= Transparent Hugepage Support =
== Objective ==
Performance critical computing applications dealing with large memory
working sets are already running on top of libhugetlbfs and in turn
hugetlbfs. Transparent Hugepage Support is an alternative means of
using huge pages for the backing of virtual memory with huge pages
that supports the automatic promotion and demotion of page sizes and
without the shortcomings of hugetlbfs.
Currently it only works for anonymous memory mappings but in the
future it can expand over the pagecache layer starting with tmpfs.
The reason applications are running faster is because of two
factors. The first factor is almost completely irrelevant and it's not
of significant interest because it'll also have the downside of
requiring larger clear-page copy-page in page faults which is a
potentially negative effect. The first factor consists in taking a
single page fault for each 2M virtual region touched by userland (so
reducing the enter/exit kernel frequency by a 512 times factor). This
only matters the first time the memory is accessed for the lifetime of
a memory mapping. The second long lasting and much more important
factor will affect all subsequent accesses to the memory for the whole
runtime of the application. The second factor consist of two
components: 1) the TLB miss will run faster (especially with
virtualization using nested pagetables but almost always also on bare
metal without virtualization) and 2) a single TLB entry will be
mapping a much larger amount of virtual memory in turn reducing the
number of TLB misses. With virtualization and nested pagetables the
TLB can be mapped of larger size only if both KVM and the Linux guest
are using hugepages but a significant speedup already happens if only
one of the two is using hugepages just because of the fact the TLB
miss is going to run faster.
== Design ==
- "graceful fallback": mm components which don't have transparent
hugepage knowledge fall back to breaking a transparent hugepage and
working on the regular pages and their respective regular pmd/pte
- if a hugepage allocation fails because of memory fragmentation,
regular pages should be gracefully allocated instead and mixed in
the same vma without any failure or significant delay and without
- if some task quits and more hugepages become available (either
immediately in the buddy or through the VM), guest physical memory
backed by regular pages should be relocated on hugepages
automatically (with khugepaged)
- it doesn't require memory reservation and in turn it uses hugepages
whenever possible (the only possible reservation here is kernelcore=
to avoid unmovable pages to fragment all the memory but such a tweak
is not specific to transparent hugepage support and it's a generic
feature that applies to all dynamic high order allocations in the
- this initial support only offers the feature in the anonymous memory
regions but it'd be ideal to move it to tmpfs and the pagecache
Transparent Hugepage Support maximizes the usefulness of free memory
if compared to the reservation approach of hugetlbfs by allowing all
unused memory to be used as cache or other movable (or even unmovable
entities). It doesn't require reservation to prevent hugepage
allocation failures to be noticeable from userland. It allows paging
and all other advanced VM features to be available on the
hugepages. It requires no modifications for applications to take
advantage of it.
Applications however can be further optimized to take advantage of
this feature, like for example they've been optimized before to avoid
a flood of mmap system calls for every malloc(4k). Optimizing userland
is by far not mandatory and khugepaged already can take care of long
lived page allocations even for hugepage unaware applications that
deals with large amounts of memory.
In certain cases when hugepages are enabled system wide, application
may end up allocating more memory resources. An application may mmap a
large region but only touch 1 byte of it, in that case a 2M page might
be allocated instead of a 4k page for no good. This is why it's
possible to disable hugepages system-wide and to only have them inside
MADV_HUGEPAGE madvise regions.
Embedded systems should enable hugepages only inside madvise regions
to eliminate any risk of wasting any precious byte of memory and to
only run faster.
Applications that gets a lot of benefit from hugepages and that don't
risk to lose memory by using hugepages, should use
madvise(MADV_HUGEPAGE) on their critical mmapped regions.
== sysfs ==
Transparent Hugepage Support can be entirely disabled (mostly for
debugging purposes) or only enabled inside MADV_HUGEPAGE regions (to
avoid the risk of consuming more memory resources) or enabled system
wide. This can be achieved with one of:
echo always >/sys/kernel/mm/transparent_hugepage/enabled
echo madvise >/sys/kernel/mm/transparent_hugepage/enabled
echo never >/sys/kernel/mm/transparent_hugepage/enabled
It's also possible to limit defrag efforts in the VM to generate
hugepages in case they're not immediately free to madvise regions or
to never try to defrag memory and simply fallback to regular pages
unless hugepages are immediately available. Clearly if we spend CPU
time to defrag memory, we would expect to gain even more by the fact
we use hugepages later instead of regular pages. This isn't always
guaranteed, but it may be more likely in case the allocation is for a
echo always >/sys/kernel/mm/transparent_hugepage/defrag
echo madvise >/sys/kernel/mm/transparent_hugepage/defrag
echo never >/sys/kernel/mm/transparent_hugepage/defrag
khugepaged will be automatically started when
transparent_hugepage/enabled is set to "always" or "madvise, and it'll
be automatically shutdown if it's set to "never".
khugepaged runs usually at low frequency so while one may not want to
invoke defrag algorithms synchronously during the page faults, it
should be worth invoking defrag at least in khugepaged. However it's
also possible to disable defrag in khugepaged by writing 0 or enable
defrag in khugepaged by writing 1:
echo 0 >/sys/kernel/mm/transparent_hugepage/khugepaged/defrag
echo 1 >/sys/kernel/mm/transparent_hugepage/khugepaged/defrag
You can also control how many pages khugepaged should scan at each
and how many milliseconds to wait in khugepaged between each pass (you
can set this to 0 to run khugepaged at 100% utilization of one core):
and how many milliseconds to wait in khugepaged if there's an hugepage
allocation failure to throttle the next allocation attempt.
The khugepaged progress can be seen in the number of pages collapsed:
for each pass:
== Boot parameter ==
You can change the sysfs boot time defaults of Transparent Hugepage
Support by passing the parameter "transparent_hugepage=always" or
"transparent_hugepage=madvise" or "transparent_hugepage=never"
(without "") to the kernel command line.
== Need of application restart ==
The transparent_hugepage/enabled values only affect future
behavior. So to make them effective you need to restart any
application that could have been using hugepages. This also applies to
the regions registered in khugepaged.
== Monitoring usage ==
The number of transparent huge pages currently used by the system is
available by reading the AnonHugePages field in /proc/meminfo. To
identify what applications are using transparent huge pages, it is
necessary to read /proc/PID/smaps and count the AnonHugePages fields
for each mapping. Note that reading the smaps file is expensive and
reading it frequently will incur overhead.
There are a number of counters in /proc/vmstat that may be used to
monitor how successfully the system is providing huge pages for use.
thp_fault_alloc is incremented every time a huge page is successfully
allocated to handle a page fault. This applies to both the
first time a page is faulted and for COW faults.
thp_collapse_alloc is incremented by khugepaged when it has found
a range of pages to collapse into one huge page and has
successfully allocated a new huge page to store the data.
thp_fault_fallback is incremented if a page fault fails to allocate
a huge page and instead falls back to using small pages.
thp_collapse_alloc_failed is incremented if khugepaged found a range
of pages that should be collapsed into one huge page but failed
thp_split is incremented every time a huge page is split into base
pages. This can happen for a variety of reasons but a common
reason is that a huge page is old and is being reclaimed.
As the system ages, allocating huge pages may be expensive as the
system uses memory compaction to copy data around memory to free a
huge page for use. There are some counters in /proc/vmstat to help
monitor this overhead.
compact_stall is incremented every time a process stalls to run
memory compaction so that a huge page is free for use.
compact_success is incremented if the system compacted memory and
freed a huge page for use.
compact_fail is incremented if the system tries to compact memory
compact_pages_moved is incremented each time a page is moved. If
this value is increasing rapidly, it implies that the system
is copying a lot of data to satisfy the huge page allocation.
It is possible that the cost of copying exceeds any savings
from reduced TLB misses.
compact_pagemigrate_failed is incremented when the underlying mechanism
for moving a page failed.
compact_blocks_moved is incremented each time memory compaction examines
a huge page aligned range of pages.
It is possible to establish how long the stalls were using the function
tracer to record how long was spent in __alloc_pages_nodemask and
using the mm_page_alloc tracepoint to identify which allocations were
for huge pages.
== get_user_pages and follow_page ==
get_user_pages and follow_page if run on a hugepage, will return the
head or tail pages as usual (exactly as they would do on
hugetlbfs). Most gup users will only care about the actual physical
address of the page and its temporary pinning to release after the I/O
is complete, so they won't ever notice the fact the page is huge. But
if any driver is going to mangle over the page structure of the tail
page (like for checking page->mapping or other bits that are relevant
for the head page and not the tail page), it should be updated to jump
to check head page instead (while serializing properly against
split_huge_page() to avoid the head and tail pages to disappear from
under it, see the futex code to see an example of that, hugetlbfs also
needed special handling in futex code for similar reasons).
NOTE: these aren't new constraints to the GUP API, and they match the
same constrains that applies to hugetlbfs too, so any driver capable
of handling GUP on hugetlbfs will also work fine on transparent
hugepage backed mappings.
In case you can't handle compound pages if they're returned by
follow_page, the FOLL_SPLIT bit can be specified as parameter to
follow_page, so that it will split the hugepages before returning
them. Migration for example passes FOLL_SPLIT as parameter to
follow_page because it's not hugepage aware and in fact it can't work
at all on hugetlbfs (but it instead works fine on transparent
hugepages thanks to FOLL_SPLIT). migration simply can't deal with
hugepages being returned (as it's not only checking the pfn of the
page and pinning it during the copy but it pretends to migrate the
memory in regular page sizes and with regular pte/pmd mappings).
== Optimizing the applications ==
To be guaranteed that the kernel will map a 2M page immediately in any
memory region, the mmap region has to be hugepage naturally
aligned. posix_memalign() can provide that guarantee.
== Hugetlbfs ==
You can use hugetlbfs on a kernel that has transparent hugepage
support enabled just fine as always. No difference can be noted in
hugetlbfs other than there will be less overall fragmentation. All
usual features belonging to hugetlbfs are preserved and
unaffected. libhugetlbfs will also work fine as usual.
== Graceful fallback ==
Code walking pagetables but unware about huge pmds can simply call
split_huge_page_pmd(mm, pmd) where the pmd is the one returned by
pmd_offset. It's trivial to make the code transparent hugepage aware
by just grepping for "pmd_offset" and adding split_huge_page_pmd where
missing after pmd_offset returns the pmd. Thanks to the graceful
fallback design, with a one liner change, you can avoid to write
hundred if not thousand of lines of complex code to make your code
If you're not walking pagetables but you run into a physical hugepage
but you can't handle it natively in your code, you can split it by
calling split_huge_page(page). This is what the Linux VM does before
it tries to swapout the hugepage for example.
Example to make mremap.c transparent hugepage aware with a one liner
diff --git a/mm/mremap.c b/mm/mremap.c
@@ -41,6 +41,7 @@ static pmd_t *get_old_pmd(struct mm_stru
pmd = pmd_offset(pud, addr);
+ split_huge_page_pmd(mm, pmd);
== Locking in hugepage aware code ==
We want as much code as possible hugepage aware, as calling
split_huge_page() or split_huge_page_pmd() has a cost.
To make pagetable walks huge pmd aware, all you need to do is to call
pmd_trans_huge() on the pmd returned by pmd_offset. You must hold the
mmap_sem in read (or write) mode to be sure an huge pmd cannot be
created from under you by khugepaged (khugepaged collapse_huge_page
takes the mmap_sem in write mode in addition to the anon_vma lock). If
pmd_trans_huge returns false, you just fallback in the old code
paths. If instead pmd_trans_huge returns true, you have to take the
mm->page_table_lock and re-run pmd_trans_huge. Taking the
page_table_lock will prevent the huge pmd to be converted into a
regular pmd from under you (split_huge_page can run in parallel to the
pagetable walk). If the second pmd_trans_huge returns false, you
should just drop the page_table_lock and fallback to the old code as
before. Otherwise you should run pmd_trans_splitting on the pmd. In
case pmd_trans_splitting returns true, it means split_huge_page is
already in the middle of splitting the page. So if pmd_trans_splitting
returns true it's enough to drop the page_table_lock and call
wait_split_huge_page and then fallback the old code paths. You are
guaranteed by the time wait_split_huge_page returns, the pmd isn't
huge anymore. If pmd_trans_splitting returns false, you can proceed to
process the huge pmd and the hugepage natively. Once finished you can
drop the page_table_lock.
== compound_lock, get_user_pages and put_page ==
split_huge_page internally has to distribute the refcounts in the head
page to the tail pages before clearing all PG_head/tail bits from the
page structures. It can do that easily for refcounts taken by huge pmd
mappings. But the GUI API as created by hugetlbfs (that returns head
and tail pages if running get_user_pages on an address backed by any
hugepage), requires the refcount to be accounted on the tail pages and
not only in the head pages, if we want to be able to run
split_huge_page while there are gup pins established on any tail
page. Failure to be able to run split_huge_page if there's any gup pin
on any tail page, would mean having to split all hugepages upfront in
get_user_pages which is unacceptable as too many gup users are
performance critical and they must work natively on hugepages like
they work natively on hugetlbfs already (hugetlbfs is simpler because
hugetlbfs pages cannot be splitted so there wouldn't be requirement of
accounting the pins on the tail pages for hugetlbfs). If we wouldn't
account the gup refcounts on the tail pages during gup, we won't know
anymore which tail page is pinned by gup and which is not while we run
split_huge_page. But we still have to add the gup pin to the head page
too, to know when we can free the compound page in case it's never
splitted during its lifetime. That requires changing not just
get_page, but put_page as well so that when put_page runs on a tail
page (and only on a tail page) it will find its respective head page,
and then it will decrease the head page refcount in addition to the
tail page refcount. To obtain a head page reliably and to decrease its
refcount without race conditions, put_page has to serialize against
__split_huge_page_refcount using a special per-page lock called