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SubjectLarge Amount of Kernel Memory on 2.4.16 Consumed by Kiobufs
I encountered a system hang while running a complex database query on a
2.4.16 4GB kernel using raw I/O. Bill Hartner and I examined
/proc/meminfo, and saw the LowFree value gradually going down to 2MB.
And the system did not have much response from that point on. By examining
/proc/slabinfo, it was apparent that the number of buffer heads allocated
was significant.

Since we did not experience this memory problem on 2.4.6, I built two
kernels, namely 2.4.6-Test and 2.4.16-Test, for comparison purposes.
Both kernels had Ingo Molnar's scalable timer patch.

Meminfo and slabinfo provided the following data for the first three
queries of a database workload:

2.4.6-Test | 2.4.16-Test
LowFree buffer_head | LowFree buffer_head
(KB) (total count) | (KB) (total_count)
Start 247,688 20,084 | 288,640 20,720
After Query 1 214,680 118,760 | 124,644 1,414,880
After Query 2 208,080 147,880 | 55,680 2,078,120
After Query 3 184,984 147,880 | Too Low

The annotated call graph gave a similar picture and pointed to the
routines that triggered the allocation of buffer heads.


dentry_open 1045
chrdev_open 1045
raw_open 1042
alloc_kiovec 46
alloc_kiobuf_bhs 46
kmem_cache_alloc 47,104 for buffer heads


dentry_open 1310
chrdev_open 1306
raw_open 1306
alloc_kiovec 1306
alloc_kiobuf_bhs 1306
kmem_cache_alloc 1,337,344 for buffer heads

I then studied a number of files and data structures on 2.4.16,
namely, /include/linux/fs.h, /fs/file_table.c, /fs/open.c,
and /drivers/char/raw.c, and came to the following understanding.
(Some annotations on these files are given at the end of the note.)

Based upon this set of files, we can see that for each dentry open,
a file object is assigned. For each raw open, a kiobuf is created,
which in turn creates buffer heads. Whenever a file object is returned
to the free list, its kiobuf memory should be released by free_kiovec
in fput (file_table.c). This heavy consumption of kernel memory was not
due to memory leak, it had to do with attaching a kiobuf with each file
object. On the other hand, on 2.4.6, a kiobuf object is only associated
with a device, not every file. In database applications, having a large
number of file objects is pretty common due to the use of many I/O
prefetching agents, many logical drives and many tables.

Based upon the analysis, solutions had been proposed. I evaluated
two proposals. The first one was basically used to prove the concept.

(1) Proposed by Badari Pulavarty and Bill Hartner:
Reduce KIO_MAX_ATOMIC_IO from 512 to 256, which cut down
the number of buffer heads by one half. Let's call it

(2) Proposed by Badari Pulavarty:
Combined with his earlier patch to allocate one buffer head
per 4KB page, it can significantly reduce the allocation
of buffer heads. Let's call it 2.4.16-BH2.

After a long sequence of complex queries, I have the following

2.4.6-Best 2.4.16-BH1 2.4.16-BH2

LowFree (MB) ~170 ~8 ~250

Number of ~163,000 ~1,485,000 ~385,000

And they achieved similar level of performance.

I think Badari has a good start on this problem.


Some annotations (<<***) on the files:

In /include/linux/fs.h:

struct file {
struct list_head f_list;
struct dentry *f_dentry;
struct vfsmount *f_vfsmnt;
struct file_operations *f_op;
atomic_t f_count;
unsigned int f_flags;
mode_t f_mode;
loff_t f_pos;
unsigned long f_reada, f_ramax, f_raend,
f_ralen, f_rawin;
struct fown_struct f_owner;
unsigned int f_uid, f_gid;
int f_error;

unsigned long f_version;

/* needed for tty driver, and maybe others */
void *private_data;

/* preallocated helper kiobuf to speedup O_DIRECT */
struct kiobuf *f_iobuf;
<<*** new field
long f_iobuf_lock;
<<*** new field

In /fs/file_table.c:

struct file * get_empty_filp(void)
static int old_max = 0;
struct file * f;

if (files_stat.nr_free_files > NR_RESERVED_FILES) {

<<*** files_stat.nr_free_files indicates the number of
"file" objects on the free list, where NR_RESERVED_FILES
is set to 10. If the number of file objects on the free
list is fewer than NR_RESERVED_FILES, the system creates
new file objects. Indeed, it consumes kernel memory. It
consumes even more when kiobuf is also allocated.

f = list_entry(, struct file, f_list);
memset(f, 0, sizeof(*f));

<<*** f_iobuf is set to null.

f->f_version = ++event;
f->f_uid = current->fsuid;
f->f_gid = current->fsgid;
list_add(&f->f_list, &anon_list);
return f;
* Use a reserved one if we're the superuser
if (files_stat.nr_free_files && !current->euid)
goto used_one;
* Allocate a new one if we're below the limit.
if (files_stat.nr_files < files_stat.max_files) {
f = kmem_cache_alloc(filp_cachep, SLAB_KERNEL);
if (f) {

<<*** Create a new file object.

goto new_one;
. . .

In /fs/open.c:

struct file *dentry_open(struct dentry *dentry,
struct vfsmount *mnt, int flags)
struct file * f;
struct inode *inode;
static LIST_HEAD(kill_list);
int error;

. . .
f = get_empty_filp(); <<*** Get the file object.
. . .

f->f_dentry = dentry;
f->f_vfsmnt = mnt;
f->f_pos = 0;
f->f_reada = 0;
f->f_op = fops_get(inode->i_fop);
file_move(f, &inode->i_sb->s_files);

/* preallocate kiobuf for O_DIRECT */
f->f_iobuf = NULL;
<<*** Set f_iobuf to NULL.

if (f->f_op && f->f_op->open) {
error = f->f_op->open(inode,f); <<*** Call raw_open.
if (error)
goto cleanup_all;
. . .

In /drivers/char/raw.c:

int raw_open(struct inode *inode, struct file *filp)
int minor;
struct block_device * bdev;

. . .
if (!filp->f_iobuf) { <<*** It must be true.
err = alloc_kiovec(1, &filp->f_iobuf);
<<*** Allocate kiobuf here.

if (err)
return err;
. . .

In /fs/file_table.c:

void fput(struct file * file)
struct dentry * dentry = file->f_dentry;
struct vfsmount * mnt = file->f_vfsmnt;
struct inode * inode = dentry->d_inode;

if (atomic_dec_and_test(&file->f_count)) {

<<*** If f_count is 1, it is decremented to 0 and the
object is returned to the free list.


if (file->f_iobuf)
free_kiovec(1, &file->f_iobuf);
<<*** This should free up the
memory of kiobuf.

if (file->f_op && file->f_op->release)
file->f_op->release(inode, file);
if (file->f_mode & FMODE_WRITE)
file->f_dentry = NULL;
file->f_vfsmnt = NULL;
list_add(&file->f_list, &free_list);

<<*** Add the file object back to the free list.


Wai Yee Peter Wong
IBM Linux Technology and Solutions Center, Performance Analysis

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