how to run out of memory: let binaries leverage the heap

Shawn Pearce <>
Thu Sep 26 17:49:59 CEST 2002


The binary garbage is being created because the GC isn't
kicking in to release it.  Since the binaries are quite
large, they fill memory very quickly.  What Matthias
is pointing out is a flaw in the Erlang GC where the
size of the pointer to the binary is being considered
for memory usage, and not the binary itself.  So the
tail recursion is creating small bits of garbage on
each loop (a pointer to the binary), but lots of
garbage (the binary) which isn't being accounted
for.

The tail recursion is however using constant space
on the stack, like a loop.  Its just the memory being
created during each iteration that is the problem
here.

Laszlo Varga <> wrote:
> Hi,
> sorry for my stupidity, but I've been thought that
> tail recursion needs constant space (as it is a loop).
> 
> Then why binary garbage?
> 
> Laszlo
> 
> mailto: 
> 
> > X-Original-Recipient: <>
> > MIME-Version: 1.0
> > Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
> > Date: Thu, 26 Sep 2002 16:59:00 +0200
> > From: Matthias Lang <>
> > To: 
> > Subject: how to run out of memory: let binaries leverage the heap
> > 
> > Hi,
> > 
> > A problem that bites me a couple of times a year is this: some piece
> > of code involving binaries causes the Erlang VM to expand its memory
> > footprint enormously for no particularly good reason. The Erlang VM
> > then dies because it can't allocate more ram.
> > 
> > Here's how to do it:
> > 
> >       1. Make the heap grow by doing something memory-intensive. Cross
> >          your fingers and hope that you get left with a half-full heap.
> > 
> >       2. Do something tail-recursive which involves creating a lot
> >          binary garbage.
> > 
> >       3. Watch the VM expand to many times the original heap size.
> > 
> > The problem at the bottom of this is that the size of binaries created
> > (or referenced) by a process has very little effect on when that
> > process will be GCed next. Binaries can be large, the references to
> > them are small.
> > 
> > I've attached a little program which demonstrates this. On my machine
> > (linux, x86), it'll happily eat 60M before a being GCed back down to
> > 6M. On an embedded system with just 32M, this is a bit of a bummer.
> > 
> > What's the solution? Specifying {fullsweep_after, 0} in the spawn
> > option doesn't help much (as the attached example
> > demonstrates). Forcing a GC immediately before a "binary-intensive"
> > series of operations helps a lot. Any cleaner or better ideas?
> > 
> > Does the (HIPE) unified heap put binaries on that heap?
> > 
> > Matthias
> > 
> 

-- 
Shawn.

You work very hard.  Don't try to think as well.



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