Performance Tuning

Once you have your portal up and running, you may find a need to tune it for performance, especially if your site winds up generating more traffic than you’d anticipated. There are some definite steps you can take with regard to improving Liferay’s performance.


Memory is one of the first things to look at when you want to optimize performance. If you have any disk swapping, you want to avoid it at all costs: it has a serious impact on performance. Make sure your server has an optimal amount of memory and your JVM is tuned to use it.

There are three basic JVM command switches that control the amount of memory in the Java heap.


These three settings control the amount of memory available to the JVM initially, the maximum amount of memory into which the JVM can grow, and the separate area of the heap called Permanent Generation space.

The first two settings should be set to the same value. This prevents the JVM from having to reallocate memory if the application needs more. Setting them to the same value causes the JVM to be created up front with the maximum amount of memory you want to give it.

-Xms1024m -Xmx1024m -XX:MaxPermSize=256m

This is perfectly reasonable for a moderately sized machine or a developer machine. These settings give the JVM 1024MB for its regular heap size and have a PermGen space of 256MB. If you’re having performance problems, and your profiler is showing that there’s a lot of garbage collection going on, the first thing you might want to look at is increasing the memory available to the JVM. You’ll be able to tell if memory is a problem by running a profiler (such as Jprobe, YourKit, or the NetBeans profiler) on the server. If you see Garbage Collection (GC) running frequently, you definitely want to increase the amount of memory available to the JVM.

Issues with PermGen space can also affect performance. PermGen space contains Note that there is a law of diminishing returns on memory, especially with 64 bit systems. These systems allow you to create very large JVMs, but the larger the JVM, the more time it takes for garbage collection to take place. For this reason, you probably won’t want to increase memory drastically. You’ll have to measure your portal’s memory utilization and find a value that’s large enough to do real work besides garbage collection, but small enough so that garbage collection is quick enough. If you have large amounts of memory on your server and your portal is limited by memory, it might make sense to have multiple JVMs with Liferay on a single server, rather than doubling the amount of memory above a certain threshold. If your server is CPU- or I/O-limited, you have other problems.

long-lived classes, anonymous classes and interned Strings (immutable String objects that are kept around for a long time to increase String processing performance). Hibernate–which Liferay uses extensively–has been known to make use of PermGen space. If you increase the amount of memory available to the JVM, you may want to increase the amount of PermGen space accordingly.

Garbage Collection

As the system runs, various Java objects are created. Some of these objects are long-lived, and some are not. The ones that are not become de-referenced, which means that the JVM no longer has a link to them because they have ceased to be useful. These may be variables that were used for methods which have already returned their values, objects retrieved from the database for a user that is no longer logged on, or a host of other things. These objects sit in memory and fill up the heap space until the JVM decides it’s time to clean them up.

Normally, when garbage collection (GC) runs, it stops all processing in the JVM while it goes through the heap looking for dead objects. Once it finds them, it frees the memory they were taking up, and then processing can continue. If this happens in a server environment, it can slow down the processing of requests, as all processing comes to a halt while GC is happening.

There are some JVM switches that you can enable which can reduce the amount of time processing is halted while garbage collecting happens. These can improve the performance of your Liferay installation if applied properly. As always, you will need to use a profiler to monitor garbage collection during a load test to tune the numbers properly for your server hardware, operating system, and application server.

Figure 5.6: Java uses generational garbage collection. If an object survives enough garbage collection events, its promoted to a new memory pool. For example, an object could be promoted from the young generation memory pool to the old generation memory pool or from the old generation memory pool to the permanent generation memory pool.

Figure 5.6: Java uses generational garbage collection. If an object survives enough garbage collection events, it's promoted to a new memory pool. For example, an object could be promoted from the young generation memory pool to the old generation memory pool or from the old generation memory pool to the permanent generation memory pool.

The Java heap is divided into sections for the young generation, the old generation, and the permanent generation. The young generation is further divided into three sections: Eden, which is where new objects are created, and two survivor spaces, which we can call the From and To spaces. Garbage collection occurs in stages. Generally, it’s more frequently done in the young generation, less frequently done in the old generation, and even less frequently done in the permanent generation, where long-lived objects reside. When garbage collection runs in the young generation, Eden is swept for objects which are no longer referenced. Those that are still around are moved to the To survivor space, and the From space is then swept. Any other objects in that space which still have references to them are moved to the To space, and the From space is then cleared out altogether. After this, the From and the To spaces swap roles, and processing is freed up again until the next time the JVM determines that garbage collection needs to run.

After a predetermined number of generations of garbage collection, surviving objects may be moved to the old generation. Similarly, after a predetermined number of generations of garbage collection in the old generation, surviving objects may be moved to the permanent generation.

By default, the JDK uses a serial garbage collector to achieve this. This works very well for a short-lived desktop Java application, but is not necessarily the best performer for a long-lived, server-based application like Liferay. For this reason, you may wish to switch to the Concurrent Mark-Sweep (CMS) collector.

In CMS garbage collection, rather than halting application processing altogether, this garbage collector makes one short pause in application execution to mark objects directly reachable from the application code. Then it allows the application to run while it marks all objects which are reachable from the set it marked. Finally, it adds another phase called the remark phase which finalizes marking by revisiting any objects modified while the application was running. It then sweeps through and garbage collects. Though it sounds more complicated, this has the effect of greatly reducing the amount of time that execution needs to be halted to clean out dead objects.

Just about every aspect of the way memory management works in Java can be tuned. In your profiling, you may want to experiment with some of the following settings to see if any of them can increase your performance.

NewSize, MaxNewSize: The initial size and the maximum size of the New or Young Generation.

+UseParNewGC: Causes garbage collection to happen in parallel, using multiple CPUs. This decreases garbage collection overhead and increases application throughput.

+UseConcMarkSweepGC: Use the Concurrent Mark-Sweep Garbage Collector. This uses shorter garbage collection pauses, and is good for applications that have a relatively large set of long-lived data, and that run on machines with two or more processors, such as web servers.

+CMSParallelRemarkEnabled: For the CMS GC, enables the garbage collector to use multiple threads during the CMS remark phase. This decreases the pauses during this phase.

SurvivorRatio: Controls the size of the two survivor spaces. It’s a ratio between the survivor space size and Eden. The default is 25. There’s not much bang for the buck here, but it may need to be adjusted.

ParallelGCThreads: The number of threads to use for parallel garbage collection. Should be equal to the number of CPU cores in your server.

A sample configuration using the above parameters might look something like this:

JAVA_OPTS="$JAVA_OPTS -XX:NewSize=700m -XX:MaxNewSize=700m -Xms2048m
-Xmx2048m -XX:MaxPermSize=128m -XX:+UseParNewGC -XX:+UseConcMarkSweepGC
-XX:+CMSParallelRemarkEnabled -XX:SurvivorRatio=20

Again, you should always follow the procedure of adjusting the settings, then testing under load, then adjusting again. Every system is different and these are general guidelines to follow. Next, we’ll see some modifications we can make to Liferay’s properties to help increase performance.

Properties File Changes

There are also some changes you can make to your file once you are in a production environment.

Set this property to true to load the theme’s merged CSS files for faster loading for production. By default it is set to false for easier debugging for development. You can also disable fast loading by setting the URL parameter css_fast_load to 0.

Set this property to true to load the combined JavaScript files from the property javascript.files into one compacted file for faster loading for production.

These are various things the Liferay engineering team has done to increase performance generally. If your developers make use of Liferay’s tools and platform, their JavaScript and themes can also take advantage of these properties.

Let’s look at one final, general way of increasing Liferay’s performance: disabling unused servlet filters.

Disabling Unused Servlet Filters

Liferay comes by default with a number of servlet filters enabled and running. It is likely that for your installation, you don’t need them all. Since servlet filters intercept the HTTP request and do some processing on it before Liferay even has a chance to start building the page, you can increase performance by disabling the ones you’re not using.

You can disable servlet filters you’re not using by using your file. Copy the Servlet Filters section from the original file into your customized file, and then go through the list and see if there are any you can disable, by setting them to false.

For example, if you are not using CAS for single sign-on, disable the CAS Filter. If you are not using NTLM for single sign-ons, disable the NTLM Filter. The fewer servlet filters you are running, the less processing power is needed for each request.

As you can see, there are many things you can do to increase Liferay’s performance generally. But don’t forget to load test your own applications! It may be that a performance issue comes from a custom-built application that’s doing something it shouldn’t do. Always load test your system before putting it into production: that’s the best way of finding out potential performance problems, and that way, you’ll find them during performance testing, and not when your system is in production.

Next, you’ll learn how to configure a Content Delivery Network, which can also help with your portal’s performance.

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