Latency goals for the GC have to be derived from generic latency requirements. Generic latency requirements are typically expressed in a form similar to the following:

  • All user transactions must respond in less than 10 seconds
  • 90% of the invoice payments must be carried out in under 3 seconds
  • Recommended products must be rendered to a purchase screen in less than 100 ms

When facing performance goals similar to the above, we would need to make sure that the duration of GC pauses during the transaction does not contribute too much to violating the requirements. “Too much” is application-specific and needs to take into account other factors contributing to latency including round-trips to external data sources, lock contention issues and other safe points among these.

Let us assume our performance requirements state that 90% of the transactions to the application need to complete under 1,000 ms and no transaction can exceed 10,000 ms. Out of those generic latency requirements let us again assume that GC pauses cannot contribute more than 10%. From this, we can conclude that 90% of GC pauses have to complete under 100 ms, and no GC pause can exceed 1,000 ms. For simplicity’s sake let us ignore in this example multiple pauses that can occur during the same transaction.

Having formalized the requirement, the next step is to measure pause durations. There are many tools for the job, covered in more detail in the chapter on Tooling, but in this section, let us use GC logs, namely for the duration of GC pauses. The information required is present in different log snippets so let us take a look which parts of date/time data are actually relevant, using the following example:

2015-06-04T13:34:16.974-0200: 2.578: [Full GC (Ergonomics) [PSYoungGen: 93677K->70109K(254976K)] [ParOldGen: 499597K->511230K(761856K)] 593275K->581339K(1016832K), [Metaspace: 2936K->2936K(1056768K)], 0.0713174 secs] [Times: user=0.21 sys=0.02, real=0.07 secs

The example above expresses a single GC pause triggered at 13:34:16 on June 4, 2015, just 2,578 ms after the JVM was started.

The event stopped the application threads for 0.0713174 seconds. Even though it took 210 ms of CPU times on multiple cores, the important number for us to measure is the total stop time for application threads, which in this case, where parallel GC was used on a multi-core machine, is equal to a bit more than 70 ms. This specific GC pause is thus well under the required 100 ms threshold and fulfils both requirements.

Extracting information similar to the example above from all GC pauses, we can aggregate the numbers and see whether or not we are violating the set requirements for any of the pause events triggered.