Superpages on amd64 FreeBSD 7.2-STABLE

Linda Messerschmidt linda.messerschmidt at
Thu Nov 26 15:14:22 UTC 2009

We have a squid proxy process with very large memory requirements (10
- 20 GB) on a machine with 24GB of RAM.

Unfortunately, we have to rotate the logs of this process once per
day.  When we do, it fork()s and exec()s about 16-20 child processes
as helpers.  Since it's got this multi-million-entry page table,
that's a disaster, because it has to copy all those page table entries
for each child, then throw them out.  This takes a couple of minutes
of 100% CPU usage, during which time the machine is pretty much

Someone on the squid list suggested we try the new superpages feature
(vm.pmap.pg_ps_enabled) in 7.2.  We did, and after some tuning, we got
it to work.

Here's some "sysctl vm.pmap" for a similar machine with 16GB of RAM
that does NOT have this setting enabled:

vm.pmap.pv_entry_count: 2307899
vm.pmap.pde.promotions: 0
vm.pmap.pde.p_failures: 0
vm.pmap.pde.mappings: 0
vm.pmap.pde.demotions: 0
vm.pmap.pv_entry_max: 4276871
vm.pmap.pg_ps_enabled: 0

Now, here is the machine that does have it, just prior to the daily
rotation mentioned above:

vm.pmap.pv_entry_count: 61361
vm.pmap.pde.promotions: 23123
vm.pmap.pde.p_failures: 327946
vm.pmap.pde.mappings: 1641
vm.pmap.pde.demotions: 17848
vm.pmap.pv_entry_max: 7330186
vm.pmap.pg_ps_enabled: 1

So it obviously this feature makes a huge difference and is a
brilliant idea. :-)

My (limited) understanding is that one of the primary benefits of this
feature is to help situations like ours... a page table that's 512x
smaller can be copied 512x faster.  However, in practice this doesn't
happen.  It's like fork() breaks up the squid process into 4kb pages
again.  Here's the same machine's entries just after rotation:

vm.pmap.pv_entry_count: 1908056
vm.pmap.pde.promotions: 23212
vm.pmap.pde.p_failures: 413171
vm.pmap.pde.mappings: 1641
vm.pmap.pde.demotions: 21470
vm.pmap.pv_entry_max: 7330186
vm.pmap.pg_ps_enabled: 1

So some 3,600 superpages spontaneously turned into 1,850,000 4k pages.

Once this happens, squid seems reluctant to use more superpages until
its restarted.  We get a lot of p_failures and a slow-but-steady
stream of demotions.  Here's the same machine just now:

vm.pmap.pv_entry_count: 2022786
vm.pmap.pde.promotions: 25281
vm.pmap.pde.p_failures: 996027
vm.pmap.pde.mappings: 1641
vm.pmap.pde.demotions: 21683
vm.pmap.pv_entry_max: 7330186
vm.pmap.pg_ps_enabled: 1

And a few minutes later:

vm.pmap.pv_entry_count: 2021556
vm.pmap.pde.promotions: 25331
vm.pmap.pde.p_failures: 1001773
vm.pmap.pde.mappings: 1641
vm.pmap.pde.demotions: 21684
vm.pmap.pv_entry_max: 7330186
vm.pmap.pg_ps_enabled: 1

(There were *no* p_failures or demotions in the several hours prior to

This trend continues... the pv_entry_count bounces up and down even
though memory usage is increasing, so it's like it's trying to recover
and convert things back (promotions), but it's having a lot of trouble

It's not clear to me if this might be a problem with the superpages
implementation, or if squid does something particularly horrible to
its memory when it forks to cause this, but I wanted to ask about it
on the list in case somebody who understands it better might know
whats going on. :-)

This is on FreeBSD-STABLE 7.2 amd64 r198976M.


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