There are use cases where data need to be read from source to a sink without modification. In code this might look quite simple: for example in Java, you may read data from one InputStream chunk by chunk into a small buffer (typically 8KB), and feed them into the OutputStream, or even better, you could create a PipedInputStream, which is basically just a util that maintains that buffer for you. However, if low latency is crucial to your software, this might be quite expensive from the OS perspective and I shall explain.

What happens under the hood

Well, here’s what happens when the above code is used:

  1. JVM sends read() syscall.
  2. OS context switches to kernel mode and reads data into the input socket buffer.
  3. OS kernel then copies data into user buffer, and context switches back to user mode. read() returns.
  4. JVM processes code logic and sends write() syscall.
  5. OS context switches to kernel mode and copies data from user buffer to output socket buffer.
  6. OS returns to user mode and logic in JVM continues.
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Shawn Xu

Full-stack Software Engineer in Bay Area