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Swappiness in Linux

Most of Linux users that have installed a distribution before, must have noticed the existence of the “swap space” during the partitioning phase (it is usually found as /sda5). This is a dedicated space in your hard drive that is usually set to at least twice the capacity of your RAM, and along with it constitutes the total virtual memory of your system. From time to time, the Linux kernel utilizes this swap space by copying chunks from your RAM to the swap, allowing active processes that require more memory than it is physically available to run.

Swappiness is the kernel parameter that defines how much (and how often) your Linux kernel will copy RAM contents to swap. This parameter’s default value is “60” and it can take anything from “0” to “100”. The higher the value of the swappiness parameter, the more aggressively your kernel will swap.

Why change it?
The default value is a one-fit-all solution that can’t possibly be equally efficient in all of the individual use cases, hardware specifications and user needs. Moreover, the swappiness of a system is a primary factor that determines the overall functionality and speed performance of an OS. That said, it is very important to understand how swappiness works and how the various configurations of this element could improve the operation of your system and thus your everyday usage experience.

As RAM memory is so much larger and cheaper than it used to be in the past, there are many users nowadays that have enough memory to almost never need to use the swap file. The obvious benefit that derives from this is that no system resources are ever occupied by the swapping process and that cached files are not moved back and forth from the RAM to the swap and vise Versa for no reason.

How to change Swappiness?
The swappiness parameter value is stored in a simple configuration text file located in /proc/sys/vm and is named “swappiness”. If you navigate there through the file manager, you will be able to locate the file and open it to check your system’s swappiness. You can also check it or change it through the terminal (which is faster) by typing the following command:

sudo sysctl vm.swappiness=10
or whatever else between “0” and “100” instead of the value “10” that I used. To ensure that the swappiness value was correctly changed to the desired one, you simply type:

cat /proc/sys/vm/swappiness
on the terminal again and the active value will be outputted.

his change has an immediate effect in your system’s operation and thus no rebooting is required. In fact, rebooting will revert the swappiness back to its default value (60). If you have thoroughly tested your desired swapping value and you found that it works reliably, you can make the change permanent by navigating to /etc/sysctl.conf which is yet another text configuration file. You may open this as root (administrator) and add the following line on the bottom to determine the swappiness: vm.swappiness=”your desire value here”.

Then, save the text file and you’re done!

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