Linux Virtual Memory Subsystem

Outline of the Linux Memory Management System

Outline of the Linux Memory Management System

This page covers kernel version 2.4.x, and is somewhat incomplete. Still, some folks have found it useful. Very comprehensive coverage of the Linux VM system can be found in Mel Gorman's book, Understanding the Linux Memory Manager
-- JAK

These pages contain my notes on the Linux memory-management system. It is basically an educational experience on my part; while I am familiar with virtual memory management in theory, this is my first practical foray into the field. Hopefully others in the same position will benefit from my experience. I assume the reader has a general idea what "virtual memory" is, and is familiar with the notion of address translation using address-mapping tables (page tables). In the main document I try to present a reasonably organized view of the MM system, but there are occasional links into the vmnotes.html file containing my original stream-of-consciousness attempts to puzzle out various aspects of the code.

I am only looking at single-processor systems at the moment, and when it's necessary to understand platform-specific issues I concentrate on Intel architecture because that's what I have documentation for (though I may add some notes on SH3/SH4 later). Once I'm sure I understand the single-processor issues, I may look at SMP.

In general, for each topic, I first describe the principles embodied in the code at a high level; then I go on to interpret the code in enough detail that I can understand what's going on. If you have questions that aren't answered by my notes, please let me know so I can clarify things. I want to provide enough information so that the code is understandable, but avoid filling pages with fluffy descriptions of stuff that's obvious by looking at the code.

I have a nifty Tcl script that replaces everything that looks like a function, macro, struct, variable, typedef, filename, or line number with a link into the kernel cross-referencer, so from almost anywhere in this text you can click to see the relevant code. Note that the links attempt to open a (single) separate window for you to view the code, so if you click on a link and nothing seems to happen, see if you have a hidden or minimized browser window.

I encourage you to have a look at the Linux MM web site; there is some good documentation there. Especially, I encourage you to have a look at (my slightly edited version of) Paul Wilson's VM outline . That document is somewhat out-of-date, but still provides a nice overview of VM issues generally.

I'd love comments on this page, especially from folks who understand this stuff :-)

OK, enough yakking, here we go.

The basic principle Linux uses to fairly share memory resources is that each physical page of data (each logical page in Paul Wilson's terminology) carries with it a measure of its frequency of use, called its age. The more frequently a page is referenced, the less likely it is to be discarded by the kernel when memory becomes scarce. I'll discuss the details of the code and algorithms first, and then finally describe how it all works together to implement the memory-management policy.

Here are the main pieces of the Linux MM puzzle:

  • Initialization - How is the MM system initialized? How is paging initiated? Where do things stand immediately before the init task is launched? (Note: this section is quite hardware-specific.)

  • Physical Memory Management - How does the kernel allocate and free pieces of physical RAM?

  • Kernel Virtual Memory Management - When the kernel needs memory for its own use, how does it acquire that memory? How is it released? What is the relationship between kernel virtual memory and physical memory?

  • The Page Cache - What is the page cache? What is its purpose? How does it work?

  • Process Virtual Memory Management - How is process virtual memory managed? How are pages allocated to a process's virtual address space? How are they de-allocated? What is the relationship between process virtual memory and kernel virtual memory? What is the relationship between process virtual memory and physical memory?

  • Swapping - How are pages written to disk and read back in? Under what circumstances does this occur?

  • Memory Management Policy - How does the kernel arrange for processes to fairly share the available memory resources? What algorithms are used to ensure that the system behaves well under high memory load?

Questions and comments to Joe Knapka

The links in this page were produced by lxrreplace.tcl, which is available for free.


Last changed:
01-25-06 10:18:47

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