9 The Z Garbage Collector

The Z Garbage Collector (ZGC) is a scalable low latency garbage collector. ZGC performs all expensive work concurrently, without stopping the execution of application threads for more than a few milliseconds. It is suitable for applications which require low latency. Pause times are independent of heap size that is being used. ZGC supports heap sizes from 8MB to 16TB.

The Z Garbage Collector is enabled with the command-line option -XX:+UseZGC.

Setting the Heap Size

The most important tuning option for ZGC is setting the max heap size (-Xmx). Since ZGC is a concurrent collector a max heap size must be selected such that, 1) the heap can accommodate the live-set of your application, and 2) there is enough headroom in the heap to allow allocations to be serviced while the GC is running. How much headroom is needed very much depends on the allocation rate and the live-set size of the application. In general, the more memory you give to ZGC the better. But at the same time, wasting memory is undesirable, so it’s all about finding a balance between memory usage and how often the GC needs to run.

Setting Number of Concurrent GC Threads

The second tuning option one might want to look at is setting the number of concurrent GC threads (-XX:ConcGCThreads). ZGC has heuristics to automatically select this number. This heuristic usually works well but depending on the characteristics of the application this might need to be adjusted. This option essentially dictates how much CPU-time the GC should be given. Give it too much and the GC will steal too much CPU-time from the application. Give it too little, and the application might allocate garbage faster than the GC can collect it.

Returning Unused Memory to the Operating System

By default, ZGC uncommits unused memory, returning it to the operating system. This is useful for applications and environments where memory footprint is a concern. This feature can be disabled using -XX:-ZUncommit. Furthermore, memory will not be uncommitted so that the heap size shrinks below the minimum heap size (-Xms). This means this feature will be implicitly disabled if the minimum heap size (-Xms) is configured to be equal to the maximum heap size (-Xmx).

An uncommit delay can be configured using -XX:ZUncommitDelay=<seconds> (default is 300 seconds). This delay specifies for how long memory should have been unused before it's eligible for uncommit.