Kernel Samepage Merging¶
KSM is a memory-saving de-duplication feature, enabled by CONFIG_KSM=y,
added to the Linux kernel in 2.6.32. See
mm/ksm.c for its implementation,
and http://lwn.net/Articles/306704/ and https://lwn.net/Articles/330589/
KSM was originally developed for use with KVM (where it was known as Kernel Shared Memory), to fit more virtual machines into physical memory, by sharing the data common between them. But it can be useful to any application which generates many instances of the same data.
The KSM daemon ksmd periodically scans those areas of user memory which have been registered with it, looking for pages of identical content which can be replaced by a single write-protected page (which is automatically copied if a process later wants to update its content). The amount of pages that KSM daemon scans in a single pass and the time between the passes are configured using sysfs interface
KSM only merges anonymous (private) pages, never pagecache (file) pages. KSM's merged pages were originally locked into kernel memory, but can now be swapped out just like other user pages (but sharing is broken when they are swapped back in: ksmd must rediscover their identity and merge again).
Controlling KSM with madvise¶
KSM only operates on those areas of address space which an application has advised to be likely candidates for merging, by using the madvise(2) system call:
int madvise(addr, length, MADV_MERGEABLE)
The app may call
int madvise(addr, length, MADV_UNMERGEABLE)
to cancel that advice and restore unshared pages: whereupon KSM unmerges whatever it merged in that range. Note: this unmerging call may suddenly require more memory than is available - possibly failing with EAGAIN, but more probably arousing the Out-Of-Memory killer.
If KSM is not configured into the running kernel, madvise MADV_MERGEABLE and MADV_UNMERGEABLE simply fail with EINVAL. If the running kernel was built with CONFIG_KSM=y, those calls will normally succeed: even if the KSM daemon is not currently running, MADV_MERGEABLE still registers the range for whenever the KSM daemon is started; even if the range cannot contain any pages which KSM could actually merge; even if MADV_UNMERGEABLE is applied to a range which was never MADV_MERGEABLE.
If a region of memory must be split into at least one new MADV_MERGEABLE
or MADV_UNMERGEABLE region, the madvise may return ENOMEM if the process
vm.max_map_count (see Documentation for /proc/sys/vm/).
Like other madvise calls, they are intended for use on mapped areas of the user address space: they will report ENOMEM if the specified range includes unmapped gaps (though working on the intervening mapped areas), and might fail with EAGAIN if not enough memory for internal structures.
Applications should be considerate in their use of MADV_MERGEABLE, restricting its use to areas likely to benefit. KSM's scans may use a lot of processing power: some installations will disable KSM for that reason.
KSM daemon sysfs interface¶
The KSM daemon is controlled by sysfs files in
readable by all but writable only by root:
how many pages to scan before ksmd goes to sleep e.g.
echo 100 > /sys/kernel/mm/ksm/pages_to_scan.
The pages_to_scan value cannot be changed if
advisor_modehas been set to scan-time.
Default: 100 (chosen for demonstration purposes)
how many milliseconds ksmd should sleep before next scan e.g.
echo 20 > /sys/kernel/mm/ksm/sleep_millisecs
Default: 20 (chosen for demonstration purposes)
specifies if pages from different NUMA nodes can be merged. When set to 0, ksm merges only pages which physically reside in the memory area of same NUMA node. That brings lower latency to access of shared pages. Systems with more nodes, at significant NUMA distances, are likely to benefit from the lower latency of setting 0. Smaller systems, which need to minimize memory usage, are likely to benefit from the greater sharing of setting 1 (default). You may wish to compare how your system performs under each setting, before deciding on which to use.
merge_across_nodessetting can be changed only when there are no ksm shared pages in the system: set run 2 to unmerge pages first, then to 1 after changing
merge_across_nodes, to remerge according to the new setting.
Default: 1 (merging across nodes as in earlier releases)
set to 0 to stop ksmd from running but keep merged pages,
set to 1 to run ksmd e.g.
echo 1 > /sys/kernel/mm/ksm/run,
set to 2 to stop ksmd and unmerge all pages currently merged, but leave mergeable areas registered for next run.
Default: 0 (must be changed to 1 to activate KSM, except if CONFIG_SYSFS is disabled)
specifies whether empty pages (i.e. allocated pages that only contain zeroes) should be treated specially. When set to 1, empty pages are merged with the kernel zero page(s) instead of with each other as it would happen normally. This can improve the performance on architectures with coloured zero pages, depending on the workload. Care should be taken when enabling this setting, as it can potentially degrade the performance of KSM for some workloads, for example if the checksums of pages candidate for merging match the checksum of an empty page. This setting can be changed at any time, it is only effective for pages merged after the change.
Default: 0 (normal KSM behaviour as in earlier releases)
Maximum sharing allowed for each KSM page. This enforces a deduplication limit to avoid high latency for virtual memory operations that involve traversal of the virtual mappings that share the KSM page. The minimum value is 2 as a newly created KSM page will have at least two sharers. The higher this value the faster KSM will merge the memory and the higher the deduplication factor will be, but the slower the worst case virtual mappings traversal could be for any given KSM page. Slowing down this traversal means there will be higher latency for certain virtual memory operations happening during swapping, compaction, NUMA balancing and page migration, in turn decreasing responsiveness for the caller of those virtual memory operations. The scheduler latency of other tasks not involved with the VM operations doing the virtual mappings traversal is not affected by this parameter as these traversals are always schedule friendly themselves.
specifies how frequently KSM checks the metadata of the pages that hit the deduplication limit for stale information. Smaller milllisecs values will free up the KSM metadata with lower latency, but they will make ksmd use more CPU during the scan. It's a noop if not a single KSM page hit the
Historically KSM checked every candidate page for each scan. It did not take into account historic information. When smart scan is enabled, pages that have previously not been de-duplicated get skipped. How often these pages are skipped depends on how often de-duplication has already been tried and failed. By default this optimization is enabled. The
pages_skippedmetric shows how effective the setting is.
advisor_modeselects the current advisor. Two modes are supported: none and scan-time. The default is none. By setting
advisor_modeto scan-time, the scan time advisor is enabled. The section about
advisorexplains in detail how the scan time advisor works.
specifies the upper limit of the cpu percent usage of the ksmd background thread. The default is 70.
specifies the target scan time in seconds to scan all the candidate pages. The default value is 200 seconds.
specifies the lower limit of the
pages_to_scanparameter of the scan time advisor. The default is 500.
specifies the upper limit of the
pages_to_scanparameter of the scan time advisor. The default is 30000.
The effectiveness of KSM and MADV_MERGEABLE is shown in
how effective is KSM. The calculation is explained below.
how many pages are being scanned for ksm
how many shared pages are being used
how many more sites are sharing them i.e. how much saved
how many pages unique but repeatedly checked for merging
how many pages changing too fast to be placed in a tree
how many pages did the "smart" page scanning algorithm skip
how many times all mergeable areas have been scanned
the number of KSM pages that hit the
number of duplicated KSM pages
how many zero pages that are still mapped into processes were mapped by KSM when deduplicating.
use_zero_pages is/was enabled, the sum of
ksm_zero_pages represents the actual number of pages saved by KSM.
use_zero_pages has never been enabled,
ksm_zero_pages is 0.
A high ratio of
pages_shared indicates good
sharing, but a high ratio of
indicates wasted effort.
pages_volatile embraces several
different kinds of activity, but a high proportion there would also
indicate poor use of madvise MADV_MERGEABLE.
The maximum possible
pages_sharing/pages_shared ratio is limited by the
max_page_sharing tunable. To increase the ratio
be increased accordingly.
Monitoring KSM profit¶
KSM can save memory by merging identical pages, but also can consume additional memory, because it needs to generate a number of rmap_items to save each scanned page's brief rmap information. Some of these pages may be merged, but some may not be abled to be merged after being checked several times, which are unprofitable memory consumed.
How to determine whether KSM save memory or consume memory in system-wide range? Here is a simple approximate calculation for reference:
general_profit =~ ksm_saved_pages * sizeof(page) - (all_rmap_items) * sizeof(rmap_item);
where ksm_saved_pages equals to the sum of
ksm_zero_pagesof the system, and all_rmap_items can be easily obtained by summing
The KSM profit inner a single process can be similarly obtained by the following approximate calculation:
process_profit =~ ksm_saved_pages * sizeof(page) - ksm_rmap_items * sizeof(rmap_item).
where ksm_saved_pages equals to the sum of
ksm_zero_pages, both of which are shown under the directory
/proc/<pid>/ksm_stat, and ksm_rmap_items is also shown in
/proc/<pid>/ksm_stat. The process profit is also shown in
From the perspective of application, a high ratio of
ksm_merging_pages means a bad madvise-applied policy, so developers or
administrators have to rethink how to change madvise policy. Giving an example
for reference, a page's size is usually 4K, and the rmap_item's size is
separately 32B on 32-bit CPU architecture and 64B on 64-bit CPU architecture.
so if the
ksm_rmap_items/ksm_merging_pages ratio exceeds 64 on 64-bit CPU
or exceeds 128 on 32-bit CPU, then the app's madvise policy should be dropped,
because the ksm profit is approximately zero or negative.
Monitoring KSM events¶
There are some counters in /proc/vmstat that may be used to monitor KSM events. KSM might help save memory, it's a tradeoff by may suffering delay on KSM COW or on swapping in copy. Those events could help users evaluate whether or how to use KSM. For example, if cow_ksm increases too fast, user may decrease the range of madvise(, , MADV_MERGEABLE).
is incremented every time a KSM page triggers copy on write (COW) when users try to write to a KSM page, we have to make a copy.
is incremented every time a KSM page is copied when swapping in note that KSM page might be copied when swapping in because do_swap_page() cannot do all the locking needed to reconstitute a cross-anon_vma KSM page.
The number of candidate pages for KSM is dynamic. It can be often observed
that during the startup of an application more candidate pages need to be
processed. Without an advisor the
pages_to_scan parameter needs to be
sized for the maximum number of candidate pages. The scan time advisor can
pages_to_scan parameter based on demand.
The advisor can be enabled, so KSM can automatically adapt to changes in the number of candidate pages to scan. Two advisors are implemented: none and scan-time. With none, no advisor is enabled. The default is none.
The scan time advisor changes the
pages_to_scan parameter based on the
observed scan times. The possible values for the
pages_to_scan parameter is
limited by the
advisor_max_cpu parameter. In addition there is also the
advisor_target_scan_time parameter. This parameter sets the target time to
scan all the KSM candidate pages. The parameter
decides how aggressive the scan time advisor scans candidate pages. Lower
values make the scan time advisor to scan more aggresively. This is the most
important parameter for the configuration of the scan time advisor.
The initial value and the maximum value can be changed with
advisor_max_pages_to_scan. The default
values are sufficient for most workloads and use cases.
pages_to_scan parameter is re-calculated after a scan has been completed.
-- Izik Eidus, Hugh Dickins, 17 Nov 2009