PartitionAlloc Design

This document describes PartitionAlloc at a high level. For documentation about its implementation, see the comments in partition_alloc.h.


PartitionAlloc is a memory allocator optimized for security, low allocation latency (when called appropriately), and good space efficiency (when called appropriately). This document aims to help you understand how PartitionAlloc works so that you can use it effectively.

Partitions And Buckets

A partition is a heap that contains certain object types, objects of certain sizes, or objects of a certain lifetime (as the caller prefers). Callers can create as many partitions as they need. Each partition is separate and protected from any other partitions.

Each partition holds multiple buckets. A bucket is a region in a partition that contains similar-sized objects.

PartitionAlloc aligns each object allocation with the closest bucket size. For example, if a partition has 3 buckets for 64 bytes, 256 bytes, and 1024 bytes, then PartitionAlloc will satisfy an allocation request for 128 bytes by rounding it up to 256 bytes and allocating from the second bucket.

The special allocator class template <size_t N> class SizeSpecificPartitionAllocator will satisfy allocations only of size kMaxAllocation = N - kAllocationGranularity or less, and contains buckets for all n * kAllocationGranularity (n = 1, 2, ..., kMaxAllocation). Attempts to allocate more than kMaxAllocation will fail.


The current implementation is optimized for the main thread use-case. For example, PartitionAlloc doesn't have threaded caches.

PartitionAlloc is designed to be extremely fast in its fast paths. The fast paths of allocation and deallocation require just 2 (reasonably predictable) branches. The number of operations in the fast paths is minimal, leading to the possibility of inlining.

For an example of how to use partitions to get good performance and good safety, see Blink's usage, as described in wtf/allocator/

Large allocations (> kGenericMaxBucketed == 960KB) are realized by direct memory mmapping. This size makes sense because 960KB = 0xF0000. The next larger bucket size is 1MB = 0x100000 which is greater than 1/2 the available space in a SuperPage meaning it would not be possible to pack even 2 sequential allocations in a SuperPage.

PartitionRootGeneric::Alloc() acquires a lock for thread safety. (The current implementation uses a spin lock on the assumption that thread contention will be rare in its callers. The original caller was Blink, where this is generally true. Spin locks also have the benefit of simplicity.)

Callers can get thread-unsafe performance using a SizeSpecificPartitionAllocator or otherwise using PartitionAlloc (instead of PartitionRootGeneric::Alloc()). Callers can also arrange for low contention, such as by using a dedicated partition for single-threaded, latency-critical allocations.

Because PartitionAlloc guarantees that address space regions used for one partition are never reused for other partitions, partitions can eat a large amount of virtual address space (even if not of actual memory).

Mixing various random objects in the same partition will generally lead to lower efficiency. For good performance, group similar objects into the same partition.


Security is one of the most important goals of PartitionAlloc.

PartitionAlloc guarantees that different partitions exist in different regions of the process' address space. When the caller has freed all objects contained in a page in a partition, PartitionAlloc returns the physical memory to the operating system, but continues to reserve the region of address space. PartitionAlloc will only reuse an address space region for the same partition.

PartitionAlloc also guarantees that:

  • Linear overflows cannot corrupt into the partition. (There is a guard page at the beginning of each partition.)

  • Linear overflows cannot corrupt out of the partition. (There is a guard page at the end of each partition.)

  • Linear overflow or underflow cannot corrupt the allocation metadata. PartitionAlloc records metadata in a dedicated region out-of-line (not adjacent to objects).

  • Objects of different sizes will likely be allocated in different buckets, and hence at different addresses. One page can contain only similar-sized objects.

  • Dereference of a freelist pointer should fault.

  • Partial pointer overwrite of freelist pointer should fault.

  • Large allocations have guard pages at the beginning and end.