This post recaps the most significant changes in JDK 16 Hotspot´s stop-the-world garbage collectors - G1 and Parallel GC.

First, a short overview about the whole GC subcomponent: the only JEP in the garbage collection area this time around is related to ZGC with JEP 376 where thread-stack processing has been moved out from its stop-the-world pauses, now resulting in pauses below a single millisecond! G1 and Parallel GC got some interesting smaller updates too.

The full list of changes for the entire Hotspot GC subcomponent is here, clocking in at 325 changes in total.

Parallel GC

  • The change JDK-8252221 parallelizes pre-touching memory after it has been committed. This helps with startup on huge heaps with -XX:+AlwaysPreTouch enabled. There were some improvements in JDK-8254699 and follow-ups (also applies to G1 as it shares the same code) where the size of the work packets has been optimized on x64 and ARM64 platforms.

  • Processing of some more internal references to the Java heap has been parallelized in JDK-8247820, in some cases decreasing pause times a little with both Parallel and the G1 collector (JDK-8247819).


  • Until now, when G1 noticed that it owned too much Java heap memory during a GC pause, and the user allowed it (having different minimum and maximum heap sizes), it gave back that memory right at the time when it noticed that surplus. Depending on the amount of memory this was, which could easily be a few GB of memory, the GC pause could then be lengthened quite a bit (some tests showed 50~100ms+). JDK-8236926 changes this behavior. During the pause, G1 now only determines how much and what memory areas should be uncommitted, and defers the actual uncommit work to the concurrent phase in a background task. This background task incrementally processes these areas. The increments are sized such that each step takes only a few milliseconds at most to avoid long waits to start GC pauses.

    You can track its work by enabling gc+heap logging at debug level. Messages containing Concurrent Commit allow you to get more information about what G1 did, like the size of these chunks and the durations of these steps. For more details, please check the Release Notes.

  • JDK-8240556 addresses a shortcoming of the calculation for when to start concurrent marking in case G1 can eagerly reclaim many humongous objects (a feature introduced in JDK 9 JDK-8048179): at the start of a garbage collection, G1 determines whether this garbage collection should prepare for a concurrent marking or not depending on whether current heap occupancy is larger than an internal threshold. If so, G1 performs some additional steps during the garbage collection to prepare for the concurrent marking afterwards. This heuristic did not take into account that during this particular garbage collection the heap occupancy might actually go below that internal threshold again! So in this case, G1 now cancels that marking, preparing to undo some work done earlier (concurrently of course). This is much faster and much less cpu consuming than doing the concurrent marking and a few mixed collections when it is not required.

  • Similarly there has been an improvement to determine the heap occupancy threshold when to start this marking in JDK-8245511. This heap occupancy threshold is computed using recent allocation rate in the old generation and how long it typically takes to start the first old generation garbage collection from that start of the marking. The larger the allocation rate is and/or the longer the time from the start of marking to the first collection in the old generation is, the lower this threshold is, i.e. the earlier G1 starts the marking.

    Humongous objects are problematic because they are always directly allocated in the old generation, so they typically factor heavily into this allocation rate. However, since JDK 9, with the eager reclamation mentioned above, these humongous objects can reclaimed very quickly and the overall allocation rate in the old generation is actually very low. This led to many unnecessary concurrent markings. The mentioned change for JDK-8245511 solves this problem by taking eager reclamation into account better. There are some nice graphs showing the impact in the bug report.

Other Noteworthy Changes

In addition, there are JDK 16 changes that are important but less or not visible at all for end users.

  • JDK 16 adds some preparations to support object pinning (tracked in JDK-8236594) where in the situation that a single thread requires that an object does not move (mainly for interaction with non GC-ed languages via JNI), instead of blocking garbage collection and all Java application threads that want to start a garbage collection because they need memory, G1 will just go ahead and move all objects but the ones that need to stay in place (and a few more surrounding it).

    This write-up from A. Shipilev explains the problem and the options to handle it. According to the write-up, this change would move G1 behavior from Option 1 (disabling GC completely) to Option 3 (pin the subspace(s) containing the object(s)).

    JDK-8253600 and JDK-8253081 are examples of such preparatory changes. The missing work to enable region based object pinning in G1 is not activating this functionality, this is only a few lines of code at this stage, but its behavioral impact has not yet been fully explored. Some initial testing showed some potential issues with unkown impact, after which we brainstormed for potential solutions. If anyone is interested to investigate this more and then try one of the suggestions (or any other, feel free to contact me.

What’s next

We are already actively working on JDK 17, which will be an LTS release for Oracle. Here is a short list of changes you might want to look out for. And as usual, no guarantees of any kind are made. Those features will only be integrated once they are done! ;-)

  • JDK 17 might give some huge improvements in G1 non-Java heap memory usage with a particular focus on optimizations to decrease remembered set memory usage. This post highlights the problem. The change explained there (JDK-8262185) has already been pushed to mainline by now with the explained impact. In addition, there are additional changes that we have been working on for a long time that may reduce remembered set memory consumption much more so far. Stay tuned!

  • Microsoft is doing some very interesting work on scheduling proactive garbage collections in G1 in JDK-8257774 to avoid very long garbage collections having evacuation failures.

  • In JDK-8262068 Hamlin Li improves G1 Full Collections using a simple heuristic: if a region is almost full, then do not bother compacting it - with all the corresponding performance improvement. Other collectors already implement this with the -XX:MarkSweepDeadRatio option, it seems nice to allow this in G1 too. The change is already out for review.

Thanks go to…

Everyone that contributed to another great JDK release. See you in the next release :)