on its topmost frame. The prefix denotes the stack related to the second-top-most frame or that this stack only has one frame if null. This allows the efficient storage of stacks.

Now consider our example from before. We could store the stack A-B-C as follows:

StackTable = {
  frame:  [A, B, C], // references into the frame table
  prefix: [1, 2, 0],
  ...
}

Frame Table

The frames themselves are stored in the frame table:

/**
 * Frames contain the context information about the function execution at the moment in
 * time. The caller/callee relationship between frames is defined by the StackTable.
 */
type FrameTable = {|
  // If this is a frame for native code, the address is the address of the frame's
  // assembly instruction,  relative to the native library that contains it.
  address: Array<Address | -1>,

  // The inline depth for this frame. If there is an inline stack at an address,
  // we create multiple frames with the same address, one for each depth.
  // The outermost frame always has depth 0.
  inlineDepth: number[],

  category: (IndexIntoCategoryList | null)[],
  subcategory: (IndexIntoSubcategoryListForCategory | null)[],
  func: IndexIntoFuncTable[],
  ...
  line: (number | null)[],
  column: (number | null)[],
  length: number,
|};

Each frame is related to a function, which is in turn stored in the FuncTable.

Func Table

The function table stores all functions with some metadata:

type FuncTable = {|
  // The function name.
  name: Array<IndexIntoStringTable>,

  // isJS and relevantForJS describe the function type. Non-JavaScript functions
  // can be marked as "relevant for JS" so that for example DOM API label functions
  // will show up in any JavaScript stack views.
  // It may be worth combining these two fields into one:
  // https://github.com/firefox-devtools/profiler/issues/2543
  isJS: Array<boolean>,
  relevantForJS: Array<boolean>,

  // The resource describes "Which bag of code did this function come from?".
  // For JS functions, the resource is of type addon, webhost, otherhost, or url.
  // For native functions, the resource is of type library.
  // For labels and for other unidentified functions, we set the resource to -1.
  resource: Array<IndexIntoResourceTable | -1>,

  // These are non-null for JS functions only. The line and column describe the
  // location of the *start* of the JS function. As for the information about which
  // which lines / columns inside the function were actually hit during execution,
  // that information is stored in the frameTable, not in the funcTable.
  fileName: Array<IndexIntoStringTable | null>,
  lineNumber: Array<number | null>,
  columnNumber: Array<number | null>,

  length: number,
|};

Resource Table

The last table I’ll show in this article is the resource table. It depends on you and what you map to it:

/**
 * The ResourceTable holds additional information about functions. It tends to contain
 * sparse arrays. Multiple functions can point to the same resource.
 */
type ResourceTable = {|
  length: number,
  ...
  name: Array<IndexIntoStringTable>,
  ...
  // 0: unknown, library: 1, addon: 2, webhost: 3, otherhost: 4, url: 5
  type: resourceTypeEnum[],
|};

This was quite a technical article, so thanks for reading till the end. I hope it helps you when you try to target the Firefox Profiler, and see you for the next blog post.

This blog post is part of my work in the SapMachine team at SAP, making profiling easier for everyone.

Firefox Profiler beyond the web

This blog post is the base of the first half of my upcoming talk at FOSDEM 2023 on the topic „Firefox Profiler beyond the web: Using Firefox Profiler to view Java profiling data.“

For the impatient: Take a look at my Java JFR Profiler IntelliJ plugin to easily profile your application and view JFR files directly in your IDE.

I got involved in the Firefox Profiler development, spending significant portions of my time at SAP in the last half year on it. It has been an exciting ride. I learned a lot and contributed a few features. So I was essentially developing React code when I wasn’t working on ASGST or other OpenJDK-related tools. But you may well ask the most important of all questions: Why? Why did I spend so much time on a profiler for JavaScript and the Firefox browser? It all started in August 2022…

How did I end up there?

I developed code related to the Java debugging protocol in the second quarter of 2022. I had grand plans, but it eventually did turn out to be far more complicated than expected, but that is a story for another blog post. You can read my short primer on Java debugging internals to get a glimpse of this work. During the development, I encountered a problem: How can I profile my code, especially unit tests? I had many unit tests like the following, which tested specific aspects of my code:

@Test
public void testEvaluateSwitchStatement() {
    var program = Program.parse("((= x 1) (switch (const x)" +
        "(case 1 (= v (collect 2))) (case 2 (= v (collect 1)))" +
        "))");
    var funcs = new RecordingFunctions();
    new Evaluator(vm, funcs).evaluate(program);
    assertEquals(List.of(wrap(2L)), funcs.values);
}

I wanted to use an open-source profiler, as I had no access to the paid version of IntelliJ, which includes profiling support. Multiple tools are available, but it essentially boils down to async-profiler and JMC. Both tools have their advantages and disadvantages regarding their UI, but it essentially boils down to ease of use vs. available features:

Async-profiler and its profiling visualizations are easy to use but do not have that many features. The only available visualization is flamegraphs with minimal interactivity, just zooming is supported. Flamegraphs are the bread-and-butter of profiling:

If you want more visualizations, like a tree view, timelines, or a JFR event view, you can export your profile into JFR format (or use JFR to record your profile directly) and view it in JMC. But the difference between the ease of use of both is vast: Whereas the flamegraphs of async-profiler are usable by anyone with a short introduction, using JMC has a steep learning curve, it is currently more a tool for experts to dig deep into the profiling data. This observation leads us to the first problem: There is, to my knowledge, no open-source tool that offers more visualizations than just flamegraphs and is as easy to use.

Another problem with both async-profiler and JFR is the missing integration into IDEs. I would like to just click on a button in a context menu to profile an individual test case:

Without the hassle of creating a main method that just calls this method: I want to be able to profile it by modifying the JVM options of a run configuration.

I thought I was probably not the only one with this use case who stumbled upon the two problems impeding profiling. I had some spare time in August, so I looked for ways to build a tool myself.

Building a basic version of an IDE plugin that solves the second of my two problems is relatively easy. There is already the open-source profiling plugin Panda by Rastislav Papp, on which I based mine. Panda has only a simple tree view visualization, so it does not cover my first problem with visualizations. So I still had to figure out how I could implement the UI. Implementing it directly in the IDE in Java is cumbersome, so I decided early on to use an embedded browser. I considered implementing it myself, with the help of libraries like d3-flamegraph or extending speedscope, but this proved too much work. And I had no experience in building production-ready web applications, or for that matter, React.

Advantages of Firefox Profiler

Here comes the Firefox Profiler: It might seem illogical to use it in a use case that its developers never thought about, but it has a lot going for it:

  • it has multiple visualizations and a timeline to select time slices
  • it is open-source but backed by a large company
  • it is actively developed by a small group of people
  • it has a matrix channel where you can ask a lot of questions and get great answers
  • it has a well-defined profile format which is rather extensively documented
  • its developers were open to collaborating with me, adapting Firefox Profiler for non-web use cases

It has still been a lot of work to add the necessary features for my use case, and it is an ongoing effort to integrate them into the mainline Firefox Profiler. But if the current Firefox Profiler meets all your needs UI-wise, then using it beyond the web is just a matter of writing a profiler.

Just keep in mind that you’ll have to map your data onto the profile data structure of Firefox Profiler.

My Java Profiler IntelliJ Plugin

My Java JFR profiler (GitHub) plugin is the result of all my efforts:

It uses my Firefox Profiler fork, which includes additions not yet in the upstream repository and has a modular implementation so that you can use the JFR to Firefox Profiler converter independently. The plugin supports gathering profiles using JFR and async-profiler (via ap-loader), the previous image with the different run configurations is from my plugin, and opening arbitrary JFR files (as long as they are not too large):

The plugin integrates with your IDE, navigating to a method in the source code when you double-click a method in the profile view. Shift double-click, and it shows you the code with the profiling information on the side:

Besides that, it has support for showing information on all JFR events:

The Firefox Profiler view contains a Function Table, Flame Graph, and Stack Chart view, combined with a timeline on top, so it truly solves the first problem of visualizations. And it solves the second problem, as profiling with JFR or async-profiler can’t be more accessible than clicking a single button.

The plugin is under active development and currently in the beta stage, so give it a try and feel free to create issues on GitHub. You can pick the Java JFR Profiler plugin from the JetBrains marketplace.

I will write an entire blog post covering the plugin usage in the next few weeks, so stay tuned for more information and possibly a screencast.

I’ll release another, more technical blog post in the next few days, which covers other tools that use Firefox Profiler as a visualization and the profile format. This will be the second part of my FOSDEM talk. I hope to see you there or in the stream.

This blog post and the IntelliJ Plugin are part of my work in the SapMachine team at SAP, making profiling easier for everyone.

AsyncGetStackTrace: A better Stack Trace API for the JVM

This blog post will be the base for my upcoming talk at FOSDEM 2023, „AsyncGetStackTrace: The Improved Version Of AsyncGetCallTrace (JEP 435),“ and is based on the JEP Candidate 435.

Consider you want to write a profiler to profile Java applications. Why? Because you think that the existing ones „[…] Are Fucking Terrible“ or „[…] Broken“. Or you want to start a blog series on writing a profiler from scratch to learn their inner workings (hi there, regular readers). One of the integral parts is to get stack traces of your application. Modern profilers are usually sampling profilers, which probe an application at regular intervals. Probing is hard without a proper way to obtain traces. The JVM offers us two different mechanisms:

GetStackTrace

You could use the official and well defined GetStackTrace JVMTI API, which OpenJ9 and every other JVM out there also Implement:

jvmtiError
GetStackTrace(jvmtiEnv* env,
            jthread thread,
            jint start_depth,
            jint max_frame_count,
            jvmtiFrameInfo* frame_buffer,
            jint* count_ptr)

Get information about the stack of a thread. If max_frame_count is less than the depth of the stack, the max_frame_count topmost frames are returned, otherwise the entire stack is returned. The topmost frames, those most recently invoked, are at the beginning of the returned buffer.

JVMTI Documentation

This API gives us enough information on every Java frame to write a small profiler:

typedef struct {
    jmethodID method;
    jlocation location;
} jvmtiFrameInfo;

So what is the problem? This API is safe-point biased. This means that you can only obtain a stack trace using GetStackTrace only at certain points in time where the JVM state is well-defined, called safe points. This bias significantly reduces the accuracy of your profiler, as we can only observe a subset of locations in a program using these stack traces. More on this in blog posts like „Java Safepoint and Async Profiling“ by Seetha Wenner.

We, therefore, cannot in all earnest use this API, except if we’re constrained to official APIs like VisualVM, which despite everything, uses it.

So what are our other options? Writing a custom perf agent, we could obtain the traces using perf on Linux, which polls the JVM for information on all observed methods. But this is Linux-specific and never took off, with the most popular agent only supporting Java 8. There has been an issue for async-profiler since 2017 in which Andrei Pangin concluded:

The idea is to implement Java stack walking on our own without relying on AGCT. Since the agent runs in the context of JVM, it can access VM structures, especially those exported through VMStructs. It should be possible to replicate stack walking logic of the VM inside async-profiler, though it might be challenging. The main risk is that differrent versions of JVM may have different stack layout, but VMStructs along with special handling of the known versions is likely to help.

Implement stack walking without AsyncGetCallTrace #66

He never implemented anything into his async-profiler.

AsyncGetCallTrace

The only other option left is to use AsyncGetCallTrace, an API added on the 19th of November 2002 in the JVMTI draft and removed two months later. This API is the asynchronous, non-safepoint-biased (kind-of) version of GetStackTrace, called from signal handlers at any point of time:

void AsyncGetCallTrace(ASGCT_CallTrace *trace, jint depth, 
                       void* ucontext)
// Arguments:
//
//   trace    - trace data structure to be filled by the VM.
//   depth    - depth of the call stack trace.
//   ucontext - ucontext_t of the LWP
//
// ASGCT_CallTrace:
//   typedef struct {
//       JNIEnv *env_id;
//       jint num_frames;
//       ASGCT_CallFrame *frames;
//   } ASGCT_CallTrace;
//
// Fields:
//   env_id     - ID of thread which executed this trace.
//   num_frames - number of frames in the trace.
//                (< 0 indicates the frame is not walkable).
//   frames     - the ASGCT_CallFrames that make up this trace. 
//                Callee followed by callers.
//
//  ASGCT_CallFrame:
//    typedef struct {
//        jint lineno;
//        jmethodID method_id;
//    } ASGCT_CallFrame;

Consider reading my blog series on writing a profiler from scratch if you want to learn more.

The honest-profiler was probably the first open-source profiler that used it, starting in early 2014. After this, many other profilers, commercial and open-source, followed, not because it is an ideal API, but because it was the only one available. Albeit available is a strong word, as Sun removed the API from JVMTI, it now lives in a C++ source file without any exported header: The JVM exports the symbol AsyncGetCallTrace, because Sun probably used the API in their Sun Studio, which contained a profiler. To use it, one must use dlsym and hope that it is still there: It’s an internal API that might disappear in the blink of an eye, although being rather unlikely. Other JVMs are not required to have this API, e.g., OpenJ9 only got this API in 2021.

History of AsyncGetStackTrace

So where do I come into this story? I started in the SapMachine team at SAP at the beginning of last year after only minor academic success. One of my first tasks was to help my colleague Gunter Haug fix a bug in the PPC64le support of async-profiler, resulting in my first contribution to this project.

We had discussions on AsyncGetCallTrace during all of this, as Gunter had talked with Volker Simonis a few years back about writing a better API, but never found the time to work on it. So when I came with fresh enthusiasm, I restarted these discussions in the middle of January. I started working on a new API with the working title AsyncGetCallTrace2, later renamed to AsyncGetStackTrace, implementing a basic version with a modified async-profiler and getting valuable feedback from Gunter, Volker, and Andrei.

These discussions eventually led to the proposal of AsyncGetStackTrace that is currently out in the open as JEP Candidate 435. waiting for feedback from the JFR and supportability community (and the related teams at Oracle).

AsyncGetStackTrace

The proposed API is essentially an extended, official, and well-tested version of AsyncGetCallTrace:

  • it has its own profile.h header, so using it is easy
  • it returns much more information on individual frames, like compilation level (interpreted, C1, C2, …) and info on inlining
  • and can also be instructed to record information on all C/C++ frames on the stack …
  • … for Java and (!) non-Java threads
  • its implementation contains a StackWalker class which could be used for AsyncGetCallTrace and JFR in the future …
  • … which would result in less technical debt and easier propagation of bug fixes, as today where the stack walking code of JFR and AsyncGetCallTrace overlap with copied code

I’m using C/C++ frames as the term for all frames that are typically called native in other programming language communities because native frames are related to native methods, which are methods that are declared in Java but defined in C/C++ code.

Now to the API: I will inadvertently use parts of the text of my JEP in the following, but I will not update this blog post in the future every time my JEP changes. I would really encourage you to read the JEP Candidate 435 yourself, after you read this one, it has a different angle than this blog post.

Function Declaration

The primary function definition is similar to AsyncGetCallTrace:

void AsyncGetStackTrace(ASGST_CallTrace *trace, jint depth, 
                        void* ucontext, uint32_t options);

It stores the stack frames in the pre-allocated trace, up to the specified depth, obtain the start frame from the passed ucontext. The only real difference is here that we can configure the stack walking. Currently, the API supports two features which the caller can enable by setting the bits of the options argument:

enum ASGST_Options {
  // include C/C++ and stub frames too
  ASGST_INCLUDE_C_FRAMES         = 1,
  // walk the stacks of C/C++, GC and deopt threads too
  ASGST_INCLUDE_NON_JAVA_THREADS = 2,
};

Both options make writing simple profilers which also walk C/C++ frames and threads far more straightforward. The first option allows us to see frames that we could not see before (even with the advanced processing of async-profiler): C/C++ frames between Java frames. This is quite useful when you work with JNI code which in turn calls Java code. You can find an example for this in the innerc test case of my JEP draft code:

  /* checkNativeChain() 
      -> checkCMethod() 
      -> checkJavaInner() 
      -> checkNativeLeaf() */
  // calls checkCMethod() with in turn calls checkJavaInner()
  private static native boolean checkNativeChain(); 
  private static boolean checkJavaInner() { return checkNativeLeaf(); }
  private static native boolean checkNativeLeaf();

With the old API you would never observe the checkCMethod in a stack trace, even if it would take lots of time to execute. But we disabled the options to mimic the behavior (and number of obtained frames), of AsyncGetCallTrace.

CallTrace

We defined the main trace data structure in the new API as follows:

typedef struct {
  jint num_frames;                // number of frames in this 
                                  //   trace, (< 0 indicates the
                                  //   frame is not walkable).
  uint8_t kind;                   // kind of the trace
  ASGST_CallFrame *frames;        // frames that make up this trace. 
                                  //   Callee followed by callers.
  void* frame_info;               // more information on frames
} ASGST_CallTrace;

There are two new fields: The kind of trace and the frame_info field for additional information on every frame, which could later be added depending on the configuration, without changing the API.

There are five different kinds of traces:

  • Java Trace: trace of a thread that is currently executing Java code (or C/C++ code transitively called from Java code). The only kind you would observe with the default configuration because only these traces contain Java frames
  • C/C++ Trace: trace of a non-Java thread
  • GC Trace: trace of a Java thread during a GC execution
  • Deoptimization Trace: trace of Java thread that currently runs in a deoptimization handler (deoptimizing JIT compiled code)
  • Unknown Trace: signals that we could not get a first valid frame from the passed ucontext

Specified in the following enum:

enum ASGST_TRACE_KIND {
  ASGST_JAVA_TRACE     = 0,
  ASGST_CPP_TRACE      = 1,
  ASGST_GC_TRACE       = 2,
  ASGST_DEOPT_TRACE    = 3,
  ASGST_UNKNOWN_TRACE  = 4,
};

We encode the error code as negative numbers in the num_frames field because it keeps the data structures simple and AsyncGetCallTrace does it too. Every trace with num_frames > 0 is valid.

Frames

The most significant difference between the two APIs is in the representation of frames: Where AsyncGetCallTrace just stored the bytecode index and the method id, we capture much more. But first, we have to distinguish between Java frames, related to Java and native methods, and non-Java frames, related to stub and C/C++ frames. We use a union called ASGST_CallFrame for this:

typedef union {
  uint8_t type;     // to distinguish between JavaFrame and 
                    //   NonJavaFrame
  ASGST_JavaFrame java_frame;
  ASGST_NonJavaFrame non_java_frame;
} ASGST_CallFrame;

The type here is more fine-grained than just two options:

enum ASGST_FrameTypeId {
  ASGST_FRAME_JAVA         = 1, // JIT compiled and interpreted
  ASGST_FRAME_JAVA_INLINED = 2, // inlined JIT compiled
  ASGST_FRAME_NATIVE       = 3, // native wrapper to call 
                                //   C methods from Java
  ASGST_FRAME_STUB         = 4, // VM generated stubs
  ASGST_FRAME_CPP          = 5  // C/C++/... frames
};

The first three types map to ASGST_JavaFrame and others to ASGST_NonJavaFrame, as hinted before. We don’t store too much information for non-Java frames not to increase the size of every frame. We store the program counter, which the profiler can use to obtain the function name and possibly the location inside the function:

typedef struct {
  uint8_t type;      // frame type
  void *pc;          // current program counter inside this frame
} ASGST_NonJavaFrame; // used for FRAME_STUB, FRAME_CPP

We store the compilation level, the bytecode index, and the method id for Java frames, encoding the information on inlining in the type:

typedef struct {
  uint8_t type;            // frame type
  int8_t comp_level;       // compilation level, 
                           //   0 is interpreted, -1 is undefined,
                           //   > 1 is JIT compiled
  uint16_t bci;            // 0 < bci < 65536
  jmethodID method_id;
} ASGST_JavaFrame;         // used for FRAME_JAVA, 
                           //   FRAME_JAVA_INLINED and FRAME_NATIVE

Although the API provides more information, the amount of space required per frame (e.g., 16 bytes on x86) is the same as for the existing AsyncGetCallTrace API.

Testing

AsyncGetCallTrace has just one test case at the time of writing, which merely checks one single frame. This is a pity for such a widely used API. The JEP candidate suggests that the implementation should have many more than that. Walking a stack asynchronously might trigger segmentation faults in the profiled JVM. The possibility of such can be reduced by extensive testing, calling AsyncGetStackTrace millions of times per second on benchmarks for hours and calling it with randomly modified ucontexts.

The code of the draft implementation contains several of these to ensure that calling the API is safe enough. It will never be entirely safe, as asynchronously walking stacks in a signal handler of a thread while all the other threads are still running is inherently risky. The aim is to reduce the risk to a level where the possibility of anything happening in real-world settings is minuscule.

Conclusion

Working on this JEP, with the help of my team and Jaroslav Bachorik, almost exactly a year now, gave me a glimpse into the inner workings of the OpenJDK. It was great to talk with so many different people from different companies. I hope to continue this in the future and someday land this JEP in the OpenJDK, gifting the Java ecosystem a much-needed official profiling API. Achieving this will probably take months, if not years, but we’ll see.

Thanks for reading this article. If you’re interested in a presentation version, come to the Friends of OpenJDK devroom at FOSDEM 2023, where I give a talk on Sunday the 5th of February at 3:20 pm or drop me a message if you’re there.

Share the word on AsyncGetStackTrace and comment with any suggestions or questions that you might have.

This blog post is part of my work in the SapMachine team at SAP, making profiling easier for everyone.

Writing a Profiler from Scratch: The Profiling Loop

This is the second post in the series, building a profiler from scratch using AsyncGetCallTrace: Today, we’re covering wall-clock profiling and how to collect the obtain stack traces. If you’re unfamiliar with AsyncGetCallTrace, please check out my previous article in the series here.

Our goal today is to essentially write the primary loop of a profiler and do the following every n milliseconds (where n is our chosen profiling interval):

Schema of a profiler loop

The question that comes up is: Which threads should we sample? If we only sample currently running threads, then we have cpu-time profiling, but if we sample all threads (running and idle), we have the far more popular wall-clock profiling. The difference between both types is best described by Richard Warburton and Sadiq Jaffer in their article on opsian.com:

CPU Time. There’s very little point in trying to measure what’s happening off-cpu if you’ve got a single very hot thread, as many event-loop style applications have. You may see plenty of time being spent in other threads that are waiting around performing background work but aren’t actually a bottleneck in terms of your application. So CPU Time is useful when you know you’re bottlenecked on a CPU problem.

Wallclock Time is useful for problems where CPU utilisation seems low but application throughput or latency doesn’t meet expectations. This is because threads are probably blocked on something, for example lock contention, times when you’re waiting for downstream blocking network IO to happen or running with too many threads so some of them don’t get scheduled. The trigger for looking at Wallclock time would be low CPU usage during your period of performance issues.

Solving JVM Performance Problems with Profilers: Wallclock vs CPU Time Edition

The choice of the sampling mode, therefore, depends on the actual use case.

How do we obtain the list of threads in the first place? We could use the aptly named GetAllThreads method, but we cannot use the returned thread objects to quickly get the thread ids we need for sending the threads signals. There is another possibility: Registering for ThreadStart and ThreadEnd events and collecting the threads as they are created:

void JNICALL
ThreadStart(jvmtiEnv *jvmti_env,
            JNIEnv* jni_env,
            jthread thread)

Thread start events are generated by a new thread before its initial method executes. A thread may be listed in the array returned by GetAllThreads before its thread start event is generated. It is possible for other events to be generated on a thread before its thread start event. The event is sent on the newly started thread.

JVMTI documentation

We create a class called ThreadMap for this purpose (stored in a global variable): It maps thread ids to the internal ids (because thread ids might be reused during the lifetime of a process), and the jthread (for JVMTI operations) and the pthread (for sending signals) and maps these internal ids in turn to names, so we can later display them. It has to be thread-safe, as we’re accessing it from multiple threads in parallel. So we have to create a lock for its internal data structures. This is quite simple with modern C++:

struct ValidThreadInfo {
    jthread jthread;
    pthread_t pthread;
    bool is_running;
    long id;
};

class ThreadMap {
  std::recursive_mutex m;
  std::unordered_map<pid_t, ValidThreadInfo> map;
  std::vector<std::string> names;

  public:

    void add(pid_t pid, std::string name, jthread thread) {
      const std::lock_guard<std::recursive_mutex> lock(m);
      map[pid] = ValidThreadInfo{.jthread = thread, .pthread = pthread_self(), .id = (long)names.size()};
      names.emplace_back(name);
    }

    void remove(pid_t pid) {
      const std::lock_guard<std::recursive_mutex> lock(m);
      map.erase(pid);
    }
};

Obtaining the thread id for the current thread leads to our first platform-dependent code, using a syscall on Linux and a non-posix pthread method on mac:

pid_t get_thread_id() {
  #if defined(__APPLE__) && defined(__MACH__)
  uint64_t tid;
  pthread_threadid_np(NULL, &tid);
  return (pid_t) tid;
  #else
  return syscall(SYS_gettid);
  #endif
}

Yes, we could quickly implement our profiler for other BSDs like FreeBSD, but MacOS is the only one I have at hand.

Keep in mind to also add the main thread to the collection by calling the OnThreadStart method in the OnVMInit method, which handles the start of the VM.

Now we have an up-to-date list of all threads. For wall-clock profiling, this is fine, but for cpu-time profiling, we have to obtain a list of running threads. We conveniently stored the jthread objects in our thread map, so we can now use the GetThreadState method:

bool is_thread_running(jthread thread) {
  jint state;
  auto err = jvmti->GetThreadState(thread, &state);
  // handle errors as not runnable
  return err == 0 && state != JVMTI_THREAD_STATE_RUNNABLE;
}

This leads us to a list of threads that we can sample. It is usually not a good idea to sample all available threads: With wall-clock profiling, the list of threads can be so large that sampling all threads is too costly. Therefore one typically takes a random subset of the list of available threads. Async-profiler, for example, takes 8, which we use too.

Taking a random subset is quite cumbersome in C, but C++ has a neat library function since C++11: std:shuffle. We can use it to implement the random selection:

std::vector<pid_t> get_shuffled_threads() {
  const std::lock_guard<std::recursive_mutex> lock(m);
  std::vector<pid_t> threads = get_all_threads();
  std::random_device rd;
  std::mt19937 g(rd());
  std::shuffle(threads.begin(), threads.end(), g);
  return std::vector(threads.begin(), threads.begin() + std::min(MAX_THREADS_PER_ITERATION, (int)threads.size()));
}

Be aware that we had to change the mutex to a mutex which allows recursive reentrance, as get_all_threads also acquires the mutex.

The next step is creating a sampling thread that runs the loop I described at the beginning of this article. This superseedes the itimer sampler from the previous post, as the mechanism does not support sending signals to a random subset only. The sampling thread is started in the OnVMInit handler and joined the OnAgentUnload handler. Its implementation is rather simple:

std::atomic<bool> shouldStop = false;
std::thread samplerThread;

static void sampleLoop() {
  initSampler();
  std::chrono::nanoseconds interval{interval_ns};
  while (!shouldStop) {
    auto start = std::chrono::system_clock::now();
    sampleThreads();
    auto duration = std::chrono::system_clock::now() - start;
    // takes into account that sampleThreads() takes some time
    auto sleep = interval - duration;
    if (std::chrono::seconds::zero() < sleep) {
      std::this_thread::sleep_for(sleep);
    }
  }
  endSampler(); // print the collected information
}

static void startSamplerThread() {
  samplerThread = std::thread(sampleLoop);
}

The initSampler function preallocates the traces for N=8 threads, as we decided only to sample as many at every loop. The signal handlers can later use these preallocated traces to call AsyncGetCallTrace:

const int MAX_DEPTH = 512; // max number of frames to capture

static ASGCT_CallFrame global_frames[MAX_DEPTH * MAX_THREADS_PER_ITERATION];
static ASGCT_CallTrace global_traces[MAX_THREADS_PER_ITERATION];


static void initSampler() {
  for (int i = 0; i < MAX_THREADS_PER_ITERATION; i++) {
    global_traces[i].frames = global_frames + i * MAX_DEPTH;
    global_traces[i].num_frames = 0;
    global_traces[i].env_id = env;
  }
}

The sampleThreads the function sends the signals to each thread using pthread_signal. This is why store the pthread for every thread. But how does a signal handler know which of the traces to use? And how does the sampleThreads function know when all signal handlers are finished?

It uses two atomic integer variables for this purpose:

  • available_trace: the next unused available trace index in the global_traces array
  • stored_traces: the number of traces already stored

The signal handler is then quite simple:

static void signalHandler(int signo, siginfo_t* siginfo, void* ucontext) {
  asgct(&global_traces[available_trace++], MAX_DEPTH, ucontext);
  stored_traces++;
}

The sampleThreads function has to only wait till stored_traces is as expected:

static void sampleThreads() {
  // reset the global variables
  available_trace = 0;
  stored_traces = 0;
  // get the threads to sample
  auto threads = thread_map.get_shuffled_threads();
  for (pid_t thread : threads) {
    auto info = thread_map.get_info(thread);
    if (info) {
      // send a signal to the thread
      pthread_kill(info->pthread, SIGPROF);
    }
  }
  // wait till all handlers obtained there traces
  while (stored_traces < threads.size());
  // process the traces
  processTraces(threads.size());
}

We keep the processing of the traces from the last blog post and just store the total number of traces as well as the number of failed traces:

static void processTraces(size_t num_threads) {
  for (int i = 0; i < num_threads; i++) {
    auto& trace = global_traces[i];
    if (trace.num_frames <= 0) {
      failedTraces++;
    }
    totalTraces++;
  }
}

The two global variables don’t have to be atomic anymore, as only the sampler thread modifies them. A regular profiler would of course use the traces to obtain information on the run methods, but this is a topic for the next blog post in this series, so stay tuned. You can find the source code for the project on GitHub.

This blog series is part of my work in the SapMachine team at SAP, making profiling easier for everyone.

Writing a Profiler from Scratch: Introduction

Async-profiler is undoubtedly one of the most used open-source Java profilers out there. Its most commonly used feature is sampling a given Java program’s stack traces and visualizing them as a flame graph. I would recommend reading the excellent async-profiler manual by Krzysztof Ślusarski or taking a look at my profiling playlist on YouTube if you’re new to this tool. After using the async-profiler for a while, you might wonder: How does this tool work? And, of course, if you’re someone like me: Could I write a stripped-down version to learn how it really works? I did this a few years back in university when I wanted to understand how LR(1) parser generators work: Turns out it is a lot of work, but my parser generator can output GIFs.

This blog series will take you with me on this journey, where we start with a small tool and see where curiosity leads us. It’s helpful if you know some C/C++ and have profiled Java using async-profiler before, which helps you better understand my code snippets and the profiling Jargon.

All the code will present on GitHub, and I’m happy for any suggestions, bug reports, and comments either under this blog post or on GitHub.

The aim of this series is

  • to understand how a sampling profiler works
  • to write a simple profiler, and possibly related tools, based on the AsyncGetCallTrace API
  • to have some good tooling which I use in OpenJDK tests, to make the used APIs safer and more reliable

The aim is not to write anything vaguely production ready: async-profiler has too many features to count and is battle-tested.

Come with me on this journey of knowledge, starting with a simple tool that just counts how many times AsyncGetCallTrace could not trace the stack.

The fundamental API that we will be relying on is the AsyncGetCallTrace API of the OpenJDK: This API can be used to obtain the stack trace (which methods are on the stack) for a given thread at any time. This makes it quite useful for writing accurate profilers. The API was introduced in November 2002 for Sun Studio. However, Sun removed it in January 2003 and demoted it to an internal API, but most profiling applications still use it. The following part of this post is inspired by Nitsan Wakart’s post, The Pros and Cons of AsyncGetCallTrace Profilers.

The AsyncGetCallTrace API is defined in the forte.cpp file:

typedef struct {
  jint lineno;         // BCI in the source file, or < 0 for native methods
  jmethodID method_id; // method executed in this frame
} ASGCT_CallFrame;

typedef struct {
  JNIEnv *env_id;   // Env where trace was recorded
  jint num_frames;  // number of frames in this trace, < 0 gives us an error code
  ASGCT_CallFrame *frames; // recorded frames 
} ASGCT_CallTrace; 

void AsyncGetCallTrace(ASGCT_CallTrace *trace, // pre-allocated trace to fill
                       jint depth,             // max number of frames to walk
                       void* ucontext);        // signal context

One typically uses this API by pinging a thread using a signal, stopping the thread, and invoking the signal handler, which in turn calls AsyncGetCallTrace with the execution context of the stopped thread (the ucontext) so that AsyncGetCallTrace can walk the thread, skipping all C/C++ frames on the stack and only storing the native (from native methods) and Java frames in the frames array. The signal handler has to process the trace, but this is for another post. We will just store the number of times that AsyncGetCallTrace was successful and unsuccessful.

Be aware that we cannot allocate any memory outside the stack in a signal handler. For this reason, we have to preallocate the data structures for AsyncGetCallTrace. There are a few C library functions that are guaranteed to be signal safe. To learn more about signals, consider reading Introduction To Unix Signals Programming, or similar sources. But don’t be confused with the terms thread and process. In Unix (Mac OS, Linux, BSD), threads are processes that share the same address space. Every (non-virtual/Loom) thread in Java is backed by an OS thread.

As an example of calling AsyncGetCallTrace, consider profiling the following Java code:

public class BasicSample {

    public void waitForever() throws InterruptedException {
        System.out.print("Waiting forever...");
        for (int i = 0; i < 100; i++) {
            Thread.sleep(10);
            System.out.print(".");
        }
        System.out.println("done");
    }

    public static void main(String[] args) throws InterruptedException {
        new BasicSample().waitForever();
    }
}

During profiling, we call AsyncGetCallTrace often, but let’s visualize a trace when the JVM runs one of the println lines.

AsyncGetCallTrace on a small example, using the demo code for JEP 435

Interrupting a thread at any point and running some code can have stability implications. If you’re interested in these when using AsyncGetCallTrace, head over to the async-profiler manual, where I co-wrote the section on this topic. This small sample tool seems to be quite good at triggering a specific fault in JDK 19+36, run the tool of this blog post yourself to find it.

The signal handler in our small example is the following:

std::atomic<size_t> failedTraces = 0;
std::atomic<size_t> totalTraces = 0;

static void signalHandler(int signo, siginfo_t* siginfo, void* ucontext) {
  const int MAX_DEPTH = 512; // max number of frames to capture
  static ASGCT_CallFrame frames[MAX_DEPTH];
  ASGCT_CallTrace trace;
  trace.frames = frames;
  trace.num_frames = 0;
  trace.env_id = env; // we obtained this via the OnVMInit hook
  
  // call AsyncGetCallTrace
  asgct(&trace, MAX_DEPTH, ucontext);

  // process the results
  totalTraces++;
  if (trace.num_frames < 0) {
    failedTraces++;
  }
}

We use atomic variables here to increment the two counting variables in parallel. We cannot use any locks as creating locks is not signal-safe.

You see in line 13 that we cannot call AsyncGetCallTrace directly, as it is not exported in any JVM header. So we have to obtain the pointer to this function via dlsym at the beginning, which is a bit brittle:

static void initASGCT() {
  asgct = reinterpret_cast<ASGCTType>(dlsym(RTLD_DEFAULT, "AsyncGetCallTrace"));
  if (asgct == NULL) {
    fprintf(stderr, "=== ASGCT not found ===\n");
    exit(1);
  }
}

Additionally, we have to copy the declarations for ASGCT_CallFrame, ASGCT_CallTrace, and AsyncGetCallTrace into our project.

After writing a signal handler, we must use some mechanism to create signals. There are multiple ways, like perf or using a thread that signals all threads every few milliseconds, but we’ll use the most straightforward option which is a timer:

static bool startITimerSampler() {
  time_t sec = interval_ns / 1000000000;
  suseconds_t usec = (interval_ns % 1000000000) / 1000;
  struct itimerval tv = {{sec, usec}, {sec, usec}};

  // ...

  if (setitimer(ITIMER_PROF, &tv, NULL) != 0) {
    return false;
  }
  return true;
}

Our code uses the timers in PROF mode: „A profiling timer that counts both processor time used by the process, and processor time spent in system calls on behalf of the process. This timer sends a SIGPROF signal to the process when it expires.“ (see gnu.org) The result is roughly similar to the CPU event of the async-profiler. It is inaccurate, but we’ll tackle this problem in another blog post.

You can find the final code in the GitHub repo as libSmallProfiler.cpp. It includes all the boiler-plate code for JVMTI agents that I omitted in this blog post for brevity. Feel free to file issues or PRs with improvements or suggestions there. When we finally run the tool with a JVM and the example Java program, we get the following output via java -agentpath:cpp/libSmallProfiler.dylib=interval=0.001s -cp samples BasicSample:

Waiting forever.......................................................................................................done
Failed traces:          5
Total traces:          15
Failed ratio:       33.33%

This tool might seem to be rather useless, but one can adjust its sampling interval by specifying the interval option: This makes it quite helpful in testing the stack walking code of AsyncGetCallTrace.

I hope I didn’t frighten you too much with all this Unix C, and hopefully see you again in around two weeks for my next blog post in which we create a tool that outputs a method list.

The code of this blog post is based on the libAsyncGetCallTraceTest.cpp and the libAsyncGetStackTraceSampler.cpp of the OpenJDK. This blog series is part of my work in the SapMachine team at SAP, making profiling easier for everyone.

JFR Event Collection

Ever wondered what all the JDK Flight Recorder events are, in which JDK versions they are supported and what example of an event looks like? Wonder no more, I created the JFR Event Collection website which contains all this and more.

Screenshot of https://sapmachine.io/jfrevents

This site gives you an up-to-date collection of all OpenJDK JFR events for every JDK since 11, giving you the following additional information:

  • configuration properties
  • fields with their types and description
  • examples from a renaissance benchmark run
  • with which GC this event appears
  • additional descriptions collected by JFR users

The idea for this website came during the development of my prototypical JFR UI:

Screenshot of JFR events viewer

To improve this UI I needed to know more about the JFR events emitted by current JDKs. So I turned to the jfr/metadata.xml in the JDK source code:

...
<Event name="JavaMonitorEnter" category="Java Application" 
  label="Java Monitor Blocked" thread="true" stackTrace="true">
    <Field type="Class" name="monitorClass" label="Monitor Class" />
    <Field type="Thread" name="previousOwner" label="Previous Monitor Owner" />
    <Field type="ulong" contentType="address" name="address" 
      label="Monitor Address" relation="JavaMonitorAddress" />
</Event>
...

It specifies most events and gives you enough information in a rather concise format. But the events that are defined in the JFR source code as Java code are missing, so I turned to the website of BestSolution which shows all events:

Screenshot of https://bestsolution-at.github.io/jfr-doc/openjdk-18.html

The problem is that it is not up-to-date (it is only available up to JDK 18), its generation seems to require every JDK version to be installed, which is a major hassle for automatization, and it does not include any examples and information on configurations.

I found example data in a repository by Petr Bouda called jfr-playground, but it is patchy and not yet integrated into a website.

So when I saw a few weeks back in the foojay Slack channel that Chris Newland is working on his VM Options Explorer, I approached him with my idea for a new website. Our discussion lead to him creating his prototypical JFR Events website:

Screenshot of https://www.chriswhocodes.com/jfr_jdk20.html

His website is still an early prototype but uses the same data set as mine. This shows that this dataset can be used for different websites and might later be used for my prototypical JFR UI too.

The project behind the website consists of two subprojects the website generator and the data source with an event collector.

The data on JFR events (fields, examples, JDK versions, …) is collected by the jfreventcollector extending the jfr/metadata.xml file, so that it contains the events defined in the JDK source code and all the other information shown on the website. The extended files are published in the release section of the subproject and as a maven package with model classes for the XML elements. This is completely automated and only needs a current JDK installed.

Just add a dependency to the jfreventcollectionartifact:

<dependency>
    <groupId>me.bechberger</groupId>
    <artifactId>jfreventcollection</artifactId>
    <version>0.2</version>
</dependency>

Even the extended metadata file alone is useful:

...
<Event name="JavaMonitorEnter" label="Java Monitor Blocked"
  category="Java Application" experimental="false" thread="true"
  stackTrace="true" internal="false" throttle="false"
  cutoff="false" enabled="true" jdks="" startTime="true">
    <Field type="Class" name="monitorClass" label="Monitor Class" 
      struct="false" experimental="false" array="false" jdks=""/>
    <Field type="Thread" name="previousOwner" label="Previous Monitor Owner"
      struct="false" experimental="false" array="false" jdks=""/>
    <Field type="ulong" name="address" label="Monitor Address"
      relation="JavaMonitorAddress" contentType="address" struct="false"
      experimental="false" array="false" jdks=""/>
    <Configuration id="0" jdks="">
        <Setting name="enabled" jdks="">true</Setting>
        <Setting name="stackTrace" jdks="">true</Setting>
        <Setting name="threshold" control="locking-threshold" jdks="">20 ms</Setting>
    </Configuration>
...
</Event>
...

The website is generated by jfrevents-site-generator with depends on the data published by the collector and creates a Twitter Bootstrap based static HTML page using Kotlin and mustache templates. The generated website is then deployed to sapmachine.io.

This website is hopefully helpful to all JFR users and Java profiling tool developers out there, the extended metadata being a good starting point for similar websites and tools which need metadata on JFR events.

Issues and pull requests are always welcome in both GitHub projects.

This project is part of my work in the SapMachine team at SAP, making profiling easier for everyone. Thanks to Chris Newland, Matthias Baesken, and Ralf Schmelter for their help.

AP-Loader: A new way to use and embed async-profiler

Using async-profiler can be quite a hassle. First, you have to download the right archive from GitHub for your OS and architecture, then you have to unpack it and place it somewhere. Or you get it from your OS distribution, hoping that it is the current version. It gets worse if you want to embed it into your library, agent, or application: Library developers cannot just use maven dependency but have to create wrapper code and build scripts that deal with packaging the binaries themselves, or worse they depend on a preinstalled version which they do not control.

java -jar ap-loader.jar profiler …; java -jar ap-loader.jar converter jfr2flame flight.jfr flame.html

I started the AP-Loader project to fix all this:

  • Want to run async-profiler? Just grab the latest loader JAR from GitHub, and run java -jar ap-loader-all.jar profiler regardless of your OS or architecture
  • Want to use the async-profiler as a Java Agent? You can use the loader JAR as javaagent and it behaves like the native async-profiler agent
  • Want to use jattach? java -jar ap-loader-all.jar jattach is your friend
  • Wondering what version of async-profiler you’re using? java -jar ap-loader-all.jar version has you covered
  • Want to use the converter to convert between formats? Just use java -jar ap-loader-all.jar converter
  • Want to use async-profiler in your library? Just add a dependency to the me.bechberger.ap-loader:-all-SNAPSHOT from the Sonatype OSS repository and use one.profiler.AsyncProfilerLoader.load()
  • Want to use the converter too? All the converter classes are included in the JAR, look no further than the one.profiler.converter package
  • Just want all this for one platform only? I build and package versions for all platforms. There can be multiple platform versions on the classpath
  • But what about the JAR size? It’s just under 800KB, so no worries

This project uses original binaries from async-profiler’s GitHub releases page and tests the resulting project using the original tests from async-profiler, so you can expect it to behave as async-profiler does. The idea for this project came up in a discussion with the creator of async-profiler, Andrei Pangin, in spring.

I use this project daily to profile my applications, so might you? I’m open to suggestions, bug reports and happy help to integrate ap-loader into your open-source library.

If I enticed you: Go over to GitHub to get more detailed information on this project.

This project is part of my work in the SapMachine team at SAP, making profiling easier for everyone. I built it to integrate async-profiler into more applications and libraries, like my upcoming profiler UI.

Overview of Java Profiling

When I ask Java developers whether they do profile, the answer is usually „no“. The few that profiled before usually used VisualVM as a student and maybe JProfiler or YourKit years ago at work. One of the reasons for this is a lack of available information and thus knowledge for everyday Java developers.

This is a pity as profiling should be a part of the tool belt for every experienced developer (not just for Java). The problem is that most of the open-source profilers are targeted to the OpenJDK developers (or their colleagues), even if they won’t admit it. This can be seen in the lack of entry-level material on this topic and even the little that is out there is distributed across multiple conference websites, blogs, YouTube channels, and Twitter accounts.

A few months ago I started working on this topic and as a result, held a talk at the Java User Group Karlsruhe in the middle of October: It is an introductory talk answering the simple questions: Why should we profile? Which profilers to use? How to obtain and view these profiles? A recording can be seen on YouTube:

The gist of this talk is:

  • Why? Profiling helps you find the parts of your code that are slow and that are worth to be fixed.
  • Which and how? The consensus seems to be to use JFR or async-profiler with –jfrsync and JMC as a profile viewer.

While working on this talk, I collected a list of interesting conference talks on this topic:

This list includes talks on a variety of profilers, ranging from deep dives to overviews. Many of these talks and people were recommended elsewhere on the internet, on blogs, on Twitter, or in private conversations. Which I present in the following.

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