vm swapiness

"VM Swappiness" is a term used in the context of the Linux Kernel, relating to the virtual memory (VM) system. Swappiness is a parameter that controls the degree to which a system favors swapping out pages of memory, as opposed to dropping pages from the system page cache. In simpler terms, it's a setting that influences the balance between using physical RAM and swap space on a hard drive or SSD.

Definition and Purpose

  • Swappiness Parameter: A value between 0 and 100 that determines the Linux kernel's approach to managing memory. A lower value causes the kernel to prefer keeping applications in RAM, while a higher value encourages the system to use swap space more aggressively.
  • Memory Management: VM Swappiness is a part of Linux's memory management system, which involves managing physical and virtual memory resources. It plays a crucial role in determining how the kernel balances memory between active applications and cached data.

Historical Context

  • Origin: The swappiness parameter was introduced to give system administrators more control over how the Linux kernel manages memory.
  • Development: Over time, as both RAM and storage technologies have evolved, the default settings and the behavior of swappiness have been adjusted in various Linux distributions to optimize performance.

Technical Details

  • Swap Space: Swap space is an area on a hard drive or SSD used as an extension of RAM. When physical RAM is full, the least used memory pages are moved to swap space to free up RAM for active processes.
  • Page Cache: This is a memory area where disk files are cached. It's essential for reducing disk read operations, as data can be read from the faster RAM instead of the slower disk.
  • Impact of Swappiness Value:
    • Low Swappiness (0-10): Ideal for systems with ample RAM, reducing reliance on swap and prioritizing speed.
    • Medium Swappiness (30-60): A balanced approach, suitable for general use cases.
    • High Swappiness (60-100): Recommended for systems with limited RAM, ensuring smoother operation at the cost of increased disk I/O.

Practical Application and Configuration

  • System Performance: Adjusting the swappiness can optimize system performance based on specific use cases, such as high-performance computing, servers, or desktops.
  • Configuration: Swappiness is set in the /proc/sys/vm/swappiness file. It can be temporarily changed via a command in the terminal or permanently by editing system configuration files.
  • Best Practices: It's recommended to experiment with different swappiness values to find the optimal setting for a particular system, considering factors like physical RAM size, disk speed, and typical workload.

Ethical and Philosophical Aspects

  • Free Software Philosophy: The concept and implementation of VM Swappiness are aligned with the Free Software movement, which emphasizes the freedom to use, study, modify, and distribute software. This is in contrast to the more commercially driven Open Source model.
  • Community Contributions: The development and refinement of VM Swappiness have benefited from contributions from a global community of developers committed to the principles of Free Software.


VM Swappiness is a critical parameter in the Linux kernel's memory management system, influencing the balance between RAM and swap space usage. Its flexible configuration allows it to cater to various systems and use cases, embodying the principles of adaptability and user control central to Free Software philosophy. By understanding and adjusting VM Swappiness, users and system administrators can optimize their systems' performance and efficiency.

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vm swapiness

Marshawn is a RHEL Sysadmin at Red Hat. She is becoming a master of vm swapiness, and she has been tagged to give…