Tools and techniques for performance tuning in Linux

Too Many Cache Misses?

The performance of the system is highly dependent on the effectiveness of the cache. Any cache miss will degrade performance and lead to a CPU stall.

Sometimes a cache miss is caused by frequently used fields located in data structures that span across the cache line. Oprofile can diagnose this kind of problem.

Again, using the Intel Core 2 processor as an example, choose the event LLC_MISSES to profile all the L2 cache requests that miss the L2 cache. For the exact event to use, you should invoke opcontrol --list-events to read about the details of each event type available for your CPU.

Listing 5 shows how to call up a cache miss profile.

Oprofile is a very versatile tool. By carefully choosing which events to monitor, you can zero in on the CPU operation that is causing the problem.

Listing 5

Cache Miss Profile

01 #opreport -l
02 CPU: Core 2, speed 1801 MHz (estimated)
03 Counted L2_RQSTS events (number of L2 cache requests) with a unit mask of 0x41
04 (multiple flags) count 90050
05 samples  %        app name                 symbol name
06 2803     63.4163  cc1                      (no symbols)
07 190       4.2986  vmlinux-2.6.25-rc9-ltop  get_page_from_freelist
08 102       2.3077  as                       (no symbols)
09 60        1.3575  vmlinux-2.6.25-rc9-ltop  __lock_acquire
10 53        1.1991              strcmp
11 39        0.8824  vmlinux-2.6.25-rc9-ltop  unmap_vmas
12 38        0.8597  vmlinux-2.6.25-rc9-ltop  list_del

Locking Problems

A high context switching rate, relative to the number of running processes, is undesirable and could indicate a lock contention problem. To determine the most contended locks, enable the lock statistics in the kernel, which will give you insight into what is causing the lock contention. To do so, use the lock_stat feature in 2.6.23 or later kernels. First, you'll need to recompile the kernel with the CONFIG_LOCK_STAT=y option. Then, before running the workloads, clear the statistics with:

#echo 0 > /proc/lock_stat

After running the workload, review the lock statistics with the following command:

#cat /proc/lock_stat

The output of the preceding command is a list of locks in the kernel sorted by the number of contentions. For each lock, you will see the number of contentions, as well as the shortest, maximum, and cumulative wait time for a contention. In addition, you will see the number of acquisitions, as well as the minimum, maximum, and cumulative hold times for a lock. The top call sites of the lock are also given to let you locate quickly where in the kernel the lock occurs.

It is worth noting that the lock statistics infrastructure incurs overhead. Once you have finished hunting for locks, you should disable this feature to maximize performance.

Excessive Latency

Program throughput that is inconsistent and sputters, applications that seem to go to sleep before coming alive, and a lot of processes under the blocked column in vmstat are often signs of latency in the system. LatencyTOP is a new tool that helps diagnose latency issues.

Starting with the 2.6.25 kernel, you can compile LatencyTOP support into the kernel by enabling the CONFIG_HAVE_LATENCYTOP_SUPPORT=y and CONFIG_LATENCYTOP=y options in the kernel configuration. After booting up the kernel with LatencyTOP capability, you can trace latency in the workload with a userspace latency tracing tool from the LatencyTOP website [2]. To start, compile the tool, do a make install of the LatencyTOP program, and run the following as root:


The LatencyTOP program's top screen (Figure 2) provides a periodic dump of the top causes that lead to processes being blocked, sorted by the maximum blocked time for each cause. Also, you'll find information on the percentage of time a particular cause contributed to the total blocked time. The bottom screen provides similar information on a per-process basis.

Figure 2: Studying system latency with LatencyTOP.

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