Java Platform, Standard Edition Troubleshooting Guide
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3.5 Diagnose Leaks in Native Code

Several techniques can be used to find and isolate native code memory leaks. In general there is no single ideal solution for all platforms. The following are some techniques to diagnose leaks in native code.

3.5.1 Track All Memory Allocation and Free Calls

A very common practice is to track all allocation and free calls of the native allocations. This can be a fairly simple process or a very sophisticated one. Many products over the years have been built up around the tracking of native heap allocations and the use of that memory.

Tools like IBM Rational Purify and the runtime checking functionality of Sun Studio dbx debugger can be used to find these leaks in normal native code situations and also find any access to native heap memory that represents assignments to uninitialized memory or accesses to freed memory. See Find Leaks with dbx Debugger.

Not all these types of tools will work with Java applications that use native code, and usually these tools are platform-specific. Because the virtual machine dynamically creates code at runtime, these tools can wrongly interpret the code and fail to run at all, or give false information. Check with your tool vendor to ensure that the version of the tool works with the version of the virtual machine you are using.

See sourceforge for many simple and portable native memory leak detecting examples. Most of these libraries and tools assume that you can recompile or edit the source of the application and place wrapper functions over the allocation functions. The more powerful of these tools allow you to run your application unchanged by interposing over these allocation functions dynamically. This is the case with the library first introduced in Oracle Solaris 9 operating system update 3; see Find Leaks with libumem Tool.

3.5.2 Track All Memory Allocations in JNI Library

If you write a JNI library, then consider creating a localized way to ensure that your library does not leak memory, by using a simple wrapper approach.

The procedure in Example 3-7 is an easy localized allocation tracking approach for a JNI library. First, define the following lines in all source files.

Then you can use the functions in Example 3-8 to watch for leaks.

The JNI library would then need to periodically (or at shutdown) check the value of the total_allocated variable to verify that it made sense. The preceding code could also be expanded to save in a linked list the allocations that remained and report where the leaked memory was allocated. This is a localized and portable way to track memory allocations in a single set of sources. You would need to ensure that debug_free() was called only with the pointer that came from debug_malloc(), and you would also need to create similar functions for realloc(), calloc(), strdup(), and so forth, if they were used.

A more global way to look for native heap memory leaks would involve interposition of the library calls for the entire process.

3.5.3 Track Memory Allocation with Operating System Support

Most operating systems include some form of global allocation tracking support.

  • On Windows, search the MSDN library for debug support. The Microsoft C++ compiler has the /Md and /Mdd compiler options that will automatically include extra support for tracking memory allocation.

  • Linux systems have tools such as mtrace and libnjamd to help in dealing with allocation tracking.

  • Oracle Solaris operating system provides the watchmalloc tool. Oracle Solaris 9 operating system update 3 also introduced the libumem tool, see Find Leaks with libumem Tool.

3.5.4 Find Leaks with dbx Debugger

The dbx debugger includes the Runtime Checking (RTC) functionality, which can find leaks. The dbx debugger is part of Oracle Solaris Studio and also available for Linux.

Example 3-9 shows a sample dbx session.

Example 3-9 A Sample dbx Session

$ dbx ${java_home}/bin/java
Reading java
(dbx) dbxenv rtc_inherit on
(dbx) check -leaks
leaks checking - ON
(dbx) run HelloWorld
Running: java HelloWorld 
(process id 15426)
RTC: Enabling Error Checking...
RTC: Running program...
dbx: process 15426 about to exec("/net/bonsai.sfbay/export/home2/user/ws/j2se/build/solaris-i586/bin/java")
dbx: program "/net/bonsai.sfbay/export/home2/user/ws/j2se/build/solaris-i586/bin/java"
just exec'ed
dbx: to go back to the original program use "debug $oprog"
RTC: Enabling Error Checking...
RTC: Running program...
t@1 (l@1) stopped in main at 0x0805136d
0x0805136d: main       :        pushl    %ebp
(dbx) when dlopen libjvm { suppress all in; }
(2) when dlopen libjvm { suppress all in; }  
(dbx) when dlopen libjava { suppress all in; }
(3) when dlopen libjava { suppress all in; }  
(dbx) cont                                             
hello world
hello world
Checking for memory leaks...

Actual leaks report    (actual leaks:           27  total size:      46851 bytes)

  Total     Num of  Leaked     Allocation call stack
  Size      Blocks  Block
==========  ====== =========== =======================================
     44376       4      -      calloc < zcalloc 
      1072       1  0x8151c70  _nss_XbyY_buf_alloc < get_pwbuf < _getpwuid <
                               GetJavaProperties < Java_java_lang_System_initProperties <
                               0xa740a89a< 0xa7402a14< 0xa74001fc
       814       1  0x8072518  MemAlloc < CreateExecutionEnvironment < main 
       280      10      -      operator new < Thread::Thread 
       102       1  0x8072498  _strdup < CreateExecutionEnvironment < main 
        56       1  0x81697f0  calloc < Java_java_util_zip_Inflater_init < 0xa740a89a<
                               0xa7402a6a< 0xa7402aeb< 0xa7402a14< 0xa7402a14< 0xa7402a14
        41       1  0x8072bd8  main 
        30       1  0x8072c58  SetJavaCommandLineProp < main 
        16       1  0x806f180  _setlocale < GetJavaProperties <
                               Java_java_lang_System_initProperties < 0xa740a89a< 0xa7402a14<
                               0xa74001fc< JavaCalls::call_helper < os::os_exception_wrapper 
        12       1  0x806f2e8  operator new < instanceKlass::add_dependent_nmethod <
                               nmethod::new_nmethod < ciEnv::register_method <
                               Compile::Compile #Nvariant 1 < C2Compiler::compile_method <
                               CompileBroker::invoke_compiler_on_method <
        12       1  0x806ee60  CheckJvmType < CreateExecutionEnvironment < main 
        12       1  0x806ede8  MemAlloc < CreateExecutionEnvironment < main 
        12       1  0x806edc0  main 
         8       1  0x8071cb8  _strdup < ReadKnownVMs < CreateExecutionEnvironment < main 
         8       1  0x8071cf8  _strdup < ReadKnownVMs < CreateExecutionEnvironment < main 

The output shows that the dbx debugger reports memory leaks if memory is not freed at the time the process is about to exit. However, memory that is allocated at initialization time and needed for the life of the process is often never freed in native code. Therefore, in such cases the dbx debugger can report memory leaks that are not leaks in reality.

Note: Example 3-9 used two suppress commands to suppress the leaks reported in the virtual machine, and the Java support library,

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