Opened 3 years ago

Last modified 3 weeks ago

#13554 assigned enhancement

Switch system allocator

Reported by: waddlesplash Owned by: waddlesplash
Priority: high Milestone: Unscheduled
Component: System/ Version: R1/Development
Keywords: Cc:
Blocked By: Blocking: #15996
Platform: All

Description (last modified by waddlesplash)

We presently use an old version of the Hoard allocator, which is licensed under the LGPLv2. Newer versions are GPL or commercial license only, which is obviously not acceptable.

Benchmarks done by the Lockless group also show that the Hoard allocator has a very worrying performance dropoff for larger allocations, see

Attachments (1)

0001-mimalloc-building-on-Haiku.patch (4.0 KB ) - added by pulkomandy 3 weeks ago.

Download all attachments as: .zip

Change History (33)

comment:1 by waddlesplash, 2 years ago

Description: modified (diff)
Summary: Investigate switching allocatorsSwitch system allocator

PulkoMandy has some (slightly old) notes in #7420. He also links to lockless' allocator benchmark page.

One of the musl libc developers has a more comprehensive analysis of the problems with jemalloc here: -- so it looks like it's not the best choice for us.

comment:2 by waddlesplash, 2 years ago

So, here are the options, collected / condensed:


License: BSD 2-clause
Notable users: FreeBSD, NetBSD, Firefox, Rust
Benchmarks: see Lockless page; [0]:
Pros: Battle-tested, easily tweakable, very fast.
Cons: Bigger memory footprint vs. others, see [1]: for more details. Appears to be optimized for speed over memory, up to 33% overhead for smaller (~30MB) heaps [2]:


Homepage: &
License: BSD 3-clause
Notable users: Google Chrome
Benchmarks: see Lockless page, and most of the other pages linked here
Pros: ?
Cons: Does not release memory back to the system without very specific orders to do so, i.e., it's optimized for very specific high-performance mostly-constant-or-increasing memory workflows (servers, browsers...), rather than a generalized allocator.


License: Public domain or MIT
Notable users: RemObjects, LMMS,
Benchmarks: see [0], [2], [3]:
Pros: Very well balanced between speed vs. memory usage, yet still faster than the competition for most workloads. Well-documented and readable code.
Cons: Not used as widely as jemalloc.


I've left the following allocators out of this analysis for various reasons:

  • nedmalloc. Unmaintained since 2014 and all benchmarks show it underperforming vs. them.
  • bmalloc. Significantly worse-performing vs. the options on this list with no apparent advantages.
  • hoard3. Now GPL only, which is obviously not acceptable for use as a system library.
  • ptmalloc2. glibc default allocator; underperforms vs. all of these.

comment:3 by waddlesplash, 2 years ago

The benchmarks in [0] show that rpmalloc really does have the best memory-performance tradeoff, and even the producer-consumer scenario that rpmalloc lists as a potential worst-case given its design is actually better than most of the competition. Plus, I believe it's already used on Haiku (we have a LMMS port), so there shouldn't be any compatibility issues.

comment:4 by pulkomandy, 2 years ago

A quick read of the rpmalloc readme shows that it avoids fragmentation by using a given 64K page for allocations of the same size (32 bytes, 64 bytes, ...). As a consequence:

  • All allocations are rounded to the next power of two size, at least (I think for larger allocations it is even more)
  • If you don't do a lot of allocations of the same size, you are left with a largely empty 64K page for that size

As a result, while the memory overhead for the allocator itself is low, the drawback is possibly a lot of unused memory, which is technically free, but only allocatable for specific sizes of allocations. As a result you may have many 64-byte blocks free but end up being unable to do a 32 byte allocation, if the system as a whole runs out of memory space.

We should see how this affects our use cases, and maybe it's possible to tweak the settings (several things are configurable). In any case, benchmarks in our real life situation will be needed, there can't be a clear winner without that.

comment:5 by miqlas, 2 years ago

I have a jemalloc recipe somewhere, lemme check it. Here you go:

Last edited 2 years ago by miqlas (previous) (diff)

comment:6 by waddlesplash, 22 months ago

As a result you may have many 64-byte blocks free but end up being unable to do a 32 byte allocation, if the system as a whole runs out of memory space.

Well, if mmap returns addresses already aligned properly (or we create an API that does -- actually I think create_area can do what we want here?) then the wastage will be for size classes instead of alignment. And in that case, as the README says:

Super spans (spans a multiple > 1 of the span size) can be subdivided into smaller spans to fulfull a need to map a new span of memory. By default the allocator will greedily grab and break any larger span from the available caches before mapping new virtual memory.

So we only need to worry about wasting memory to get proper alignment.

But indeed, benchmarks are needed.

comment:7 by waddlesplash, 18 months ago

Blocking: 7420 added

comment:8 by waddlesplash, 17 months ago

Blocking: 7420 removed

comment:9 by waddlesplash, 13 months ago

Resolution: fixed
Status: newclosed

We've switched to rpmalloc in hrev53136.

comment:10 by korli, 13 months ago

For reference, which commit/tag/version was actually imported?

comment:11 by waddlesplash, 13 months ago

Current master branch + a handful of tweaks so it builds as C++ (besides the HAIKU changes.)

comment:12 by pulkomandy, 13 months ago

That fails to answer the question ("current master" will be useless and outdated information in 3... 2... 1...)

The commit that was used is (I guess):

comment:13 by diver, 5 months ago

Resolution: fixed
Status: closedreopened

comment:14 by nephele, 4 months ago

I would like to add as something to keep in mind, even if it won't be used itself i think it still offers some interesting ideas.

comment:15 by waddlesplash, 6 weeks ago

Taken mostly from my comment in #15495:

So, rpmalloc kind of assumes that virtual address space use != physical memory reservation, which of course Haiku does so assume, and with good reason. It also seems to be designed for "high-performance", i.e. 64-bit only where lots of virtual address space waste is fine, and Haiku needs to support 32-bit for a while more (and on non-x86, eventually..)

musl, it seems, is in the process of writing a new allocator, which may be a better fit for us: ​

Original mailing list post: ​

More comments on the design: ​ -- note "- compatibility with 32-bit address space", and "- elimination of heap size explosion in multithreaded apps", which are problems that most modern allocators, rpmalloc included, seem to have.

comment:16 by pulkomandy, 3 weeks ago

Milestone: R2Unscheduled

comment:17 by waddlesplash, 3 weeks ago

Blocking: 15996 added

comment:18 by waddlesplash, 3 weeks ago

Owner: changed from nobody to waddlesplash
Status: reopenedassigned

musl's next-gen allocator is looking like a very good fit, I've been following their progress closely. Once they have deployed it in a production system, I will take a look at switching us to it.

comment:19 by tqh, 3 weeks ago

Nice. IMO the only other serious contender on the list is jemalloc.

comment:20 by pulkomandy, 3 weeks ago

It was not mentionned here, but hoard3 has noticed that GPL was a bad idea and they are now using the Apache License. So, simply updating to the latest version of Hoard may be an interesting option again.

Some benchmarks here: (which I trust a little more than the lockless ones, which are probably biased to show the cases where their allocator works best). But given our experience with rpmalloc, we know there are a few extra things to check:

  • Use of virtual address space, especially on 32-bit systems this is an important factor for us and not something usually benchmarked in modern times.
  • Support for "super aligned" allocations (4K, 16K or more) to implement posix_memalign and similar functions (example use cases: Ruby, WebKit).

Another one to maybe consider:

by pulkomandy, 3 weeks ago

comment:21 by pulkomandy, 3 weeks ago

Attached a patch that gets mimalloc to compile (with gcc8, it relies on modern C or C++ features so this won't go with gcc2). However it crashes when I run the provided "stress" test so I have probably missed something.

Note that it normally needs static TLS, so we should look into implementing that, probably. Dynamic TLS is possible but slower accoding to their documentation.

comment:22 by X512, 3 weeks ago

I tested mimalloc with patch. It do not release memory to system. It also crash if out of system memory.

comment:23 by X512, 3 weeks ago

Memory is released to system if following options are enabled:

mi_option_set_enabled(mi_option_segment_reset, true);
mi_option_set_enabled(mi_option_reset_decommits, true);

comment:24 by waddlesplash, 3 weeks ago

Yes, this is why allocators not designed for use as a system allocator just do not work, they often are designed for specific use-cases and do not function well in the general case; you have to enable non-default options that are not as tested. I would rather we use an allocator actually in use as a system malloc somewhere.

musl's new allocator was designed to work well even in 32-bit address spaces, and from what I have heard, it still performs very well even when used as Firefox's memory allocator.

comment:25 by pulkomandy, 3 weeks ago

We need to do benchmarks, and see what works for us. musl is designed with Linux apps in mind, a lot of apps are running single threaded there, where we have a minimum of 2 threads and usually a lot more. So "system allocator" isn't all there is to it. We also have a lot of producer-consumer type of interactions between the threads because of BMessages (allocated in the sender thread, freed in the receiver thread), which mimalloc does handle reasonably. And because we are mainly C++, there can also be different patterns of allications than what musl would optimize for.

We need to experiment, benchmark, see what works and what doesn't. So yes, musl is a good candidate, but so are mimalloc and jemalloc. We need to compare them in real-world and see how they behave. Then we can decide which one we want to use. We may even end up making different choices for the 32 and 64bit versions of Haiku, if we find that the performance/overhead compromise is indeed very different between the two.

And of course we need to configure the allocator to match our use case, when there are things available to configure.

comment:26 by waddlesplash, 3 weeks ago

No, I've talked with the musl developers, they are absolutely testing with heavily multi-threaded applications (like Firefox, or database servers, etc. etc.)

jemalloc is a terrible idea for all the reasons I've mentioned (and the musl developers mentioned): it is even more aggressive than rpmalloc at mapping in and not releasing memory. So if rpmalloc causes git gc to have pathological memory usage, so will jemalloc (and reading about hoard3 leads me to believe the same thing is true there.)

It's also worth noting that there is a kind of "allocation cache" for BMessages already in the Application Kit which alleviates some of the cross-thread allocation problems, I think.

comment:27 by X512, 3 weeks ago

mimalloc is working fine on 32 bits when system memory allocation fails, crash occurs only on 64 bit. It is hard to debug crash because it is not possible to run programs while all memory is allocated by test program.

comment:28 by waddlesplash, 3 weeks ago

Here's the lead musl developer's analysis of mimalloc:

comment:29 by waddlesplash, 3 weeks ago

(Allocating 2MB "spans" and breaking them up is also what rpmalloc did. It looks like mimalloc is very similar to rpmalloc in a lot of ways, actually, so I would expect it to have similar memory usage problems to rpmalloc with git gc and the like.)

comment:30 by pulkomandy, 3 weeks ago

I'm just saying we should benchmark a few different options and see how they behave. musl may be the best choice, but we should still check how it behaves, know what to expect, and compare it to other options before we make a definitive choice. I'm not arguing in favor of mimalloc or any implementation in particular. Let's do some benchmarks and see what fits our workloads best.

It's not like it's a very complicated thing to do, either, it took me less than two hours to get mimalloc compiling and I think any other allocator would be ported just as easily. So it's worth doing the experiments and then we can decide. There is no point in arguing on the compared selling points of various allocators if we don't put them through our own tests.

We can also uncover other problems, for example, we know that an area-based allocator will end up creating more areas, and we know that our areas have bad performance when you create many of them. So that will be a thing to consider too (and either we'll need to optimize our areas handling, or find a way to not use them too much). We can't handle the allocator as a black box here, and we can't assume anything about our allocation patterns and wether they match an allocator design or not, because we have not measured anything. Going through that will make sure that we identify the limitations of an allocator (or the way it badly interacts with other parts of the OS), and will also reinforce our confidence in whatever choice we make in the end, knowing what we validated against and which things we decided to optimize for. And we will probably find other things to optimize on our side as well.

The problem of releasing memory to the OS is an interesting one. It probably shouldn't be done immediately for performance reasons, you want to keep a few free pages around for some time. So, when should it be done? Every N allocations? Only on request from the low_resource_manager? If so, how is the request forwarded to the allocator? A mix of both strategies, with some automatic release and a more agressive cleanup when the low resource manager asks for it? Is that even possible with each of these allocators?

comment:31 by X512, 3 weeks ago

mimalloc on 64 bit crash here: Accessed address seems valid, strange...

comment:32 by X512, 3 weeks ago

I tried ramdom size allocations in mimalloc and it crashed on free in _mi_segment_page_free.

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