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Memory Management in Linux

Anand Sivasubramaniam
Two Parts

• Architecture Independent Memory

Should be flexible and portable enough across

• Implementation for a specific architecture

Architecture Independent
Memory Model
• Process virtual address space divided into pages
• Page size given in PAGE_SIZE macro in asm/page.h
(4K for x86 and 8K for Alpha)
• The pages are divided between 4 segments
• User Code, User Data, Kernel Code, Kernel Data
• In User mode, access only User Code and User Data
• But in Kernel mode, access also needed for User Data
• put_user(), get_user(), memcpy_tofs(),
memcpy_fromfs() allow kernel to access user data
(defined in asm/segment.h)
• Registers cs and ds point to the code and data
segments of the current mode
• fs points to the data segment of the calling process in
kernel mode.
• Get_ds(), get_fs(), and set_fs() are defined in
• Segment + Offset = 4 GB Linear address (32 bits)
• Of this, user space = 3 GB (defined by TASK_SIZE
macro) and kernel space = 1GB
• Linear Address converted to physical address using 3

Index into Index into Index into Page

Page Dir. Page Middle Page Table Offset
Page Dir. And Middle Dir. Access Functions
(in asm/page.h and asm/pgtable.h)

• Structures pgd_t and pmd_t define an entry of these tables.

• pgd_alloc_alloc()/pgd_free() to allocate and free a page for the page
• pmd_alloc(),pmd_alloc_kernel()/pmd_free(),pmd_free_kernel()
allocate and free a page middle directory in user and kernel segments.
• pgd_set(),pgd_clear()/pmd_set(),pmd_clear() set and clear a
entry of their tables.
• pgd_present()/pmd_present() checks for presence of what the
entries are pointing to.
• pgd_page()/pmd_page() returns the base address of the page to
which the entry is pointing
• …..
Page Table Entry (pte_t)
• Presence (is page present in VAS?)
• Read, Write and Execute
• Accessed ? (age)
• Dirty
• Macros of Pgprot_type
– PAGE_NONE (invalid)
– PAGE_SHARED (read-write)
– PAGE_COPY/READ_ONLY (read only, used by copy-on-
– PAGE_KERNEL (accessibe only by kernel)
Page Table Functions
• mk_pte(), Pte_clear(), set_pte()
• pte_mkclean(), pte_mkdirty(), pt_mkread(), ….
• pte_none() (check whether entry is set)
• pte_page() (returns address of page)
• pte_dirty(), pte_present(), pte_young(),
pte_read(), pte_write()
Process Address Space (not to scale!)

File name, Environment




Shared Libs
Address Space Descriptor
• mm_struct defined in the process descriptor. (in linux/sched.h)
• This is duplicated if CLONE_VM is specified on forking.
• struct mm_struct {
int count; // no. of processes sharing this descriptor
pgd_t *pgd; //page directory ptr
unsigned long start_code, end_code;
unsigned long start_data, end_data;
unsigned long start_brk, brk;
unsigned long start_stack;
unsigned long arg_start, arg_end, env_start, env_end;
unsigned long rss; // no. of pages resident in memory
unsigned long total_vm; // total # of bytes in this address space
unsigned long locked_vm; // # of bytes locked in memory
unsigned long def_flags; // status to use when mem regions are created
struct vm_area_struct *mmap; // ptr to first region desc.
struct vm_area_struct *mmap_avl; // faster search of region desc.
Region Descriptors
• Why even allocate all of the VAS? Allocate only on demand.
• Use region descriptors for each allocated region of VAS
• Map allocated but unused regions to same physical page to save space.
• struct vm_area_struct {
struct mm_struct *vm_mm; // descriptor of VAS
unsigned long vm_start, vm_end; // of this region
pgprot_t vm_page_prot; // protection attributes for this region
short vm_avl_height;
struct vm_avl_left;
vm_area_struct *vm_avl_permission; // right hand child
vm_area_struct * vm_next_share, *vm_prev_share; // doubly linked
vm_operations_struct *vm_ops;
struct inode *vm_inode; // of file mapped, or NULL = “anonymous
unsigned long vm_offset; // offset in file/device
• If vm_inode is NULL (anonymous mapping), all PTEs
for this region point to the same page.
• If the process does a write to any of these pages, the
faulting mechanism creates a new physical page (copy-
• This is used by the brk() system call.
• Operations specific to this region (including fault
handling) are specified in vm_operations_struct.
• Hence, different regions can have different functions.
Struct vm_operations_struct {
void (*open)(struct vm_area_struct *);
void (*close)(struct vm_area_struct *);
void (*unmap)(…);
void (*protect)(…)
void (*sync)(…);
unsigned long (*nopage)(struct vm_area_struct *, unsigned long
address, unsigned long page, int write_access);
void (*swapout)(struct vm_area_struct *, unsigned long, pte_t *);
pte_t (*swapin)(struct vm_area_struct *, unsigned long, unsigned long);
Traditional mmap()
• int do_mmap(struct file *, unsigned long addr,
unsigned long len, unsigned long prot, unsigned
long flags, unsigned long off);

• Creates a new memory region

• Creates the required PTEs
• Sets the PTEs to fault later
• The handler (nopage) will either copy-on-write if
anonymous mapping, or will bring in the required page
of file.
How is brk() implemented?

• Check whether to allocate (deny if not enough physical

memory, exceeds its VA limits, or crosses stack).
• Then call do_mmap() for anonymous mapping between
the old and new values of brk (in process table).
• Return the new brk value.
Kernel Segment
• On a sys call, CS points to kernel segment. DS and ES are set to
kernel segment as well.
• Next, FS is set to user data segment.
• Put_user() and get_user() can then access user space if needed.
• The address parameters to these functions cannot exceed
• Violation of this should result in a trap, together with any writes
to a read-only page (creates a problem on 386, while the problem
does not exist in 486/Pentium)
• Hence, verify_area() is typically called before performing such
• Physical and Virtual addresses are same except for those allocated
using vmalloc().
• Kernel segment shared across processes (not switched!)
Memory Allocn for Kernel Segment

• Static
Memory_start = console_init(memory_start, memory_end);
Typically done for drivers to reserve areas, and for some other kernel

• Dynamic
Void *kmalloc(size, priority), Void kfree (void *) // in mm/kmalloc.c
Void *vmalloc(size), void *vmfree(void *) // in mm/vmalloc.c

Kmalloc is used for physically contiguous pages while vmalloc does not
necessarily allocate physically contiguous pages
Memory allocated is not initialized (and is not paged out).
kmalloc() data structures
64 size_descriptor
128 page_descriptor

2040 bh bh
8176 bh bh
32752 bh bh
Null Null
• Allocated virtually contiguous pages, but they do not need to be physically
• Uses __get_free_page() to allocate physical frames.
• Once all the required physical frames are found, the virtual addresses are
created (and mappings set) at an unused part.
• The virtual address search (for unused parts) on x86 begins at the next
address after physical memory on an 8 MB boundary.
• One (virtual) page is left free after each allocation for cushioning.

vmstruct size
vmalloc vs kmalloc
• Contiguous vs non-contiguous physical memory
• kmalloc is faster but less flexible
• vmalloc involves __get_free_page() and may need to
block to find a free physical page
• DMA requires contiguous physical memory
• All kernel segment pages are locked in memory (no swapping)
• User pages can be paged out:
– Complete block device
– Fixed length files in a file system
• First 4096 bytes are a bitmap indicating that space for that page is
available for paging.
• At byte 4086, string “SWAP_SPACE” is stored.
• Hence, max swap of 4086*8-1 = 32687 pages = 130784KB per
device or file
• MAX_SWAPFILES specifies number of swap files or devices
• Swap device is more efficient than swap file.
• Inform swap space to kernel using
• int sys_swapon(char * swapfile, int swapflags);
• Ceates an entry in swap_info table.
• struct swap_info_struct {
unsigned int flags;
kdev_t swap_device;
struct indoe *swap_file;
unsigned char *swap_map; // ptr to table, with 1 byte for
each page to indicate how many processes are referring
to this page
unsigned char *swap_lockmap; // ptr to bitmap, bit
indicating lock
int lowest_bit, highest_bit; // to calculate maximum page
unsigned long max; // highest_bit + 1
int prio; // priority for this swap space
int cluster_nr, cluster_next; // to cluster pages on
storage device
int next;
• For each physical frame (mm.h):
typedef struct page {
struct page *prev, *next; // doubly linked
struct inode *inode; unsigned long offset; // where to
struct page *prev_hash, next_hash; // in hash list of
pages in page cache
atomic_t count; // number of users of this page
unsigned dirty:16, age:8;
struct buffer_head * buffers; // if it is part of a block
unsigned long map_nr; // frame #
struct wait_queue *wait; // Tasks waiting for page to be
unsigned flags;
} mem_map_t;
Finding a Physical Page
• unsigned long __get_free_pages(int priority, unsigned long
order, int dma) in mm/page_alloc.c
• Priority =
– GFP_BUFFER (free page returned only if available in physical
– GFP_ATOMIC (return page if possible, do not interrupt current
– GFP_USER (current process can be interrupted)
– GFP_KERNEL (kernel can be interrupted)
– GFP_NOBUFFER (do not attempt to reduce buffer cache)
• order says give me 2^^order pages (max is 128KB)
• dma specifies that it is for DMA purposes
• First tries to find a free frame using Buddy system.
• Table free_area[] keeps appropriate data structures.

free_area_list[0 1 2] free_area_map
0 1 2
• If you cannot find a free page,
int try_to_free_page(int priority, int dma, int wait) {
static int state = 6; int I = 6; int stop;
stop = 3; if (wait) stop = 0;
switch (state) {
do {
Case 0:
if (shrink_mmap(i,dma)) return 1;
state = 1;
Case 1:
if (shm_swap(i,dma)) return 1;
state = 2;
if (swap_out(i,dma,wait)) return 1;
state = 0;
} while ((i-stop) >= 0);
return 0;
• shrink_mmap() tries to discard pages in page cache or buffer
cache that have only one user currently, and have not been
references since the last cycle. The number of examined pages
depends on priority.
• shm_swap() tries pages allocated for shared memory.
• swap_out()
– Uses swap_cnt to determine how many pages to swap out for
current process before moving on to next.
– Always start where you left off last time (Clock algorithm)
– Uses swap_out_process() function, which then calls
try_to_swap_out() for each possible page present in memory
(and is not locked).
– try_to_swap_out() checks the age attribute in mem_map
data structure, and the page is selected if this is 0.
– VM area’s swapout() operation is called.
– Write back if the page is dirty
– Invalidate page table entry.
• kswapd kernel thread running in background is
activated each time the number of free pages falls
below a critical level.
• This thread calls the try_to_free_page() function.
• A block of memory is released using free_pages().
When the number of users reaches 0, the frames are
entered in free_area[].
Page Fault
• Error code written onto stack, and the VA is stored in register
• do_page_fault(struct pt_regs *regs, unsigned long
error_code) is now called.
• If faulting address is in kernel segment, alarm messages are
printed out and the process is terminated.
• If faulting address is not in a virtual memory area, check if
VM_GROWSDOWN for the nexy virtual memory area is set (I.e.
Stack). If so, expand VM. If error in expanding send SIGSEGV.
• If faulting address is in a virtual memory area, check if protection
bits are OK. If not legal, send SIGSEGV. Else, call do_no_page()
or do_wp_page().
• void do_wp_page(struct task_struct *task, struct
vm_area_struct *vma, unsigned long address, int write_access);
– Check if page is mapped in
– If it is referenced only once, change permissions
– Else, create a copy and entry in page table to this copy with write
permissions on

• void do_no_page(struct task_struct *task, struct vm_area_struct *vma,

unsigned long address, int write_access);
– If there is no nopage() handler, an empty page is mapped to this area
– Else, do_swap_page(struct task_struct, struct
vm_area_struct, unsigned long address, pte_t, int
write_access) is called.
– If no swap_in() handler is defined, swap_in(struct task_struct,
struct vm_area_struct, pte_t *, unsigned long entry, int
write_access) is called.
– entry contains swap space and page number.
– This calls swap_free() to release te page in swap space and the
swap_map counter is decremented.