Garbage collection in an uncooperative environment



We describe a technique for storage allocation and garbage collection in the absence of significant co-operation from the code using the allocator. This limits garbage collection overhead to the time actually required for garbage collection. In particular, application programs that rarely or never make use of the collector no longer encounter a substantial performance penalty. This approach greatly simplifies the implementation of languages supporting garbage collection. It further allows conventional compilers to be used with a garbage collector, either as the primary means of storage reclamation, or as a debugging tool.

Our approach has two potential disadvantages. First, some garbage may fail to be reclaimed. Secondly, we use a ‘stop and collect’ approach, thus making the strategy unsuitable for applications with severe real-time constraints. We argue that the first problem is, to some extent, inherent in any garbage collection system. Furthermore, based on our experience, it is usually not significant in practice. In spite of the second problem, we have had favourable experiences with interactive applications, including some that use a heap of several megabytes.