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Memory Balancing
Started Jan 2000 by Kanoj Sarcar <>
Memory balancing is needed for !__GFP_HIGH and !__GFP_KSWAPD_RECLAIM as
well as for non __GFP_IO allocations.
The first reason why a caller may avoid reclaim is that the caller can not
sleep due to holding a spinlock or is in interrupt context. The second may
be that the caller is willing to fail the allocation without incurring the
overhead of page reclaim. This may happen for opportunistic high-order
allocation requests that have order-0 fallback options. In such cases,
the caller may also wish to avoid waking kswapd.
__GFP_IO allocation requests are made to prevent file system deadlocks.
In the absence of non sleepable allocation requests, it seems detrimental
to be doing balancing. Page reclamation can be kicked off lazily, that
is, only when needed (aka zone free memory is 0), instead of making it
a proactive process.
That being said, the kernel should try to fulfill requests for direct
mapped pages from the direct mapped pool, instead of falling back on
the dma pool, so as to keep the dma pool filled for dma requests (atomic
or not). A similar argument applies to highmem and direct mapped pages.
OTOH, if there is a lot of free dma pages, it is preferable to satisfy
regular memory requests by allocating one from the dma pool, instead
of incurring the overhead of regular zone balancing.
In 2.2, memory balancing/page reclamation would kick off only when the
_total_ number of free pages fell below 1/64 th of total memory. With the
right ratio of dma and regular memory, it is quite possible that balancing
would not be done even when the dma zone was completely empty. 2.2 has
been running production machines of varying memory sizes, and seems to be
doing fine even with the presence of this problem. In 2.3, due to
HIGHMEM, this problem is aggravated.
In 2.3, zone balancing can be done in one of two ways: depending on the
zone size (and possibly of the size of lower class zones), we can decide
at init time how many free pages we should aim for while balancing any
zone. The good part is, while balancing, we do not need to look at sizes
of lower class zones, the bad part is, we might do too frequent balancing
due to ignoring possibly lower usage in the lower class zones. Also,
with a slight change in the allocation routine, it is possible to reduce
the memclass() macro to be a simple equality.
Another possible solution is that we balance only when the free memory
of a zone _and_ all its lower class zones falls below 1/64th of the
total memory in the zone and its lower class zones. This fixes the 2.2
balancing problem, and stays as close to 2.2 behavior as possible. Also,
the balancing algorithm works the same way on the various architectures,
which have different numbers and types of zones. If we wanted to get
fancy, we could assign different weights to free pages in different
zones in the future.
Note that if the size of the regular zone is huge compared to dma zone,
it becomes less significant to consider the free dma pages while
deciding whether to balance the regular zone. The first solution
becomes more attractive then.
The appended patch implements the second solution. It also "fixes" two
problems: first, kswapd is woken up as in 2.2 on low memory conditions
for non-sleepable allocations. Second, the HIGHMEM zone is also balanced,
so as to give a fighting chance for replace_with_highmem() to get a
HIGHMEM page, as well as to ensure that HIGHMEM allocations do not
fall back into regular zone. This also makes sure that HIGHMEM pages
are not leaked (for example, in situations where a HIGHMEM page is in
the swapcache but is not being used by anyone)
kswapd also needs to know about the zones it should balance. kswapd is
primarily needed in a situation where balancing can not be done,
probably because all allocation requests are coming from intr context
and all process contexts are sleeping. For 2.3, kswapd does not really
need to balance the highmem zone, since intr context does not request
highmem pages. kswapd looks at the zone_wake_kswapd field in the zone
structure to decide whether a zone needs balancing.
Page stealing from process memory and shm is done if stealing the page would
alleviate memory pressure on any zone in the page's node that has fallen below
its watermark.
watemark[WMARK_MIN/WMARK_LOW/WMARK_HIGH]/low_on_memory/zone_wake_kswapd: These
are per-zone fields, used to determine when a zone needs to be balanced. When
the number of pages falls below watermark[WMARK_MIN], the hysteric field
low_on_memory gets set. This stays set till the number of free pages becomes
watermark[WMARK_HIGH]. When low_on_memory is set, page allocation requests will
try to free some pages in the zone (providing GFP_WAIT is set in the request).
Orthogonal to this, is the decision to poke kswapd to free some zone pages.
That decision is not hysteresis based, and is done when the number of free
pages is below watermark[WMARK_LOW]; in which case zone_wake_kswapd is also set.
(Good) Ideas that I have heard:
1. Dynamic experience should influence balancing: number of failed requests
for a zone can be tracked and fed into the balancing scheme (
2. Implement a replace_with_highmem()-like replace_with_regular() to preserve
dma pages. (