Tuesday 13 August 2019

Monitoring page faults with faultstat

Whenever a process accesses a virtual address where there isn't currently a physical page mapped into its process space then a page fault occurs.  This causes an interrupt so that the kernel can handle the page fault.  

A minor page fault occurs when the kernel can successfully map a physically resident page for the faulted user-space virtual address (for example, accessing a memory resident page that is already shared by other processes).   Major page faults occur when accessing a page that has been swapped out or accessing a file backed memory mapped page that is not resident in memory.

Page faults incur latency in the running of a program, major faults especially so because of the delay of loading pages in from a storage device.

The faultstat tool allows one to easily monitor page fault activity allowing one to find the most active page faulting processes.  Running faultstat with no options will dump the page fault statistics of all processes sorted in major+minor page fault order.

Faultstat also has a "top" like mode, inoking it with the -T option will display the top page faulting processes again in major+minor page fault order.

The Major and Minor  columns show the respective major and minor page faults. The +Major and +Minor columns show the recent increase of page faults. The Swap column shows the swap size of the process in pages.

Pressing the 's' key will switch through the sort order. Pressing the 'a' key will add an arrow annotation showing page fault growth change. The 't' key will toggle between cumulative major/minor page total to current change in major/minor faults.

The faultstat tool has just landed in Ubuntu Eoan and can also be installed as a snap.  The source can is available on github.