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Kernel Memory Leak Detector
Kmemleak provides a way of detecting possible kernel memory leaks in a
way similar to a `tracing garbage collector
with the difference that the orphan objects are not freed but only
reported via /sys/kernel/debug/kmemleak. A similar method is used by the
Valgrind tool (``memcheck --leak-check``) to detect the memory leaks in
user-space applications.
CONFIG_DEBUG_KMEMLEAK in "Kernel hacking" has to be enabled. A kernel
thread scans the memory every 10 minutes (by default) and prints the
number of new unreferenced objects found. If the ``debugfs`` isn't already
mounted, mount with::
# mount -t debugfs nodev /sys/kernel/debug/
To display the details of all the possible scanned memory leaks::
# cat /sys/kernel/debug/kmemleak
To trigger an intermediate memory scan::
# echo scan > /sys/kernel/debug/kmemleak
To clear the list of all current possible memory leaks::
# echo clear > /sys/kernel/debug/kmemleak
New leaks will then come up upon reading ``/sys/kernel/debug/kmemleak``
Note that the orphan objects are listed in the order they were allocated
and one object at the beginning of the list may cause other subsequent
objects to be reported as orphan.
Memory scanning parameters can be modified at run-time by writing to the
``/sys/kernel/debug/kmemleak`` file. The following parameters are supported:
- off
disable kmemleak (irreversible)
- stack=on
enable the task stacks scanning (default)
- stack=off
disable the tasks stacks scanning
- scan=on
start the automatic memory scanning thread (default)
- scan=off
stop the automatic memory scanning thread
- scan=<secs>
set the automatic memory scanning period in seconds
(default 600, 0 to stop the automatic scanning)
- scan
trigger a memory scan
- clear
clear list of current memory leak suspects, done by
marking all current reported unreferenced objects grey,
or free all kmemleak objects if kmemleak has been disabled.
- dump=<addr>
dump information about the object found at <addr>
Kmemleak can also be disabled at boot-time by passing ``kmemleak=off`` on
the kernel command line.
Memory may be allocated or freed before kmemleak is initialised and
these actions are stored in an early log buffer. The size of this buffer
is configured via the CONFIG_DEBUG_KMEMLEAK_MEM_POOL_SIZE option.
If CONFIG_DEBUG_KMEMLEAK_DEFAULT_OFF are enabled, the kmemleak is
disabled by default. Passing ``kmemleak=on`` on the kernel command
line enables the function.
If you are getting errors like "Error while writing to stdout" or "write_loop:
Invalid argument", make sure kmemleak is properly enabled.
Basic Algorithm
The memory allocations via :c:func:`kmalloc`, :c:func:`vmalloc`,
:c:func:`kmem_cache_alloc` and
friends are traced and the pointers, together with additional
information like size and stack trace, are stored in a rbtree.
The corresponding freeing function calls are tracked and the pointers
removed from the kmemleak data structures.
An allocated block of memory is considered orphan if no pointer to its
start address or to any location inside the block can be found by
scanning the memory (including saved registers). This means that there
might be no way for the kernel to pass the address of the allocated
block to a freeing function and therefore the block is considered a
memory leak.
The scanning algorithm steps:
1. mark all objects as white (remaining white objects will later be
considered orphan)
2. scan the memory starting with the data section and stacks, checking
the values against the addresses stored in the rbtree. If
a pointer to a white object is found, the object is added to the
gray list
3. scan the gray objects for matching addresses (some white objects
can become gray and added at the end of the gray list) until the
gray set is finished
4. the remaining white objects are considered orphan and reported via
Some allocated memory blocks have pointers stored in the kernel's
internal data structures and they cannot be detected as orphans. To
avoid this, kmemleak can also store the number of values pointing to an
address inside the block address range that need to be found so that the
block is not considered a leak. One example is __vmalloc().
Testing specific sections with kmemleak
Upon initial bootup your /sys/kernel/debug/kmemleak output page may be
quite extensive. This can also be the case if you have very buggy code
when doing development. To work around these situations you can use the
'clear' command to clear all reported unreferenced objects from the
/sys/kernel/debug/kmemleak output. By issuing a 'scan' after a 'clear'
you can find new unreferenced objects; this should help with testing
specific sections of code.
To test a critical section on demand with a clean kmemleak do::
# echo clear > /sys/kernel/debug/kmemleak
... test your kernel or modules ...
# echo scan > /sys/kernel/debug/kmemleak
Then as usual to get your report with::
# cat /sys/kernel/debug/kmemleak
Freeing kmemleak internal objects
To allow access to previously found memory leaks after kmemleak has been
disabled by the user or due to an fatal error, internal kmemleak objects
won't be freed when kmemleak is disabled, and those objects may occupy
a large part of physical memory.
In this situation, you may reclaim memory with::
# echo clear > /sys/kernel/debug/kmemleak
Kmemleak API
See the include/linux/kmemleak.h header for the functions prototype.
- ``kmemleak_init`` - initialize kmemleak
- ``kmemleak_alloc`` - notify of a memory block allocation
- ``kmemleak_alloc_percpu`` - notify of a percpu memory block allocation
- ``kmemleak_vmalloc`` - notify of a vmalloc() memory allocation
- ``kmemleak_free`` - notify of a memory block freeing
- ``kmemleak_free_part`` - notify of a partial memory block freeing
- ``kmemleak_free_percpu`` - notify of a percpu memory block freeing
- ``kmemleak_update_trace`` - update object allocation stack trace
- ``kmemleak_not_leak`` - mark an object as not a leak
- ``kmemleak_ignore`` - do not scan or report an object as leak
- ``kmemleak_scan_area`` - add scan areas inside a memory block
- ``kmemleak_no_scan`` - do not scan a memory block
- ``kmemleak_erase`` - erase an old value in a pointer variable
- ``kmemleak_alloc_recursive`` - as kmemleak_alloc but checks the recursiveness
- ``kmemleak_free_recursive`` - as kmemleak_free but checks the recursiveness
The following functions take a physical address as the object pointer
and only perform the corresponding action if the address has a lowmem
- ``kmemleak_alloc_phys``
- ``kmemleak_free_part_phys``
- ``kmemleak_ignore_phys``
Dealing with false positives/negatives
The false negatives are real memory leaks (orphan objects) but not
reported by kmemleak because values found during the memory scanning
point to such objects. To reduce the number of false negatives, kmemleak
provides the kmemleak_ignore, kmemleak_scan_area, kmemleak_no_scan and
kmemleak_erase functions (see above). The task stacks also increase the
amount of false negatives and their scanning is not enabled by default.
The false positives are objects wrongly reported as being memory leaks
(orphan). For objects known not to be leaks, kmemleak provides the
kmemleak_not_leak function. The kmemleak_ignore could also be used if
the memory block is known not to contain other pointers and it will no
longer be scanned.
Some of the reported leaks are only transient, especially on SMP
systems, because of pointers temporarily stored in CPU registers or
stacks. Kmemleak defines MSECS_MIN_AGE (defaulting to 1000) representing
the minimum age of an object to be reported as a memory leak.
Limitations and Drawbacks
The main drawback is the reduced performance of memory allocation and
freeing. To avoid other penalties, the memory scanning is only performed
when the /sys/kernel/debug/kmemleak file is read. Anyway, this tool is
intended for debugging purposes where the performance might not be the
most important requirement.
To keep the algorithm simple, kmemleak scans for values pointing to any
address inside a block's address range. This may lead to an increased
number of false negatives. However, it is likely that a real memory leak
will eventually become visible.
Another source of false negatives is the data stored in non-pointer
values. In a future version, kmemleak could only scan the pointer
members in the allocated structures. This feature would solve many of
the false negative cases described above.
The tool can report false positives. These are cases where an allocated
block doesn't need to be freed (some cases in the init_call functions),
the pointer is calculated by other methods than the usual container_of
macro or the pointer is stored in a location not scanned by kmemleak.
Page allocations and ioremap are not tracked.
Testing with kmemleak-test
To check if you have all set up to use kmemleak, you can use the kmemleak-test
module, a module that deliberately leaks memory. Set CONFIG_DEBUG_KMEMLEAK_TEST
as module (it can't be used as built-in) and boot the kernel with kmemleak
enabled. Load the module and perform a scan with::
# modprobe kmemleak-test
# echo scan > /sys/kernel/debug/kmemleak
Note that the you may not get results instantly or on the first scanning. When
kmemleak gets results, it'll log ``kmemleak: <count of leaks> new suspected
memory leaks``. Then read the file to see then::
# cat /sys/kernel/debug/kmemleak
unreferenced object 0xffff89862ca702e8 (size 32):
comm "modprobe", pid 2088, jiffies 4294680594 (age 375.486s)
hex dump (first 32 bytes):
6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk
6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b 6b a5 kkkkkkkkkkkkkkk.
[<00000000e0a73ec7>] 0xffffffffc01d2036
[<000000000c5d2a46>] do_one_initcall+0x41/0x1df
[<0000000046db7e0a>] do_init_module+0x55/0x200
[<00000000542b9814>] load_module+0x203c/0x2480
[<00000000c2850256>] __do_sys_finit_module+0xba/0xe0
[<000000006564e7ef>] do_syscall_64+0x43/0x110
[<000000007c873fa6>] entry_SYSCALL_64_after_hwframe+0x44/0xa9
Removing the module with ``rmmod kmemleak_test`` should also trigger some
kmemleak results.