the Chromium logo

The Chromium Projects


Memory_Watcher is no longer supported. Either tcmalloc tools or UMDH on Windows are good alternatives.

Document kept for historical interest


Memory watcher is a tool that helps to attribute blame for memory usage on a windows build. It was originally coded predominantly by Mike Belshe, and was recently ressurected (and made to run on Vista).

Memory_watcher provides a dump for each Chromium process, of the aggregate information on all memory that is currently in use. It gathers this information by recording stack traces whenever any form of dynamic memory allocation is requested (i.e., malloc, HeapAlloc, VirtualAlloc, GlobalHeapAlloc, LocalHeapAlloc). The dump for each process includes, for each stack that was used above an allocation, a count of the number of still-live allocations, and the total byte counts for those still-live regions. The dumped output is in human readable format (ASCII). The dump is sorted so that the stacks that induced the largest byte counts are listed first. Note that call counts and byte-allocation tallies are not included for memory that was freed (or decommitted). [Future versions may tally stack traces that thrash through allocations and frees in a second per-process dump file]

A second included tool can process the dump file from any of the processes (i.e., either the browser process, or any of the renderer processes) and attribute blame to roughly 20 distinct users of memory. This latter tool will evolve over time to be more precise (and hopefully helpful).


We suggest that you build Chrome using the "Purify" setting, rather than Debug or Release. Debug may have different allocation results from the Release, and Release has cryptic stacks. You'll probably get the best results using purify, which turns off the DEBUG macros, but avoids optimizations that obscure the stacks.

After you've built chrome, select and build the tools->memory_watcher module (right click on it in the "Solution Explorer" tab, and select "Build").

Currently, memory_watcher works only with the Windows Default allocator (the amount of allocated memory should be identical to what happens with other allocators, as only the varying overhead, and fragmentation impact, will not be tallied). To insure that you are using that allocator, you need to either set an environment variable (set CHROME_ALLOCATOR to "WINHEAP" and not to "JEMALLOC", "WINLFH", or "TCMALLOC"; don't set CHROME_ALLOCATOR_2), or you can more thoroughly change the default by editing src/thirdparty/tcmalloc/ To change the default in that source code, you should change the line that reads:

// This is the default allocator.

static Allocator allocator = TCMALLOC;


// This is the default allocator.

static Allocator allocator = WINHEAP; // Equivalent to setting environment variable to "WINHEAP".

Also change the specification of the subprocess allocator by changing:

char* secondary_value = secondary_length ? buffer : "TCMALLOC";


char* secondary_value = secondary_length ? buffer : "WINHEAP";

After making those changes, you'll need to rebuild again, but it will complete relatively quickly.

Finally, you'll need to modify the command line arguments used for starting chrome. You'll need the command line:

--memory-profile --no-sandbox --js-flags="--noprof"

You are now ready to run chrome, and gather stats. Chrome will run a little slower, but it is doing a lot more work on each allocation (i.e., it is recording stack traces). The directory that you use to run chrome will be the directory where the stack dumps appear. If you are running under a vanilla setup with MSVC, this will typically be the src/chrome directory, and NOT for instance the src/chrome/Purify directory.


When you have reached an interesting point that you would like to understand, you can press:


You can only do this once during a run of Chrome. Pressing it again and again will do nothing :-/.

It takes a while to complete a dump. The dump files will accumulate in files named memory_watcher.logNNNN.tmp, where NNNN is the process id of the dumping process. When the dump is complete, the file will be renamed to memory_watcher.logNNNN. Please do not terminate Chrome while the dumping is in progress, or you will get an incomplete dump.


The easiest way is with a text editor, as it is plain ASCII. Unfortunately, it is VERY large, and there will typically be many distinct stacks. To get a summary of any individual dump file, run the script file src/tools/memory_watcher/scripts/ with the dump file piped in as standard input. For example:

./ <memory_watcher.logNNNN

If you have a number of process dumps, it may be convenient to run something like the following in an Msysgit bash window:

for i in memory_watcher.log???? ; do echo from file $i; ./ <$i; echo; done


  1. The total memory listed appears smaller than I would expect, based on other memory tools. I don't yet have the complete explanation for this, but some of the missing memory is surely static initialized data, and code space. Still, that cannot account for what is missing, and this tool will hopefully get better over time.

  2. The file is NOT perfect. It merely attempts to find an "interesting" stack frame, and use that to decisively blame the stack on a specific module. Over time, it will get better. If you think that some dump should be refined in greater detail, and some attribution is too coarse, take a look inside the file. You can make a minor edit to cause the contributors to any bucket-of-blame to be examined more closely, and any "large" contributors will be listed separately (from said bucket), along with their individual stacks. After you've made the edit (and perchance asked for details of contributors to said bucket that are over 100,000 bytes), you should run the script. When you see the stacks, and realize the error of blame, you can then add a new rule to the file, and run it again. If you have a great addition, please consider landing a change list with your improvements!!!

This is a work-in-progress. Please feel free to help it along, or to make suggestions.


Jim Roskind [jar at chromium dot org]