parallel collections

Measuring Performance

Performance on the JVM

The performance model on the JVM is sometimes convoluted in commentaries about it, and as a result is not well understood. For various reasons, some code may not be as performant or as scalable as expected. Here, we provide a few examples.

One of the reasons is that the compilation process for a JVM application is not the same as that of a statically compiled language (see [2]). The Java and Scala compilers convert source code into JVM bytecode and do very little optimization. On most modern JVMs, once the program bytecode is run, it is converted into machine code for the computer architecture on which it is being run. This is called the just-in-time compilation. The level of code optimization is, however, low with just-in-time compilation, since it has to be fast. To avoid recompiling, the so called HotSpot compiler only optimizes parts of the code which are executed frequently. What this means for the benchmark writer is that a program might have different performance each time it is run. Executing the same piece of code (e.g. a method) multiple times in the same JVM instance might give very different performance results depending on whether the particular code was optimized in between the runs. Additionally, measuring the execution time of some piece of code may include the time during which the JIT compiler itself was performing the optimization, thus giving inconsistent results.

Another hidden execution that takes part on the JVM is the automatic memory management. Every once in a while, the execution of the program is stopped and a garbage collector is run. If the program being benchmarked allocates any heap memory at all (and most JVM programs do), the garbage collector will have to run, thus possibly distorting the measurement. To amortize the garbage collection effects, the measured program should run many times to trigger many garbage collections.

One common cause of a performance deterioration is also boxing and unboxing that happens implicitly when passing a primitive type as an argument to a generic method. At runtime, primitive types are converted to objects which represent them, so that they could be passed to a method with a generic type parameter. This induces extra allocations and is slower, also producing additional garbage on the heap.

Where parallel performance is concerned, one common issue is memory contention, as the programmer does not have explicit control about where the objects are allocated. In fact, due to GC effects, contention can occur at a later stage in the application lifetime after objects get moved around in memory. Such effects need to be taken into consideration when writing a benchmark.

Microbenchmarking example

There are several approaches to avoid the above effects during measurement. First of all, the target microbenchmark must be executed enough times to make sure that the just-in-time compiler compiled it to machine code and that it was optimized. This is known as the warm-up phase.

The microbenchmark itself should be run in a separate JVM instance to reduce noise coming from garbage collection of the objects allocated by different parts of the program or unrelated just-in-time compilation.

It should be run using the server version of the HotSpot JVM, which does more aggressive optimizations.

Finally, to reduce the chance of a garbage collection occurring in the middle of the benchmark, ideally a garbage collection cycle should occur prior to the run of the benchmark, postponing the next cycle as far as possible.

The scala.testing.Benchmark trait is predefined in the Scala standard library and is designed with above in mind. Here is an example of benchmarking a map operation on a concurrent trie:

import collection.parallel.mutable.ParTrieMap
import collection.parallel.ForkJoinTaskSupport

object Map extends testing.Benchmark {
  val length = sys.props("length").toInt
  val par = sys.props("par").toInt
  val partrie = ParTrieMap((0 until length) zip (0 until length): _*)
  partrie.tasksupport = new ForkJoinTaskSupport(new scala.concurrent.forkjoin.ForkJoinPool(par))
  def run = {
    partrie map {
      kv => kv

The run method embodies the microbenchmark code which will be run repetitively and whose running time will be measured. The object Map above extends the scala.testing.Benchmark trait and parses system specified parameters par for the parallelism level and length for the number of elements in the trie.

After compiling the program above, run it like this:

java -server -cp .:../../build/pack/lib/scala-library.jar -Dpar=1 -Dlength=300000 Map 10

The server flag specifies that the server VM should be used. The cp specifies the classpath and includes classfiles in the current directory and the scala library jar. Arguments -Dpar and -Dlength are the parallelism level and the number of elements. Finally, 10 means that the benchmark should be run that many times within the same JVM.

Running times obtained by setting the par to 1, 2, 4 and 8 on a quad-core i7 with hyperthreading:

Map$	126	57	56	57	54	54	54	53	53	53
Map$	90	99	28	28	26	26	26	26	26	26
Map$	201	17	17	16	15	15	16	14	18	15
Map$	182	12	13	17	16	14	14	12	12	12

We can see above that the running time is higher during the initial runs, but is reduced after the code gets optimized. Further, we can see that the benefit of hyperthreading is not high in this example, as going from 4 to 8 threads results only in a minor performance improvement.

How big should a collection be to go parallel?

This is a question commonly asked. The answer is somewhat involved.

The size of the collection at which the parallelization pays of really depends on many factors. Some of them, but not all, include:

  • Machine architecture. Different CPU types have different performance and scalability characteristics. Orthogonal to that, whether the machine is multicore or has multiple processors communicating via motherboard.
  • JVM vendor and version. Different VMs apply different optimizations to the code at runtime. They implement different memory management and synchronization techniques. Some do not support ForkJoinPool, reverting to ThreadPoolExecutors, resulting in more overhead.
  • Per-element workload. A function or a predicate for a parallel operation determines how big is the per-element workload. The smaller the workload, the higher the number of elements needed to gain speedups when running in parallel.
  • Specific collection. For example, ParArray and ParTrieMap have splitters that traverse the collection at different speeds, meaning there is more per-element work in just the traversal itself.
  • Specific operation. For example, ParVector is a lot slower for transformer methods (like filter) than it is for accessor methods (like foreach)
  • Side-effects. When modifying memory areas concurrently or using synchronization within the body of foreach, map, etc., contention can occur.
  • Memory management. When allocating a lot of objects a garbage collection cycle can be triggered. Depending on how the references to new objects are passed around, the GC cycle can take more or less time.

Even in separation, it is not easy to reason about things above and give a precise answer to what the collection size should be. To roughly illustrate what the size should be, we give an example of a cheap side-effect-free parallel vector reduce (in this case, sum) operation performance on an i7 quad-core processor (not using hyperthreading) on JDK7:

import collection.parallel.immutable.ParVector

object Reduce extends testing.Benchmark {
  val length = sys.props("length").toInt
  val par = sys.props("par").toInt
  val parvector = ParVector((0 until length): _*)
  parvector.tasksupport = new collection.parallel.ForkJoinTaskSupport(new scala.concurrent.forkjoin.ForkJoinPool(par))
  def run = {
    parvector reduce {
      (a, b) => a + b

object ReduceSeq extends testing.Benchmark {
  val length = sys.props("length").toInt
  val vector = collection.immutable.Vector((0 until length): _*)
  def run = {
    vector reduce {
      (a, b) => a + b

We first run the benchmark with 250000 elements and obtain the following results, for 1, 2 and 4 threads:

java -server -cp .:../../build/pack/lib/scala-library.jar -Dpar=1 -Dlength=250000 Reduce 10 10
Reduce$    54    24    18    18    18    19    19    18    19    19
java -server -cp .:../../build/pack/lib/scala-library.jar -Dpar=2 -Dlength=250000 Reduce 10 10
Reduce$    60    19    17    13    13    13    13    14    12    13
java -server -cp .:../../build/pack/lib/scala-library.jar -Dpar=4 -Dlength=250000 Reduce 10 10
Reduce$    62    17    15    14    13    11    11    11    11    9

We then decrease the number of elements down to 120000 and use 4 threads to compare the time to that of a sequential vector reduce:

java -server -cp .:../../build/pack/lib/scala-library.jar -Dpar=4 -Dlength=120000 Reduce 10 10
Reduce$    54    10    8    8    8    7    8    7    6    5
java -server -cp .:../../build/pack/lib/scala-library.jar -Dlength=120000 ReduceSeq 10 10
ReduceSeq$    31    7    8    8    7    7    7    8    7    8

120000 elements seems to be the around the threshold in this case.

As another example, we take the mutable.ParHashMap and the map method (a transformer method) and run the following benchmark in the same environment:

import collection.parallel.mutable.ParHashMap

object Map extends testing.Benchmark {
  val length = sys.props("length").toInt
  val par = sys.props("par").toInt
  val phm = ParHashMap((0 until length) zip (0 until length): _*)
  phm.tasksupport = new collection.parallel.ForkJoinTaskSupport(new scala.concurrent.forkjoin.ForkJoinPool(par))
  def run = {
    phm map {
      kv => kv

object MapSeq extends testing.Benchmark {
  val length = sys.props("length").toInt
  val hm = collection.mutable.HashMap((0 until length) zip (0 until length): _*)
  def run = {
    hm map {
      kv => kv

For 120000 elements we get the following times when ranging the number of threads from 1 to 4:

java -server -cp .:../../build/pack/lib/scala-library.jar -Dpar=1 -Dlength=120000 Map 10 10    
Map$    187    108    97    96    96    95    95    95    96    95
java -server -cp .:../../build/pack/lib/scala-library.jar -Dpar=2 -Dlength=120000 Map 10 10
Map$    138    68    57    56    57    56    56    55    54    55
java -server -cp .:../../build/pack/lib/scala-library.jar -Dpar=4 -Dlength=120000 Map 10 10
Map$    124    54    42    40    38    41    40    40    39    39

Now, if we reduce the number of elements to 15000 and compare that to the sequential hashmap:

java -server -cp .:../../build/pack/lib/scala-library.jar -Dpar=1 -Dlength=15000 Map 10 10
Map$    41    13    10    10    10    9    9    9    10    9
java -server -cp .:../../build/pack/lib/scala-library.jar -Dpar=2 -Dlength=15000 Map 10 10
Map$    48    15    9    8    7    7    6    7    8    6
java -server -cp .:../../build/pack/lib/scala-library.jar -Dlength=15000 MapSeq 10 10
MapSeq$    39    9    9    9    8    9    9    9    9    9

For this collection and this operation it makes sense to go parallel when there are above 15000 elements (in general, it is feasible to parallelize hashmaps and hashsets with fewer elements than would be required for arrays or vectors).


  1. Anatomy of a flawed microbenchmark, Brian Goetz
  2. Dynamic compilation and performance measurement, Brian Goetz
blog comments powered by Disqus