Monday, March 30, 2015

Performance Tuning: java socket timeout

In my previous post I wrote about the socket connect timeout. In this one I am going to write about the other low-level socket timeout - the SO_TIMEOUT. Although most java programmers are probably never going to use the socket API directly, these timeouts are often configurable for higher-level protocols and must be well understood.

The socket timeout (SO_TIMEOUT) is the maximal amount of time that the application is willing to wait for a single read call on the socket to complete.

This timeout only limits the duration of a single invocation of the read method. Consider a higher-level protocol in which your application needs to read a whole line from the TCP connection. For this you could wrap the socket's input stream into a When you read a line from the buffered reader, it will in turn repeatedly call read on the socket and gather the received bytes until a new line has been detected and then return the whole line at once. For a line of 10 bytes (including the new-line) this could translate to up to 10 calls of the read method. Provided that you have configured the socket timeout, this would translate to an overall duration of 10 times the socket timeout - assuming that  each read call returns 1 byte just before the timeout has been reached. As you see, the socket timeout is not well-suited to set timeouts for higher-level protocols. However, without that timeout you will not be able to react to other timeouts.

Let us first see what happens under the hood when no timeout is set - based on the following simple java code:

1. Socket socket = new Socket();
2. socket.getInputStream().read();

This translates to the following syscalls on a linux machine:

1. socket(PF_INET6, SOCK_STREAM, IPPROTO_IP) = 6 <0.000091>
2. recvfrom(6,  <unfinished ...>
3.  <... recvfrom resumed> "Hello back\n", 8192, 0, NULL, NULL) = 11 <4.823417>

On line 2 we see that the JVM invokes the recvfrom syscall on the socket. This is a blocking operation and will only return when data has been received or an error has been detected. In this case, we have received data after 4.823417 seconds. Unfortunately, this call could potentially block forever and in turn block the calling java thread until the JVM has been restarted (calling Thread.interrupt() from within the JVM will not help). The situation might sound like something very exotic but is in practice quite frequent when complex network infrastructure is involved. Imagine that your application has successfully established a connection and now wants to fetch data from the other side. If you forcefully restart a firewall on the way (not giving it a chance to send RST (reset) packets to all connected parties to allow them to gracefully close their connections) or physically terminate the connection and then restart the other party or do a similar thing that causes it to forget about the connection, you will end up in a state known as a half-open connection. A connection can remain in this state forever and so will your read method and in turn the thread that has called it. There will be no way to recover from this without a restart of the JVM.

In order to prevent such scenarios, it is always a good idea to set the socket timeout (e.g. 4444 milliseconds) like this:

1. Socket socket = new Socket();
2. socket.setSoTimeout(4444);
3. socket.getInputStream().read();

If you do that, the JVM will always first poll the socket for data with this timeout and only call the blocking recvfrom syscall if data is available (and the blocking recvfrom call will return very fast in this case). The trace for this code looks like this:

1. socket(PF_INET6, SOCK_STREAM, IPPROTO_IP) = 6 <0.000078>
2. poll([{fd=6, events=POLLIN|POLLERR}], 1, 4444 <unfinished ...>
3. <... poll resumed> ) = 1 ([{fd=6, revents=POLLIN}]) <1.265994>
4. recvfrom(6, "Hi\n", 8192, 0, NULL, NULL) = 3 <0.000155>

We see that in this case the JVM first invokes the poll syscall with the SO_TIMEOUT (line 2) and calls the recvfrom syscall only after the poll returned that there is data to fetch (line 3) . In case of a half-open connection, the poll syscall would return a timeout after around 4444 ms and give the control back to the JVM. It in turn will raise a to inform your thread about the timeout:

1. poll([{fd=6, events=POLLIN|POLLERR}], 1, 4444 <unfinished ...>
2. <... poll resumed> ) = 0 (Timeout) <4.448941>

On line 2 we see that the poll syscall returns a timeout code after 4.448941 seconds. Your application can handle the timeout anyway it wants - either repeating the call (giving the other side some more time to respond) or closing the connection.

In this article we have seen that reading from a TCP socket without setting the socket timeout might lead to java threads being blocked forever. Although the SO_TIMEOUT cannot be used as a substitute for higher-level protocol timeouts (e.g. the whole HTTP response must be received within 4 seconds) it still allows the JVM to take back control from time to time and decide whether to repeat the read call or give up if a higher-level protocol timeout has been reached. If there is one thing that you should remember from this post, it is that you should always set the socket timeout.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Performance Tuning: java socket connect timeout

Timeouts are one of the most underrated features among java developers - they add some complexity to the code without paying off with business functionality. They also force us to ask ourselves unpleasant questions and consider uncommon situations. The failure to correctly understand and use them often results in major availability/performance issues in production systems. This is the first of a series of blog posts covering some of the more common timeouts in the java world. Using a bottom-up approach, I will start with the low-level stream socket API and its connect timeout.

The connect timeout is the maximal amount of time that your program is willing to spend waiting for a TCP/IP connection to be established.

TCP establishes connections using a three-way handshake mechanism - the initiator of the connection sends a SYN packet, waits for a SYN/ACK packet from the other party and responds with an ACK. For the initiator, the connection is considered established as soon as it has received the SYN/ACK packet and has sent an ACK back (sending the ACK is however not really blocking).
The linux network stack re-sends SYN packets if it does not receive corresponding SYN/ACKs on time. The time it waits for a SYN/ACK is doubled every time (aka exponential back-off: 1, 2, 4, 8, ...).  This process is repeated up to a threshold value specified in /proc/sys/net/ipv4/tcp_syn_retries. For a value of 6, the network stack will send 6 SYN packets before finally giving up: the first one right away, the second after 1 second, the third packet two seconds later, and so on until it sends the sixth SYN packet. After waiting for 64 more seconds, it will give up and return a code indicating a timeout. In this case it will take a total of 127 seconds (1+2+4+8+16+32+64 seconds).

Java offers overloaded versions of the call - one with a timeout parameter and one without:

Socket socket = new Socket();
InetSocketAddress addr = new InetSocketAddress(host, port)
socket.connect(addr); // without a timeout
socket.connect(addr, 3333); // with a timeout of 3333 milliseconds

The behavior without a timeout depends on the OS network stack. As we have seen above, in case of my linux it took 127 seconds until the kernel indicated a timeout to the JVM and it in turn raised a During that time, the thread that called the connect method would block and it would be impossible to interrupt it from within the JVM - Thread.interrupt() will have no effect. For many applications that value is probably way too high and might cause your application to reserve resources for long time.

A naive approach to provoke this scenario would be to try to connect to the wrong port / ip-address. In most cases it will not take long until you get a Connection refused. The reason for this is that the network stack on the other side is polite and responds to your SYN packet with a RST (reset) packet - this is the TCP/IP way of saying that there is no process listening on this port. In real life, however, there is a multitude of issues that might cause SYN packets to get dropped (it might be a paranoid firewall somewhere on the way to the other party that just drops your packets without responding in any way, an overloaded switch / router / firewall, misconfiguration in routing, ...). In such cases your program will end up blocking for longer periods of time.
You might be able to reproduce this behavior using one of the IP addresses defined in RFC-5737 - e.g. - this address is not routed and thus no response will be received. Alternatively, you could configure iptables to drop SYN packets to the target port to test how your application reacts to this situation.

Now lets have a look at the overloaded version of the connect method with a timeout. In this case, you instruct the OS to override the default behavior and make sure that it does not wait much longer than your timeout parameter. In this case, the network stack behaves as above but the JVM is given the chance to act after the specified timeout is elapsed.

You can find out how that works on a linux host by recording the interaction between the JVM and the kernel in terms of invoked system calls (aka syscalls). This can be achieved with strace. Consider the following trace snippets:

Without a timeout
1. socket(PF_INET6, SOCK_STREAM, IPPROTO_IP) = 6 <0.000091>
2. connect(6, {sa_family=AF_INET6, sin6_port=htons(1234), inet_pton(AF_INET6, "::ffff:", &sin6_addr), sin6_flowinfo=0, sin6_scope_id=0}, 28) = 0 <0.000156>

On line 2, the JVM invokes the connect syscall without first switching the socket to non-blocking mode. The call will block until the network stack establishes a connection or gives up with an error. In this case we see that it returns 0 (after just 156 microseconds) - meaning that the connection has been successfully established. A failure (the network stack gave up after 127 seconds) could look like this:

1. socket(PF_INET6, SOCK_STREAM, IPPROTO_IP) = 6 <0.000091>
2. connect(6, {sa_family=AF_INET6, sin6_port=htons(1234), inet_pton(AF_INET6, "::ffff:", &sin6_addr), sin6_flowinfo=0, sin6_scope_id=0}, 28 <unfinished ...>
3. <... connect resumed> ) = -1 ETIMEDOUT (Connection timed out) <127.215560>
Line 3 is the actual return from the connect syscall invoked on line 2 after 127.215560 seconds.

With a timeout:
1. socket(PF_INET6, SOCK_STREAM, IPPROTO_IP) = 6 <0.000078>
2. fcntl(6, F_GETFL) = 0x2 (flags O_RDWR) <0.000090>
3. fcntl(6, F_SETFL, O_RDWR|O_NONBLOCK) = 0 <0.000078>
4. connect(6, {sa_family=AF_INET6, sin6_port=htons(1234), inet_pton(AF_INET6, "::ffff:", &sin6_addr), sin6_flowinfo=0, sin6_scope_id=0}, 28) = -1 EINPROGRESS (Operation now in progress) <0.000170>
5. poll([{fd=6, events=POLLOUT}], 1, 3316) = 1 ([{fd=6, revents=POLLOUT}]) <0.000128>

On lines 2 and 3, the JVM switches the socket to non-blocking mode using the fcntl syscall. This causes the connect syscall on the next line to return immediately (well after 170 microseconds) with -1, indicating that the operation is in progress and that the JVM has to check the status of the operation (using poll) actively. On line 5, the JVM invokes the poll syscall telling it to wait up to 3316 milliseconds. In our case this call returns 1 after 128 microseconds, indicating that the connection has been in fact established successfully. It might also return 0 to indicate a timeout (after roughly <timeout> milliseconds), in which case the JVM takes over again and reports the problem by raising a and giving the control back to the java program. BTW, I noticed that the timeout passed to the poll syscall is always around 10-20 ms less than the one passed to the java connect method. My naive explanation is that the JVM starts counting down the connection duration sometime before the call to poll and passes the difference to poll (in this case I called the connect method with 3333 ms, so I guess it started the connection duration measurement 17 ms before invoking poll). In case of a timeout the trace would look like this (poll returned after 3.317667 seconds):
5. poll([{fd=6, events=POLLOUT}], 1, 3314 <unfinished ...>
6. <... poll resumed> ) = 0 (Timeout) <3.317667>

As you have hopefully seen in this article, failing to specify a connect timeout in your application will result in very long non-interruptible blocks in case of network issues. If there is one thing that is guaranteed for network connections is that sooner or later connectivity problems will arise. It is best to prepare for them by specifying meaningful timeouts and not allowing network issues to completely bring your application down.

  • You can trace the interaction between the JVM and the linux kernel using strace. For example the call strace -f -o strace.log -tt -T -s 1024 java -jar socket-timeouts*.jar 1234 0 0 will run the JVM and record all of the syscall activity of the JVM and all of its child processes and write them in a human-readable format in strace.log 
  • You can use nc -l <port> to listen on a port
  • You might be able to simulate a dropped SYN packet when connecting to
  • I used this program available on github to analyze the JVM socket timeouts
  • For details you can check out the manual pages for the syscalls, eg. man 2 connect
  • The examples above are from a JDK 1.8.0_40 running on a 64-bit Ubuntu 3.16.0-30

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Performance Pitfalls: commons-configuration

commons-configuration is a java library that offers a common API to access configuration data from a variety of sources like properties files, XML files, etc. It is a bit outdated but still a convenient way to make certain aspects of an application configurable. One of its great features is that it can be instructed (configured) to reload the configuration automatically. For file based configuration sources, it can check for changes in the underlying files and trigger a reload if necessary. This is pretty handy for test and development (maybe even production) environments as you can make configuration changes without restarting your application.

Unfortunately, all those nice features come at a great cost. Let's have a look at the base class for file-based configuration files - the AbstractFileConfiguration. Access to every configuration item goes through the getProperty method which looks like this:

public Object getProperty(String key) {
    synchronized (reloadLock) {
        return super.getProperty(key);

The implementation first acquires the reloadLock, then it calls the reload method to check whether a reload is necessary and perform it if it is. It then returns the actual property's value. This lock easily becomes a major bottleneck - each and every thread will try to acquire the same lock whenever any property (from the same configuration source) is being read. It is important to note that this behaviour does not depend on the actual reloading strategy and reloading intervals. See also this bug report describing the issue.

Apart from the performance aspects, this implementation might also result in inconsistent configuration being returned during a reload. Lets say your application calls an external service that requires authentication. Lets assume that you store the username and password in a configuration file and use commons-configuration to fetch them every time they are required. Lets say you have agreed on new credentials with the service provider and you are given a few hours to change them. In that period both the old and the new credentials are valid. Now imagine you change the credentials in the file. As we might potentially reload the configuration every time a property is read, you could end up reading the old username and just a moment later reading the new password within the same business operation. This would result in inconsistent credentials and in this case will cause the external service call to fail.

How could this have been done better? Well, to address both issues, one could have designed the library in such a way, that the user is forced to first get the current, read-only snapshot of the whole configuration and then query any number of configuration items from this snapshot. Obviously, reading from a read-only object does not require any synchronization and it would prevent inconsistent values being read as the snapshot is updated only as a whole. The user of this library would be advised to fetch a snapshot of the configuration when she starts processing a business operation and reuse it throughout the business operation. Additionally, one would reload the configuration in the background. If the background job decides that a new configuration is available, it would take all the time it needs to load the new configuration and store it in a new read-only snapshot. Then it would have to use some kind of synchronization (e.g. read-write locks, a volatile field at the very least) to switch the current snapshot with the new one. This operation would only happen if the configuration has actually changed and it would be a fast operation as it would only consist of changing a pointer.

Another issue arises when the same configuration is shared among multiple machines. It is not really possible to guarantee that the new configuration will be loaded at the same point in time. This could be addressed if one would store a validity period for each configuration source. The new configuration is then just appended (the old one has to stick around for a while longer in case servers are restarted before the new one kicks in) to the current configuration with a validity period in the future. This can be done safely in advance and when the time comes (provided that all machines have synchronized clocks), the changes will become visible at the same point in time.

To sum up, my advice is - do not use commons-configuration in any performance critical execution path - at least until version 2 is released and it has been verified that it does not have any major locking issues.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Performance Pitfalls: JEE Singletons

JEE singletons are session beans which are guaranteed to exist at most once per application/JVM combination. They were introduced with EJB 3.1 as a replacement for the "normal" java singletons in a JEE context.

The java pattern for singletons relies on a private static field holding the single instance of the class. The static field is accessible through a static method. The field is either eagerly initialized in a static block or lazily initialized upon first invocation of the method. In order to guarantee that there is only one single instance, the method is usually synchronized. In high concurrency scenario you might use double checked locking and not class level synchronization.

Due to the fact that static variables are stored in the context of a class, such singletons are only guaranteed to be unique within the same class-loader. If you have a JEE application consisting of multiple modules containing the same singleton class, you are in trouble. Each module can (and probably will) have its own class-loader and thus its own static instance of the singleton resulting in multiple instances within the same JVM.

One very important aspect of JEE singletons is the fact that all of their methods are per default synchronized! If not otherwise configured, each singleton gets one read-write lock (check out this for details on read-write locks) from the container. Each method acquires the WRITE lock upon invocation. This effectively means that you can only have only one method of the class being executed at any point in time. If that is what you want, you are fine.

In order to achieve the same behaviour as with a "normal" java singleton (no synchronization of the singleton's methods) you will need to  explicitly switch to bean managed concurrency using the @ConcurrencyManagement(ConcurrencyManagementType.BEAN) annotation. If you need the read-write lock semantics, e.g. you have methods that change the state of the singleton and others that only read it, you can set the default lock mode of all methods to READ (check out section 4.8.5 of the specification) and only annotate the state-changing methods with the WRITE lock mode.

If you just migrate from java to JEE singletons without considering synchronization, you risk getting contention on the singleton's instance methods which would result in poor performance.