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Newsletter no. 22, September 29th, 2002

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I appreciate that has a huge amount of information, and that you would want a local copy for quicker access. I'm completely happy for you to download all the pages on the website. But please, don't repeatedly download every page about a hundred times as one particular Wget user did last month. One download of any page is enough, honestly. None of the pages change on a per-second basis, in fact once a month is how often they change normally, hence the existence of this monthly newsletter.

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This month, the articles listed cover the usual cross-section of Java. NIO related articles are coming up more often, and kudos to DevX who seemed to have decided to swamp its readers with JDBC driver infromation with no less than three articles covering JDBC drivers.

Javva is back with some life and death issues and a nice breakdown of performance tuning tasks. Kirk is almost back. Kirk's roundup was not quite ready at publication time, but rather than delay it until next month, I'll add it in the next day or so, so please check Kirk's page in a couple of days. (If you are reading more than a few days after publication, then ignore the previous and just go and see Kirk's column).

If you feel this newsletter could be useful to a friend, why not send them the URL. Note also that Yukio Andoh's Japanese translation will hopefully be available at in a while.

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Recent Articles

Jack Shirazi

Kirk's roundup

A while back, I was asked to tune an application that was running in an application server. After a day and a half of taking measurements, performing calculations, and looking at performance graphs, I made the hypothesis that the source of the problem was that the size of the transactions in the (OO) database were at the root of the problem. In this instance, the solution is to bulk up the commits. At issue was the client?s refusal to allow any coding changes. That?s when I realized that I was called in to find the mystical "go fast" button.

After series of discussions, I was allowed to make some coding changes in a development environment. I immediately went to work to change the 20 or so lines of offending code. The subsequent tests demonstrated a 600% overall performance improvement. This improvement was in line with simulations performed in another environment (once the differences in environments were accounted for). It was at this point that the fun began. First, I was told that the coding changes could not be used. Realizing the futility of continuing the exercise, I made plans to go home.

As unreasonable as the clients position seemed to be, it was the only responsible position that they could take. The reason for this was that all of their quality assurance and regression testing was performed by hand. The process took several weeks to complete. In effect, their testing process had handcuffed their development team. I?m sure we?ve all heard variants of the quote "Make it work, make it right, make it fast." As much as I am in agreement with that statement, I have had the opportunity to work with another brilliant IT specialist who always said that you need to "plan for performance". The question is, are these two statements incompatible?

In this authors humble opinion, the answer is no. Projects already plan for the first and second steps. Step 3 is almost always inevitable. The real question is, was the "make it fast" step planned for, and if so, how much thought and effort was put into that planning.

In the case of this client, I was called in just days before the system was scheduled to go live. And as good as it felt to find the source of the problem, it was equally frustrating to leave the client in the position of having to go live with a system that was not going to meet the end users needs. But, I do take solace in the fact that this is still better than walking into a war room where their newly released application is not performing to expectations. But, these are other war stories for another time. And now for this months round up of the performance tuning discussion groups.

The JavaRanch

As Jack stated last month, my schedule is a little crazy as of late. Consequently, there is quite a backlog of material sitting in the performance tuning forums. So, lets start with a trip to the Saloon and the new look of the Java Ranch. First up is an interesting question regarding the performance implications of sleep vs. yield. Though there was a bit of confusion at first, the sheriff stepped in to calm the greenhorns down by telling it like it is. The first point made was that yield and sleep work in very similar manners. Of this, the most important behavior to remember is that the target thread will not relinquish any monitors that it may have acquired. Though this maybe reasonably benign in the case of yield, calling sleep on a thread whilst running in a synchronized block should be avoided.

The next question to ask was, would declaring everything final that could be declared final offer some performance advantages? To answer this question, we must first understand that final is a tag or a hint to the compiler that once declared, this entity will never change. This allows the compiler to optimize variables by replacing them with their direct value. It allows the compiler to in-line code blocks of final methods. It also allows the compiler to predetermine the target of a method call thus eliminating the need for the VM to perform the method lookup at run time.

So, with all of these advantages, the answer?s got to be yes, right? Well, as in other things in life, the real answer is, it depends. What does it depend on? For starters, the implementation of the VM has a lot to do with performance. For instance, hotspot is able to perform significant optimizations at run time that rightfully make this type of choice irrelevant. The bigger issue is: what impact would declaring things final have on your ability to extend and maintain an application. On top of this, my previous experiences with the static Cray optimizing compiler tell me that what may seem like a good idea at the time may actually backfire as it does not have enough information to make a choice, so it guesses. The fact that the major database vendors all include a run time query optimizer is further evidence that static optimizations are typically not enough. To quote the bartender, "Obfuscators can do this easily (inline code and replace variables with final values), and it makes no change to the source code". Seems like a plan.

Finally, the question of why StringBuffer does not outperform the + operator. The answer for this one can be found at What makes this thread interesting is it?s length and the fact that one benchmark revealed a timing of 0ms. The lesson here is that you need to be very careful when performing micro-benchmarks that your results really are representative of what you are trying to do. As simple as this may sound, it is my experience that setting up a valid micro-benchmark is more challenging than setting up a regular benchmarking exercise.

Every once in a while, I come across a thread of discussion that I just cannot summarize. I found one such thread on the Java Gaming performance discussion group. You can navigate to it by hitting; Performance Tuning: Profilers: HPROF. In summary, the back and forth discussion reveals the co-operative thought process as two individuals work to understand a performance issue.

In a similar feat of co-operation, there was a group review of the performance-tuning article that appeared in the 8th issue of the Java Developers Journal. In this discussion, members debated a number of the points brought out in the article. I do know that the JDJ has instituted some peer reviews, which has led to a dramatic increase in the quality of the materials. Even so, the members of this discussion group have really questioned the value and relevance of the information presented in this article. If you plan to use any of the points in the article, I?d recommend reading what these people have to say about it and then run your own tests so that you can decide what is best for your situation.

In contrast to the last two "love" fests, there is a fairly heated discussion on why certain performance enhancing features have not been added to the VM. A fair portion of the discussion centered on the need for a "shared" VM. There are a number of articles that discuss how one might share a VM. In the end, all of the articles that I?ve seen end up demonstrating that the usefulness of using a shared VM is hindered by the inability to share static resources. The underlying tone in this thread is based on that point. In addition to the points already made in that forum, one should consider the effects of the current implementation of GC and thread scheduling. Now, the JDK 1.4 has made many improvements in the efficiency of GC and thread scheduling but, there is still much more work to be done so that different applications don?t interfere with each other as much as they do today.

The Server Side

As usually the case, the Server Side performance discussion group offered a number of high quality nuggets of information. The first came as a result of CMP performance characteristics. Of the points made, it was interesting to see the response to the statement, "No matter how good you are, you will not be able to write a persistence layer as good (or better) as the one your container provides, otherwise you would be working for your container vendor by now ;)". The response: sure, they can write a better general purpose persistence layer, but when I'm writing my application I know exactly what pieces of data I need *right now*. I can write one big SQL statement with all the joins, and then optimize that query to my heart's content. I?m not sure that this position doesn?t violate the spirit of the "Make it work, make it right, make it fast" axiom.

How could an entity bean application running in a transaction out-perform one not running in a transaction? This was the question of one puzzled developer. The answer is in how the EJB server solved the age-old cache coherency problem. While involved in a transaction, EJB?s are protected from changes made by others. Thus the ejbLoad and possibly the ejbStore operations can be avoided. If there is no transaction and consequently, no protection from change, then the ejbLoad operation will need to be performed. Puzzle solved!

Last but not least, there was a posting regarding where one might find information on performance tuning Java applications. There was only one response to this post and I?m happy to report that it said that was the site to visit. And the answer is no, neither Jack or myself paid or otherwise coerced anyone to make that posting.

Finally, a friend of mine that worked for the now defunct WebGain Inc recently contacted me. He requested that I bestow a Meadow Muffin award to the management that decided to put all of their eggs into the IDE basket and then failed to deliver on their all Java version of WebGain Studio before the money ran out. Consider it bestowed. But, in all fairness, I will also bestow a Meadow Muffin award to Borland as they decided to hasten the cash burn by suing WebGain over alleged patent violations. In this author?s opinion, the suit helped drain the life?s blood out of an already ailing company. And just to keep the record clean, I?d also like to give honorable mention to BEA inc. After BEA spun off WebGain, it seemed like some elements of their sales staff became a lot more competitive trying to sell their WebLogic CMP caching product to TopLink accounts and/or prospects (TopLink is an O/R mapping tool now owned by Oracle, built by the Object People and subsequently purchased by WebGain). With this type of alleged behavior between supposed partners, one can only applaud Sun?s ability to keep the Java ship sailing as smoothly as it has been.

Kirk Pepperdine.

Javva The Hutt

Spec has taken over ECperf and now has the SPECjAppServer2001 benchmark. Well good. A benchmarking organization is presumably more experienced at benchmarks, which should make the vendors run the benchmark with less cheating, whoops, I mean more rigorously, than previously. But the most interesting point was made by Ramesh I (possibly of Pramati) in this discussion at the server side (sorry Kirk, I'm encroaching on your roundup).

Ramesh pointed out that if a vendor has made at least one submission to the ECperf/SPECjAppServer2001 benchmark, then that submission gives you the optimal configuration and tuning setup for the vendor's application server. Think about it for a moment. How would you like the company that supplies your application server to send in their very best experts to configure and tune your application, for free. Well they have for the ECperf application, which surely has many components in common with a lot of J2EE applications. So look at their benchmark submissions, and find out what they configured and what they tuned.

Alternatively, make your application an industry standard benchmark, and they'll also tune your application for free.

Time is life (or death)

This Wired article on How Al-qaida site was hijacked is old news now. But it struck me that if things had gone a little differently, it could have cost someone their life, or saved lives. In fact it may have even, the way it happened. And the core thing is that seconds mattered. On the Internet, seconds can make the difference between life and death, with something as mundane as registering a domain name.

I give it a couple of years before we get a thriller about a domain name mixup which allows some innocent person to save the world after the requisite subterfuge and car chases.

Diary of a Hutt

August 6. Moving departments takes so much time. There's moving the desk contents (not at all for me), getting used to the new surroundings (nope), meeting all your new colleagues (hi QA guys), etc, etc, etc. What a great excuse to do nothing for weeks. Maybe this isn't so bad. On the other hand, its kind of boring.

August 13. Planning how to integrate performance test reporting to the QA system. I've got some real fancy plans and it'll take a bit of work. First, we split performance testing and performance tuning into two separate issues. HasntGotAClue decided this, and to be honest it makes perfect sense. Previously I did the whole thing and reported on it all in one go, but in fact they are two separate tasks, needing separate skills. HasntGotAClue wants to do it for a specific reason. The testing is under his remit, but he is going to specify the tuning as development. This lets him bill me to Frezian's account for that part of the work.

August 14. Went further and split it into three. Performance testing, performance analysis, and performance tuning. After thinking about the two-way split, I realized that there are three tasks, so I split it out that way.

August 15. Even further. Now I've added specifications to the list. I was reading through some of the performance management stuff on JPT (this) site, and realized that we have five tasks:

August 20. I've been doing a management report on the whole system, the requirements for integerating with the QA reporting system, a timeframe of one month, to be mostly completed by end September. I've been doing the whole thing in close conjunction with Weevil, who has okayed every step. I've also been reporting regularly to HasntGotAClue, so that he is fully up to date. It's come through as one man month full time, dedicated to the setup I've defined. Weevil seemed quite happy to rubber stamp the whole thing. He seemed to think it was a lot of work for no reason, and also with too aggressive deadlines. Of course he didn't say that to me or HasntGotAClue since he doesn't have to do the work, but BigMouth is as reliable as ever.

August 22. Weevil's just thrown a complete fit. He's only just found out that I'm scheduled to go on holiday for three weeks from tomorrow. Of course that wouldn't bother him, if it wasn't that HasntGotAClue has assigned the complete reporting integration scheme to him, since he was the only one who was involved closely enough to take over. He's been screaming that it's way too much work but HasntGotAClue simply pointed out that he okayed the whole scheme, and he'd had weeks to query the schedule. Which was a bit of an exaggeration, but I didn't point that out, and I don't think even Weevil even heard. I think Weevil could do with a holiday. Personally, I'm looking forward to a nice relaxing holiday, after which I'll be back to slowly integrate myself into the work that's been done in my absence.


Javva The Hutt.

Example of developing CMP 2.0 Entity Beans (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Pravin Tulachan, Publication InformIT). Tips:
JDBC drivers (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, Publication SDTimes). Tips:
Benchmarking XML parsing (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Cameron Laird, Publication IBM). Tips:
Changing icon look with composition (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Authors Joe Winchester, Renee Schwartz, Publication IBM). Tips:,,12082_1464821,00.html
Processing Stack Trace Data (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Richard G. Baldwin, Publication Earthweb). Tips:
ArrayList/LinkedList/HashMap performance (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Glen McCluskey, Publication Sun). Tips:
New 1.4 network features (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Qusay H. Mahmoud, Publication Sun). Tips:,,12082_1468351,00.html
Creating a JDBC Log Handler (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Jeff Heaton, Publication Earthweb). Tips:
Managing thread death (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Brian Goetz, Publication IBM). Tips:
equals() versus == (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Sreekanth Iyer, Publication IBM). Tips:
Industrial-strength JNDI optimization (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Brett McLaughlin, Publication IBM). Tips:
1.4.1 Changes (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Sun, Publication Sun). Tips:
Non-blocking sockets (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Giuseppe Naccarato, Publication OnJava). Tips:
Yet another "use StringBuffer not String concatenation" tip (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Ramneek Handa, Publication DevX). Tips:
Buffered Iterator (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Ryan Brase, Publication Tips:
Choosing a JDBC driver (Page last updated August 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author DataDirect, Publication DevX). Tips:
JDBC tuning (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Robert Brunner, Publication DevX). Tips:
Choosing a JDBC driver (Page last updated August 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Barrie Sosinsky, Publication DevX). Tips:
Monitoring web services (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Authors Gunjan Samtani & Dimple Sadhwani, Publication Web Services Journal). Tips:
EJB primary keys (Page last updated August 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Saad Rehmani, Publication Java Developers Journal). Tips:
EJBs or plain Servlets? (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Michael Bardash, Gerhard Bayer, Max Dolgicer, Publication ATDmag). Tips:,,12082_1453021,00.html
Stylesheet execution optimization TRaX (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Jeff Ryan, Publication Earthweb). Tips:
Profiling and performance analysis (Page last updated October 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Peter Varhol, Publication Java Pro). Tips:
Opimizing I/O (Page last updated September 2002, Added 2002-09-30, Author Merlin Hughes, Publication IBM). Tips:

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