Avoiding crash in out-of-memory situations

From: Lasse Kärkkäinen
Date: Tue Sep 01 2009 - 09:24:26 EST

Currently a number of simple while (1) malloc(n); processes can crash a system even if resource limits are in place as one can only limit the memory usage of a process (not that of an user nor the total used by the userspace) and any otherwise reasonable nproc and memory limits can be circumvented by using more processes.

The OOM killer is supposed to work as a fallback in these situations, but unfortunately the system still goes absolutely unresponsive for about 10 minutes whenever the OOM killer runs. It would seem that this happens because the kernel first gets rid of all buffers and caches, slowing things down to a halt, and the OOM killer activates only after nothing else can be done.

In a more complex situation (e.g. the one that we just had on our server by accidentally running too many valgrind processes) this hang state can take very long, essentially requiring the server to be reseted the hard way.

As there AFAIK is no existing remedy to this problem, I would suggest implementing either (a) per-user limits, (b) a memory reserve for the kernel (e.g. one could reserve 100 MB for the kernel/buffers/caches, giving less for the userspace to allocate even if that means having to kill processes) or (c) both of them.

Or perhaps there is something that I missed?

P.S. using or not using swap doesn't really affect the fundamental problem nor its symptoms, so please don't suggest that either way.
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