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Panama: Not-so-Foreign Memory. Using MemorySegment as a high-performance ByteBuffer replacement.

Table of Contents


If I asked you to write performance-sensitive code for working with binary data/bytes on the JVM, you'd probably use one of the following:

  • byte[]
  • ByteBuffer
  • Unsafe

These are fine answers -- and, to date, essentially the only answers.

While reading the Panama Memory Access explainer, I recognized a usecase based on hobby projects I'd done lately which (to me) wasn't immediately obvious from the document or the names of the API's:

Panama's MemorySegment API provides a drop-in compatible ByteBuffer replacement with better performance, no 2GB size limit, and proper API's for working with structured binary data.

Even if there's nothing "Foreign"/"Native" about your data, if you're working with bytes & bits, you could likely benefit from Panama.

Let's take a look at how.


I have an avid interest in databases/query engines, and during the past months have been spending most of my spare time studying their internals.

If you write a DB on the JVM, you need be able to read/write binary data efficiently. Educational databases like SimpleDB use ByteBuffer, but we can do better nowadays.

Let's look at a real-world implementation:

What we'll implement is the reading/writing of a database's Heap File Page header using MemorySegment's. The design is taken from CMU's BusTub educational DB:

Header format (size in bytes):
| PageId (4)| LSN (4)| PrevPageId (4)| NextPageId (4)| FreeSpacePointer(4) |
| TupleCount (4) | Tuple_1 offset (4) | Tuple_1 size (4) | ... |

Implementation (Offset-based)

In a proper implementation, the getter/setter would proxy the underlying access to the memory segment. (You don't want to allocate objects and perform extra serialization)

Because that'd be a lot of boilerplate code, what we'll do instead is make a POJO that has fromBytes() and toBytes() method, which will illustrate the same idea:

class HeapFilePageHeader {
    public int pageId;
    public int lsn;
    public int prevPageId;
    public int nextPageId;
    public int freeSpacePointer;
    public int tupleCount;

    // Constructor omitted

    public static HeapFilePageHeader fromBytes(MemorySegment buffer) {
        return new HeapFilePageHeader(
                buffer.get(ValueLayout.JAVA_INT, 0),
                buffer.get(ValueLayout.JAVA_INT, 4),
                buffer.get(ValueLayout.JAVA_INT, 8),
                buffer.get(ValueLayout.JAVA_INT, 12),
                buffer.get(ValueLayout.JAVA_INT, 16),
                buffer.get(ValueLayout.JAVA_INT, 20)

    public void toBytes(MemorySegment buffer) {
        buffer.set(ValueLayout.JAVA_INT, 0, pageId);
        buffer.set(ValueLayout.JAVA_INT, 4, lsn);
        buffer.set(ValueLayout.JAVA_INT, 8, prevPageId);
        buffer.set(ValueLayout.JAVA_INT, 12, nextPageId);
        buffer.set(ValueLayout.JAVA_INT, 16, freeSpacePointer);
        buffer.set(ValueLayout.JAVA_INT, 20, tupleCount);

Implementation (Structure-based)

Using it offset-based in this way is nearly identical to the API you're used to from ByteBuffer. There's not much else to it.

But MemorySegment also offers us a structure-based API, where we can define the shape of our binary data and use varhandles to reference the member offsets.

Implementing that looks something like this:

Note: See "Tips & Tricks" to see how this can be auto-generated

class HeapFilePageHeader {

    private static final MemoryLayout HEADER_LAYOUT = MemoryLayout.structLayout(

    private static final VarHandle VH_HEADER_PAGE_ID = HEADER_LAYOUT.varHandle(groupElement("pageId"));
    private static final VarHandle VH_HEADER_LSN = HEADER_LAYOUT.varHandle(groupElement("lsn"));
    private static final VarHandle VH_HEADER_PREV_PAGE_ID = HEADER_LAYOUT.varHandle(groupElement("prevPageId"));
    private static final VarHandle VH_HEADER_NEXT_PAGE_ID = HEADER_LAYOUT.varHandle(groupElement("nextPageId"));
    private static final VarHandle VH_HEADER_FREE_SPACE_POINTER = HEADER_LAYOUT.varHandle(groupElement("freeSpacePointer"));
    private static final VarHandle VH_HEADER_TUPLE_COUNT = HEADER_LAYOUT.varHandle(groupElement("tupleCount"));

    public static HeapFilePageHeader fromBytes(MemorySegment buffer) {
        return new HeapFilePageHeader(
                (int) VH_HEADER_LSN.get(buffer),
                (int) VH_HEADER_PREV_PAGE_ID.get(buffer),
                (int) VH_HEADER_NEXT_PAGE_ID.get(buffer),
                (int) VH_HEADER_FREE_SPACE_POINTER.get(buffer),
                (int) VH_HEADER_TUPLE_COUNT.get(buffer)

    public void toBytes(MemorySegment buffer) {
        VH_HEADER_PAGE_ID.set(buffer, pageId);
        VH_HEADER_LSN.set(buffer, lsn);
        VH_HEADER_PREV_PAGE_ID.set(buffer, prevPageId);
        VH_HEADER_NEXT_PAGE_ID.set(buffer, nextPageId);
        VH_HEADER_FREE_SPACE_POINTER.set(buffer, freeSpacePointer);
        VH_HEADER_TUPLE_COUNT.set(buffer, tupleCount);

You may be thinking "Wow, that's a lot more code", but (beyond the fact it can be autogenerated) to quote Maurizio Cimadamore, Panama project lead:

Using var handles is very useful when you want to access elements (e.g. structs inside other structs inside arrays) as it takes all the offset computation out of the way.

If you're happy enough with hardwired offsets (and I agree that in this case things might be good enough), then there's nothing wrong with using the ready-made accessor methods.

MemorySegments allow you to create sequences of repeated layouts/nested layouts, and pass indices into the accessors.

So rather than manually calculate byte offsets, you can do the equivalent of foo[i].bar as you would in C/C++:

record Slot(int offset, int length) {

    private static final MemoryLayout SLOT_LAYOUT = MemoryLayout.structLayout(

    // Compose multiple layouts
    private static final MemoryLayout PAGE_LAYOUT = MemoryLayout.structLayout(
            MemoryLayout.sequenceLayout(100, SLOT_LAYOUT).withName("slots")

    // slots[i].offset
    private static final VarHandle VH_OFFSET = PAGE_LAYOUT.varHandle(groupElement("slots"), sequenceElement(), groupElement("offset"));
    // slots[i].length
    private static final VarHandle VH_LENGTH = PAGE_LAYOUT.varHandle(groupElement("slots"), sequenceElement(), groupElement("length"));

    public static Slot fromBuffer(MemorySegment buffer, int index) {
        int offset = (int) VH_OFFSET.get(buffer, index);
        int length = (int) VH_LENGTH.get(buffer, index);
        return new Slot(offset, length);

    public void writeToBuffer(MemorySegment buffer, int index) {
        VH_OFFSET.set(buffer, index, offset);
        VH_LENGTH.set(buffer, index, length);

Further Tips & Tricks

Conversions between MemorySegment and arrays or ByteBuffers

MemorySegment has API methods to convert to/from both arrays of primitives and ByteBuffers.

When wrapping a MemorySegment as a ByteBuffer, there is still a performance gain (see: "ByteBuffers are dead, Long Live ByteBuffers!" presentation in Resources section).

Working with char* (or similar - opaque, sized binary chunk)

If you need to work with the equivalent of char*, you can do it using the MemorySegment.copy() static method:

void setTupleData(MemorySegment buffer, int tupleOffset, MemorySegment tupleData) {
    MemorySegment.copy(tupleData, 0, buffer, tupleOffset + ValueLayout.JAVA_INT.byteSize(), tupleData.byteSize());

Autogenerating reader/writer code for binary data types

The structure-based implementation of HeapFileHeader can be generated automatically, using the jextract tool.

To show how to do this, lets consider the C implementation of our Header structure:

struct HeapFilePageHeader {
    unsigned int pageId;
    unsigned int logSequenceNumber;
    unsigned int prevPageId;
    unsigned int nextPageId;
    unsigned int freeSpacePointer;
    unsigned int tupleCount;

Assuming this is in a file called structs.h, we can run:

  • jextract --source --out /some/dir /path/to/structs.h

What this gives you is all the boilerplate code you'd need to work with reading/writing this struct from binary data using MemorySegment's:

// Generated by jextract
import java.lang.invoke.MethodHandle;
import java.lang.invoke.VarHandle;
import java.nio.ByteOrder;
import java.lang.foreign.*;
import static java.lang.foreign.ValueLayout.*;

public class HeapFilePageHeader {

    static final  GroupLayout $struct$LAYOUT = MemoryLayout.structLayout(

    public static MemoryLayout $LAYOUT() {
        return HeapFilePageHeader.$struct$LAYOUT;
    static final VarHandle pageId$VH = $struct$LAYOUT.varHandle(MemoryLayout.PathElement.groupElement("pageId"));
    public static VarHandle pageId$VH() {
        return HeapFilePageHeader.pageId$VH;
    public static int pageId$get(MemorySegment seg) {
        return (int)HeapFilePageHeader.pageId$VH.get(seg);
    public static void pageId$set( MemorySegment seg, int x) {
        HeapFilePageHeader.pageId$VH.set(seg, x);
    public static int pageId$get(MemorySegment seg, long index) {
        return (int)HeapFilePageHeader.pageId$VH.get(seg.asSlice(index*sizeof()));
    public static void pageId$set(MemorySegment seg, long index, int x) {
        HeapFilePageHeader.pageId$VH.set(seg.asSlice(index*sizeof()), x);
    static final VarHandle logSequenceNumber$VH = $struct$LAYOUT.varHandle(MemoryLayout.PathElement.groupElement("logSequenceNumber"));
    public static VarHandle logSequenceNumber$VH() {
        return HeapFilePageHeader.logSequenceNumber$VH;
    public static int logSequenceNumber$get(MemorySegment seg) {
        return (int)HeapFilePageHeader.logSequenceNumber$VH.get(seg);
    public static void logSequenceNumber$set( MemorySegment seg, int x) {
        HeapFilePageHeader.logSequenceNumber$VH.set(seg, x);
    public static int logSequenceNumber$get(MemorySegment seg, long index) {
        return (int)HeapFilePageHeader.logSequenceNumber$VH.get(seg.asSlice(index*sizeof()));
    public static void logSequenceNumber$set(MemorySegment seg, long index, int x) {
        HeapFilePageHeader.logSequenceNumber$VH.set(seg.asSlice(index*sizeof()), x);
    static final VarHandle prevPageId$VH = $struct$LAYOUT.varHandle(MemoryLayout.PathElement.groupElement("prevPageId"));
    public static VarHandle prevPageId$VH() {
        return HeapFilePageHeader.prevPageId$VH;
    public static int prevPageId$get(MemorySegment seg) {
        return (int)HeapFilePageHeader.prevPageId$VH.get(seg);
    public static void prevPageId$set( MemorySegment seg, int x) {
        HeapFilePageHeader.prevPageId$VH.set(seg, x);
    public static int prevPageId$get(MemorySegment seg, long index) {
        return (int)HeapFilePageHeader.prevPageId$VH.get(seg.asSlice(index*sizeof()));
    public static void prevPageId$set(MemorySegment seg, long index, int x) {
        HeapFilePageHeader.prevPageId$VH.set(seg.asSlice(index*sizeof()), x);
    static final VarHandle nextPageId$VH = $struct$LAYOUT.varHandle(MemoryLayout.PathElement.groupElement("nextPageId"));
    public static VarHandle nextPageId$VH() {
        return HeapFilePageHeader.nextPageId$VH;
    public static int nextPageId$get(MemorySegment seg) {
        return (int)HeapFilePageHeader.nextPageId$VH.get(seg);
    public static void nextPageId$set( MemorySegment seg, int x) {
        HeapFilePageHeader.nextPageId$VH.set(seg, x);
    public static int nextPageId$get(MemorySegment seg, long index) {
        return (int)HeapFilePageHeader.nextPageId$VH.get(seg.asSlice(index*sizeof()));
    public static void nextPageId$set(MemorySegment seg, long index, int x) {
        HeapFilePageHeader.nextPageId$VH.set(seg.asSlice(index*sizeof()), x);
    static final VarHandle freeSpacePointer$VH = $struct$LAYOUT.varHandle(MemoryLayout.PathElement.groupElement("freeSpacePointer"));
    public static VarHandle freeSpacePointer$VH() {
        return HeapFilePageHeader.freeSpacePointer$VH;
    public static int freeSpacePointer$get(MemorySegment seg) {
        return (int)HeapFilePageHeader.freeSpacePointer$VH.get(seg);
    public static void freeSpacePointer$set( MemorySegment seg, int x) {
        HeapFilePageHeader.freeSpacePointer$VH.set(seg, x);
    public static int freeSpacePointer$get(MemorySegment seg, long index) {
        return (int)HeapFilePageHeader.freeSpacePointer$VH.get(seg.asSlice(index*sizeof()));
    public static void freeSpacePointer$set(MemorySegment seg, long index, int x) {
        HeapFilePageHeader.freeSpacePointer$VH.set(seg.asSlice(index*sizeof()), x);
    static final VarHandle tupleCount$VH = $struct$LAYOUT.varHandle(MemoryLayout.PathElement.groupElement("tupleCount"));
    public static VarHandle tupleCount$VH() {
        return HeapFilePageHeader.tupleCount$VH;
    public static int tupleCount$get(MemorySegment seg) {
        return (int)HeapFilePageHeader.tupleCount$VH.get(seg);
    public static void tupleCount$set( MemorySegment seg, int x) {
        HeapFilePageHeader.tupleCount$VH.set(seg, x);
    public static int tupleCount$get(MemorySegment seg, long index) {
        return (int)HeapFilePageHeader.tupleCount$VH.get(seg.asSlice(index*sizeof()));
    public static void tupleCount$set(MemorySegment seg, long index, int x) {
        HeapFilePageHeader.tupleCount$VH.set(seg.asSlice(index*sizeof()), x);
    public static long sizeof() { return $LAYOUT().byteSize(); }
    public static MemorySegment allocate(SegmentAllocator allocator) { return allocator.allocate($LAYOUT()); }
    public static MemorySegment allocateArray(int len, SegmentAllocator allocator) {
        return allocator.allocate(MemoryLayout.sequenceLayout(len, $LAYOUT()));
    public static MemorySegment ofAddress(MemoryAddress addr, MemorySession session) { return RuntimeHelper.asArray(addr, $LAYOUT(), 1, session); }

Resources, Thanks & Acknowledgements

I'd like to thank the folks on the panama-dev mailing list that took time to respond to my questions.

I'd also like to thank John Vornee for explaining the alignment rules to me and helping troubleshoot my code on stackoverflow

Future Discussion

This post hardly scratches the surface of the Foreign Memory API

Writing a DB involves managing memory allocation and a buffer pool.

There are some incredibly nifty tools in the Foreign Memory API, like the SegmentAllocator interface and it's arena-allocation methods

I think it'd be interesting to do a follow-up post on the implementation of a buffer pool and memory-management strategies with the Foreign Memory methods, but I've got to figure that all out first.