A redesign of the NamePool

By Michael Kay on June 24, 2015 at 02:39p.m.

As explained in my previous post, the NamePool in Saxon is a potential problem for scaleability, both because access can cause contention, and also because it has serious limits on the number of names it can hold: there's a maximum of one million QNames, and performance starts getting seriously bad long before this limit is reached.

Essentially, the old NamePool is a home-grown hash table. It uses a fixed number of buckets (1024), and when hash collisions occur, the chains of hash duplicates are searched serially. The fact that the number of buckets is fixed, and entries are only added to the end of a chain, is what makes it (reasonably) safe for read access to the pool to occur without locking.

One thing I have been doing over a period of time is to reduce the amount of unnecessary use of the NamePool. Most recently I've changed the implementation of the schema component model so that references from one schema component to another are no longer implemented using NamePool fingerprints. But this is peripheral: the core usage of the NamePool for comparing names in a query against names in a source document will always remain the dominant usage, and we need to make this scaleable as parallelism increases.

Today I've been exploring an alternative design for the NamePool (and some variations on the implementation of the design). The new design has at its core two Java ConcurrentHashMaps, one from QNames to fingerprints, and one from fingerprints to QNames. The ConcurrentHashMap, which was introduced in Java 5, doesn't just offer safe multi-threaded access, it also offers very low contention: it uses fine-grained locking to ensure that multiple writers, and any number of readers, can access the data structure simulaneously.

Using two maps, one of which is the inverse of the other, at first seemed a problem. How can we ensure that the two maps are consistent with each other, without updating both under an exclusive lock, which would negate all the benefits? The answer is that we can't completely, but we can get close enough.

The logic is like this:

private final ConcurrentHashMap<StructuredQName, Integer> qNameToInteger = new ConcurrentHashMap<StructuredQName, Integer>(1000);
private final ConcurrentHashMap<Integer, StructuredQName> integerToQName = new ConcurrentHashMap<Integer, StructuredQName>(1000);
private AtomicInteger unique = new AtomicInteger();

// Allocate fingerprint to QName

Integer existing = qNameToInteger.get(qName);
if (existing != null) {
    return existing;
Integer next = unique.getAndIncrement();
existing = qNameToInteger.putIfAbsent(qName, next);
if (existing == null) {
    integerToQName.put(next, qName);
    return next;
} else {
    return existing;

Now, there are several things slightly unsafe about this. We might find that the QName doesn't exist in the map on our first look, but by the time we get to the "putIfAbsent" call, someone else has added it. The worst that happens here is that we've used up an integer from the "unique" sequence unnecessarily. Also, someone else doing concurrent read access might see the NamePool in a state where one map has been updated and the other hasn't. But I believe this doesn't matter: clients aren't going to look for a fingerprint in the map unless they have good reason to believe that fingerprint exists, and it's highly implausible that this knowledge comes from a different thread that has only just added the fingerprint to the map.

There's another ConcurrentHashMap involved as well, which is a map from URIs to lists of prefixes used in conjunction with that URI. I won't go into that detail.

The external interface to the NamePool doesn't change at all by this redesign. We still use 20-bit fingerprints plus 10-bit prefix codes, so we still have the limit of a million distinct names. But performance no longer degrades when we get close to that limit; and the limit is no longer quite so hard-coded.

My first attempt at measuring the performance of this found the expected benefits in scalability as the concurrency increases and as the size of the vocabulary increases, but the performance under more normal conditions was worse than the existing design: execution time of 5s versus 3s for executing 100,000 cycles each of which performed an addition (from a pool of 10,000 distinct names so 90% of the additions were already present) followed by 20 retrievals.

I suspected that the performance degradation was caused by the need to update two maps, whereas the existing design only uses one (it's cleverly done so that the fingerprint generated for a QName is closely related to its hash key, which enables us to use the fingerprint to navigate back into the hash table to reconstruct the original QName).

But it turned out that the cause was somewhere else. The old NamePool design was hashing QNames by considering only the local part of the name and ignoring the namespace URI, whereas the new design was computing a hash based on both the local name and the URI. Because URIs are often rather long, computing the hash code is expensive, and in this case it adds very little value: it's unusual for the same local name to be associated with more than one URI, and when it happens, the hash table is perfectly able to cope with the collision. By changing the hashing on QName objects to consider only the local name, the costs for the new design came down slightly below the current implementation (about 10% better, not enough to be noticeable).

So I feel comfortable putting this into production. There are a dozen test cases failing (out of 20,000) which I need to sort out first, but it all looks very promising.