zswap – enable – the write back compressed RAM of your swap

Zswap is an interesting way to extend your swap space with a memory write-back cache. Here is our simple explanation:
When this feature is enabled an amount of machine’s RAM is put aside and when the system needs to use swap space it will first write to this area and when it is full then it will use the disk. The data is also compressed on-the-fly by the kernel when saved in the memory allocated for the zswap device. The data is not compressed when saved on the disk. So it may happen your disk won’t be touch at all if the data could fit in the compressed memory pool. In addition, if the memory pool is full or it is at the maximum allowed space and no further extension is possible it occurs data evictions to the disk swap space using least recently used (LRU) algorithm.
Of course, it is a little bit more complex like it compresses only pages and there two handlers, which stores up to 2 compress pages in 1 and another one stores up to 3 pages in 1 (as to understand it even if you sometimes could store more compressed pages in let’s say 5 in 1 page it would not happen, the current memory allocator will compress pages up to what it is configured).
The most important piece of information is:

zswap uses RAM to make a compressed pool, which is first used when a swap out request is made. No writing to the disk is made.

You can effectively increase the amount of RAM using this feature because it’s like you have the ability to compress part of your RAM and the current algorithms show 2x to 3x times compression ratio. So separating 20% of 2G RAM of your virtual server for the zswap device you end up with 1.6G RAM + 400M zswap with the average compression ratio of 2x you may have 2.4G before the swap process touches your disks.

There are multiple cases where this feature is very handful such as:

  • virtualization – virtual servers – increase your RAM
  • reduce IO to the slow disks such as hard drives
  • reduce IO to the flash-based storage, which may increase their life
  • database or DNS servers could have great benefits because the compression ratio could be around 3x (i.e. 3 compressed pages stored in 1 real page)

If you do not know what is 1 page in computer terminology – it is the smallest unit of data for memory management and in most cases it is 4K, of course there are additional sizes 8K, 16K and more. You can see more here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Page_(computer_memory)

Enable zswap

To enable zswap device you must do the following:
Boot your kernel with the kernel parameter (reset is required, on some old kernels of 3.x this is the only option):


Or just enable it from /proc filesystem (runtime enable, not possible in old kernels):

echo 1 > /sys/module/zswap/parameters/enabled

When you disable it by setting to 0 it will not immediately decompress all pages and remove the pool. The pages in the pool must be invalidated or fault back to the memory. You may force the removal of all the compressed pages and the pool by deactivating the swap device by

swapoff -a

To turn off all swap devices and it will return all swap out pages into memory including the ones in the zswap compressed memory pool. The pool will be removed.
Keep on reading!