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Java theory and practice: Garbage collection and performance
By Brian Goetz - 2004-03-03 Page:  1 2 3 4 5 6

Finalizers are not your friend

Objects with finalizers (those that have a non-trivial finalize() method) have significant overhead compared to objects without finalizers, and should be used sparingly. Finalizeable objects are both slower to allocate and slower to collect. At allocation time, the JVM must register any finalizeable objects with the garbage collector, and (at least in the HotSpot JVM implementation) finalizeable objects must follow a slower allocation path than most other objects. Similarly, finalizeable objects are slower to collect, too. It takes at least two garbage collection cycles (in the best case) before a finalizeable object can be reclaimed, and the garbage collector has to do extra work to invoke the finalizer. The result is more time spent allocating and collecting objects and more pressure on the garbage collector, because the memory used by unreachable finalizeable objects is retained longer. Combine that with the fact that finalizers are not guaranteed to run in any predictable timeframe, or even at all, and you can see that there are relatively few situations for which finalization is the right tool to use.

If you must use finalizers, there are a few guidelines you can follow that will help contain the damage. Limit the number of finalizeable objects, which will minimize the number of objects that have to incur the allocation and collection costs of finalization. Organize your classes so that finalizeable objects hold no other data, which will minimize the amount of memory tied up in finalizeable objects after they become unreachable, as there can be a long delay before they are actually reclaimed. In particular, beware when extending finalizeable classes from standard libraries.

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First published by IBM developerWorks

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