It’s general knowledge that the Oracle database is ACID compliant, and that SCNs or ‘system change numbers’ are at the heart of this mechanism. This blogpost dives into the details of how the Oracle engine uses these numbers.

Oracle database version 12.1.0.2.161018
Operating system version: OL 7.2, kernel: 4.1.12-61.1.14.el7uek.x86_64 (UEK4)

Redo generation
Whenever DML is executed, redo is generated in the form of ‘change vectors’. These change vectors are copied into the redo buffer as part of the transaction, during the transaction. The function that performs this action is called ‘kcrfw_copy_cv()’. This can be derived by watching the foreground process perform memory copy into the memory area of the redo buffer.

In order to do this, you first need to find the memory area of the redo buffer. This can be done by executing ‘oradebug setmypid’ and ‘oradebug ipc’ as sysdba, and examine the resulting trace file:

 Area #2 `Redo Buffers' containing Subareas 1-1
  Total size 0000000008534000 Minimum Subarea size 00001000
   Area  Subarea    Shmid    Segment Addr    Stable Addr    Actual Addr
      2        1  4784130 0x00000096400000 0x00000096400000 0x00000096400000
               Subarea size     Segment size   Req_Protect  Cur_protect
                          0000000008534000 0000000008600000 default       readwrite

This shows the redo buffers are allocated between 0x96400000 and 0x9E934000 (actual address and actual address + segment size).

The function Oracle uses to copy memory is called “_intel_fast_memcpy()”. This probably is an optimised version of the standard C memcpy() function. What is important, is that the arguments of memcpy function:

$ man memcpy
NAME        
       memcpy - copy memory area
SYNOPSIS    
       #include <string.h>
       void *memcpy(void *dest, const void *src, size_t n);

So the first argument of memcpy is a pointer to the destination, the second argument is a pointer to the source, and the third argument is the size of the memory area to be copied.

In order to find the function that uses memcpy() to copy into the redo buffers area, we can use the following gdb macro:

break _intel_fast_memcpy if $rdi > 0x96400000 && $rdi < 0x9E934000
commands
silent
printf "_intel_fast_memcpy dest %lx, source %lx, size %d\n", $rdi, $rsi, $rdx
frame 1
c
end

The macro creates a conditional breakpoint on the function _intel_fast_memcpy(). The condition is that the CPU register RDI (first argument, destination) should be higher than 0x96400000 and lower than 0x9E934000, which is the memory area the redo log buffers are mapped to. If the breakpoint and its conditions are triggered, the function name is printed, together with the arguments to memcpy, and ‘frame 1’ to list the function that called _intel_fast_memcpy().

To execute this macro, startup an Oracle foreground session, and attach to the session with gdb, and execute the macro. Next, execute an insert statement. In my case, I created a very simple table called ‘T’ with one field, T, varchar2(1). Please mind that you need to watch out for deferred segment creation, so ideally you first need to create the table, and insert a few rows to take care of that.

This is how the gdb side looks like when executing an insert statement:

_intel_fast_memcpy dest 96817454, source 7ffc9fcc9598, size 36
#1  0x000000000ccbaa42 in kcrfw_copy_cv ()
_intel_fast_memcpy dest 96817478, source 7ffc9fcc9658, size 32
#1  0x000000000ccbaa42 in kcrfw_copy_cv ()
_intel_fast_memcpy dest 96817498, source 7faf6ad677f0, size 44
#1  0x000000000ccbaa42 in kcrfw_copy_cv ()
_intel_fast_memcpy dest 968174c4, source 7ffc9fcc9678, size 20
#1  0x000000000ccbaa42 in kcrfw_copy_cv ()
_intel_fast_memcpy dest 968174d8, source 7ffc9fcc95e4, size 76
#1  0x000000000ccbaa42 in kcrfw_copy_cv ()
_intel_fast_memcpy dest 96817524, source 7faf6ad67888, size 8
#1  0x000000000ccbaa42 in kcrfw_copy_cv ()
_intel_fast_memcpy dest 9681752c, source 7faf6ad67760, size 20
#1  0x000000000ccbaa42 in kcrfw_copy_cv ()
_intel_fast_memcpy dest 96817540, source 7faf6ad69ff8, size 40
#1  0x000000000ccbaa42 in kcrfw_copy_cv ()
_intel_fast_memcpy dest 96817568, source 7faf6ad6a070, size 24
#1  0x000000000ccbaa42 in kcrfw_copy_cv ()
_intel_fast_memcpy dest 96817580, source 7faf6ad69f60, size 49
#1  0x000000000ccbaa42 in kcrfw_copy_cv ()
_intel_fast_memcpy dest 968175b4, source 89753568, size 1
#1  0x000000000ccbaa42 in kcrfw_copy_cv ()

The destination of the memcpy() action is the logbuffers, the break conditions made sure of that. The source of all except for the last memcpy() is the PGA (visible by the high number), the last memcpy() copies from the SGA. The memory address points to an SQLA component (cursor) in the SGA.

Okay, at this point we established the redo of a DML operation is put in the redo buffers by a function called kcrfw_copy_cv(). Also please mind that modern Oracle versions do put redo into the redo buffers during doing DML, not after it!

To move further on the topic of transactions, let’s look at when the current SCN is fetched and when kcrfw_copy_cv() is called. To do this, I use the following gdb macro:

break kcrfw_copy_cv
commands
silent
printf "kcrfw_copy_cv\n"
c
end
awatch *0x6001fbb0
commands
c
end

When running this gdb macro against an Oracle session running an insert statement, the following output is generated:

Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 2: *0x6001fbb0

Old value = 347661
New value = 347666
0x000000000ccbdfb3 in kcscur3 ()
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 2: *0x6001fbb0

Value = 347666
0x000000000ccbe9ad in kcsgrsn ()
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 2: *0x6001fbb0

Value = 347666
0x000000000ccbe827 in kcsgcsn ()
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 2: *0x6001fbb0

Value = 347666
0x000000000ccbe827 in kcsgcsn ()
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 2: *0x6001fbb0

Value = 347666
0x000000000ccbe9ad in kcsgrsn ()
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 2: *0x6001fbb0

Value = 347666
0x000000000ccbe9ad in kcsgrsn ()
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 2: *0x6001fbb0

Value = 347666
0x000000000ccbeb04 in kcsgssn ()
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 2: *0x6001fbb0

Value = 347666
0x000000000ccbdfb3 in kcscur3 ()
kcrfw_copy_cv
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 2: *0x6001fbb0

Value = 347666
0x000000000ccbe9ad in kcsgrsn ()
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 2: *0x6001fbb0

Value = 347666
0x000000000ccbe827 in kcsgcsn ()

Actually, I was surprised by this output. I suspected a call to generate an unique SCN for this change. However, the calls/functions which are visible are:
– kcscur3: a function to read a SCN (the global SCN, but is also used to read other SCNs, like the LWN SCN and the on-disk SCN).
– kcsgrsn: kernel cache service get recent SCN, for reading the global SCN.
– kcsgcsn: kernel cache service get current SCN, for reading the global SCN.
– kcsgssn: kernel cache service get snapshot SCN, for reading the global SCN.
All of these functions do READ a SCN value, but do not modify it. In order to update a SCN, the function kcsgbsn (kernel cache service get batched SCN) should be called. There is a memory write shown (row 1-5), but that really is a read, it is an anomaly of watchpoints with memory changed by other processes.

So, conclusion at this point is that DML (in this case an insert statement) just reads the global SCN, and does not seem to update it.

This got me thinking: if an insert statement just reads the global SCN, instead of generating an unique SCN, it should be possible that the changes (redo vectors actually) of DML executed simultaneously in different sessions on different segments share the same SCN? It sounds counter intuitive to what I have been taught about Oracle.

This can be tested in the following way:
1 – Have two foreground sessions in a different schema execute an insert statement at exactly the same time. This can be done in iTerm2 using the ‘broadcast input’ option, which allows input to be executed in multiple panes at the same time. The command executed in both pane’s is ‘insert into t values (‘a’);’.

2 – Have gdb attached to the two sessions, having an access watchpoint at the global SCN, to be able to identify the SCN that both the session used during executing the insert, and a breakpoint at kcrfw_copy_cv() to understand which SCN it uses. I used the following gdb macro:

break kcrfw_copy_cv
  commands
    silent
    printf "kcrfw_copy_cv\n"
    c
  end
awatch *0x6001fbb0
  commands
    silent
    if $rip >= 0xccbdfa0 && $rip <= 0xccbe010
      printf "kcscur3 - SCN: %x\n", *0x6001fbb0
    end
    c
  end

3 – To validate what is visible in gdb, dump the current logfile and find the SCN as shown in gdb. The current logfile can be dumped to trace using the following PL/SQL procedure:

----------------------------------------
-- This script will dump the current redolog file.
-- If the log file is big, this might take some time.
--
--
-- Original Author : Riyaj Shamsudeen
-- Modifications by: Frits Hoogland
-- No implied or explicit warranty !
----------------------------------------
set serveroutput on size 1000000
declare
  v_sqltext varchar2(255);
begin
 select 'alter system dump logfile '||chr(39)||member||chr(39) into v_sqltext
  from v$log lg, v$logfile lgfile
  where lg.group# = lgfile.group# and
  lg.sequence# = ( select sequence# from v$log where status='CURRENT' )
  and rownum <2;
  dbms_output.put_line ('Executing :'||v_sqltext);
  execute immediate v_sqltext;
end;
/

In step 2, I got the following gdb output on both the inserts:

(1st session)
kcscur3 - SCN: 5c860
kcscur3 - SCN: 5c860
kcrfw_copy_cv

(2nd session)
kcscur3 - SCN: 5c860
kcscur3 - SCN: 5c860
kcrfw_copy_cv

This is as expected based on our observation, because the insert statement only reads the global SCN. Now let’s dump the current redologfile as shown in step 3 above, and see if we can find SCN 5c860.
Here are the redo records for both changes:

REDO RECORD - Thread:1 RBA: 0x000014.0000a50e.0010 LEN: 0x01a8 VLD: 0x05 CON_UID: 0
SCN: 0x0000.0005c860 SUBSCN:  1 10/21/2016 20:12:11

REDO RECORD - Thread:1 RBA: 0x000014.0000a50e.01b8 LEN: 0x0194 VLD: 0x01 CON_UID: 0
SCN: 0x0000.0005c860 SUBSCN:  1 10/21/2016 20:12:11

Watch the SCN from the gdb session and at the line with SCN and the SUBSCN value being the same. Also watch the RBA (redo block address) being different.

Both redo records contain 3 changes:

(1st session)
CHANGE #1 CON_ID:0 TYP:0 CLS:31 AFN:3 DBA:0x000000f0 OBJ:4294967295 SCN:0x0000.0005c801 SEQ:1 OP:5.2 ENC:0 RBL:0 FLG:0x0000
CHANGE #2 CON_ID:0 TYP:0 CLS:32 AFN:3 DBA:0x000000f9 OBJ:4294967295 SCN:0x0000.0005c800 SEQ:1 OP:5.1 ENC:0 RBL:0 FLG:0x0000
CHANGE #3 CON_ID:0 TYP:2 CLS:1 AFN:4 DBA:0x0000600c OBJ:20455 SCN:0x0000.0005c857 SEQ:1 OP:11.2 ENC:0 RBL:0 FLG:0x0000

(2nd session)
CHANGE #1 CON_ID:0 TYP:0 CLS:35 AFN:3 DBA:0x00000110 OBJ:4294967295 SCN:0x0000.0005c7b2 SEQ:1 OP:5.2 ENC:0 RBL:0 FLG:0x0000
CHANGE #2 CON_ID:0 TYP:0 CLS:36 AFN:3 DBA:0x00000895 OBJ:4294967295 SCN:0x0000.0005c78c SEQ:1 OP:5.1 ENC:0 RBL:0 FLG:0x0000
CHANGE #3 CON_ID:0 TYP:2 CLS:1 AFN:4 DBA:0x0000600e OBJ:20455 SCN:0x0000.0005c858 SEQ:1 OP:11.2 ENC:0 RBL:0 FLG:0x0000

These 3 transactions are consistent with an insert of a single row, this is visible by the opcodes:
5.2=update rollback segment header
5.1=undo block
11.2=insert row piece

This means the DML of the two inserts have exactly the same SCN! A logic thought that you might come up with is: but how is Oracle then able to apply these in the correct order, which is one of the fundamental reasons for having SCNs? For that, it’s important to realise this is just the change to a block, but not a committed transaction yet. In order to get a full understanding of how the SCN mechanism works for at least a single row insert, we need to change the gdb macro from the test above:

awatch *0x6001fbb0
  commands
    silent
    if $rip >= 0xccbdfa0 && $rip <= 0xccbe010
      printf "kcscur3 - SCN: %x\n", *0x6001fbb0
    end
    if $rip >= 0xccbe340 && $rip <= 0xccbe7b0
      printf "kcsgbsn - SCN: %x (@%x)\n", *0x6001fbb0, $rip
    end
    c
  end
break kcrfw_copy_cv
  commands
    silent
    printf "kcrfw_copy_cv\n"
    c
  end

The function kcsgbsn means: kernel cache service get batched SCN. This function DOES update the global SCN(!). However, this function does not get called during the insert. It does get called when commit is called (or rollback).

So, in order take another step in understanding SCN handling by Oracle, let’s use the updated version of the gdb macro, and insert another row into the table in two sessions, and then also commit:

(1st session)
kcscur3 - SCN: 7e39b
kcscur3 - SCN: 7e39b
kcrfw_copy_cv
kcscur3 - SCN: 7e39b
kcsgbsn - SCN: 7e39b (@ccbe3a3)
kcsgbsn - SCN: 7e39c (@ccbe3bb)
kcrfw_copy_cv

(2nd session)
kcscur3 - SCN: 7e39b
kcscur3 - SCN: 7e39b
kcrfw_copy_cv
kcscur3 - SCN: 7e39b
kcsgbsn - SCN: 7e39b (@ccbe3a3)
kcsgbsn - SCN: 7e39c (@ccbe3bb)
kcsgbsn - SCN: 7e39c (@ccbe63a)
kcrfw_copy_cv

In both sessions we see the insert (lines 2-4 and 11-13), and then the commit (lines 5-8 and 14-18).
During the insert, we see both sessions using the same SCN (7e39b), which can be verified by dumping the current redologfile:

REDO RECORD - Thread:1 RBA: 0x000016.00018f19.0010 LEN: 0x01c0 VLD: 0x05 CON_UID: 0
SCN: 0x0000.0007e39b SUBSCN:  1 10/22/2016 12:30:45

REDO RECORD - Thread:1 RBA: 0x000016.00018f19.01d0 LEN: 0x0194 VLD: 0x01 CON_UID: 0
SCN: 0x0000.0007e39b SUBSCN:  1 10/22/2016 12:30:45

And we see kcsgbsn() being called. As has been documented on multiple places, the current value of the global SCN is read, and then advanced (get and advance). This can be seen in lines 6 and 7; 0x7e39b is read, and then advanced to 0x7e39c. However, to be honest to my surprise, the second session does the same, as seen in lines 15-17, it advances from 0x7e39b to 0x7e39c too. However it rereads the SCN one additional time. The surprise is the sessions seem to have the same SCN for the commit. Validation from the dump of the current redologfile:

REDO RECORD - Thread:1 RBA: 0x000016.00018f1a.0174 LEN: 0x0068 VLD: 0x01 CON_UID: 0
SCN: 0x0000.0007e39c SUBSCN:  1 10/22/2016 12:30:45
CHANGE #1 CON_ID:0 TYP:0 CLS:31 AFN:3 DBA:0x000000f0 OBJ:4294967295 SCN:0x0000.0007e39b SEQ:1 OP:5.4 ENC:0 RBL:0 FLG:0x0000

REDO RECORD - Thread:1 RBA: 0x000016.00018f1a.01dc LEN: 0x0068 VLD: 0x01 CON_UID: 0
SCN: 0x0000.0007e39c SUBSCN:  1 10/22/2016 12:30:45
CHANGE #1 CON_ID:0 TYP:0 CLS:19 AFN:3 DBA:0x00000090 OBJ:4294967295 SCN:0x0000.0007e39b SEQ:1 OP:5.4 ENC:0 RBL:0 FLG:0x0000

Yes, both commits (visible by the opcode (OP) 5.4) have the same SCN. At this point I think it’s fitting to theorise why this is happening. I think this is happening and makes sense because the table is protected for consistency at another level in the database, which is the locking mechanisms (TX locks for rows, TM locks for segments), which guarantees that two transactions at the same time do not compromise data consistency. And because of that, it’s not a problem to batch them with the same SCN.

Conclusion
Changes in the database are synchronised by system change numbers, also known as SCNs. SCNs are the way Oracle serialises changes to data. However, this post shows that the Oracle engine tries to maximise the number of changes inside a SCN, and as such a SCN is not an highly granular serialisation mechanism. This is not a problem, since Oracle’s transactional protection mechanisms (like TX and TM locks) do work alongside SCNs to make sure no conflicting changes can happen at the same time. The changes itself do just read and pick the current global SCN from the instance, a commit of these changes does increase the global SCN, but as little as possible. You might find multiple changes in the same SCN, and you might even find commits with the same SCNs.

Bonus topic: finding nemokcscur3.
In case you wondered what this little macro means, and how got the memory addresses:

awatch *0x6001fbb0
  commands
    silent
    if $rip >= 0xccbdfa0 && $rip <= 0xccbe010
      printf "kcscur3 - SCN: %x\n", *0x6001fbb0
    end
    c
  end

awatch is a memory access watch function. The commands executed when this watch triggers are:
-silent (do not display output)
-if $rip >= 0xccbdfa0 && $rip <= 0xccbe010 (if the instruction pointer contains a value higher or equal to 0xccbdfa0 and the instruction pointer contains a value lower or equal to 0xccbe010)
-printf "kcscur3 – SCN: %x\n", *0x6001fbb0 (print some stuff and print (in hexadecimal format) where the value the pointer 0x6001fbb0 points to)
The text 'kcscur3' in the printf spoils that these addresses are actually the memory addresses where the function kcscur3 is located. How to find these? The starting address can be found in a variety of ways, for example in gdb: 'info function kcscur3', or in the shell using nm: 'nm oracle | grep kcscur3'. It is a bit harder to find the ending address of a function. However, it's still quite simple doable with nm: 'nm -S oracle | grep kcscur3':

[root@o12102fs bin]# nm -S oracle | grep kcscur3
000000000ccbdfa0 0000000000000070 T kcscur3

The first column is the starting memory address of the kcscur3 function, the second column is the length (in hexadecimal) of the function code. 0xccbdfa0+0x70=0xccbe010.

Update oktober 24, 2016:
Roger noted the following: Minor correction, Oracle doesn’t do DML directly, it first generates change vectors which are then applied to the local database which is effectively running in recovery. This way Oracle uniquely guarantees recovery on the primary or physical standby will always do exactly the same thing as the original DML.

Stefan noted the following: Hey Frits. Great work – as always. However i am not quite sure about your kcrfw_copy_cv() PGA interpretation for private redo strands. AFAIK private redo strands reside in permanent memory allocations (in SGA) and you should see memory copy operations between these memory chunks and the public redo buffer(s) on commit. Your GDB breakpoint should only kick in under these circumstances as anything else is handled in private redo (at least on your mentioned database version) and no memory operations on redo buffer. I also modeled a short test case with 12.1.0.1 on OEL 6.7 to verify my theory/assumption and the result was as expected – not quite sure about your observed and mentioned PGA to redo log buffer copy operations then.

I should add that when I run snapper on the insert in my database, the statistics ‘IMU- failed to get a private strand’ and ‘IMU pool not allocated’ are increased, giving a hint no private strands are used.

During investigating I ran once again into statistics in the Oracle database that still provide a useful details, but the actual naming of the statistic is describing a situation that in reality does not exist anymore. The statistics I am talking about are ‘calls to kcmgcs’, ‘calls to kcmgrs’, ‘calls to kcmgas’ and ‘calls to get snapshot scn: kcmgss’.

Disclaimer: this is research. Any of these techniques potentially can crash your instance or leave your database in a corrupted state. Test the techniques used in this article severely before applying it in an actual situation. Use at your own risk.

Back to the ‘calls to’ statistics. To see what I mean here, you can look up the functions in symbol table in the Oracle executable. There are several ways to do that, one way is using gdb:

(gdb) info function ^kcmg
All functions matching regular expression "^kcmg":

Non-debugging symbols:
0x0000000002d12410  kcmgtsUTC
0x0000000002d12be0  kcmgts
0x0000000002d139a0  kcmgtsRSL
0x000000000cc924b0  kcmglscn
0x000000000cc92560  kcmgtsf

See? There are no functions kcmgcs, kcmgrs, kcmgas and kcmgss. Are these statistics of any use then? I think so, although the only really relevant statistic probably is ‘calls to kcmgas’ to indicate an approximate count of the number of calls for a new SCN (gas probably means ‘get and advance’). The meaning of them is documented (at least up to version 12.1) in the online Oracle documentation, Statistics Description:
– ‘calls to get snapshot scn: kcmgss’: Number of times a snapshot system change number (SCN) was allocated. The SCN is allocated at the start of a transaction.
– ‘calls to kcmgas’: Number of calls to routine kcmgas to get a new SCN
– ‘calls to kcmgcs’: Number of calls to routine kcmgcs to get a current SCN
– ‘calls to kcmgrs’: Number of calls to routine kcsgrs to get a recent SCN
(I think ‘routine kcsgrs’ is a typo or a partial improvement and should be either kcmgrs to stay in line with the other (wrong) descriptions, or it should be kcsgrsn (added ‘n’) to be correct)

Would there be a way to find out how this now works? We can’t work from the function names, since I have just proven the functions do not exist anymore (I have no sufficient old enough database to prove this actually, feel free to test this on your old 7/8i/9i/10g database!). However, we can work this out when starting from the other end as seen from what the functions are supposed to do. The functions are supposed to provide a SCN for the session to work with. Since we know the source of SCN values in the SGA (kcsgscn, the global SCN), we can watch which functions do call this variable for a new SCN value or a reference value!

Obtain the address of kcsgscn:

SQL> select ksmfsnam, ksmfsadr from x$ksmfsv
2  where ksmfsnam = 'kcsgscn_';

KSMFSNAM                                                         KSMFSADR
---------------------------------------------------------------- ----------------
kcsgscn_                                                         000000006001FBB0

Now put a access watchpoint on the kcsgscn address for a session using gdb:

$ gdb -p PID
...
(gdb) awatch *0x6001fbb0
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 1: *0x6001fbb0
(gdb) commands
Type commands for breakpoint(s) 1, one per line.
End with a line saying just "end".
>c
>end
(gdb) c
Continuing.

Now let’s test something very simple, like a ‘select * from dual’:

Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 1: *0x6001fbb0

Old value = 331907
New value = 332367
0x000000000cca0f74 in kcsgssn ()
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 1: *0x6001fbb0

Value = 332367
0x000000000cca0423 in kcscur3 ()
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 1: *0x6001fbb0

Value = 332367
0x000000000cca0f74 in kcsgssn ()
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 1: *0x6001fbb0

Value = 332367
0x000000000cca0c97 in kcsgcsn ()
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 1: *0x6001fbb0

Value = 332367
0x000000000cca0c97 in kcsgcsn ()
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 1: *0x6001fbb0

Value = 332367
0x000000000cca0c97 in kcsgcsn ()
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 1: *0x6001fbb0

Value = 332367
0x000000000cca0423 in kcscur3 ()
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 1: *0x6001fbb0

Value = 332367
0x000000000cca0c97 in kcsgcsn ()

That’s my session accessing address 0x6001fbb0, alias the global SCN, eight times.
The functions that access 0x6001fbbo in this case are kcsgssn, kcscur3 and kcsgcsn.

When we look at the session statistics of the above executed SQL (please mind there is a difference between the first execution and subsequent executions), and focus on the ‘calls to’ statistics this is what this shows (partial output from Tanel’s snapper):

130, SYS       , STAT, calls to kcmgcs                                           ,             4,
130, SYS       , STAT, calls to get snapshot scn: kcmgss                         ,             2,

If carefully combine the snapper output with the function names the watchpoint gives, it becomes apparent that the amount of the statistic with kcmgcs is equal to the times the kcsgcsn function was called, and the amount of the statistic with kcmgss is equal to the times the kcsgssn function was called.

This is only a very simple example, when you try different SQL’s, especially DML, you will notice a lot of calls to the global SCN are made, because the metadata is protected by SCN’s too. I assume Oracle kept the statistics names the same for the sake of not breaking products and scripts using these statistic names. However in reality the functions using the global SCN are different from how the database truly works.

Recently I was investigating the inner working of Oracle. One of the things that is fundamental to the Oracle database is the SCN (system change number). SCNs are used to synchronise changes in the database. There is one source for SCNs in every instance (kcbgscn; the global or current SCN in the fixed SGA), and there are multiple tasks for which Oracle keeps track of synchronisation using SCNs. A few of these tasks for which Oracle stores and uses SCNs to keep track of progress are on disk SCN and lwn SCN.

This blogpost is about some oddities I found when using gdb (the GNU debugger) to watch memory locations of a running Oracle database. This should not be done on a production instance, and is purely for research purposes. Only use the methods mentioned in this article if you are absolutely sure what you are doing, and/or if you are using an Oracle instance that can be crashed and can be restored.

The situation
I was researching the ‘on disk scn’ in a 11.2.0.2 database. I used the following (simplified) gdb macro:

break kcrf_commit_force
  commands
    print $rip
    c
  end
awatch *0x60022659
  commands
    c
  end

This macro breaks on the function kcrf_commit_force essentially to understand the different phases of a commit, and uses the ‘awatch’ function (access watch; which means this watchpoint fires at both reading and writing) to look at memory location 0x60022659. That memory location is the on disk SCN for this instance.

Upon executing a commit after an insert, I saw the following output:

Breakpoint 1, 0x0000000008fb3a72 in kcrf_commit_force ()
$1 = (void (*)()) 0x8fb3a72 <kcrf_commit_force+4>
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 2: *0x60022659

Old value = 898
New value = 899
0x0000000008fb5ad1 in kcscur3 ()

Breakpoint 1, 0x0000000008fb3a72 in kcrf_commit_force ()
$2 = (void (*)()) 0x8fb3a72 <kcrf_commit_force+4>
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 2: *0x60022659

Value = 899
0x0000000008fb5ad1 in kcscur3 ()
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 2: *0x60022659

Value = 899
0x0000000008fb5ad1 in kcscur3 ()
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 2: *0x60022659

Value = 899
0x0000000008fb5ad1 in kcscur3 ()

What this shows, is the following:
– line 1 and 9: the kcrf_commit_force function is called.
– line 11, 15 and 19: the memory location *0x60022659 is read, resulting in the value 899.
– line 3: the memory location *0x60022659 is written, it contained 898, and the new value is 899.

This greatly puzzled me. As far as I understand the way Oracle works, a server process that issues ‘commit’ is supposed to READ the on disk SCN, it does not write the on disk SCN, because the only process that changes the on disk SCN is the logwriter. However, quite clearly gdb tells me the server process is writing it. Further consideration is that IF the server process is writing it, where does this information come from?

After some further investigation, I came to the conclusion that the only way to prove to myself that what I am seeing is correct, is to create a program myself mimicking the behaviour witnessed above to truly understand what is going on, because I don’t believe what I am seeing is correct.

I created two little c programs. One that starts up, creates a shared memory segment, writes a letter into the shared memory segment and then waits for a keystroke, and puts the keystroke into the same location, and one that reads the same shared memory segment, then waits for enter to pressed, and reads the shared memory segment again, and outputs if the letter read from the shared memory is different. I called the first one ‘server’, and the second one ‘client’. This way, I can attach gdb to the client executable, which very much like an Oracle server process, reads a shared memory location which I can change at will.

The code can be found on GitHub: shared memory test source. Please mind this is simple proof of concept code that is not exhaustive in error checking and other sanity checks in any way. The source files can be compiled and linked in the following way:

$ cc server.c -o server
$ cc client.c -o client

The server executable can be run in the following way:

$ ./server
Type a letter. q quits.

This creates the shared memory segment, and puts the ‘a’ character in the variable c (line 42, c = ‘a’). As long as the c variable is not ‘q’, it writes the c variable into shared memory segment using the pointer s (*s = c) , and then waits for user input using the scanf function.

Once the shared memory segment is created and written into, the client program can be started:

$ ./client
client started. ^C to quit.
waiting for enter

The first time enter is pressed it will output ‘keystroke: a’ because the p variable was not initialised, and will be assigned the ‘a’ character (p = *s), the second time enter is pressed, ‘keystroke:’ is not printed, because the p variable and the memory location the pointer *s points to both contain ‘a’. What is vital, is that the client program NEVER writes, only reads the shared memory location, in three occasions: in line 50:

if( p != *s) {

In line 51:

printf("keystroke: %c\n", *s);

And in line 52:

p = *s;

Okay. So at this point we got a program that mimics what I think an Oracle server process is doing too on commit time (reading shared memory), which is the program ‘client’, and we got a program which creates and can manipulate the shared memory location the client is reading from, which is ‘server’. Startup the server program (./server), and startup the client using gdb:

$ gdb client
GNU gdb (GDB) Red Hat Enterprise Linux (7.2-90.el6)
Copyright (C) 2010 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
License GPLv3+: GNU GPL version 3 or later <http://gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html>
This is free software: you are free to change and redistribute it.
There is NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by law.  Type "show copying"
and "show warranty" for details.
This GDB was configured as "x86_64-redhat-linux-gnu".
For bug reporting instructions, please see:
<http://www.gnu.org/software/gdb/bugs/>...
Reading symbols from /home/oracle/src/shm_test/client...(no debugging symbols found)...done.
(gdb)

This is different than attaching to a process using gdb -p PID, but attaching to a process using ‘-p’ is the only way that I am aware of to use gdb on Oracle database processes. Now that we started gdb with the client program, we must first run it in order to see the program’s runtime environment:

(gdb) run
Starting program: /home/oracle/src/shm_test/client
client started. ^C to quit.
waiting for enter

Now invoke gdb (using control-C) and look at the memory mappings to see where the shared memory segment is:

(gdb) info proc mappings
process 3069
cmdline = '/home/oracle/src/shm_test/client'
cwd = '/home/oracle/src/shm_test'
exe = '/home/oracle/src/shm_test/client'
Mapped address spaces:

          Start Addr           End Addr       Size     Offset objfile
            0x400000           0x401000     0x1000          0                              /home/oracle/src/shm_test/client
            0x600000           0x601000     0x1000          0                              /home/oracle/src/shm_test/client
      0x7ffff7a48000     0x7ffff7bd2000   0x18a000          0                     /lib64/libc-2.12.so
      0x7ffff7bd2000     0x7ffff7dd2000   0x200000   0x18a000                     /lib64/libc-2.12.so
      0x7ffff7dd2000     0x7ffff7dd6000     0x4000   0x18a000                     /lib64/libc-2.12.so
      0x7ffff7dd6000     0x7ffff7dd8000     0x2000   0x18e000                     /lib64/libc-2.12.so
      0x7ffff7dd8000     0x7ffff7ddc000     0x4000          0
      0x7ffff7ddc000     0x7ffff7dfc000    0x20000          0                     /lib64/ld-2.12.so
      0x7ffff7ff0000     0x7ffff7ff3000     0x3000          0
      0x7ffff7ff6000     0x7ffff7ff8000     0x2000          0
      0x7ffff7ff8000     0x7ffff7ff9000     0x1000          0                       /SYSV0000029a (deleted)
      0x7ffff7ff9000     0x7ffff7ffa000     0x1000          0
      0x7ffff7ffa000     0x7ffff7ffb000     0x1000          0                           [vdso]
      0x7ffff7ffb000     0x7ffff7ffd000     0x2000    0x1f000                     /lib64/ld-2.12.so
      0x7ffff7ffd000     0x7ffff7ffe000     0x1000    0x21000                     /lib64/ld-2.12.so
      0x7ffff7ffe000     0x7ffff7fff000     0x1000          0
      0x7ffffffea000     0x7ffffffff000    0x15000          0                           [stack]
  0xffffffffff600000 0xffffffffff601000     0x1000          0                   [vsyscall]

Line 19 contains the shared memory segment, at memory address 0x7ffff7ff8000. To do the same as watching the on disk SCN location in Oracle, put an access watchpoint at 0x7ffff7ff8000:

(gdb) awatch *0x7ffff7ff8000
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 1: *0x7ffff7ff8000
(gdb) commands
Type commands for breakpoint(s) 1, one per line.
End with a line saying just "end".
>c
>end
(gdb) c
Continuing.

Now press enter, and we see the shared memory location being accessed three times:

Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 1: *0x7ffff7ff8000

Value = 97
0x0000000000400712 in main ()
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 1: *0x7ffff7ff8000

Value = 97
0x000000000040071e in main ()
keystroke: a
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 1: *0x7ffff7ff8000

Value = 97
0x000000000040073c in main ()
waiting for enter

If you take the source code, you’ll see that these are the following lines of code at rows 50-52:

       if( p != *s ) {
          printf("keystroke: %c\n", *s);
          p = *s;

Every line reads the shared memory location via the pointer *s. It’s also clear it’s a read because the value in the memory location (97) is displayed once.

Now go over to the server side, and press ‘b’ and enter. Now the shared memory segment contains ‘b’. Next, go back to the client program, and press enter:

waiting for enter

Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 1: *0x7ffff7ff8000

Old value = 97
New value = 98
0x0000000000400712 in main ()
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 1: *0x7ffff7ff8000

Value = 98
0x000000000040071e in main ()
keystroke: b
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 1: *0x7ffff7ff8000

Value = 98
0x000000000040073c in main ()
waiting for enter

Hey! This shows what looks like a write with the first watchpoint, because the memory location is touched, and it reports the value at the location being changed. However, because we know the source code, we know we only read the shared memory location with the client program, not write to it! So what this shows in this case is that gdb knew what the previous value was of the memory location was, and detected that it was changed.

To see how a true write looks like, you can startup the server executable with gdb too, and set an ‘awatch’ watchpoint on the shared memory location exactly the same way as shown with the client program above. This is how that looks like:

(gdb) c
Continuing.
b
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 1: *0x7ffff7ff8000

Old value = 97
New value = 98
0x00000000004006e9 in main ()

So conclusion here is that you can’t see the difference between a write to a memory location or a change of value when reading when using an ‘awatch’ watchpoint.

Now that we understand how ‘awatch’ works, would there be a way to make the distinction between reading and writing? Outside of ‘awatch’ (access watchpoint), there’s the ‘watch’ command, which is a watchpoint on writing to a memory location and ‘rwatch’, which is a watchpoint on reading a memory location. This is how the output of ‘rwatch’ looks like in the client program:

$ gdb client
GNU gdb (GDB) Red Hat Enterprise Linux (7.2-90.el6)
Copyright (C) 2010 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
License GPLv3+: GNU GPL version 3 or later <http://gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html>
This is free software: you are free to change and redistribute it.
There is NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by law.  Type "show copying"
and "show warranty" for details.
This GDB was configured as "x86_64-redhat-linux-gnu".
For bug reporting instructions, please see:
<http://www.gnu.org/software/gdb/bugs/>...
Reading symbols from /home/oracle/src/shm_test/client...(no debugging symbols found)...done.
(gdb) run
Starting program: /home/oracle/src/shm_test/client
client started. ^C to quit.
waiting for enter
^C
Program received signal SIGINT, Interrupt.
0x00007ffff7b23670 in __read_nocancel () from /lib64/libc.so.6
Missing separate debuginfos, use: debuginfo-install glibc-2.12-1.192.el6.x86_64
(gdb) info proc map
process 3517
cmdline = '/home/oracle/src/shm_test/client'
cwd = '/home/oracle/src/shm_test'
exe = '/home/oracle/src/shm_test/client'
Mapped address spaces:

          Start Addr           End Addr       Size     Offset objfile
            0x400000           0x401000     0x1000          0                              /home/oracle/src/shm_test/client
            0x600000           0x601000     0x1000          0                              /home/oracle/src/shm_test/client
      0x7ffff7a48000     0x7ffff7bd2000   0x18a000          0                     /lib64/libc-2.12.so
      0x7ffff7bd2000     0x7ffff7dd2000   0x200000   0x18a000                     /lib64/libc-2.12.so
      0x7ffff7dd2000     0x7ffff7dd6000     0x4000   0x18a000                     /lib64/libc-2.12.so
      0x7ffff7dd6000     0x7ffff7dd8000     0x2000   0x18e000                     /lib64/libc-2.12.so
      0x7ffff7dd8000     0x7ffff7ddc000     0x4000          0
      0x7ffff7ddc000     0x7ffff7dfc000    0x20000          0                     /lib64/ld-2.12.so
      0x7ffff7ff0000     0x7ffff7ff3000     0x3000          0
      0x7ffff7ff6000     0x7ffff7ff8000     0x2000          0
      0x7ffff7ff8000     0x7ffff7ff9000     0x1000          0                       /SYSV0000029a (deleted)
      0x7ffff7ff9000     0x7ffff7ffa000     0x1000          0
      0x7ffff7ffa000     0x7ffff7ffb000     0x1000          0                           [vdso]
      0x7ffff7ffb000     0x7ffff7ffd000     0x2000    0x1f000                     /lib64/ld-2.12.so
      0x7ffff7ffd000     0x7ffff7ffe000     0x1000    0x21000                     /lib64/ld-2.12.so
      0x7ffff7ffe000     0x7ffff7fff000     0x1000          0
      0x7ffffffea000     0x7ffffffff000    0x15000          0                           [stack]
  0xffffffffff600000 0xffffffffff601000     0x1000          0                   [vsyscall]
(gdb) rwatch *0x7ffff7ff8000
Hardware read watchpoint 1: *0x7ffff7ff8000
(gdb) commands
Type commands for breakpoint(s) 1, one per line.
End with a line saying just "end".
>c
>end
(gdb) c
Continuing.

Hardware read watchpoint 1: *0x7ffff7ff8000

Value = 97
0x0000000000400712 in main ()
Hardware read watchpoint 1: *0x7ffff7ff8000

Value = 97
0x000000000040071e in main ()
keystroke: a
Hardware read watchpoint 1: *0x7ffff7ff8000

Value = 97
0x000000000040073c in main ()
waiting for enter

Hardware read watchpoint 1: *0x7ffff7ff8000

Value = 98
0x000000000040071e in main ()
keystroke: b
Hardware read watchpoint 1: *0x7ffff7ff8000

Value = 98
0x000000000040073c in main ()
waiting for enter

At line 1 gdb is started with the ‘client’ program. Once inside gdb, the executable is run (line 12). Once it’s running we interrupt in order to get to gdb (line 16). In gdb, the info proc map command is used (line 20) to look at the memory mappings. From the memory mappings, we see address 0x7ffff7ff8000 is the shared memory segment. A read watch is set and a c (continue) command is added to the read watchpoint (line 46 and 48). Then the execution is continued with the c command (line 53).

Now we are running in the executable again. After continuing, I pressed enter to go through the loop in the client executable, and the watchpoint is triggered three times (lines 56, 60 and 68), as we did see earlier, for source code lines 50, 51 and 52.

Now I changed the letter in the shared memory segment from ‘a’ to ‘b’ with the server executable, and pressed enter at line 60. The interesting things that happens is that the read watchpoint is triggered TWO times. This should be three times (!!).

There is a way to make the now invisible read visible again, using the following command in gdb:

(gdb) watch *0x7ffff7ff8000
Hardware watchpoint 2: *0x7ffff7ff8000
(gdb) commands
Type commands for breakpoint(s) 2, one per line.
End with a line saying just "end".
>c
>end
(gdb) c
Continuing.

Yes, that’s a WRITE watchpoint. After adding a write watchpoint, this is how the output looks like when I change the letter from ‘b’ to ‘c’:

Hardware watchpoint 2: *0x7ffff7ff8000

Old value = 98
New value = 99
0x0000000000400712 in main ()
Hardware read watchpoint 1: *0x7ffff7ff8000

Value = 99
0x000000000040071e in main ()
keystroke: c
Hardware read watchpoint 1: *0x7ffff7ff8000

Value = 99
0x000000000040073c in main ()
waiting for enter

There we have the tree reads visible again, however, one is ‘disguised’ as a write. To conclude: it seems gdb is not able to make a distinction between reads and writes for watchpoints if the watchpoint memory location is changed outside of the executable active in the debugger. Gdb seems to determine memory access a write if the value found is different from the last it was read.

Bonus information, not applicable to Oracle:
When you have the source code of an application, you can make debugging even better by adding in debug information for gdb in the executable. This is done by adding the ‘-g’ flag to the cc command:

$ cc -g client.c -o client

With the debug information available, it’s easier to debug:

$ gdb client
GNU gdb (GDB) Red Hat Enterprise Linux (7.2-90.el6)
Copyright (C) 2010 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
License GPLv3+: GNU GPL version 3 or later <http://gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html>
This is free software: you are free to change and redistribute it.
There is NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by law.  Type "show copying"
and "show warranty" for details.
This GDB was configured as "x86_64-redhat-linux-gnu".
For bug reporting instructions, please see:
<http://www.gnu.org/software/gdb/bugs/>...
Reading symbols from /home/oracle/src/shm_test/client...done.
(gdb) tbreak 1
Temporary breakpoint 1 at 0x40067c: file client.c, line 1.
(gdb) run
Starting program: /home/oracle/src/shm_test/client

Temporary breakpoint 1, main () at client.c:22
22	    key = 666;
Missing separate debuginfos, use: debuginfo-install glibc-2.12-1.192.el6.x86_64
(gdb) info local
shmid = 0
key = 0
shm = 0x400590 "1\355I\211\321^H\211\342H\203\344\360PTI\307\300P\a@"
s = 0x7fffffffe550 "\001"
p = 0 '\000'
(gdb) awatch s
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 2: s
(gdb) c
Continuing.
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 2: s

Old value = 0x7fffffffe550 "\001"
New value = 0x7ffff7ff8000 "a"
main () at client.c:45
45	    printf("client started. ^C to quit.\n");
(gdb) c
Continuing.
client started. ^C to quit.
waiting for enter

Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 2: s

Value = 0x7ffff7ff8000 "a"
0x000000000040070f in main () at client.c:50
50	       if( p != *s ) {
(gdb) c
Continuing.
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 2: s

Value = 0x7ffff7ff8000 "a"
0x000000000040071b in main () at client.c:51
51	          printf("keystroke: %c\n", *s);
(gdb) c
Continuing.
keystroke: a
Hardware access (read/write) watchpoint 2: s

Value = 0x7ffff7ff8000 "a"
0x0000000000400739 in main () at client.c:52
52	          p = *s;
(gdb) c
Continuing.
waiting for enter

Above you see starting up the executable with gdb at line 1. After gdb is started, I first set a temporal breakpoint on line 1 (of the source code, shown on line 12 above), to have gdb ‘enter’ the executable and stop when I run it. If I wouldn’t do that, the program would ‘wait’ in the getchar() function, which is a function in libc, and the libc library would be my scope, line 19 tells that I have not loaded debug symbols for glibc. After setting the breakpoint, I run the executable, which immediately breaks on the temporal breakpoint (line 14).

Now that the executable is active, I can list the variables used using the info local command (line 20). Also, I can simply set a watchpoint on the variable s (line 26), instead of having to search the memory address myself. When the watchpoint is triggered, it now shows the line number in the source file, and the actual source code on that line (lines 34, 35, 44, 45, etc).

There are many posts about the amount of memory that is taken by the Oracle database executables and the database SGA and PGA. The reason for adding yet another one on this topic is a question I recently gotten, and the complexities which surrounds memory usage on modern systems. The intention for this blogpost is to show a tiny bit about page sharing of linux for private pages, then move on to shared pages, and discuss how page allocation looks like with Oracle ASMM (sga_target or manual memory).

The version of linux in this blogpost is Oracle Linux 7.2, using kernel: 4.1.12-37.6.3.el7uek.x86_64 (UEK4)
The version of the Oracle database software is 12.1.0.2.160719 (july 2016).

Memory usage of virtual memory systems is complicated. For that reason I see a lot of people getting very confused about this topic. Let me state a very simple rule: the memory actively being used on a system should fit in physical memory. Swap (a file or partition), increases total virtual memory, but really only is a safety net for saving your system from an out of memory situation at the cost of moving pages from and to disk. Because modern linux kernels have swappiness (willingness to swap) to a non-zero value, it’s not uncommon to have some swap being used, despite physical memory not being oversubscribed. A system stops performing as soon as paging in and out starts to occur, and for that reason should not happen.

1. Private pages for linux executables
When an executable is executed on linux from the shell, the shell executes a fork() call to create a new process, which is implemented as a clone() system call on linux. Using the clone() system call, the virtual memory space of the newly created process is shared (readonly) with it’s parent. This includes the private allocations! Once the child process needs to write in it’s memory space, it will page fault and create it’s own version, abandoning the version of its parent.

Can we actually prove this is happening? Yes, the /proc/ filesystem gives an insight to a process’ virtual memory space.
Let’s start off with a very simple example: we execute ‘cat /proc/self/maps’ to see our own address space:

[oracle@oracle-linux ~]$ cat /proc/self/maps
00400000-0040b000 r-xp 00000000 fb:00 201666243                          /usr/bin/cat
0060b000-0060c000 r--p 0000b000 fb:00 201666243                          /usr/bin/cat
0060c000-0060d000 rw-p 0000c000 fb:00 201666243                          /usr/bin/cat
00e41000-00e62000 rw-p 00000000 00:00 0                                  [heap]
7f69729be000-7f6978ee5000 r--p 00000000 fb:00 576065                     /usr/lib/locale/locale-archive
7f6978ee5000-7f6979099000 r-xp 00000000 fb:00 522359                     /usr/lib64/libc-2.17.so
7f6979099000-7f6979298000 ---p 001b4000 fb:00 522359                     /usr/lib64/libc-2.17.so
7f6979298000-7f697929c000 r--p 001b3000 fb:00 522359                     /usr/lib64/libc-2.17.so
7f697929c000-7f697929e000 rw-p 001b7000 fb:00 522359                     /usr/lib64/libc-2.17.so
7f697929e000-7f69792a3000 rw-p 00000000 00:00 0
7f69792a3000-7f69792c4000 r-xp 00000000 fb:00 522352                     /usr/lib64/ld-2.17.so
7f69794b9000-7f69794bc000 rw-p 00000000 00:00 0
7f69794c3000-7f69794c4000 rw-p 00000000 00:00 0
7f69794c4000-7f69794c5000 r--p 00021000 fb:00 522352                     /usr/lib64/ld-2.17.so
7f69794c5000-7f69794c6000 rw-p 00022000 fb:00 522352                     /usr/lib64/ld-2.17.so
7f69794c6000-7f69794c7000 rw-p 00000000 00:00 0
7ffdab1c7000-7ffdab1e8000 rw-p 00000000 00:00 0                          [stack]
7ffdab1ea000-7ffdab1ec000 r--p 00000000 00:00 0                          [vvar]
7ffdab1ec000-7ffdab1ee000 r-xp 00000000 00:00 0                          [vdso]
ffffffffff600000-ffffffffff601000 r-xp 00000000 00:00 0                  [vsyscall]

Here’s a lot to see, but we see the cat executable at 0x00400000. The reason for three memory allocations are (linux/ELF) executables uses different sections with specific functions. A full overview of these can be obtained using the readelf executable. A simpler overview of an executable, which matches the above three memory allocations for the cat executable can be obtained using ‘size -B’ (the size executable, -B means ‘berkeley style’, which is default):

[oracle@oracle-linux ~]$ size -B /usr/bin/cat
   text	   data	    bss	    dec	    hex	filename
  43905	   1712	   2440	  48057	   bbb9	/usr/bin/cat

This describes the three memory sections an linux executable can have: text (the machine instructions, alias ‘the program’), data (all initialised variables declared in the program) and BSS (uninitialised data).
The first section always is the text allocation (not sure if it’s impossible to have the text section not being the first allocation, I have never seen it different). If you look at the memory flags, ‘r-xp’, this totally makes sense: ‘r-‘ meaning: read(only, followed by a’-‘ instead of a ‘w’), ‘x’: executable and ‘p’: this is a private allocation. The next allocation is the data section. We don’t execute variables, we read them, which is reflected in the flags: ‘r–p’. But what if we change the value of a variable? That is where the third section is for: changed values of initialised variables. This can be seen from the flag of this section: ‘rw-p’, read, write and private. The fourth allocation lists [heap], this is a mandatory allocation in every process’ memory space, which holds (small) memory allocations, this is NOT the BSS section. In this case, the BSS section does not seem to be allocated.

By having memory allocations for /usr/lib64/ld-2.17.so we can see this is a dynamically linked executable. You can also see this by executing ‘file’ on the executable:

[oracle@oracle-linux ~]$ file /usr/bin/cat
/usr/bin/cat: ELF 64-bit LSB executable, x86-64, version 1 (SYSV), dynamically linked (uses shared libs), for GNU/Linux 2.6.32, BuildID[sha1]=3207edc47638918ceaeede21947a20a4a496cf63, stripped

If a linux executable is dynamically linked, you can see the libraries that are loaded by the dynamic linker/loader using the ldd utility:

[oracle@oracle-linux ~]$ ldd /usr/bin/cat
       	linux-vdso.so.1 =>  (0x00007ffceb3e4000)
       	libc.so.6 => /lib64/libc.so.6 (0x00007fd46fb7e000)
       	/lib64/ld-linux-x86-64.so.2 (0x000055d5253c9000)

This output shows the dynamic loader (/lib64/ld-linux-x86-64.so.2), and two libraries the dynamic loader loads: libc.so.6 and linux-vdso.so.1. The first one, libc, is the standard C library. The second one, linux-vdso is for virtual dynamic shared object, which is an optimisation for certain system calls to be executed in user space (notably gettimeofday()).
The other allocations that exist in our example are anonymous mappings (usually done by programs using the mmap() call):

7f69794c6000-7f69794c7000 rw-p 00000000 00:00 0

And some allocations for system purposes, like stack, var, vdso and vsyscall.

Now that you have become familiar with some basic linux memory address space specifics, let’s take it a little further. It’s possible to see more about the memory segments using the proc filesystem smaps file:

[oracle@oracle-linux ~]$ cat /proc/self/smaps
00400000-0040b000 r-xp 00000000 fb:00 201666243                          /usr/bin/cat
Size:                 44 kB
Rss:                  44 kB
Pss:                  44 kB
Shared_Clean:          0 kB
Shared_Dirty:          0 kB
Private_Clean:        44 kB
Private_Dirty:         0 kB
Referenced:           44 kB
Anonymous:             0 kB
AnonHugePages:         0 kB
Swap:                  0 kB
KernelPageSize:        4 kB
MMUPageSize:           4 kB
Locked:                0 kB
VmFlags: rd ex mr mw me dw sd
0060b000-0060c000 r--p 0000b000 fb:00 201666243                          /usr/bin/cat
Size:                  4 kB
Rss:                   4 kB
...etc...

Per allocation there are a lot of properties to be seen. ‘Size’ is the full size, ‘Rss’ is the resident set size, alias the amount of data of this segment that is truly resident for this process in it’s address space. ‘Pss’ is fairly unknown, and is the proportional size of this segment. The way it is proportional is that if pages in this allocation are shared with other processes, the size of these pages are divided by the number processes it is shared with. In this case, we have loaded the text segment of the cat executable into the process’ address space, which all is resident (size and rss are the same) and it’s not shared with any process (rss equals pss). There are many more properties, but these are out of scope for this blogpost.

Now let’s move on to Oracle. If you look at the maps output of the pmon process for example, you’ll see:

[oracle@oracle-linux 14153]$ cat maps
00400000-1096e000 r-xp 00000000 fb:03 67209358                           /u01/app/oracle/product/12.1.0.2/dbhome_1/bin/oracle
10b6d000-10b8f000 r--p 1056d000 fb:03 67209358                           /u01/app/oracle/product/12.1.0.2/dbhome_1/bin/oracle
10b8f000-10de8000 rw-p 1058f000 fb:03 67209358                           /u01/app/oracle/product/12.1.0.2/dbhome_1/bin/oracle
10de8000-10e19000 rw-p 00000000 00:00 0
1190f000-11930000 rw-p 00000000 00:00 0                                  [heap]
...

Here we see the Oracle executable, with a text segment, a readonly data segment and a read/write data segment, and we see an anonymous mapping directly following the data segments. That’s the BSS segment!
However, what is more interesting to see, is the properties of the distinct memory allocations in smaps:

[oracle@oracle-linux 14153]$ cat smaps
00400000-1096e000 r-xp 00000000 fb:03 67209358                           /u01/app/oracle/product/12.1.0.2/dbhome_1/bin/oracle
Size:             267704 kB
Rss:               40584 kB
Pss:                 819 kB
Shared_Clean:      40584 kB
Shared_Dirty:          0 kB
Private_Clean:         0 kB
Private_Dirty:         0 kB
Referenced:        40584 kB
Anonymous:             0 kB
AnonHugePages:         0 kB
Swap:                  0 kB
KernelPageSize:        4 kB
MMUPageSize:           4 kB
Locked:                0 kB
VmFlags: rd ex mr mw me dw sd
10b6d000-10b8f000 r--p 1056d000 fb:03 67209358                           /u01/app/oracle/product/12.1.0.2/dbhome_1/bin/oracle
Size:                136 kB
Rss:                 124 kB
...

If we look at the text segment for the oracle binary, we see the total text size is 267704 kB (size), but resident (truly available for this process in its address space) is only 40584 kB (rss), and because the oracle executable’s text segment is shared with a lot of processes, the proportional size is only 819 kB (pss).

If you want to understand how much memory is taken in the system, the size is telling the total size of the segment, but it doesn’t say anything on true memory usage. The rss size tells the amount of pages for the segment that is paged in to the address space of every process, and can (and is, for oracle) different for every process. The pss size is the proportional size for every process. Probably the only way to tell the true amount of memory taken by executables and libraries is to add up all the pss sizes. Any other value only tells something about the process’ point of view on memory usage, but not overall, true consumed space because that would lead to counting too much.

This is different for anonymous allocations. Since anonymous allocations are created when a process is run, I’ve only seen them initialised purely private. For that reason rss and pss sizes are equal, because every process initialises it strictly for itself. This too works in a lazy allocation way. When memory is allocated, the size is defined, but is only really allocated once it’s truly used, which is expressed by a difference between size and rss.

2. shared pages
The Oracle databases relies on shared caches and data structures, which are put into what is called the SGA, the system global area. The main components of the SGA are the shared pool (shared structures), log buffer (change vectors to be written to disk to persist changes) and the buffer cache, amongst others. With any memory management option (manual management, ASMM (automatic shared memory management, sga_target) and AMM (automatic memory management, memory_target)) there is a SGA. Depending on the memory option, these are visible in a different way.

When manual memory or ASMM is used, shared memory is allocated as system V shared memory. The ‘classic’ way of looking at system V shared memory is using ipcs -m (m is for shared memory, you can also use s for semaphores and q for message queues):

[oracle@oracle-linux ~]$ ipcs -m

------ Shared Memory Segments --------
key        shmid      owner      perms      bytes      nattch     status
0x00000000 655360     oracle     600        2932736    124
0x00000000 688129     oracle     600        905969664  62
0x00000000 720898     oracle     600        139673600  62
0x5f921964 753667     oracle     600        20480      62

Please mind that if you have more than one instance active, or an ASM instance active, you will see more shared memory allocations.
Apparently, the oracle database allocates a couple of shared memory segments. If you want to understand what these memory allocations are for, you can use the oradebug ipc command to see what their functions are:

SQL> oradebug setmypid
Statement processed.
SQL> oradebug ipc
IPC information written to the trace file

This generates a trace file in the ‘trace’ directory in the diagnostics destination. Here is how this looks like (partial output with content of interest to this blogpost):

 Area #0 `Fixed Size' containing Subareas 2-2
  Total size 00000000002cbe70 Minimum Subarea size 00000000
   Area  Subarea    Shmid    Segment Addr    Stable Addr    Actual Addr
      0        2   655360 0x00000060000000 0x00000060000000 0x00000060000000
               Subarea size     Segment size   Req_Protect  Cur_protect
                          00000000002cc000 00000000002cc000 default       readwrite
 Area #1 `Variable Size' containing Subareas 0-0
  Total size 0000000036000000 Minimum Subarea size 00400000
   Area  Subarea    Shmid    Segment Addr    Stable Addr    Actual Addr
      1        0   688129 0x00000060400000 0x00000060400000 0x00000060400000
               Subarea size     Segment size   Req_Protect  Cur_protect
                          0000000036000000 0000000036000000 default       readwrite
 Area #2 `Redo Buffers' containing Subareas 1-1
  Total size 0000000008534000 Minimum Subarea size 00001000
   Area  Subarea    Shmid    Segment Addr    Stable Addr    Actual Addr
      2        1   720898 0x00000096400000 0x00000096400000 0x00000096400000
               Subarea size     Segment size   Req_Protect  Cur_protect
                          0000000008534000 0000000008534000 default       readwrite
 Area #3 `skgm overhead' containing Subareas 3-3
  Total size 0000000000005000 Minimum Subarea size 00000000
   Area  Subarea    Shmid    Segment Addr    Stable Addr    Actual Addr
      3        3   753667 0x0000009ec00000 0x0000009ec00000 0x0000009ec00000
               Subarea size     Segment size   Req_Protect  Cur_protect
                          0000000000005000 0000000000005000 default       readwrite

The first allocation is ‘fixed size’, alias the fixed SGA, the second allocation is the ‘variable size’, which contains the shared pool and the buffercache, the third allocation is the ‘redo buffers’ and the fourth is the ‘skgm overhead’ alias the index into the shared memory structures for this instance.

Because any memory allocation is visible in maps and smaps, this method can be used for shared memory too, to see how the shared memory segments are mapped into the process address space. All oracle database server processes have the shared memory segments for the instance mapped into their address space. The usage is different per process, so the amount of shared memory paged into the address space will be different:

...
12bcd000-12bee000 rw-p 00000000 00:00 0                                  [heap]
60000000-60001000 r--s 00000000 00:05 655360                             /SYSV00000000 (deleted)
60001000-602cc000 rw-s 00001000 00:05 655360                             /SYSV00000000 (deleted)
60400000-96400000 rw-s 00000000 00:05 688129                             /SYSV00000000 (deleted)
96400000-9e934000 rw-s 00000000 00:05 720898                             /SYSV00000000 (deleted)
9ec00000-9ec05000 rw-s 00000000 00:05 753667                             /SYSV5f921964 (deleted)
7f473004e000-7f47301d4000 r-xp 00000000 fb:02 212635773                  /u01/app/oracle/product/12.1.0.2/dbhome_1/lib/libshpkavx12.so
...

Shared memory is easily identified by the ‘s’, at which “normal” private memory mappings have ‘p’. If you want to know more about the process’ perspective of the shared memory, we can use smaps, just like with private memory mappings (virtual memory space of pmon):

60000000-60001000 r--s 00000000 00:05 655360                             /SYSV00000000 (deleted)
Size:                  4 kB
Rss:                   0 kB
Pss:                   0 kB
Shared_Clean:          0 kB
Shared_Dirty:          0 kB
Private_Clean:         0 kB
Private_Dirty:         0 kB
Referenced:            0 kB
Anonymous:             0 kB
AnonHugePages:         0 kB
Swap:                  0 kB
KernelPageSize:        4 kB
MMUPageSize:           4 kB
Locked:                0 kB
VmFlags: rd sh mr mw me ms sd
60001000-602cc000 rw-s 00001000 00:05 655360                             /SYSV00000000 (deleted)
Size:               2860 kB
Rss:                 392 kB
Pss:                  36 kB
Shared_Clean:          0 kB
Shared_Dirty:        372 kB
Private_Clean:         0 kB
Private_Dirty:        20 kB
Referenced:          392 kB
Anonymous:             0 kB
AnonHugePages:         0 kB
Swap:                  0 kB
KernelPageSize:        4 kB
MMUPageSize:           4 kB
Locked:                0 kB
VmFlags: rd wr sh mr mw me ms sd

These two shared memory segments are belonging to the fixed sga. The reason for two segments is the first page (0x1000 equals 4096, alias a single linux page) is readonly (r–s). The other fixed SGA segment is read write (rw-s). Here we see that from the process’ perspective it really doesn’t matter much if a piece of mapped memory is shared or private; it’s exactly handled the same way, which means the full segment is mapped into the process’ virtual memory space, but only once pages are touched (alias truly used), the process registers the address in its pagetable, and the pages become resident (as can be seen in the difference between the total size and the rss). The sole purpose of shared memory is it is shared between process. That the pages are shared is very well visible with the difference between rss and pss size. Its also easy to spot this shared memory segment is created from small pages; MMUPageSize and KernelPageSize is 4kB.

However, this yields an interesting question: shared memory does not belong to any single process. Does that mean that if a shared memory segment is created, it is truly allocated, or can shared memory be lazy allocated as well? Please mind that above statistics are the process’ perspective, not the kernel’s perspective.

One way to see the state of shared memory system wide, is using the ‘-u’ flag with the ipcs command:

[oracle@oracle-linux [testdb] ~]$ ipcs -mu

------ Shared Memory Status --------
segments allocated 4
pages allocated 256005
pages resident  255684
pages swapped   0
Swap performance: 0 attempts   	 0 successes

This is a really useful view! What we can see from the output from this command, is that nearly all pages allocated as shared memory are resident. By having statistics for shared memory pages allocated and resident we can conclude that shared memory too could be allocated in a lazy, alias on demand. Also, there is a difference between resident and allocated, which indicates lazy allocation too.

Inside the database I am aware of two parameters that could influence shared pages usage; pre_page_sga and _touch_sga_pages_during_allocation, see my article on these. However, what is interesting, is that these parameters are different for the instance I am testing with for this blogpost, which is running on a VM:

SYS@testdb AS SYSDBA> @parms
Enter value for parameter: page
old  20: where name like nvl('%&parameter%',name)
new  20: where name like nvl('%page%',name)
Enter value for isset:
old  21: and upper(isset) like upper(nvl('%&isset%',isset))
new  21: and upper(isset) like upper(nvl('%%',isset))
Enter value for show_hidden: Y
old  22: and flag not in (decode('&show_hidden','Y',3,2))
new  22: and flag not in (decode('Y','Y',3,2))

NAME   						   VALUE       								  ISDEFAUL ISMODIFIED ISSET
-------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------------- -------- ---------- ----------
olap_page_pool_size    				   0   									  TRUE 	   FALSE      FALSE
pre_page_sga   					   TRUE        								  TRUE 	   FALSE      FALSE
use_large_pages        				   TRUE        								  TRUE 	   FALSE      FALSE
_max_largepage_alloc_time_secs 			   10  									  TRUE 	   FALSE      FALSE
_olap_page_pool_expand_rate    			   20  									  TRUE 	   FALSE      FALSE
_olap_page_pool_hi     				   50  									  TRUE 	   FALSE      FALSE
_olap_page_pool_hit_target     			   100 									  TRUE 	   FALSE      FALSE
_olap_page_pool_low    				   262144      								  TRUE 	   FALSE      FALSE
_olap_page_pool_pressure       			   90  									  TRUE 	   FALSE      FALSE
_olap_page_pool_shrink_rate    			   50  									  TRUE 	   FALSE      FALSE
_realfree_heap_pagesize        			   65536       								  TRUE 	   FALSE      FALSE
_realfree_pq_heap_pagesize     			   65536       								  TRUE 	   FALSE      FALSE
_session_page_extent   				   2048        								  TRUE 	   FALSE      FALSE
_touch_sga_pages_during_allocation     		   FALSE       								  TRUE 	   FALSE      FALSE

14 rows selected.

In the database I created on my VM, pre_page_sga equals to TRUE and _touch_sga_pages_during_allocation to FALSE, which is the exact inverse of the settings of a database (PSU 160419) on a huge machine. Perhaps these parameters are dynamically set based on size of the SGA and logic (if _touch_sga_pages_during_allocation is TRUE, it makes sense to set pre_page_sga to FALSE, as it’s function has been performed by the bequeathing session.

However, having pre_page_sga set to TRUE it makes sense almost all SGA (shared) pages are allocated, because pre_page_sga (at least in Oracle 12, not sure about earlier versions, because the Oracle description of this parameter is different from what happens in Oracle 12) spawns a background process (sa00) that scans SGA pages, which means it pages them, resulting in the actual allocation. Let’s test this by setting pre_page_sga to false, it should lead to way lesser shared memory pages allocated, which will eventually be allocated as database processes are paging them in:

SQL> alter system set pre_page_sga=false scope=spfile;
SQL> startup force;

And then look at ipcs -mu again:

[oracle@oracle-linux [testdb] ~]$ ipcs -mu

------ Shared Memory Status --------
segments allocated 4
pages allocated 256005
pages resident  92696
pages swapped   0
Swap performance: 0 attempts   	 0 successes

As expected, only the bare necessary pages are resident after startup force, all the other shared pages will be slowly paged in as foreground and background processes touching SGA pages during execution.

How would that work when we set sga_max_size to a different value than sga_target? If the pages beyond the sga_target are never allocated, you could control the amount of SGA pages used by setting sga_target, but ‘reserve’ extra memory to use by setting sga_max_size higher, which is never allocated, so it is not wasted. Let’s setup the instance:

SQL> alter system set pre_page_sga=true scope=spfile;
SQL> show spparameter sga_target

SID    	 NAME  			       TYPE    	   VALUE
-------- ----------------------------- ----------- ----------------------------
*      	 sga_target    		       big integer 1000M
SQL> ! ipcs -mu

------ Shared Memory Status --------
segments allocated 4
pages allocated 256005
pages resident  102512
pages swapped   0
Swap performance: 0 attempts   	 0 successes

This sets the pre_page_sga parameter from the spfile, which means the instance will spawn a process to touch SGA pages on next startup.
Currently, the sga_target for sizing the SGA is set to 1000M in the spfile.
ipcs tells us we got 256005 pages are allocated, which makes sense: 256005*4=1024020k, which is slightly more than the set 1000M, which means essentially sga_target equals pages allocated.

SQL> alter system set sga_max_size=2g scope=spfile;
SQL> startup force;
ORACLE instance started.

Total System Global Area 2147483648 bytes
Fixed Size     		    2926472 bytes
Variable Size  		 1358956664 bytes
Database Buffers       	  637534208 bytes
Redo Buffers   		  148066304 bytes
Database mounted.
Database opened.

This sets sga_max_size to double the amount of sga_target, and ‘startup force’ bounces the instance.

SQL> show parameter sga_target

NAME   				     TYPE      	 VALUE
------------------------------------ ----------- ------------------------------
sga_target     			     big integer 1008M

Here we see the actual parameter in the database is set to 1008M. Now let’s look at the ipcs -mu values again:

> !ipcs -mu

------ Shared Memory Status --------
segments allocated 4
pages allocated 524291
pages resident  521923
pages swapped   0
Swap performance: 0 attempts   	 0 successes

521923*4=2087692. So (almost) all the memory set for sga_max_size is allocated. In fact, if you look at the values at instance startup values reported above, you see ‘Total System Global Area’ showing the 2G, it’s all SGA, so it’s all touched because of pre_page_sga being set to TRUE. So the next test would be to have pre_page_sga being set to FALSE:

SQL> alter system set pre_page_sga=false scope=spfile;
SQL> startup force
ORACLE instance started.

Total System Global Area 2147483648 bytes
Fixed Size     		    2926472 bytes
Variable Size  		 1358956664 bytes
Database Buffers       	  637534208 bytes
Redo Buffers   		  148066304 bytes
Database mounted.
Database opened.

All memory is still declared SGA, as we can see. However, by having _touch_sga_pages_during_allocation set to FALSE and pre_page_sga set to FALSE, we should see only the actual used SGA pages being allocated:

SQL> !ipcs -mu

------ Shared Memory Status --------
segments allocated 4
pages allocated 524291
pages resident  91692
pages swapped   0
Swap performance: 0 attempts   	 0 successes

The above output shows the shared memory status directly after I restart my instance, so this is not only less than sga_max_size, it is even less than sga_target (91692*4=336768, ~ 336M). This will grow up to sga_target, because these pages will get paged in by the database processes.

How does this look like when we add in huge pages? In Oracle 12.1.0.2.160719 in my instance the parameter to tell oracle to allocate huge pages if there are any (‘use_large_pages’) is set to TRUE. This will make Oracle use large pages if any are available. This is true, even if there are not enough huge pages to satisfy the entire SGA; Oracle will just allocate all that can be allocated, and create a new shared memory segment using small pages for the remainder of the needed shared memory.

Sadly, it seems per memory segment statistics like rss, pss, shared and private clean and dirty, etc. are not implemented for huge pages:

[oracle@oracle-linux [testdb] ~]$ cat /proc/$(pgrep pmon)/smaps
...
61000000-d8000000 rw-s 00000000 00:0e 688129                             /SYSV00000000 (deleted)
Size:            1949696 kB
Rss:                   0 kB
Pss:                   0 kB
Shared_Clean:          0 kB
Shared_Dirty:          0 kB
Private_Clean:         0 kB
Private_Dirty:         0 kB
Referenced:            0 kB
Anonymous:             0 kB
AnonHugePages:         0 kB
Swap:                  0 kB
KernelPageSize:     2048 kB
MMUPageSize:        2048 kB
Locked:                0 kB
VmFlags: rd wr sh mr mw me ms de ht sd
...

This is the main shared memory segment, allocated from huge pages (as can be seen with KernelPageSize and MMUPageSize), which means it’s the segment holding the shared pool and buffercache. This can also be seen by the size: 1949696 kB, which is nearly the 2G of sga_max_size.

However, we can just use the global information on system V shared memory (ipcs -mu) and we can use the huge page information in /proc/meminfo:

[oracle@oracle-linux [testdb] ~]$ grep -i huge /proc/meminfo
AnonHugePages:         0 kB
HugePages_Total:    1100
HugePages_Free:      880
HugePages_Rsvd:      805
HugePages_Surp:        0
Hugepagesize:       2048 kB

The statistics of interest are:
hugepages_total: the total number of huge pages allocated. warning: huge pages memory allocated by the kernel is NOT available for allocation of regular sized pages (which means you can starve your processes and the kernel for normal pages by setting the number of huge pages too high).
hugepages_free: the number of huge pages which are not used currently. warning: this includes allocated but not yet initialised pages, which hugepages_rsvd shows.
hugepages_rsvd: the number of huge pages allocated but not yet initialised.
hugepages_surp: the number of huge pages allocated (truly allocated and not yet initialised) greater than the total number of huge pages set. this value can be greater than zero if the kernel setting vm.nr_overcommit_hugepages is greater than zero. The value of this setting is zero by default, and at least for usage with the Oracle database, this value should remain zero.

The same information can be obtained using ipcs -mu, but with a twist:

[oracle@oracle-linux [testdb] ~]$ ipcs -mu

------ Shared Memory Status --------
segments allocated 4
pages allocated 524803
pages resident  122881
pages swapped   0
Swap performance: 0 attempts   	 0 successes

Some of you might get the twist on this by looking at the number.
It turns out ipcs has no facility for huge pages, it just reports the number of pages as if these were 4 kB.
524803*4 (kB) / 1024 (to make it MB) = 2050.

Now going back to the goal of looking into this: I told shared memory is allocated and paged at startup time when _touch_sga_pages_during_allocation is set to TRUE (set to false as default value in my current database), and it could be explicitly paged by the background process sa00 after startup of the instance when pre_page_sga is set to TRUE. When both are set to false, shared memory allocated from default sized 4kB pages is allocated only when it’s used. In the above examples with huge pages, the tests were done with pre_page_sga set to false. This shows exactly the same ‘lazy allocation’ behaviour as 4kB pages.

When ‘extra’ memory is reserved from the operating system by setting sga_max_size to a higher value than sga_target, this will all be allocated and paged if either _touch_sga_pages_during_allocation or pre_page_sga is set to TRUE, which doesn’t make sense; if the memory is taken, you might as well use it. However, this is different if both _touch_sga_pages_during_allocation and pre_page_sga are set to false. All memory beyond sga_target up to sga_max_size is allocated, but never touched, and thus never paged in, so never truly allocated. Please mind linux itself understands this perfectly (aiming at huge pages and ‘reserved’ pages), however the system V ipc kernel settings do not; you need to set the shared memory values high enough to facilitate the total sum of sga_max_size values, not the truly used sizes as indicated by the sum of sga_target values.

The inspiration for this investigation came from a question on my blog. However, the question was about memory_target and memory_max_target and AIX. I do not have an AIX system at hand. I did not investigate the implementation of memory_target and memory_max_target on AIX. So I can’t comment on that. What I can say, is that on Linux, you really, really should use automatic shared memory management (ASMM) alias setting sga_target or setting it manually (and set huge pages!). If you are used to these memory management settings on databases not on AIX, it probably makes sense to use that on AIX too, even if the automatic memory management (AMM) alias setting memory_target is implemented brilliantly on AIX, for the sake of predictability and standardisation.

This is a blog not related to Oracle products in any way.

Remote logging.
This post is specific to apple Airport Extreme and Express wifi routers. However, in general: if you have multiple (unix/linux) servers, it makes sense to centralise the (sys)logging of these servers, in order to get a better overview on what is happening on these servers. I would want to go as far as saying that if you don’t you are simply not doing it right.

The central logging can be another syslog deamon receiving the logging, but there are many more products who are able to receive logging, like splunk, graylog, logstash and so on. This blogpost is about my home wifi routers, I use the simple and limited Synology “Log Center” daemon.

What this blog post is about: enabling remote logging on an Apple Airport device.
In ancient versions of apples Airport Utility, you simply could set the logging server. Apparently this version is still around, but it feels like a nuisance to me to install an older version, and there is a chance it does not work with the current version of OSX, and that it breaks something on the Airport side.

However, it’s really simple actually to set the logging server, and even to see if the logging server option is a supported option. In order to do this, go into the Airport utility, click an Airport device and click edit. Now go to ‘File’, and select ‘Export Configuration File…’. Select a name in ‘Save As:’, and save it.

This saves the configuration of the Airport device in XML format in a file that ends with “.baseconfig”. To understand what elements in the XML file mean, you can look at this link.

In order to set the logserver, open the “.baseconfig” file you just created, and search for “slCl”. The row you will find is:

<key>slCl</key>

Actually when there is no syslog server configured already, it will look like this:

<key>slCl</key>
<string>0.0.0.0</string>

Setting the syslog server is as simple as setting the ip address of your log server at the place of 0.0.0.0! Once this configuration is made active (that is the final step, which we will do next) the Airport device will send BSD like syslog information to port 514/UDP of the ip address just set. This is the default setting for a receiving syslog server. Make sure to save the file when you changed the 0.0.0.0 ip address with the ip address of your log server.

The final step is to go into the Airport Utility again, click the Airport device, click edit, “File”, and choose “Import Configuration File…”. Select the “.baseconfig” file you just edited, and open. This will get you back in the edit/configuration dialogue. To effectuate the setting, click “Update”. This will reboot your Airport device, and have remote sys logging enabled.

Extra setting: below “slCl”, you will find “slvl”, this is the log level threshold for sending. By default, it’s 5 (notice), if you want lesser information, set it to 4 (warning), or 3 (error), etc.

This is a blogpost about how I setup my test virtual machines. The seasoned sysadmin and DBA will notice that the techniques used here are perfectly usable for real production environments. The most important thing is there is no need to download or stage any software for installing the virtual machine, everything is downloaded when needed during installation. Obviously this works best when you have got reasonable bandwidth available for connecting to the internet.

The main infrastructure software components of this setup are:
Virtualbox as the virtualisation software.
Ansible as the configuration and management engine.
Vagrant as the virtualisation manager.

Installation (Mac OSX specific).
– Virtual box is installed by downloading and installing the installation image in the normal way.
– Ansible requires a few steps. Ansible relies on python.
First install pip using easy_install:

$ sudo easy_install pip

Then install ansible for your current user:

$ sudo pip install ansible --user

Now to pick up the ansible local install, add the following to .bash_profile:

export PATH=$PATH:~/Library/Python/2.7/bin

– Vagrant is installed by downloading and installing the installation image in the normal way.

My versions:

$ VBoxManage -v
5.0.26r108824
$ ansible --version
ansible 2.1.0.0
  config file = /Users/fritshoogland/.ansible.cfg
  configured module search path = Default w/o overrides
$ vagrant version
Installed Version: 1.8.5
Latest Version: 1.8.5

You're running an up-to-date version of Vagrant!

Okay! Now all the software is installed, up to the next step!

SSH keys issue for vagrant (OSX specific).
For ssh certificate based authentication to work, the private key file needs to protected by mode 600 (rw-|—|—). Vagrant uses a ssh key to access the virtual machine. I am running the vagrant directory from a share, which forces the mode of the files to be 700. In order to workaround that issue, I setup my own keys in ~/.vagrant_ssh:

$ mkdir .vagrant_ssh
$ cd .vagrant_ssh
$ ssh-keygen -q -N "" -f id_rsa

Later on some settings are made in the Vagrantfile to use the private key just generated.

SSH keys for normal authentication (OSX specific).
The Ansible scripts copy your ssh public key and put it in the authorised_keys file of both the oracle and the root user. By putting your public key in the authorized_keys file of a user, the authentication part of logging on is done via the public key.

However, for this to work, you first need to have a private and public key pair. There are many ways of doing that, this is an example of that:

Check if you have a dsa key pair:

$ cd ~
$ find .ssh
.ssh/id_dsa
.ssh/id_dsa.pub

In this case, as you can see, there are two id_dsa files, one with the extension “.pub”, which is the public key, and the other one without an extension is the private key. The private key should be kept private (at all times). If you don’t have id_dsa keys, set them up in the following way:

$ cd ~
$ mkdir .ssh
$ chmod 700 .ssh
$ cd .ssh
$ ssh-keygen -q -N "" -t dsa -f id_dsa

Setting the Virtualbox images directory.
Virtualbox will put the virtual machines in it’s default machine folder. You can see where the default machine folder is set to using the VBoxManage utility:

$ VBoxManage list systemproperties | grep machine
Default machine folder:          /Volumes/VirtualBox

Because the virtual machines are disk space intensive, you might want to change the location. At least, I later decided to dedicate an external disk to it. The way to get the disk images in another location, is change the virtualbox settings:

$ VBoxManage setproperty machinefolder /Volumes/Virtualbox

The vagrant ‘box’ location.
Vagrant uses operating system images that it is calling ‘boxes’. These ‘boxes’ are the base image that is copied when a virtual machine is created. It is stored to save it from downloading over and over. The location of these images or ‘boxes’ is ~/.vagrant.d/boxes. If you want to store the ‘boxes’ somewhere else, you can set the environment variable VAGRANT_HOME to make vagrant use a different location for storing its global state and the ‘boxes’.

Setting up the vagrant directory.
The next step is to set up the directory where the virtual machine will be run. The simplest way of doing so is cloning the files from github:

$ git clone https://github.com/FritsHoogland/Vagrant-oracle-setup.git

This will create a ‘Vagrant-oracle-setup’ directory.
Now you need to fill out the Vagrantfile in the directory:
a) line 12: set the hostname. (change optional)
b) line 14: set an IP address. (do not choose an already existing network, like the default virtualbox 10.0.2/24 network)
c) line 18/19: set the memory and CPU capacity for the VM to use.
d) line 41/42: set your My Oracle Support credentials to download the installation media.
e) line 43: set the IP address for ansible, as set at b)/line 14.
f) line 46: set the database name to create. (change optional)

Install the virtual machine with linux, the oracle database and setup a database.
Now the cool part: install linux, install the oracle database software and create a database without any manual intervention! For this you need to go into the Vagrant-oracle-setup directory, and execute:

$ vagrant up

That’s it.

You can follow the steps vagrant and ansible are executing. You’ll see vagrant first fetching (downloading) the OS image (which it will save to prevent from downloading it again), and then copy this image to be the image for the virtual machine to run. Vagrant then makes some settings, mostly network related, and hands over the control to ansible.

Ansible executes the playbook as set in the Vagrantfile, which I’ve put in the ‘ansible’ directory. Ansible sets up linux, configures the extra block devices using LVM for the software home and the database, gets the installation media from My Oracle Support, installs the software and then runs DBCA to create a database.

Further things.
Handling vagrant to administer the virtual machine is easy. Go into the directory with the Vagrantfile and use:
– vagrant halt: stop the virtual machine.
– vagrant up: for a new machine, get the base image and provision the machine. For an existing machine: startup the virtual machine.
– vagrant destroy: stop the virtual machine and remove all the information it has used like configuration/provisioning status and the disks.
– vagrant provision: run the ansible playbook again.

Anything else? Well, yes, I didn’t setup a listener for example. It should be really simple and straightforward: just start the listener. The listener will start listening on all network devices, and the database will register itself. There might be much more, depending on your specific need.

Thanks to Maris Elsins for getMOSPatch.

This blogpost is about using the linux ftrace kernel facility. If you are familiar with ftrace and specifically the function_graph tracer, you might already be aware of this functionality. This is Linux specific, and this facility is at least available in kernel 2.6.39 (Oracle’s UEK2 kernel).

What is a ‘kernel dive’? Whenever a process is running, it should mostly be in ‘user mode’, executing the program it is supposed to run. However, during running there could be situations (a lot of situations, depending on what the program is doing!) that the program needs something “from” the system. Such a thing could be allocating memory, or using a device that is shared like a block device, or a network device. These things are controlled by the kernel, and require a process to issue a system call. A user process executes a system call to request actions to such things. Starting from the system call, the execution ‘dives’ in the kernel, and executes in kernel or system mode. However, kernel dives are not limited to system calls; for example a page fault (paging in backing memory for allocated virtual memory) switches to system mode, as well as handling an interrupt.

The Linux kernel has a facility that is called ‘ftrace’. The name ftrace originally was named because of function tracing, but it has evolved into a tracing framework. It’s important to point out that ftrace currently ONLY works in KERNELSPACE. This means you miss the userspace code.

Ftrace uses both explicit tracepoints (defined in the linux kernel source), as well as dynamic tracepoints, for which the gcc -pg (profiling data) flag is used to capture function entry. For function exit a ‘trampoline’ is used. A trampoline here is an extra function executed (mcount) at function entry that stores the return address, and replaces the return address with that of the trampoline, so an exit can be detected.

the linux debugfs filesystem must be mounted for ftrace to work. You can check if the debugfs filesystem is mounted using:

[root@bigmachine ~]# mount -t debugfs

It does not return any rows if debugfs is not mounted. You can mount debugfs the following way:

mount -t debugfs none /sys/kernel/debug

Let’s do some basic steps first, just tracing an Oracle session!
First go to the tracing directory:

[root@bigmachine ~]# cd /sys/kernel/debug/tracing/
[root@bigmachine tracing]#

Obtain the PID of an Oracle foreground process, and enable tracing for this PID:

[root@bigmachine tracing]# echo 6431 > set_ftrace_pid

We also need to choose what we want to trace. Something very beneficial for understanding what is going on in the kernel is the tracer ‘function_graph’. Here’s how you enable that trace:

[root@bigmachine tracing]# echo function_graph > current_tracer

The trace output is in ‘trace’. Assuming that the PID to trace is idle, this is how the trace output looks like:

[root@bigmachine tracing]# cat trace
# tracer: function_graph
#
# CPU  DURATION                  FUNCTION CALLS
# |     |   |                     |   |   |   |

Now execute something silly (something which does little!).

TS@fv12102 > select * from dual;

D
-
X

Now let’s first show how much information is gathered:

[root@bigmachine tracing]# cat trace | wc -l
1926

That’s correct: approximately 1900 rows of trace data are created during only ‘select * from dual’. Now think about this: most of the things ‘select * from dual’ does are done in userspace. What does ‘select * from dual’ actually do in kernel space? Here’s a little grep to see what the Oracle process did:

[root@bigmachine tracing]# grep \|\ \ [a-zA-Z_0-9]*\(\)\ \{ trace
   0)               |  __audit_syscall_exit() {
   0)               |  __audit_syscall_entry() {
   0)               |  sys_getrusage() {
   0)               |  __audit_syscall_exit() {
   0)               |  __audit_syscall_entry() {
   0)               |  sys_times() {
   0)               |  __audit_syscall_exit() {
   0)               |  __audit_syscall_entry() {
   0)               |  sys_getrusage() {
   0)               |  __audit_syscall_exit() {
   0)               |  __audit_syscall_entry() {
   0)               |  sys_getrusage() {
   0)               |  __audit_syscall_exit() {
   0)               |  __audit_syscall_entry() {
   0)               |  sys_times() {
   0)               |  __audit_syscall_exit() {
   0)               |  __audit_syscall_entry() {
...much more...

Probably you are aware Oracle executes a lot of times() and getrusage() calls. As you can see, the system calls are also audited by the Linux system. Now just open the trace file with your favourite file viewer (I use ‘less’, you can use the vi commands to search for pieces of text), and peek in the file:

   0)               |  sys_getrusage() {
   0)               |    getrusage() {
   0)               |      k_getrusage() {
   0)               |        task_cputime_adjusted() {
   0)               |          cputime_adjust() {
   0)   0.045 us    |            nsecs_to_jiffies();
   0)   0.503 us    |          }
   0)   0.876 us    |        }
   0)   0.041 us    |        jiffies_to_timeval();
   0)   0.042 us    |        jiffies_to_timeval();
   0)               |        get_task_mm() {
   0)   0.047 us    |          _raw_spin_lock();
   0)   0.380 us    |        }
   0)               |        mmput() {
   0)   0.041 us    |          _cond_resched();
   0)   0.351 us    |        }
   0)   3.836 us    |      }
   0)   0.043 us    |      _cond_resched();
   0)   4.596 us    |    }
   0)   5.004 us    |  }

I skipped the beginning of the trace, which is actually the ending of the kernel code of the waiting on a next command of the Oracle process. If you scroll down to the end, you will see how the waiting on a next command (instrumented by the wait event ‘SQL*Net message from client’) is actually implemented on the kernel side using a read function on a pipe. You find the above shown systemcall, getrusage, just after the ending of the read function in the beginning of the trace (or search for ‘sys_getrusage’).

What is interesting is that this trace is showing the different functions in the kernel and which function is calling what function, made visible by accolades and indention, made to look like a c program. In other words: this allows you to see in what specific function of the kernel the time is spend, and how the total time of a kernel function is build up!

Now that basic usage is known, let’s step up to something interesting; the getrusage timing in interesting, but just an example. One of such really interesting things is IO.

First clear the trace file:

[root@bigmachine tracing]# echo > trace

Verify that the current tracer still is function_graph:

[root@bigmachine tracing]# cat current_tracer
function_graph

Verify the process id to trace (it should list the process id of the oracle foreground process you want to trace):

[root@bigmachine tracing]# cat set_ftrace_pid
6319

Now an additional next step to only trace the pread systemcall using the ‘set_graph_function’ facility:

[root@bigmachine tracing]# echo sys_pread64 > set_graph_function

Now make the Oracle session that is traced do a pread call. I used ‘select * from t1 where rownum=1’. Because I flushed the buffer cache prior to doing this (to make sure physical IO is needed), I did get 2 physical IOs, one for the segment header and one for the data block.

To make sure nothing else will get into the trace buffer (the file really is a buffer in memory), do the following to stop further tracing:

[root@bigmachine tracing]# echo 0 > tracing_on

This is how my output looks like:
https://gist.githubusercontent.com/FritsHoogland/758d106f8576ee61df76a0b6ca8e30b1/raw/f9ca7c01a46c760e2142baf48512fc731956b1fa/gistfile1.txt
I added line numbering to it (you can do that yourself too with the nl linux utility), so there are a few things I can point you to.

The first pread call ends at line# 568. That is a lot of information. It also shows how much stuff is done during an IO.
– The filesystem type matters! At line 7 you see vfs_read (the linux filesystem abstraction layer), but at line 19 you see filesystem specific code!
– At line 27 you see a XFS specific function indicating DIO (direct IO) is used.
– At line 33 you see an interaction with the block layer using the blk_start_plug() function. Linux uses a method to group IOs that is logically equal to filling up and later draining a bathtub using a plug.
– At line 328 you see the IO request has been built by the filesystem code, and the the request queue is unplugged: blk_flush_plug_list. You see some IO scheduler functions (starting with ‘elv’) and you see the deadline scheduler is used (deadline_add_request). Not very far after that, we enter the scsi layer (indicated by functions starting with ‘scsi_’).
– At line 431 you see the request being submitted to the device using the mpt_put_msg_frame function. We are now in the low level driver layer. We see there is time involved (82ms, you can see this is a virtual machine). You see all kinds of loops ending here. At this point the IO request has been sent to the IO device. However, there is more interesting stuff coming!
– At line 429 we see the kernel is preparing for waiting on the IO request to return. This is done in using the dio_await_completion function.
– At line 436 we are totally done submitting the IO request, and entering the Linux process scheduler. In the scheduler code we see housekeeping (update_blocked_averages, line 456), and rebalancing the process, which means trying to find the best cpu thread to execute on (load_balance, line 462), before the process finally goes to sleep.
– At line 487 the process is woken by an interrupt (not visible in the trace) from it’s uninterruptible sleep (state ‘D’). The IO then really finishes up; at function dio_bio_complete, line 500 the data of the IO request is put in a BIO structure which can be passed on to userspace, some further housekeeping is done (dio_complete, line 539), the access time is updated (touch_atime, line 552) and some xfs housekeeping, unlocking the inode (xfs_iunlock, line 559).

Let me show you something which shows how valuable this tracing is for finding (linux operating system) issues. This is another trace on the very same system with slightly different kernel settings: https://gist.githubusercontent.com/FritsHoogland/38ab62532988d3672b9d4d0414339506/raw/554d58eb2ec58b85c56c7c858ec6def340b2db6e/gistfile1.txt.

Can you spot the difference? If not, take a look at this diff: https://gist.githubusercontent.com/FritsHoogland/1535eea3469096afd3a6ff83c7fce8c4/raw/3e9aa481163ff3e944e5c1fcd7c7a79b58b68948/gistfile1.txt, at line number 115. The function called the second time is gup_huge_pmd. That’s a function for handling user pages, and this function is using huge pages! The change I made was setting vm.nr_hugepages from zero to a number higher than the database instance needed. So not only the Oracle database can benefit from huge pages, but also the Linux kernel IO subsystem!

If this wetted your appetite, read on! Here’s a trace, once again of pread: https://gist.githubusercontent.com/FritsHoogland/ed45e5bbd2423a5d51e0a74d8315e06a/raw/9d74c0ed297cb07b5ee868e51a2776cc6712db9a/gistfile1.txt. Can you see what is the difference here? If not, I created a diff of this trace and the previous one: https://gist.githubusercontent.com/FritsHoogland/6f0c83ecf39405e9f734c02113e28093/raw/d70dadef86670ec4657938041886e63e10c67c05/gistfile1.txt. A nice example of the difference is at line 42. The first trace file contains all kinds of functions for doing extent management for the XFS filesystem, until line 89. This is all replaced with a single function blkdev_get_block.

The similarity is it’s all the system call pread. The difference between the second and the third is that with the third pread trace I used Oracle’s ASM facility, alias database IO to a block device directly without a filesystem. This trace shows pread is not executing all the filesystem functions, because there is no filesystem. However, please do realise it’s all about spend time, not how many rows there are in a trace.

Now before jumping to conclusions about the greatness of ASM because it can skip a lot of the code path, please do realise that ASM adds code path inside the Oracle database, because some kind of disk space management must be done. Also there is an entire ASM instance for managing the diskspace (which is NOT part of database sessions’ code path). These are facts, not opinion. There are use cases for both filesystem usage and for ASM, although I have a personal preference for ASM.

Conclusion.
Ftrace does not get the attention it deserves. It’s a great tool for investigating time spend in the kernel, and it’s available by mounting the debugfs filesystem. This blogpost describes the function_graph tracer, there are other tracers too, it’s absolutely not limited to the description in this blogpost.

To show how ftrace with the function_graph tracer works I took the pread system call as an example. It turns out the pread system call comes in many shapes. Unless you intimately know a system, there can be different layers in the kernel in play when executing pread. However, on a normal system the main time component of the pread system call should be off CPU in uninterruptible state. And that is exactly what the function_graph tracer can tell.

Again, as a reminder, ftrace only works for kernel level (“system”) execution of a process.

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