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Understanding Linux Virtual Memory

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HowTos

Virtual memory is one of the most important, and accordingly confusing, piece of an operating system. Understanding the basics of virtual memory is a requisite to understanding operating system performance. Beyond the basics, a deeper understanding allows a systems administrator to interpret system profiling tools better, leading to quicker troubleshooting and better decisions.

The concept of virtual memory is generally taught as though it’s only used for extending the amount of physical RAM in a system. Indeed, paging to disk is important, but virtual memory is used by nearly every aspect of an operating system.

In addition swapping, virtual memory is used to manage all pages of memory, which incidentally are required for file caching, process isolation, and even network communication. Anything that queues data, you can be assured, traverses the virtual memory system. Depending on a server’s role, virtual memory functionality may not be optimal. An administrator can dramatically improve overall system performance by adjusting certain virtual memory manager settings.

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