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JEMALLOC(3) NetBSD Library Functions Manual JEMALLOC(3)
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jemalloc -- the default system allocator
Standard C Library (libc, -lc)
const char * _malloc_options;
The jemalloc is a general-purpose concurrent malloc(3) implementation
specifically designed to be scalable on modern multi-processor systems.
It is the default user space system allocator in NetBSD.
When the first call is made to one of the memory allocation routines such
as malloc() or realloc(), various flags that affect the workings of the
allocator are set or reset. These are described below.
The ``name'' of the file referenced by the symbolic link named
/etc/malloc.conf, the value of the environment variable MALLOC_OPTIONS,
and the string pointed to by the global variable _malloc_options will be
interpreted, in that order, character by character as flags.
Most flags are single letters. Uppercase letters indicate that the
behavior is set, or on, and lowercase letters mean that the behavior is
not set, or off. The following options are available.
A All warnings (except for the warning about unknown flags being
set) become fatal. The process will call abort(3) in these
H Use madvise(2) when pages within a chunk are no longer in use,
but the chunk as a whole cannot yet be deallocated. This is
primarily of use when swapping is a real possibility, due to the
high overhead of the madvise() system call.
J Each byte of new memory allocated by malloc(), realloc() will be
initialized to 0xa5. All memory returned by free(), realloc()
will be initialized to 0x5a. This is intended for debugging and
will impact performance negatively.
K Increase/decrease the virtual memory chunk size by a factor of
two. The default chunk size is 1 MB. This option can be speci-
fied multiple times.
N Increase/decrease the number of arenas by a factor of two. The
default number of arenas is four times the number of CPUs, or
one if there is a single CPU. This option can be specified mul-
P Various statistics are printed at program exit via an atexit(3)
function. This has the potential to cause deadlock for a multi-
threaded process that exits while one or more threads are exe-
cuting in the memory allocation functions. Therefore, this
option should only be used with care; it is primarily intended
as a performance tuning aid during application development.
Q Increase/decrease the size of the allocation quantum by a factor
of two. The default quantum is the minimum allowed by the
architecture (typically 8 or 16 bytes). This option can be
specified multiple times.
S Increase/decrease the size of the maximum size class that is a
multiple of the quantum by a factor of two. Above this size,
power-of-two spacing is used for size classes. The default
value is 512 bytes. This option can be specified multiple
U Generate ``utrace'' entries for ktrace(1), for all operations.
Consult the source for details on this option.
V Attempting to allocate zero bytes will return a NULL pointer
instead of a valid pointer. (The default behavior is to make a
minimal allocation and return a pointer to it.) This option is
provided for System V compatibility. This option is incompati-
ble with the X option.
X Rather than return failure for any allocation function, display
a diagnostic message on stderr and cause the program to drop
core (using abort(3)). This option should be set at compile
time by including the following in the source code:
_malloc_options = "X";
Z Each byte of new memory allocated by malloc(), realloc() will be
initialized to 0. Note that this initialization only happens
once for each byte, so realloc() does not zero memory that was
previously allocated. This is intended for debugging and will
impact performance negatively.
Extra care should be taken when enabling any of the options in production
environments. The A, J, and Z options are intended for testing and
debugging. An application which changes its behavior when these options
are used is flawed.
The jemalloc allocator uses multiple arenas in order to reduce lock con-
tention for threaded programs on multi-processor systems. This works
well with regard to threading scalability, but incurs some costs. There
is a small fixed per-arena overhead, and additionally, arenas manage mem-
ory completely independently of each other, which means a small fixed
increase in overall memory fragmentation. These overheads are not gener-
ally an issue, given the number of arenas normally used. Note that using
substantially more arenas than the default is not likely to improve per-
formance, mainly due to reduced cache performance. However, it may make
sense to reduce the number of arenas if an application does not make much
use of the allocation functions.
Memory is conceptually broken into equal-sized chunks, where the chunk
size is a power of two that is greater than the page size. Chunks are
always aligned to multiples of the chunk size. This alignment makes it
possible to find metadata for user objects very quickly.
User objects are broken into three categories according to size:
1. Small objects are smaller than one page.
2. Large objects are smaller than the chunk size.
3. Huge objects are a multiple of the chunk size.
Small and large objects are managed by arenas; huge objects are managed
separately in a single data structure that is shared by all threads.
Huge objects are used by applications infrequently enough that this sin-
gle data structure is not a scalability issue.
Each chunk that is managed by an arena tracks its contents in a page map
as runs of contiguous pages (unused, backing a set of small objects, or
backing one large object). The combination of chunk alignment and chunk
page maps makes it possible to determine all metadata regarding small and
large allocations in constant time.
Small objects are managed in groups by page runs. Each run maintains a
bitmap that tracks which regions are in use. Allocation requests can be
grouped as follows.
· Allocation requests that are no more than half the quantum (see
the Q option) are rounded up to the nearest power of two (typi-
cally 2, 4, or 8).
· Allocation requests that are more than half the quantum, but no
more than the maximum quantum-multiple size class (see the S
option) are rounded up to the nearest multiple of the quantum.
· Allocation requests that are larger than the maximum quantum-mul-
tiple size class, but no larger than one half of a page, are
rounded up to the nearest power of two.
· Allocation requests that are larger than half of a page, but small
enough to fit in an arena-managed chunk (see the K option), are
rounded up to the nearest run size.
· Allocation requests that are too large to fit in an arena-managed
chunk are rounded up to the nearest multiple of the chunk size.
Allocations are packed tightly together, which can be an issue for multi-
threaded applications. If you need to assure that allocations do not
suffer from cache line sharing, round your allocation requests up to the
nearest multiple of the cache line size.
The first thing to do is to set the A option. This option forces a core-
dump (if possible) at the first sign of trouble, rather than the normal
policy of trying to continue if at all possible.
It is probably also a good idea to recompile the program with suitable
options and symbols for debugger support.
If the program starts to give unusual results, coredump or generally
behave differently without emitting any of the messages mentioned in the
next section, it is likely because it depends on the storage being filled
with zero bytes. Try running it with the Z option set; if that improves
the situation, this diagnosis has been confirmed. If the program still
misbehaves, the likely problem is accessing memory outside the allocated
Alternatively, if the symptoms are not easy to reproduce, setting the J
option may help provoke the problem. In truly difficult cases, the U
option, if supported by the kernel, can provide a detailed trace of all
calls made to these functions.
Unfortunately, jemalloc does not provide much detail about the problems
it detects; the performance impact for storing such information would be
prohibitive. There are a number of allocator implementations available
on the Internet which focus on detecting and pinpointing problems by
trading performance for extra sanity checks and detailed diagnostics.
The following environment variables affect the execution of the alloca-
MALLOC_OPTIONS If the environment variable MALLOC_OPTIONS is set, the
characters it contains will be interpreted as flags to
the allocation functions.
To dump core whenever a problem occurs:
ln -s 'A' /etc/malloc.conf
To specify in the source that a program does no return value checking on
calls to these functions:
_malloc_options = "X";
If any of the memory allocation/deallocation functions detect an error or
warning condition, a message will be printed to file descriptor
STDERR_FILENO. Errors will result in the process dumping core. If the A
option is set, all warnings are treated as errors.
The _malloc_message variable allows the programmer to override the func-
tion which emits the text strings forming the errors and warnings if for
some reason the stderr file descriptor is not suitable for this. Please
note that doing anything which tries to allocate memory in this function
is likely to result in a crash or deadlock.
All messages are prefixed by ``<progname>: (malloc)''.
emalloc(3), malloc(3), memory(3), memoryallocators(9)
Jason Evans, A Scalable Concurrent malloc(3) Implementation for FreeBSD,
16, 2006, BSDCan 2006.
Poul-Henning Kamp, "Malloc(3) revisited", Proceedings of the FREENIX
Track: 1998 USENIX Annual Technical Conference, USENIX Association,
June 15-19, 1998.
Paul R. Wilson, Mark S. Johnstone, Michael Neely, and David Boles,
Dynamic Storage Allocation: A Survey and Critical Review, University of
Texas at Austin, ftp://ftp.cs.utexas.edu/pub/garbage/allocsrv.ps, 1995.
The jemalloc allocator became the default system allocator first in
FreeBSD 7.0 and then in NetBSD 5.0. In both systems it replaced the
older so-called ``phkmalloc'' implementation.
Jason Evans <email@example.com>
NetBSD 8.1 June 21, 2011 NetBSD 8.1