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The PostgreSQL 9.0 Reference Manual - Volume 3 - Server Administration Guide
by The PostgreSQL Global Development Group
Paperback (6"x9"), 274 pages
ISBN 9781906966072
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3.4.1 Shared Memory and Semaphores

Shared memory and semaphores are collectively referred to as “System V IPC” (together with message queues, which are not relevant for PostgreSQL). Almost all modern operating systems provide these features, but many of them don't have them turned on or sufficiently sized by default, especially as available RAM and the demands of database applications grow. (On Windows, PostgreSQL provides its own replacement implementation of these facilities, so most of this section can be disregarded.)

The complete lack of these facilities is usually manifested by an Illegal system call error upon server start. In that case there is no alternative but to reconfigure your kernel. PostgreSQL won't work without them. This situation is rare, however, among modern operating systems.

When PostgreSQL exceeds one of the various hard IPC limits, the server will refuse to start and should leave an instructive error message describing the problem and what to do about it. (See also section 3.3.1 Server Start-up Failures.) The relevant kernel parameters are named consistently across different systems; Table 3-1 gives an overview. The methods to set them, however, vary. Suggestions for some platforms are given below.

Table 3-1: System V IPC parameters
Name Description Reasonable values
SHMMAX Maximum size of shared memory segment (bytes) at least several megabytes (see text)
SHMMIN Minimum size of shared memory segment (bytes) 1
SHMALL Total amount of shared memory available (bytes or pages) if bytes, same as SHMMAX; if pages, ceil(SHMMAX/PAGE_SIZE)
SHMSEG Maximum number of shared memory segments per process only 1 segment is needed, but the default is much higher
SHMMNI Maximum number of shared memory segments system-wide like SHMSEG plus room for other applications
SEMMNI Maximum number of semaphore identifiers (i.e., sets) at least ceil((max_connections + autovacuum_max_workers) / 16)
SEMMNS Maximum number of semaphores system-wide ceil((max_connections + autovacuum_max_workers) / 16) * 17 plus room for other applications
SEMMSL Maximum number of semaphores per set at least 17
SEMMAP Number of entries in semaphore map see text
SEMVMX Maximum value of semaphore at least 1000 (The default is often 32767; do not change unless necessary)

The most important shared memory parameter is SHMMAX, the maximum size, in bytes, of a shared memory segment. If you get an error message from shmget like “Invalid argument”, it is likely that this limit has been exceeded. The size of the required shared memory segment varies depending on several PostgreSQL configuration parameters, as shown in Table 3-2. (Any error message you might get will include the exact size of the failed allocation request.) You can, as a temporary solution, lower some of those settings to avoid the failure. While it is possible to get PostgreSQL to run with SHMMAX as small as 2 MB, you need considerably more for acceptable performance. Desirable settings are in the hundreds of megabytes to a few gigabytes.

Some systems also have a limit on the total amount of shared memory in the system (SHMALL). Make sure this is large enough for PostgreSQL plus any other applications that are using shared memory segments. Note that SHMALL is measured in pages rather than bytes on many systems.

Less likely to cause problems is the minimum size for shared memory segments (SHMMIN), which should be at most approximately 500 kB for PostgreSQL (it is usually just 1). The maximum number of segments system-wide (SHMMNI) or per-process (SHMSEG) are unlikely to cause a problem unless your system has them set to zero.

PostgreSQL uses one semaphore per allowed connection ( max_connections) and allowed autovacuum worker process ( autovacuum_max_workers), in sets of 16. Each such set will also contain a 17th semaphore which contains a “magic number”, to detect collision with semaphore sets used by other applications. The maximum number of semaphores in the system is set by SEMMNS, which consequently must be at least as high as max_connections plus autovacuum_max_workers, plus one extra for each 16 allowed connections plus workers (see the formula in Table 3-1). The parameter SEMMNI determines the limit on the number of semaphore sets that can exist on the system at one time. Hence this parameter must be at least ceil((max_connections + autovacuum_max_workers) / 16). Lowering the number of allowed connections is a temporary workaround for failures, which are usually confusingly worded “No space left on device”, from the function semget.

In some cases it might also be necessary to increase SEMMAP to be at least on the order of SEMMNS. This parameter defines the size of the semaphore resource map, in which each contiguous block of available semaphores needs an entry. When a semaphore set is freed it is either added to an existing entry that is adjacent to the freed block or it is registered under a new map entry. If the map is full, the freed semaphores get lost (until reboot). Fragmentation of the semaphore space could over time lead to fewer available semaphores than there should be.

The SEMMSL parameter, which determines how many semaphores can be in a set, must be at least 17 for PostgreSQL.

Various other settings related to “semaphore undo”, such as SEMMNU and SEMUME, do not affect PostgreSQL.

At least as of version 5.1, it should not be necessary to do any special configuration for such parameters as SHMMAX, as it appears this is configured to allow all memory to be used as shared memory. That is the sort of configuration commonly used for other databases such as DB/2. It might, however, be necessary to modify the global ulimit information in ‘/etc/security/limits’, as the default hard limits for file sizes (fsize) and numbers of files (nofiles) might be too low.
Shared Memory. By default, only 4 MB of shared memory is supported. Keep in mind that shared memory is not pageable; it is locked in RAM. To increase the amount of shared memory supported by your system, add something like the following to your kernel configuration file:
options "SHMALL=8192"
SHMALL is measured in 4 kB pages, so a value of 1024 represents 4 MB of shared memory. Therefore the above increases the maximum shared memory area to 32 MB. For those running 4.3 or later, you will probably also need to increase KERNEL_VIRTUAL_MB above the default 248. Once all changes have been made, recompile the kernel, and reboot. Semaphores. You will probably want to increase the number of semaphores as well; the default system total of 60 will only allow about 50 PostgreSQL connections. Set the values you want in your kernel configuration file, e.g.:
options "SEMMNI=40"
options "SEMMNS=240"
The default settings are only suitable for small installations (for example, default SHMMAX is 32 MB). Changes can be made via the sysctl or loader interfaces. The following parameters can be set using sysctl:
$ sysctl -w kern.ipc.shmall=32768
$ sysctl -w kern.ipc.shmmax=134217728
$ sysctl -w kern.ipc.semmap=256
To have these settings persist over reboots, modify ‘/etc/sysctl.conf’. The remaining semaphore settings are read-only as far as sysctl is concerned, but can be changed before boot using the loader prompt:
(loader) set kern.ipc.semmni=256
(loader) set kern.ipc.semmns=512
(loader) set kern.ipc.semmnu=256
Similarly these can be saved between reboots in ‘/boot/loader.conf’. You might also want to configure your kernel to lock shared memory into RAM and prevent it from being paged out to swap. This can be accomplished using the sysctl setting kern.ipc.shm_use_phys. If running in FreeBSD jails by enabling sysctl's security.jail.sysvipc_allowed, postmasters running in different jails should be run by different operating system users. This improves security because it prevents non-root users from interfering with shared memory or semaphores in different jails, and it allows the PostgreSQL IPC cleanup code to function properly. (In FreeBSD 6.0 and later the IPC cleanup code does not properly detect processes in other jails, preventing the running of postmasters on the same port in different jails.) FreeBSD versions before 4.0 work like NetBSD and OpenBSD (see below).
The options SYSVSHM and SYSVSEM need to be enabled when the kernel is compiled. (They are by default.) The maximum size of shared memory is determined by the option SHMMAXPGS (in pages). The following shows an example of how to set the various parameters on NetBSD (OpenBSD uses option instead):
options        SYSVSHM
options        SHMMAXPGS=4096
options        SHMSEG=256

options        SYSVSEM
options        SEMMNI=256
options        SEMMNS=512
options        SEMMNU=256
options        SEMMAP=256
You might also want to configure your kernel to lock shared memory into RAM and prevent it from being paged out to swap. This can be accomplished using the sysctl setting kern.ipc.shm_use_phys.
The default settings tend to suffice for normal installations. On HP-UX 10, the factory default for SEMMNS is 128, which might be too low for larger database sites. IPC parameters can be set in the System Administration Manager (SAM) under Kernel Configuration->Configurable Parameters. Choose Create A New Kernel when you're done.
The default maximum segment size is 32 MB, which is only adequate for very small PostgreSQL installations. The default maximum total size is 2097152 pages. A page is almost always 4096 bytes except in unusual kernel configurations with “huge pages” (use getconf PAGE_SIZE to verify). That makes a default limit of 8 GB, which is often enough, but not always. The shared memory size settings can be changed via the sysctl interface. For example, to allow 16 GB:
$ sysctl -w kernel.shmmax=17179869184
$ sysctl -w kernel.shmall=4194304
In addition these settings can be preserved between reboots in the file ‘/etc/sysctl.conf’. Doing that is highly recommended. Ancient distributions might not have the sysctl program, but equivalent changes can be made by manipulating the ‘/proc’ file system:
$ echo 17179869184 >/proc/sys/kernel/shmmax
$ echo 4194304 >/proc/sys/kernel/shmall
The remaining defaults are quite generously sized, and usually do not require changes.
The recommended method for configuring shared memory in OS X is to create a file named ‘/etc/sysctl.conf’, containing variable assignments such as:
Note that in some OS X versions, all five shared-memory parameters must be set in ‘/etc/sysctl.conf’, else the values will be ignored. Beware that recent releases of OS X ignore attempts to set SHMMAX to a value that isn't an exact multiple of 4096. SHMALL is measured in 4 kB pages on this platform. In older OS X versions, you will need to reboot to have changes in the shared memory parameters take effect. As of 10.5 it is possible to change all but SHMMNI on the fly, using sysctl. But it's still best to set up your preferred values via ‘/etc/sysctl.conf’, so that the values will be kept across reboots. The file ‘/etc/sysctl.conf’ is only honored in OS X 10.3.9 and later. If you are running a previous 10.3.x release, you must edit the file ‘/etc/rc’ and change the values in the following commands:
sysctl -w kern.sysv.shmmax
sysctl -w kern.sysv.shmmin
sysctl -w kern.sysv.shmmni
sysctl -w kern.sysv.shmseg
sysctl -w kern.sysv.shmall
Note that ‘/etc/rc’ is usually overwritten by OS X system updates, so you should expect to have to redo these edits after each update. In OS X 10.2 and earlier, instead edit these commands in the file ‘/System/Library/StartupItems/SystemTuning/SystemTuning’.
SCO OpenServer
In the default configuration, only 512 kB of shared memory per segment is allowed. To increase the setting, first change to the directory ‘/etc/conf/cf.d’. To display the current value of SHMMAX, run:
./configure -y SHMMAX
To set a new value for SHMMAX, run:
./configure SHMMAX=value
where value is the new value you want to use (in bytes). After setting SHMMAX, rebuild the kernel:
and reboot.
At least in version 2.6, the default maximum size of a shared memory segment is too low for PostgreSQL. The relevant settings can be changed in ‘/etc/system’, for example:
set shmsys:shminfo_shmmax=0x2000000
set shmsys:shminfo_shmmin=1
set shmsys:shminfo_shmmni=256
set shmsys:shminfo_shmseg=256

set semsys:seminfo_semmap=256
set semsys:seminfo_semmni=512
set semsys:seminfo_semmns=512
set semsys:seminfo_semmsl=32
You need to reboot for the changes to take effect.
On UnixWare 7, the maximum size for shared memory segments is only 512 kB in the default configuration. To display the current value of SHMMAX, run:
/etc/conf/bin/idtune -g SHMMAX
which displays the current, default, minimum, and maximum values. To set a new value for SHMMAX, run:
/etc/conf/bin/idtune SHMMAX value
where value is the new value you want to use (in bytes). After setting SHMMAX, rebuild the kernel:
/etc/conf/bin/idbuild -B
and reboot.
Table 3-2: PostgreSQL shared memory usage
Usage Approximate shared memory bytes required (as of 8.3)
Connections (1800 + 270 * max_locks_per_transaction) * max_connections
Autovacuum workers (1800 + 270 * max_locks_per_transaction) * autovacuum_max_workers
Prepared transactions (770 + 270 * max_locks_per_transaction) * max_prepared_transactions
Shared disk buffers ( block_size + 208) * shared_buffers
WAL buffers ( wal_block_size + 8) * wal_buffers
Fixed space requirements 770 kB
ISBN 9781906966072The PostgreSQL 9.0 Reference Manual - Volume 3 - Server Administration GuideSee the print edition