Notes on using the Java Flight Recorder (JFR)

Russell Bateman
February 2017
last update:

I'm showing this to profile Apache NiFi remotely, which is fairly complicated, but should provide a more than thorough exposition of Java Mission Control (JMC) and the Java Flight Recorder (JFR). I decided on this sloppy, step-by-step format with comments as I see fit.

Disclaimer: JMC and JFR are not exactly free software. You cannot use them without a contract with Oracle in a commercial, production environment. However, you are free to use them episodically for debugging purposes. (I am not a lawyer and take no responsibility for this interpretation. You cannot hold me responsible for how you use these tools.)

Here are the steps I followed with comments:

  1. Install Java Mission Control and the Java Flight Recorder. This is easy: just download any version of Sun (Oracle) Java beginning sometime shortly after Java 1.7 was released. I'm using Java 1.8.0-112. I have it installed on my local, development host and on my test server (in production, we usually run OpenJDK).
  2. JMC is a GUI console, written in Java (obviously), by which you can view the results of running the JFR. JMC is available on the path ${JAVA_HOME}/bin/jmc.
  3. "Installing" the JFR is merely a matter of launching the Java application you wish to profile using some options.
    One of the options is duration of profiling and another a filename. I supply these options, but I don't make use of them since I control the JFR from JMC and don't care about them. I've left them in by superstition only and have never experimented with taking them out.
  4. The JFR options are order-depdendent, so if you get them out of order on the java command line, which is a problem when running NiFi (until this bug was fixed).
  5. NiFi start-up note: For a while, I got mileage out of changing the value of the third component of java.arg.N in ${NIFI_ROOT_}/conf/bootstrap.conf where these options must be supplied. However, this ultimately bit me and I had to modify nifi-bootstrap/src/main/java/org/apache/nifi/bootstrap/ to make any numeric option order respected. This bug was fixed in NiFi 1.1.2 and 0.7.2, I think.
  6. Because we're going to run remotely, there are additional options for the JVM command line, some order-dependent again, that must be added (to NiFi's bootstrap.conf), to get off-box communication. Note that is my remote server's IP address, 9098 is a port number I chose arbitrarily that does not conflict with anything else going on on my server and that I will need to know in JMC.
  7. Next, I launched NiFi on my remote server and engaged the flow I wanted to profile.
  8. Then, I turned to my local, development host where I launched jmc.
    ~ $ ${JAVA_HOME}/bin/jmc &
    ~ $ ^Z
    ~ $ bg
    ~ $ disown
    ~ $ ^D
    Note that when JMC launches, it's already configured all the running JVM instances on your local host. For our exercise here, we're ignoring those since we're only interested in the remote, NiFi server.
  9. Configure a new entry under the JVM Browser tab by right-clicking in a clear area and choosing New Connection. Fill out the dialog:
    1. Host:
    2. Port: 9098
    3. (I never found that it made any difference whether I filled in User: or Password:.)
    4. Click the Test connection button (and pray). If this fails, you need to keep reviewing the details here ensuring that your java command-line options are correct. Usually Java won't start if you've misspelled anything, but if port numbers, IP addresses, etc. are wrong, the JVM probably won't say anything.
  10. Once connected in JMC, expand the black triangle next to your new connection to see something like:
          MBean Server
        ▶ Flight Recorder
  11. Expand the black triangle next to Flight Recorder. You should see "No Recordings". Right-click this and choose Start Flight Recording.
  12. Fill out the dialog with a Name: and a Recording time: (1 min is the default). You can also add a Description:. There are more options by clicking Next a couple of times. Finally, click Finish to launch the recording. Note: here's where your own mojo comes into play. I am not going to discuss the brains of profiling—only how to set up, launch and use the profiler.
  13. Once the profile recording time has expired, you should see something brilliant and beautiful like:

  14. Down the left margin are icons that lead you to various close-ups. (Click the image above to get it full size.) There are also tabs across the bottom on each information page that this illustration has cut off.

I hope this is helpful. I find Java Mission Control and the Java Flight Recorder to be nicely executed and very useful. Its authors are to be congratulated. The price, for developer use, is just right too.