Chapter 7. Virtual Memory System

Contributed by Matthew Dillon.
Table of Contents
7.1. Management of Physical Memory—vm_page_t
7.2. The Unified Buffer Cache—vm_object_t
7.3. Filesystem I/O—struct buf
7.4. Mapping Page Tables—vm_map_t, vm_entry_t
7.5. KVM Memory Mapping
7.6. Tuning the FreeBSD VM System

7.1. Management of Physical Memory—vm_page_t

Physical memory is managed on a page-by-page basis through the vm_page_t structure. Pages of physical memory are categorized through the placement of their respective vm_page_t structures on one of several paging queues.

A page can be in a wired, active, inactive, cache, or free state. Except for the wired state, the page is typically placed in a doubly link list queue representing the state that it is in. Wired pages are not placed on any queue.

FreeBSD implements a more involved paging queue for cached and free pages in order to implement page coloring. Each of these states involves multiple queues arranged according to the size of the processor's L1 and L2 caches. When a new page needs to be allocated, FreeBSD attempts to obtain one that is reasonably well aligned from the point of view of the L1 and L2 caches relative to the VM object the page is being allocated for.

Additionally, a page may be held with a reference count or locked with a busy count. The VM system also implements an ultimate locked state for a page using the PG_BUSY bit in the page's flags.

In general terms, each of the paging queues operates in a LRU fashion. A page is typically placed in a wired or active state initially. When wired, the page is usually associated with a page table somewhere. The VM system ages the page by scanning pages in a more active paging queue (LRU) in order to move them to a less-active paging queue. Pages that get moved into the cache are still associated with a VM object but are candidates for immediate reuse. Pages in the free queue are truly free. FreeBSD attempts to minimize the number of pages in the free queue, but a certain minimum number of truly free pages must be maintained in order to accommodate page allocation at interrupt time.

If a process attempts to access a page that does not exist in its page table but does exist in one of the paging queues (such as the inactive or cache queues), a relatively inexpensive page reactivation fault occurs which causes the page to be reactivated. If the page does not exist in system memory at all, the process must block while the page is brought in from disk.

FreeBSD dynamically tunes its paging queues and attempts to maintain reasonable ratios of pages in the various queues as well as attempts to maintain a reasonable breakdown of clean versus dirty pages. The amount of rebalancing that occurs depends on the system's memory load. This rebalancing is implemented by the pageout daemon and involves laundering dirty pages (syncing them with their backing store), noticing when pages are activity referenced (resetting their position in the LRU queues or moving them between queues), migrating pages between queues when the queues are out of balance, and so forth. FreeBSD's VM system is willing to take a reasonable number of reactivation page faults to determine how active or how idle a page actually is. This leads to better decisions being made as to when to launder or swap-out a page.

All FreeBSD documents are available for download at

Questions that are not answered by the documentation may be sent to <>.
Send questions about this document to <>.