The Middle Path and the Solution to Linux Swap

I’m enamored by the middle path.

Basically, the idea is that extremism is an evil and often ideological perspectives are non-optimial solutions.

The Dalai Lama has pursued a middle path solution to the issue of Tibetan independence.

The two opposing philosophies in this situation are total and complete control of Tibet by the Chinese or complete political freedom by the Tibetan people and self governance. The Dalai Lama proposes an alternative whereby China and Tibet pursue stability and co-existence between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples based on equality and mutual co-operation.

How does this apply to Linux?

The current question of swap revolves around using NO swap at all or using swap to page out some portion of your application onto disk.

Even with the SplitLRU patch we’re still seeing problems with Linux swap.

The entire question is Mu

The solution isn’t to disable swap. The solution is to use a SMALL amount of swap (100-200MB) and monitor your application to detect when it is swapping and then tune back the memory usage of your application.

The difficulty is that you often want to use the maximum about of memory in the system. Imagine a theoretical system that efficiently uses 100% of system memory. An overcommitted application might allocate a BIT more and cause the OOM killer to kick in.

This would be horrible. Instead, why not just page 10-20 bytes.. It’s not going to have devastating effects on the system and if you’re monitoring it you can decide to tune back your memory usage by 100MB or so.

We have this happen from time to time with MySQL. We allocate slightly too much memory only to have the OOM killer kick in and kill MySQL – not fun.

Using a large swap file isn’t the solution either. If you overtune you can swap out a large portion of your application. This can essentially yield a denial of service as the load on your server becomes so high that you can’t even SSH in after hours of usage. The only solution is to reboot the box.

Using a small swap file avoids this. If you’re swapping more than say 50MB you can have your monitoring system kick in and alert you before the limit is hit and your OOM killer kicks in.

We’re experimenting with this idea this week and I’m optimistic about the results.


  1. joe

    “Even with the SplitLRU patch we’re still seeing problems with Linux swap.”

    Try to contact Rik van Riel. He wrote an entry about your success story in his blog. I’m pretty sure he is willing to help out!

    http://surriel.com/node/26

  2. I would say it was a success…. we’re using like 95% of our memory.

    I’m not even sure this is related to SplitLRU….. This might be another issue on top …






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