user3111525 user3111525 - 4 months ago 13x
Linux Question

How to see top processes by actual memory usage?

I have a server with 12G of memory. A fragment of top is shown below:

12979 frank 20 0 206m 21m 12m S 11 0.2 26667:24 krfb
13 root 15 -5 0 0 0 S 1 0.0 36:25.04 ksoftirqd/3
59 root 15 -5 0 0 0 S 0 0.0 4:53.00 ata/2
2155 root 20 0 662m 37m 8364 S 0 0.3 338:10.25 Xorg
4560 frank 20 0 8672 1300 852 R 0 0.0 0:00.03 top
12981 frank 20 0 987m 27m 15m S 0 0.2 45:10.82 amarok
24908 frank 20 0 16648 708 548 S 0 0.0 2:08.84 wrapper
1 root 20 0 8072 608 572 S 0 0.0 0:47.36 init
2 root 15 -5 0 0 0 S 0 0.0 0:00.00 kthreadd

free -m
shows the following:

total used free shared buffers cached
Mem: 12038 11676 362 0 599 9745
-/+ buffers/cache: 1331 10706
Swap: 2204 257 1946

As I understand correctly the system has only 362 MB of available memory. So the question is how can I find out which process is consuming most of the memory?

Just for info, the system is running
64bit OpenSuse 12


First, repeat this mantra for a little while: "unused memory is wasted memory". The Linux kernel keeps around huge amounts of file metadata and files that were requested, until something that looks more important pushes that data out. It's why you can run:

find /home -type f -name '*.mp3'
find /home -type f -name '*.aac'

and have the second find instance run at ridiculous speed.

Linux only leaves a little bit of memory 'free' to handle spikes in memory usage without too much effort.

Second, you want to find the processes that are eating all your memory; in top use the M command to sort by memory use. Feel free to ignore the VIRT column, that just tells you how much virtual memory has been allocated, not how much memory the process is using. RES reports how much memory is resident, or currently in ram (as opposed to swapped to disk or never actually allocated in the first place, despite being requested).

But, since RES will count e.g. /lib/ memory once for nearly every process, it isn't exactly an awesome measure of how much memory a process is using. The SHR column reports how much memory is shared with other processes, but there is no guarantee that another process is actually sharing -- it could be sharable, just no one else wants to share.

The smem tool is designed to help users better gage just how much memory should really be blamed on each individual process. It does some clever work to figure out what is really unique, what is shared, and proportionally tallies the shared memory to the processes sharing it. smem may help you understand where your memory is going better than top will, but top is an excellent first tool.