Working with JRockit Runtime Analyzer

9 min read

The JRockit Runtime Analyzer, or JRA for short, is a JRockit-specific profiling tool that provides information about both the JRockit runtime and the application running in JRockit. JRA was the main profiling tool for JRockit R27 and earlier, but has been superseded in later versions by the JRockit Flight Recorder. Because of its extremely low overhead, JRA is suitable for use in production.

This article is mainly targeted at R27.x/3.x versions of JRockit and Mission Control.

The need for feedback

In order to make JRockit an industry-leading JVM, there has been a great need for customer collaboration. As the focus for JRockit consistently has been on performance and scalability in server-side applications, the closest collaboration has been with customers with large server installations. An example is the financial industry. The birth of the JRockit Runtime Analyzer, or JRA, originally came from the need for gathering profiling information on how well JRockit performed at customer sites.

One can easily understand that customers were rather reluctant to send us, for example, their latest proprietary trading applications to play with in our labs. And, of course, allowing us to poke around in a customer’s mission critical application in production was completely out of the question. Some of these applications shuffle around billions of dollars per week. We found ourselves in a situation where we needed a tool to gather as much information as possible on how JRockit, and the application running on JRockit, behaved together; both to find opportunities to improve JRockit and to find erratic behavior in the customer application. This was a bit of a challenge, as we needed to get high quality data. If the information was not accurate, we would not know how to improve JRockit in the areas most needed by customers or perhaps at all. At the same time, we needed to keep the overhead down to a minimum. If the profiling itself incurred significant overhead, we would no longer get a true representation of the system. Also, with anything but near-zero overhead, the customer would not let us perform recordings on their mission critical systems in production.

JRA was invented as a method of recording information in a way that the customer could feel confident with, while still providing us with the data needed to improve JRockit. The tool was eventually widely used within our support organization to both diagnose problems and as a tuning companion for JRockit.

In the beginning, a simple XML format was used for our runtime recordings. A human-readable format made it simple to debug, and the customer could easily see what data was being recorded. Later, the format was upgraded to include data from a new recording engine for latency-related data. When the latency data came along, the data format for JRA was split into two parts, the human-readable XML and a binary file containing the latency events. The latency data was put into JRockit internal memory buffers during the recording, and to avoid introducing unnecessary latencies and performance penalties that would surely be incurred by translating the buffers to XML, it was decided that the least intrusive way was to simply dump the buffers to disk.

To summarize, recordings come in two different flavors having either the .jra extension (recordings prior to JRockit R28/JRockit Mission Control 4.0) or the .jfr (JRockit Flight Recorder) extension (R28 or later). Prior to the R28 version of JRockit, the recording files mainly consisted of XML without a coherent data model. As of R28, the recording files are binaries where all data adheres to an event model, making it much easier to analyze the data.

To open a JFR recording, a JRockit Mission Control of version 3.x must be used. To open a Flight Recorder recording, JRockit Mission Control version 4.0 or later must be used.


The recording engine that starts and stops recordings can be controlled in several different ways:

  • By using the JRCMD command-line tool.
  • By using the JVM command-line parameters. For more information on this, see the -XXjra parameter in the JRockit documentation.
  • From within the JRA GUI in JRockit Mission Control.

The easiest way to control recordings is to use the JRA/JFR wizard from within the JRockit Mission Control GUI. Simply select the JVM on which to perform a JRA recording in the JVM Browser and click on the JRA button in the JVM Browser toolbar. You can also click on Start JRA Recording from the context menu. Usually, one of the pre-defined templates will do just fine, but under special circumstances it may be necessary to adjust them. The pre-defined templates in JRockit Mission Control 3.x are:

  • Full Recording: This is the standard use case. By default, it is configured to do a five minute recording that contains most data of interest.
  • Minimal Overhead Recording: This template can be used for very latency-sensitive applications. It will, for example, not record heap statistics, as the gathering of heap statistics will, in effect, cause an extra garbage collection at the beginning and at the end of the recording.
  • Real Time Recording: This template is useful when hunting latency-related problems, for instance when tuning a system that is running on JRockit Real Time. This template provides an additional text field for setting the latency threshold. The latency threshold is explained later in the article in the section on the latency analyzer. The threshold is by default lowered to 5 milliseconds for this type of recording, from the default 20 milliseconds, and the default recording time is longer.
  • Classic Recording: This resembles a classic JRA recording from earlier versions of Mission Control. Most notably, it will not contain any latency data. Use this template with JRockit versions prior to R27.3 or if there is no interest in recording latency data.


All recording templates can be customized by checking the Show advanced options check box. This is usually not needed, but let’s go through the options and why you may want to change them:

  • Enable GC sampling: This option selects whether or not GC-related information should be recorded. It can be turned off if you know that you will not be interested in GC-related information. It is on by default, and it is a good idea to keep it enabled.
  • Enable method sampling: This option enables or disables method sampling. Method sampling is implemented by using sample data from the JRockit code optimizer. If profiling overhead is a concern (it is usually very low, but still), it is usually a good idea to use the Method sample interval option to control how much method sampling information to record.
  • Enable native sampling: This option determines whether or not to attempt to sample time spent executing native code as a part of the method sampling. This feature is disabled by default, as it is mostly used by JRockit developers and support. Most Java developers probably do fine without it.
  • Hardware method sampling: On some hardware architectures, JRockit can make use of special hardware counters in the CPU to provide higher resolution for the method sampling. This option only makes sense on such architectures.
  • Stack traces: Use this option to not only get sample counts but also stack traces from method samples. If this is disabled, no call traces are available for sample points in the methods that show up in the Hot Methods list.
  • Trace depth: This setting determines how many stack frames to retrieve for each stack trace. For JRockit Mission Control versions prior to 4.0, this defaulted to the rather limited depth of 16. For applications running in application containers or using large frameworks, this is usually way too low to generate data from which any useful conclusions can be drawn. A tip, when profiling such an application, would be to bump this to 30 or more.
  • Method sampling interval: This setting controls how often thread samples should be taken. JRockit will stop a subset of the threads every Method sample interval milliseconds in a round robin fashion. Only threads executing when the sample is taken will be counted, not blocking threads. Use this to find out where the computational load in an application takes place. See the section, Hot Methods for more information.
  • Thread dumps: When enabled, JRockit will record a thread stack dump at the beginning and the end of the recording. If the Thread dump interval setting is also specified, thread dumps will be recorded at regular intervals for the duration of the recording.
  • Thread dump interval: This setting controls how often, in seconds, to record the thread stack dumps mentioned earlier.
  • Latencies: If this setting is enabled, the JRA recording will contain latency data. For more information on latencies, please refer to the section Latency later in this article.
  • Latency threshold: To limit the amount of data in the recording, it is possible to set a threshold for the minimum latency (duration) required for an event to actually be recorded. This is normally set to 20 milliseconds. It is usually safe to lower this to around 1 millisecond without incurring too much profiling overhead. Less than that and there is a risk that the profiling overhead will become unacceptably high and/or that the file size of the recording becomes unmanageably large. Latency thresholds can be set as low as nanosecond values by changing the unit in the unit combo box.
  • Enable CPU sampling: When this setting is enabled, JRockit will record the CPU load at regular intervals.
  • Heap statistics: This setting causes JRockit to do a heap analysis pass at the beginning and at the end of the recording. As heap analysis involves forcing extra garbage collections at these points in order to collect information, it is disabled in the low overhead template.
  • Delay before starting a recording: This option can be used to schedule the recording to start at a later time. The delay is normally defined in minutes, but the unit combo box can be used to specify the time in a more appropriate unit — everything from seconds to days is supported.

Before starting the recording, a location to which the finished recording is to be downloaded must be specified. Once the JRA recording is started, an editor will open up showing the options with which the recording was started and a progress bar. When the recording is completed, it is downloaded and the editor input is changed to show the contents of the recording.

Analyzing JRA recordings

Analyzing JRA recordings may easily seem like black magic to the uninitiated, so just like we did with the Management Console, we will go through each tab of the JRA editor to explain the information in that particular tab, with examples on when it is useful.

Just like in the console, there are several tabs in different tab groups.


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