1.1 Why Is It Slow?

This question is always asked as soon as the first tests are timed: "Where is the time going? I did not expect it to take this long." Well, the short answer is that it's slow because it has not been performance-tuned. In the same way the first version of the code is likely to have bugs that need fixing, it is also rarely as fast as it can be. Fortunately, performance tuning is usually easier than debugging. When debugging, you have to fix bugs throughout the code; in performance tuning, you can focus your effort on the few parts of the application that are the bottlenecks.

The longer answer? Well, it's true that there is overhead in the Java runtime system, mainly due to its virtual machine layer that abstracts Java away from the underlying hardware. It's also true that there is overhead from Java's dynamic nature. These overhead s can cause a Java application to run slower than an equivalent application written in a lower-level language (just as a C program is generally slower than the equivalent program written in assembler). Java's advantagesnamely, its platform-independence, memory management, powerful exception checking, built-in multithreading, dynamic resource loading, and security checksadd costs in terms of an interpreter, garbage collector, thread monitors, repeated disk and network accessing, and extra runtime checks.

For example, hierarchical method invocation requires an extra computation for every method call because the runtime system has to work out which of the possible methods in the hierarchy is the actual target of the call. Most modern CPU s are designed to be optimized for fixed call and branch targets and do not perform as well when a significant percentage of calls need to be computed on the fly. On the other hand, good object-oriented design actually encourages many small methods and significant polymorphism in the method hierarchy. Compiler inlining is another frequently used technique that can significantly improve compiled code. However, this technique cannot be applied when it is too difficult to determine method calls at compile time, as is the case for many Java methods.

Of course, the same Java language features that cause these overheads may be the features that persuaded you to use Java in the first place. The important thing is that none of them slows the system down too much. Naturally, "too much" differs depending on the application, and the users of the application usually make this choice. But the key point with Java is that a good round of performance tuning normally makes your application run as fast as you need it to run. There are already plenty of nontrivial Java applications, applets, and servlets that run fast enough to show that Java itself is not too slow. So if your application is not running fast enough, chances are that it just needs tuning.