When to use the Balanced garbage collection policy

There are a number of situations when you should consider using the Balanced garbage collection policy. Generally, if you are currently using the Gencon policy, and the performance is good but the application still experiences large global collection (including compaction) pause times frequently enough to be disruptive, consider using the Balanced policy.

Note: Tools such as the IBM® Monitoring and Diagnostic Tools - Garbage Collection and Memory Visualizer and IBM Monitoring and Diagnostic Tools - Health Center do not make recommendations that are specific to the Balanced policy.


  • This policy is available only on 64-bit platforms. The policy is not available if the application is deployed on 32-bit or 31-bit hardware or operating systems, or if the application requires loading 32-bit or 31-bit native libraries.
  • The policy is optimized for larger heaps; if you have a heap size of less than 4 GB you are unlikely to see a benefit compared to using the Gencon policy.

Performance implications

The incremental garbage collection work that is performed for each collection, and the large-array-allocation support, cause a reduction in performance. Typically, there is a 10% decrease in throughput. This figure can vary, and the overall performance or throughput can also improve depending on the workload characteristics, for example if there are many global collections and compactions.

When to use the policy

Consider using the policy in the following situations:
The application occasionally experiences unacceptably long global garbage collection pause times
The policy attempts to reduce or eliminate the long pauses that can be experienced by global collections, particularly when a global compaction occurs. Balanced garbage collection incrementally reduces fragmentation in the heap by compacting part of the heap in every collection. By proactively tackling the fragmentation problem in incremental steps, which immediately return contiguous free memory back to the allocation pool, Balanced garbage collection eliminates the accumulation of work that is sometimes incurred by generational garbage collection.
Large array allocations are frequently a source of global collections, global compactions, or both
If large arrays, transient or otherwise, are allocated so often that garbage collections are forced even though sufficient total free memory remains, the Balanced policy can reduce garbage collection frequency and total pause time. The incremental nature of the heap compaction, and internal JVM technology for representing arrays, result in minimal disruption when allocating "large" arrays. "Large" arrays are arrays whose size is greater than approximately 0.1% of the heap.

Other areas that might benefit

The following situations might also benefit from use of this policy:
The application is multi-threaded and runs on hardware that demonstrates NUMA characteristics
Balanced garbage collection exploits NUMA hardware when multi-threaded applications are present. The JVM associates threads with NUMA nodes, and favors object allocation to memory that is associated with the same node as the thread. Balanced garbage collection keeps objects in memory that is associated with the same node, or migrates objects to memory that is associated with a different node, depending on usage patterns. This level of segregation and association can result in increased heap fragmentation, which might require a slightly larger heap.
The application is unable to use all the processor cores on the machine
Balanced garbage collection includes global tracing operations to break cycles and refresh whole heap information. This behavior is known as the Global Mark Phase. During these operations, the JVM attempts to use under-utilized processor cores to perform some of this work while the application is running. This behavior reduces any stop-the-world time that the operation might require.
The application makes heavy use of dynamic class loading (often caused by heavy use of reflection)
The Gencon garbage collection policy can unload unused classes and class loaders, but only at global garbage collection cycles. Because global collection cycles might be infrequent, for example because few objects survive long enough to be copied to the tenure or old space, there might be a large accumulation of classes and class loaders in the native memory space. The Balanced garbage collection policy attempts to dynamically unload unused classes and class loaders on every partial collect. This approach reduces the time these classes and class loaders remain in memory.

When not to use the policy

The Java™ heap stays full for the entire run and cannot be made larger
The Balanced policy uses an internal representation of the object heap that allows selective incremental collection of different areas of the heap depending on where the best return on cost of garbage collection might be. This behavior, combined with the incremental nature of garbage collection, which might not fully collect a heap through a series of increments, can increase the amount of floating garbage that remains to be collected. Floating garbage refers to objects which might have become garbage, but which the garbage collector has not been able to immediately detect. As a result, if heap configurations already put pressure on the garbage collector, for example by resulting in little space remaining, the Balanced policy might perform poorly because it increases this pressure.
Real-time-pause guarantees are required
Although the Balanced policy typically results in much better worst-case pause time than the Gencon policy, it does not guarantee what these times are, nor does it guarantee a minimum amount of processor time that is dedicated to the application for any time window. If you require real-time guarantees, use a real-time product such as the IBM WebSphere® Real Time product suite.
The application uses many large arrays
An array is "large" if it is larger than 0.1% of the heap. The Balanced policy uses an internal representation of large arrays in the JVM that is different from the standard representation. This difference avoids the high cost that the large arrays otherwise place on heap fragmentation and garbage collection. Because of this internal representation, there is an additional performance cost in using large arrays. If the application uses many large arrays, this performance cost might negate the benefits of using the Balanced policy.