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elfmalloc Performance Evaluation

This document describes the performance of elfmalloc in existing benchmarks that have been used to evaluate malloc performance in C/C++. Using the LD_PRELOAD mechanism on Linux, we can get something of an apples-to-apples measure of how our work stacks up.

This document is a work in progress. We are currently working on providing results for more malloc implementations in more workloads. We are also exploring various optimizations for the allocator. Various tuning parameters improve elfmalloc performance substantially in some of these benchmarks, sometimes at the cost of performance elsewhere. We are also still investigating the best balance of these parameters. We are also still investigating the different benchmark settings in use to ensure that all settings are fair wrt different allocators' thread-local cache sizes.

Two variants of elfmalloc

In addition to a standard version (called simply elfmalloc), we provide the variant elfmalloc-l. The -l refers to the use of the LocalCache front-end for the allocator, as opposed to the MagazineCache front-end used in the default configuration. While elfmalloc is almost always superior in terms of both throughput and memory usage, elfmalloc-l is useful for performance evaluation as it provides a "no-cache" baseline for allocator performance.


We use a subset of the benchmarks used in the scalloc paper. These benchmarks come from several teams of developers that have worked on allocator performance over the years. We describe them briefly here, but we encourage anyone curious to examine Section 7 of that paper.

  • Threadtest: This benchmark allocates and deallocates a number of small objects in rounds each round with several allocations, causing thread-local caches to be overrun. While this is performed with multiple threads, we call this workload "thread-local" as all pointers are freed in the same thread in which they were allocated. Threadtest was developed to assess allocator performance during Hoard's development.

  • Shbench: Similar to Threadtest but with varying object sizes and varying object lifetimes. Our understanding is that this benchmark is due to Larson et al.

  • rpmalloc-benchmark: This benchmark performs a (somewhat unrealistic) workload of randomly-distributed allocation sizes. This benchmark is included because it can be configured to provide a succinct producer-consumer workload: one where objects are allocated and freed in different threads. This is the configuration we use in the measurements below.

The data here were gathered using a version of the scalloc artifact. The only modifications to the artifact were tweaks of object sizes (for the "large object" variants) and iteration counts to reduce variance and test robustness for larger workloads. The rpmalloc benchmark is not included in the artifact, so we adapted it to output similar results.

These benchmarks were conducted on a 16-core 32-thread workstation with 2 Xeon E5-2620v4 CPUs on the WSL. We benchmark these workloads at 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 24, and 32 threads. For the (1-8) thread configurations, all use physical cores. For 16 threads, all threads are scheduled on a single socket using all hardware threads. The 24-thread configuration uses some subset of the available hardware threads, this time crossing a NUMA domain. Finally, the 32-thread benchmark uses all available hardware threads across both sockets.

Other Allocators Measured

We include two representative allocators to benchmark against. We plan to add more in the future (e.g. scalloc, which we are having trouble getting to run on WSL due to some mmap-related issues).

  • jemalloc: A mature, efficient malloc used as the default in the Rust ecosystem and used in production at Facebook. We pulled a dev version of this allocator in early August 2017. Many of its numbers appear improved over the earlier version benchmarked in the scalloc paper. link

  • llalloc: An efficient, proprietary malloc from Lockless Inc. link

  • ptmalloc2: The default allocator on Linux. Throughput numbers are expressed as a multiple of the numbers for this allocator. These numbers represent performance for ptmalloc version 2.19; the default present from the version of glibc in use.

  • rpmalloc: link for more information.


We provide measurements of both memory consumption and throughput for the 3 workloads described above. A common theme here is that elfmalloc provides consistently high throughput, sometimes at the cost of increased memory usage. By the same token, if you see an allocator failing to scale up it is worth looking at heap growth for the same workload. Some allocators like rpmalloc return memory to the OS more aggressively than elfmalloc, effectively trading off improved memory efficiency for reduced throughput. We are still working on tuning elfmalloc to be less profligate with memory under certain circumstances.

In order to make the graphs at all readable, we express throughput in terms of a multiple over the performance of ptmalloc2, which is consistently the slowest allocator. For threadtest and shbench, we provide numbers for both small (64 bytes or smaller) and medium-sized (a few KB) objects. For throughput, more is better; for memory consumption less is better.


Threadtest shows elfmalloc having the highest throughput (except for 32 threads, where it is a bit behind jemalloc), at the cost of a noticeable increase in memory usage.

Threadtest Throughput (Small Objects)

Threadtest Throughput

Threadtest Memory Consumption (Small Objects)

Threadtest Memory

For larger objects, elfmalloc comes out on top in terms of throughput for 32 threads. Unlike the case of smaller objects, elfmalloc has memory usage roughly in line with that of jemalloc. One interesting point here is the memory usage of elfmalloc-l. Here we see the counter-intuitive result that increased thread-local cache sizes can lead to lower memory consumption. We suspect that this is because threadtest includes long stretches of allocation followed by relatively limited deallocation, limiting the re-use of allocated pages.

Threadtest Throughput (Medium Objects)

Threadtest Throughput

Threadtest Memory Consumption (Medium Objects)

Threadtest Memory


For shbench, elfmalloc out-performs all competition in terms of both memory and throughput for higher core-counts, though it lags behind llalloc early on.. elfmalloc-l performs similarly well, though slightly worse on average for smaller objects, and slightly better for larger objects. elfmalloc also provides very good memory performance across the board, sometimes better than jemalloc.

Also of note is the memory consumption of ptmalloc2, llalloc and rpmalloc: something about the varying lifetimes of objects seems to trip these allocators up here, as they use over an order of magnitude more memory than jemalloc and elfmalloc.

Shbench Throughput (Small Objects)

Shbench Throughput

Shbench Memory Consumption (Small Objects)

Shbench Memomry

We see a similar improvement for shebench on larger objects.

Shbench Throughput (Medium Objects)

Shbench Large Object Throughput

Shbench Memory Consumption (Small Objects)

Shbench Large Object Memory


Like threadtest, elfmalloc has the highest throughput in this workload at the cost of increased memory consumption.

Producer-Consumer Throughput

Producer-Consumer Throughput

Producer-Consumer Memory Consumption

Producer-Consumer Memory