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runtime: mark assist blocks GC microbenchmark for 7ms #27732

dr2chase opened this Issue Sep 18, 2018 · 8 comments


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dr2chase commented Sep 18, 2018

Please answer these questions before submitting your issue. Thanks!

What version of Go are you using (go version)?


Does this issue reproduce with the latest release?


What operating system and processor architecture are you using (go env)?

OSX (also observed on Linux), both AMD64.

What did you do?

This singlethreaded microbenchmark measures GC latency to allocate a byte slice and store it in a big circular buffer, repeating the operation 5 times the size of the big circular buffer (i.e. one initialization and four reuses). Live memory is about 210MB, in the form of the circular buffer
(200,000 slice elements) and 200,000 pointer-free buffers of size 1k.

This version of the benchmark is instrumented to collect a trace, because that's how we figured out that it was mark assist.

The original benchmark source is, adapted here to be more instrumented and more plain-spoken about what it is doing.

package main

import (

const (
	bufferLen = 200000
	msgCount  = 1000000

type kbyte []byte
type circularBuffer [bufferLen]kbyte

var worst time.Duration

// For making sense of the bad outcome.
var total time.Duration
var worstIndex int
var allStart time.Time
var worstElapsed time.Duration

// newSlice allocates a 1k slice of bytes and initializes them all to byte(n)
func newSlice(n int) kbyte {
	m := make(kbyte, 1024)
	for i := range m {
		m[i] = byte(n)
	return m

// storeSlice stores a newly allocated 1k slice of bytes at circularBuffer[count%bufferLen]
// (bufferLen is the length of the array circularBuffer)
// It also checks the time needed to do this and records the worst case.
func storeSlice(c *circularBuffer, highID int) {
	start := time.Now()
	c[highID%bufferLen] = newSlice(highID)
	elapsed := time.Since(start)

	candElapsed := time.Since(allStart) // Record location of worst in trace
	if elapsed > worst {
		worst = elapsed
		worstIndex = highID
		worstElapsed = candElapsed
	total = time.Duration(total.Nanoseconds() + elapsed.Nanoseconds())

func main() {
	allStart = time.Now()
	defer trace.Stop()
	var c circularBuffer
	for i := 0; i < msgCount; i++ {
		storeSlice(&c, i)
	fmt.Println("Worst push latency: ", worst)
	fmt.Println("Worst push index: ", worstIndex)
	fmt.Println("Worst push occurs at run elapsed time: ", worstElapsed)
	fmt.Println("Average push latency: ", time.Duration(total.Nanoseconds()/msgCount))
	fmt.Println("Sizeof(circularBuffer) = ", unsafe.Sizeof(c))
	fmt.Println("Approximate live memory = ", unsafe.Sizeof(c)+bufferLen*1024)

What did you expect to see?

I expected to see a sub-millisecond worst-case latency; the average time without GC to initialize a new slice is less about a microsecond (on a 2017 Mac laptop).

What did you see instead?

Worst-case latencies on the order of 4-10ms.

I'v attached the trace file for the following run:

go run hello.go 2> trace2.out
Worst push latency:  5.193319ms
Worst push index:  780507
Worst push occurs at run elapsed time:  995.334915ms
Average push latency:  1.018µs
Sizeof(circularBuffer) =  4800000
Approximate live memory =  209600000

The worst case latency ends at 995ms, corresponding to a single 5ms mark assist.
A zoom of the trace displaying this is also attached.


screen shot 2018-09-18 at 11 17 12 am

@dr2chase dr2chase added this to the Go1.12 milestone Sep 18, 2018


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thepudds commented Sep 18, 2018

#16528 (now closed) I think might have been cited in discussion of a previous incarnation of this GC benchmark.

Also probably related is this prior blog post:
(where that blog references #16528 as an unfixed cause of the behavior seen in that blog).

And also cited in that blog is this mailing list conversation from 2016:


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thepudds commented Sep 18, 2018

Expanding my comment slightly:

The benchmark code appearing within the text of that 2016 blog:

seems to match the benchmark code that @dr2chase says he used as his starting point above:

Both are from the same original author.

That 2016 blog reported ~7 ms pause time for Go 1.7.3, and at the time #16528 was theorized as the root cause as why the results weren't better (e.g., see the "Why Are the Go Results Not Better?" section there).

In any event, mainly just wanted to mention the older investigation in case that is useful (and apologies if not useful).

@agnivade agnivade changed the title from Mark assist blocks GC microbenchmark for 7ms. to runtime: mark assist blocks GC microbenchmark for 7ms Sep 18, 2018


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dr2chase commented Sep 19, 2018

A bit more info: it turns out that in the original, the 4800000 byte circular buffer was allocated on the stack, and large stack frames are not handled incrementally in the same way that large objects are.

Modifying the benchmark to allocate the circular buffer and store the pointer in a global, the latency falls to 2ms, which is better, though still far worse than expected. In the snapshot from the trace, you can see that the GC work is now shared among several threads, but the worker thread is 100% running mark assist during that interval.

screen shot 2018-09-19 at 9 57 31 am

A different modification, to move the declaration of var c circularBuffer to a global, also shortens the worst case latency in the same way, also with the same 100% mark assist for about 2ms.

screen shot 2018-09-19 at 10 11 37 am

Still to investigate:

  1. is it really policy that the mutator should get hammered like that?
  2. why isn't GC starting earlier to avoid the need for mark assist? That's supposed to happen for stable allocation rates, which this is.

Once mark assist is dealt with, this microbenchmark is likely to have problems with long sweeps, a different, known bug ( #18155 ) that I've also seen in some of these traces. That looks like:

screen shot 2018-09-19 at 10 29 46 am


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dr2chase commented Sep 20, 2018

New summary of apparent subissues:

  1. Stack allocations are not divisible work; can take a long time to process.
  2. Mark assist applied to global and stack allocations (generally, roots) doesn't generate any credit.
  3. Sweeping problem (#18155)
  4. Reschedule (i.e., quantum expires) that discovers a need for GC does not wake other Ps (or, does not check global run queue) (i.e., the work to do expanded by 1, if any Ps are idle, they one should be wakened to take over doing "real work").
  5. (Related to 4?) Dedicated worker doesn't kick goroutines out of its local run queue.

Remaining mystery:
For a stable allocation rate, GC should start soon enough that mark assist is not required. Why doesn't it?

For reliable measurement of steady-state latencies, benchmark ought to do a warmup run first, because rapid heap growth around startup is more likely to provoke mysterious OS interference with progress.


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gopherbot commented Sep 20, 2018

Change mentions this issue: runtime: experimental GC-related changes to scheduling


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dr2chase commented Sep 21, 2018

Lack of credit for mark assist of roots is a contributor to long pauses.
Experiment where root assist halves the distance to completion does much better at pause times (when other delays are addressed either using above CL's hacks or unspeakable other hacks), even down to GOMAXPROCS=2.


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gopherbot commented Nov 1, 2018

Change mentions this issue: runtime: look for idle p to run current thread when quantum expires into GC


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dr2chase commented Nov 5, 2018

Turns out it is in fact policy to allocate up to 10M-sized things on the stack, if they are plain vars and not explicit allocations. See gc.maxStackVarSize in gc/go.go.

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