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Internal and External Performance Tuning with Tomcat

In this fourth part of a five-part series on performance tuning with Tomcat, you will learn how to tune both Tomcat and non-Tomcat components for performance. This article is excerpted from chapter four of Tomcat: The Definitive Guide, Second Edition, written by Jason Brittain and Ian F. Darwin (O'Reilly; ISBN: 0596101066). Copyright © 2008 O'Reilly Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission from the publisher. Available from booksellers or direct from O'Reilly Media.

  1. Internal and External Performance Tuning with Tomcat
  2. Operating System Performance
  3. Disabling DNS Lookups
  4. Speeding Up JSPs
By: O'Reilly Media
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March 05, 2009

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External Tuning

Once you’ve got an idea how your application and Tomcat instance respond to load, you can begin some performance tuning. There are two basic categories of tuning detailed here:

External tuning
Tuning that involves non-Tomcat components, such
   as the operating system that Tomcat runs on and the
   Java virtual machine running Tomcat.

Internal tuning
Tuning that deals with Tomcat itself, ranging from
   changing settings in configuration files to modifying
   the Tomcat source code. Modifications to your web
   application also fall into this category.

In this section, we detail the most common areas of external tuning, and then move on to internal tuning in the next section.

JVM Performance

Tomcat doesn’t run directly on a computer; there is a JVM and an operating system between it and the underlying hardware. There are relatively few complete and fully compatible Java virtual machines to choose from for any given operating system and architecture combination, so most people will probably stick with Sun’s or their own operating system vendor’s implementation.

If your goal is to run the fastest Java runtime and squeeze the most performance out of your webapp, you should benchmark Tomcat and your webapp on each of the Java VMs that are available for your hardware and operating system combination. Do not assume that the Sun Java VM is going to be the fastest because that is often not the case (at least in our experience). You should try other brands and even different major version numbers of each brand to see what runs your particular webapp fastest.

If you choose just one version of the Java class file format that JVMs you use must support (for example, you want to compile your webapp for Java 1.6 JVMs), you can benchmark each available JVM brand that supports that level of the bytecodes, and choose one that best fits your needs. For instance, if you choose Java 1.6, you could benchmark Sun’s 1.6 versus IBM’s 1.6 versus BEA’s 1.6. One of these will run Tomcat and your webapp the fastest. All of these brands are used in production by a large number of users and are targeted at slightly different user bases. See Appendix A for information about some of the JDKs that may be available for your operating system.

As a generic example of performance improvements between major versions of one JVM brand, a major version upgrade could buy you a 10 percent performance increase. That is, upgrading from a Java 1.5 JVM to a Java 1.6 JVM your webapp may run 10 percent faster, without changing any code in it whatsoever. This is a ballpark figure, not a benchmark result; your mileage may vary, depending on the brands and versions you test and what your webapp does.

It is likely true that newer JVMs have both better performance and less stability, but the longer a major version of the JVM has been released as a final/stable version, the less you have to worry about its stability. A good rule of thumb is to get the latest stable version of the software, except when the latest stable version is the first or second stable release of the next major version of the software. For example, if the latest stable version is 1.7.0, you may opt for 1.6.29 instead if it is more stable and performs well enough.

It is often the case that people try to modify the JVM startup switches to make their Tomcat JVM serve their webapp’s pages faster. This can help, but does not usually yield a high percentage increase in performance. The main reason it does not help much: the JVM vendor did their own testing before releasing the JDK, found which settings yield the best performance, and made those settings the defaults.

If you change a JVM startup switch to activate a setting that is not the default, chances are that you will slow down your JVM. You have been warned! But, in case you would like to see which Sun JVM settings you could change, have a look at http://www.md.pp.ru/~eu/jdk6options.html.

One exception here is the JVM’s heap memory allocation. By default, vendors choose for the JVM to start by allocating a small amount of memory (32 MB in the Sun JVM’s case), and if the Java application requires more memory, the JVM’s heap size is reallocated larger while the application is paused. The JVM may do this a number of times in small memory increments before it hits a heap memory size ceiling. Because the application is paused each time the heap size is increased, performance suffers. If that is happening while Tomcat is serving a webapp’s pages, the page responses will appear to take far longer than normal to all web clients whose requests are outstanding at the time the pause begins. To avoid these pauses, you can set the minimum heap size and the maximum heap size to be the same. That way, the JVM will not attempt to expand the heap size during runtime. To do this to Tomcat’s JVM startup switches, just set theJAVA_OPTSenvironment variable to something such as
-Xms512M -Xmx512M. (This means that the maximum and minimum heap size should be set to512 MB.) Set the size to an appropriate value on your machine, based on how much memory it has free after it boots.

You can also try benchmarking different garbage collection algorithm settings, however, as we stated earlier you may find that the default settings are always fastest. You never know until you benchmark it, though. Check the documentation for the JVM you’re benchmarking to find the startup switch that will enable a different garbage collection algorithm because these settings are JVM implementation-specific. Again, you’ll want to set it inJAVA_OPTSto get Tomcat to start the JVM that way.

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