The /proc/meminfo file inside the /proc pseudo-filesystem provides a usage report about memory on the system. When we want to find out statistics like used and available memory, swap space, or cache and buffers, we can analyze this file’s contents. However, there are tons more data on top of the basic information.
In this article, we’re going to examine every data field in the /proc/meminfo file.
2. Data Fields in /proc/meminfo
To see what a file contains, we can use the cat command:
$ cat /proc/meminfo MemTotal: 994548 kB MemFree: 65228 kB MemAvailable: 263724 kB Buffers: 21396 kB Cached: 304440 kB SwapCached: 25260 kB Active: 267424 kB Inactive: 503720 kB Active(anon): 110956 kB Inactive(anon): 351176 kB ...
As we can see above, the /proc/meminfo file contains memory statistics in kilobytes. Now, let’s take a look at each of them by category.
3. General Memory
Usually, we only need basic information about memory, such as how much RAM our system has or how much is available at the current moment:
$ cat /proc/meminfo | grep "Mem" MemTotal: 994328 kB MemFree: 66428 kB MemAvailable: 207192 kB
Basically, we get a simple memory snapshot:
- MemTotal: total usable RAM
- MemFree: free RAM, the memory which is not used for anything at all
- MemAvailable: available RAM, the amount of memory available for allocation to any process
However, these basic values are available in other tools as well.
4. Buffers and Cache
Sometimes, we may want to check buffer and cache sizes. Specifically, buffers are temporary storage components for process input and output. They don’t increase the processing speed. On the other hand, cache stores some data to serve future requests faster. As a result, the cache increases the processing speed.
Of course, we can access the memory size information for both:
$ cat /proc/meminfo | grep -e "Buffers" -we "Cached" Buffers: 12820 kB Cached: 254592 kB
Let’s define these two attributes:
- Buffers: temporary storage element in memory, which doesn’t generally exceed 20 MB
- Cached: page cache size (cache for files read from the disk), which also includes tmpfs and shmem but excludes SwapCached
Indeed, distinguishing different caching levels enables better memory management in terms of hierarchy.
5. Swap Space
Furthermore, we can learn all about the swap space on the system:
$ cat /proc/meminfo | grep "Swap" SwapCached: 13936 kB SwapTotal: 945416 kB SwapFree: 851064 kB
Basically, swap space is a backup space on the disk for RAM. When the physical memory is full, the system uses the swap space:
- SwapCached: recently used swap memory, which increases the speed of I/O
- SwapTotal: the total amount of swap space available in the system
- SwapFree: unused swap space, the memory that has been transferred from RAM to the disk temporarily
Importantly, the /proc/swap file lists the different available swap areas.
6. Memory Activeness
Moreover, the /proc/meminfo file also contains data about memory dynamics:
$ cat /proc/meminfo | grep -e "Active" -e "Inactive" Active: 194308 kB Inactive: 553172 kB Active(anon): 59024 kB Inactive(anon): 437264 kB Active(file): 135284 kB Inactive(file): 115908 kB
In this case, there are two categories: file or non-file (anon). Here, we are interested in the general result:
- Active: memory that has been used more recently, not very suitable to reclaim for new applications
- Inactive: memory that hasn’t been used recently, more suitable to reclaim for new applications
Knowing the breakdown of active and inactive memory enables better handling of memory-intensive applications such as servers.
7. Writeback Into the Disk
Moreover, we’re able to get information about the amount of memory that’s being or is about to be written back:
$ cat /proc/meminfo | grep -e "Dirty" -e "Writeback" Dirty: 0 kB Writeback: 0 kB WritebackTmp: 0 kB
Following is a summary of the fields:
- Dirty: memory that currently waits to be written back to the disk
- Writeback: memory that is being written back at the moment
- WritebackTmp: temporary buffer for writebacks used by the FUSE module
Of course, operations are much slower when they involve secondary memory. Because of this, monitoring how much data is pending enables an administrator to properly balance loads.
8. Mapped Memory
In addition, we can look at how much memory is mapped. Essentially, memory-mapped files are part of the virtual memory system, which contains a direct byte-level correlation with other resources. Memory mapping increases the maximum number of I/O operations, especially on large files:
$ cat /proc/meminfo | grep -w -e "AnonPages" -e "Mapped" -e "DirectMap4k" -e "DirectMap2M" AnonPages: 470224 kB Mapped: 144264 kB DirectMap4k: 149440 kB DirectMap2M: 899072 kB
To be sure, these mappings provide the following information:
- AnonPages: anon (non-file) pages mapped into the page tables
- Mapped: files that have been mapped into memory with mmap
- DirectMap4k: the total amount of memory mapped by the kernel in 4 kB pages
- DirectMap2M: the total amount of memory mapped by the kernel in 2 MB pages
While memory mapping has its benefits, it also blocks parts of the main memory from being used for actual data.
9. Shared Memory
Moreover, we can learn about the shared memory in the system. Shared memory is an additional memory location for processes with separate address spaces. Such processes can share a portion of memory:
$ cat /proc/meminfo | grep "Shmem" Shmem: 16520 kB ShmemHugePages: 0 kB ShmemPmdMapped: 0 kB
There are several ways to represent the shared memory:
- Shmem: the amount used by shared memory and the tmpfs filesystem
- ShmemHugePages: the amount used by shared memory and the tmpfs filesystem with huge pages
- ShmemPmdMapped: userspace-mapped shared memory with huge pages
While convenient, shared memory presents challenges that may make it problematic.
10. Kernel Memory
The Linux kernel has lots of inner low-level operations to take care of memory. Fortunately, the /proc/meminfo file provides several kernel-level pieces of information as well:
$ cat /proc/meminfo | grep -ie "reclaim" -e "slab" -e "kernel" KReclaimable: 35008 kB Slab: 88752 kB SReclaimable: 35008 kB SUnreclaim: 53744 kB KernelStack: 5988 kB
In fact, the kernel uses memory in different ways:
- KReclaimable: kernel allocated memory, reclaimable under memory pressure (includes SReclaimable)
- Slab: kernel-level data structures cache, allocation of contiguous pages for caches by the slab allocator
- SReclaimable: reclaimable parts of Slab, e.g., caches
- SUnreclaim: unreclaimable parts of Slab
- KernelStack: memory for kernel stacks of entire tasks
For example, the kernel memory holds all open file descriptors. Running out of kernel memory can cause the forceful termination of processes.
11. Allocation Availability
If we want to learn the amount of memory eligible for allocation or already allocated on the system, we can take a look at two data fields:
$ cat /proc/meminfo | grep -ie "commit" CommitLimit: 1442580 kB Committed_AS: 3035924 kB
Markedly, these data points demonstrate the allocation ability of the system:
- CommitLimit: amount currently available for allocation on the system
- Committed_AS: amount already allocated on the system
Note the difference between Committed_AS and the Inactive field we already saw. In fact, there’s a formula for calculating the current allocatable amount of memory.
12. Virtual Memory
Besides, /proc/meminfo contains some data about the virtual memory system:
$ cat /proc/meminfo | grep -e "PageTables" -e "Vmalloc" PageTables: 11520 kB VmallocTotal: 34359738367 kB VmallocUsed: 34780 kB VmallocChunk: 0 kB
Using the output above, let’s define the meaning of each field:
- PageTables: the amount of memory consumed by page tables used by the virtual memory system
- VmallocTotal: total size of vmalloc memory space to allocate virtually contiguous memory
- VmallocUsed: the size of the used vmalloc memory space
- VmallocChunk: largest free contiguous block of vmalloc memory
Critically, these fields differ from the information about swap, as there is a difference between swap and virtual memory.
13. Huge Pages
Since the Linux kernel supports huge (larger than the default) pages, we can see data about them as well:
$ cat /proc/meminfo | grep -ie "huge" -e "filepmd" | grep -v "Shmem" AnonHugePages: 0 kB FileHugePages: 0 kB FilePmdMapped: 0 kB HugePages_Total: 0 HugePages_Free: 0 HugePages_Rsvd: 0 HugePages_Surp: 0 Hugepagesize: 2048 kB Hugetlb: 0 kB
Obviously, we get lots of information to look at:
- AnonHugePages: anon (non-file) huge pages mapped into the page tables
- FileHugePages: memory consumed by page cache allocated with huge pages
- FilePmdMapped: mapped page cache in the userspace allocated with huge pages
- HugePages_Total: total size of the huge pages pool
- HugePages_Free: amount of unallocated huge pages
- HugePages_Rsvd: number of reserved huge pages for allocation from the pool, which guarantees the allocation for processes when undesired behavior occurs
- HugePages_Surp: number of surplus huge pages above a specific base value in /proc/sys/vm/nr_hugepages
- Hugepagesize: the default size of huge pages
- Hugetlb: the total amount of memory allocated for huge pages of all sizes
Generally, systems that process data in larger chunks can benefit greatly from huge pages. In such cases, controlling and monitoring the current huge page settings is crucial.
Finally, we can also get some miscellaneous information along the rest of the categories:
$ cat /proc/meminfo | grep -e "Unevictable" -e "Mlocked" -e "NFS" -e "Bounce" -e "Percpu" -e "Hardware" Unevictable: 0 kB Mlocked: 0 kB NFS_Unstable: 0 kB Bounce: 0 kB Percpu: 1312 kB HardwareCorrupted: 0 kB
Each field in this set refers to a distinct attribute of memory:
- Unevictable: unreclaimable memory consumed by userspace like mlock-locke, ramfs backing, and anonymous memfd pages
- Mlocked: amount of memory locked with mlock
- NFS_Unstable: Network File System pages that have been written to the disk but not yet committed to stable storage, always zero
- Bounce: amount of memory for bounce buffers, which are low-level memory areas that enable devices to copy and write data
- Percpu: memory used for the percpu interface allocations
- HardwareCorrupted: memory that the kernel spots as corrupted
Of these, HardwareCorrupted is usually very helpful, as it points out potential issues with memory, affecting all other discussed fields.
In this article, we learned about the structure of data inside /proc/meminfo. In fact, we saw that this file contains most of the information we might need about memory. We then inspected every piece of data by splitting them into categories.