"We have seen ramdisk based install systems, where some pages of mapped libraries and programs were suddendly zeroed under memory pressure. This should not happen, as the ramdisk avoids freeing its pages by keeping them dirty all the time," Christian Borntraeger began, explaining the need for his small patch to the ramdisk driver. He continued, "it turns out that there is a case, where the VM makes a ramdisk page clean, without telling the ramdisk driver. On memory pressure shrink_zone runs and it starts to run shrink_active_list. There is a check for buffer_heads_over_limit, and if true, pagevec_strip is called. pagevec_strip calls try_to_release_page. If the mapping has no releasepage callback, try_to_free_buffers is called. try_to_free_buffers has now a special logic for some file systems to make a dirty page clean, if all buffers are clean. Thats what happened in our test case."
He provided two methods for duplicating the reported problem, "you have to make buffer_heads_over_limit true" This is done by either lowering
max_buffer_heads or having a system with lots of high memory. "The solution is to provide a noop-releasepage callback for the ramdisk driver. This avoids try_to_free_buffers for ramdisk pages."
As RAM increasingly becomes a commodity, the prices drop and computer users are able to buy more. 32-bit archictectures face certain limitations in regards to accessing these growing amounts of RAM. To better understand the problem and the various solutions, we begin with an overview of Linux memory management. Understanding how basic memory management works, we are better able to define the problem, and finally to review the various solutions.
This article was written by examining the Linux 2.6 kernel source code for the x86 architecture types.