This page describes some core terminology used in PartitionAlloc. A weak attempt is made to present terms “in conceptual order” s.t. each term depends mainly upon previously defined ones.

Top-Level Terms

  • Partition: A heap that is separated and protected both from other partitions and from non-PartitionAlloc memory. Each partition holds multiple buckets.
NOTE: In code (and comments), “partition,” “root,” and even “allocator” are all conceptually the same thing.
  • Bucket: A collection of regions in a partition that contains similar-sized objects. For example, one bucket may hold objects of size (224, 256], another (256, 320], etc. Bucket size brackets are geometrically spaced, going up to kMaxBucketed.
  • Normal Bucket: Any bucket whose size ceiling does not exceed kMaxBucketed. This is the common case in PartitionAlloc, and the “normal” modifier is often dropped in casual reference.
  • Direct Map (Bucket): Any allocation whose size exceeds kMaxBucketed.

Buckets consist of slot spans, organized as linked lists (see below).


  • System Page: A memory page defined by the CPU/OS. Commonly referred to as a “virtual page” in other contexts. This is typically 4KiB, but it can be larger. PartitionAlloc supports up to 64KiB, though this constant isn't always known at compile time (depending on the OS).
  • Partition Page: The most common granularity used by PartitionAlloc. Consists of exactly 4 system pages.
  • Super Page: A 2MiB region, aligned on a 2MiB boundary. Not to be confused with OS-level terms like “large page” or “huge page”, which are also commonly 2MiB. These have to be fully committed / uncommitted in memory, whereas super pages can be partially committed with system page granularity.
  • Extent: An extent is a run of consecutive super pages (belonging to a single partition). Extents are to super pages what slot spans are to slots (see below).

Slots and Spans

  • Slot: An indivisible allocation unit. Slot sizes are tied to buckets. For example, each allocation that falls into the bucket (224, 256] would be satisfied with a slot of size 256. This applies only to normal buckets, not to direct map.
  • Slot Span: A run of same-sized slots that are contiguous in memory. Slot span size is a multiple of partition page size, but it isn't always a multiple of slot size, although we try hard for this to be the case.
    • Small Bucket: Allocations up to 4 partition pages. In these cases, slot spans are always between 1 and 4 partition pages in size. For each slot span size, the slot span is chosen to minimize number of pages used while keeping the rounding waste under a reasonable limit.
      • For example, for a slot size 96, 64B waste is deemed acceptable when using a single partition page, but for slot size 384, the potential waste of 256B wouldn't be, so 3 partition pages are used to achieve 0B waste.
      • PartitionAlloc may avoid waste by lowering the number of committed system pages compared to the number of reserved pages. For example, for the slot size of 896B we'd use a slot span of 2 partition pages of 16KiB, i.e. 8 system pages of 4KiB, but commit only up to 7, thus resulting in perfect packing.
    • Single-Slot Span: Allocations above 4 partition pages (but ≤kMaxBucketed). This is because each slot span is guaranteed to hold exactly one slot.
      • Fun fact: there are sizes ≤4 partition pages that result in a slot span having exactly 1 slot, but nonetheless they're still classified as small buckets. The reason is that single-slot spans are often handled by a different code path, and that distinction is made purely based on slot size, for simplicity and efficiency.

Other Terms

  • Object: A chunk of memory returned to the allocating invoker of the size requested. It doesn't have to span the entire slot, nor does it have to begin at the slot start. This term is commonly used as a parameter name in PartitionAlloc code, as opposed to slot_start.
  • Thread Cache: A thread-local structure that holds some not-too-large memory chunks, ready to be allocated. This speeds up in-thread allocation by reducing a lock hold to a thread-local storage lookup, improving cache locality.
  • GigaCage: A memory region several gigabytes wide, reserved by PartitionAlloc upon initialization, from which all allocations are taken. The motivation for GigaCage is for code to be able to examine a pointer and to immediately determine whether or not the memory was allocated by PartitionAlloc. This provides support for a number of features, including StarScan and BackupRefPtr.
    • Note that GigaCage only exists in builds with 64-bit pointers.
    • In builds with 32-bit pointers, PartitionAlloc tracks pointers it dispenses with a bitmap. This is often referred to as “fake GigaCage” (or simply “GigaCage”) for lack of a better term.
  • Payload: The usable area of a super page in which slot spans reside. While generally this means “everything between the first and last guard partition pages in a super page,” the presence of other metadata (e.g. StarScan bitmaps) can bump the starting offset forward. While this term is entrenched in the code, the team considers it suboptimal and is actively looking for a replacement.
  • Allocation Fast Path: A path taken during an allocation that is considered fast. Usually means that an allocation request can be immediately satisfied by grabbing a slot from the freelist of the first active slot span in the bucket.
  • Allocation Slow Path: Anything which is not fast (see above). Can involve
    • finding another active slot span in the list,
    • provisioning more slots in a slot span,
    • bringing back a free (or decommitted) slot span,
    • allocating a new slot span, or even
    • allocating a new super page.
By “slow” we may mean something as simple as extra logic (if statements etc.), or something as costly as system calls.


Originally, PartitionAlloc was used only in Blink (Chromium's rendering engine). It was invoked explicitly, by calling PartitionAlloc APIs directly.

PartitionAlloc-Everywhere is the name of the project that brought PartitionAlloc to the entire-ish codebase (exclusions apply). This was done by intercepting malloc(), free(), realloc(), aforementioned posix_memalign(), etc. and routing them into PartitionAlloc. The shim located in base/allocator/allocator_shim_default_dispatch_to_partition_alloc.h is responsible for intercepting. For more details, see base/allocator/

A special, catch-it-all Malloc partition has been created for the intercepted malloc() et al. This is to isolate from already existing Blink partitions. The only exception from that is Blink‘s FastMalloc partition, which was also catch-it-all in nature, so it’s perfectly fine to merge these together, to minimize fragmentation.

As of 2022, PartitionAlloc-Everywhere is supported on

  • Windows 32- and 64-bit
  • Linux
  • Android 32- and 64-bit
  • macOS
  • Fuchsia