Understanding vm.swappiness: Improving Linux Performance and Memory Management

As a Linux user, you may have stumbled across the enigmatic 'vm.swappiness' setting when examining your system's configuration. The variable 'vm.swappiness' is important in Linux memory management because it affects how your system handles virtual memory and swap space. In this blog post, we'll debunk 'vm.swappiness' and look at how it affects system performance. So, let's plunge into the world of Linux memory management and expose the secrets of vm.swappiness.

What is vm.swappiness?

'vm.swappiness' is a Linux kernel setting that controls how aggressively the system swaps out pages from RAM to disk swap space. By temporarily holding inactive pages, swap space acts as an extension of your system's physical memory (RAM) and helps prevent memory fatigue.

Understanding Swappiness Values

The vm.swappiness parameter is represented by an integer value between 0 and 100. Each value corresponds to a different swappiness behavior:

  • 0: The kernel avoids swapping pages out of RAM as much as possible.
  • 100: The kernel aggressively swaps out pages from RAM to the swap space.

A value of 60 is often the default on many Linux distributions, striking a balance between preserving RAM and utilizing swap space.

How Swappiness Affects Performance

Setting the right vm.swappiness value is essential for optimizing your system's performance based on its intended use. Let's explore two common scenarios:

Scenario 1: High Performance (Desktop/Laptop)

For systems with ample RAM, such as desktops or laptops used for resource-intensive tasks like gaming or video editing, a lower vm.swappiness value (e.g., 10) is recommended. This keeps more data in RAM and reduces the frequency of swapping, ensuring faster access to active processes and improving overall responsiveness.

Scenario 2: Memory-Constrained Server

On memory-constrained servers, where running out of RAM could lead to performance issues, a higher vm.swappiness value (e.g., 60) may be beneficial. This allows the kernel to swap out idle pages more aggressively, preventing memory exhaustion and system crashes.

Adjusting Swappiness

Changing the vm.swappiness value is straightforward. Here's how you can do it temporarily and permanently:

Temporary Adjustment

To change the vm.swappiness value temporarily (until the next reboot), use the following command:

sudo sysctl vm.swappiness=<value>

Replace <value> with your desired swappiness value.

Permanent Adjustment

For a permanent change, edit the /etc/sysctl.conf file or a file in /etc/sysctl.d/. For example:

sudo nano /etc/sysctl.conf

Add the following line:


Save the file, and the new swappiness setting will take effect upon the next boot.

Checking Current Swappiness

To verify the current vm.swappiness value, use:

cat /proc/sys/vm/swappiness

Or simply type:

sysctl vm.swappiness


Congratulations! You've unlocked the secrets of vm.swappiness and its influence on Linux memory management. By adjusting this parameter to suit your system's use case, you can optimize performance and ensure efficient memory handling.

Remember, choosing the right swappiness value depends on your specific needs and available resources. Whether you seek high performance for resource-intensive tasks or optimal memory utilization for servers, vm.swappiness empowers you to fine-tune your Linux experience.

So, go forth and experiment with different swappiness values, unleashing the full potential of your Linux system! Happy memory management!


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