Monday, March 14, 2011

The "Out of socket memory" error

I recently did some work on some of our frontend machines (on which we run Varnish) at StumbleUpon and decided to track down some of the errors the Linux kernel was regularly throwing in kern.log such as:
Feb 25 08:23:42 foo kernel: [3077014.450011] Out of socket memory
Before we get started, let me tell you that you should NOT listen to any blog or forum post without doing your homework, especially when the post recommends that you tune up virtually every TCP related knob in the kernel. These people don't know what they're doing and most probably don't understand much to TCP/IP. Most importantly, their voodoo won't help you fix your problem and might actually make it worse.

Dive in the Linux kernel

In order to best understand what's going on, the best thing is to go read the code of the kernel. Unfortunately, the kernel's error messages or counters are often imprecise, confusing, or even misleading. But they're important. And reading the kernel's code isn't nearly as hard as what people say.

The "Out of socket memory" error

The only match for "Out of socket memory" in the kernel's code (as of v2.6.38) is in net/ipv4/tcp_timer.c:
 66 static int tcp_out_of_resources(struct sock *sk, int do_reset)
67 {
68 struct tcp_sock *tp = tcp_sk(sk);
69 int shift = 0;
71 /* If peer does not open window for long time, or did not transmit
72 * anything for long time, penalize it. */
73 if ((s32)(tcp_time_stamp - tp->lsndtime) > 2*TCP_RTO_MAX || !do_reset)
74 shift++;
76 /* If some dubious ICMP arrived, penalize even more. */
77 if (sk->sk_err_soft)
78 shift++;
80 if (tcp_too_many_orphans(sk, shift)) {
81 if (net_ratelimit())
82 printk(KERN_INFO "Out of socket memory\n");
So the question is: when does tcp_too_many_orphans return true? Let's take a look in include/net/tcp.h:
 268 static inline bool tcp_too_many_orphans(struct sock *sk, int shift)
269 {
270 struct percpu_counter *ocp = sk->sk_prot->orphan_count;
271 int orphans = percpu_counter_read_positive(ocp);
273 if (orphans << shift > sysctl_tcp_max_orphans) {
274 orphans = percpu_counter_sum_positive(ocp);
275 if (orphans << shift > sysctl_tcp_max_orphans)
276 return true;
277 }
279 if (sk->sk_wmem_queued > SOCK_MIN_SNDBUF &&
280 atomic_long_read(&tcp_memory_allocated) > sysctl_tcp_mem[2])
281 return true;
282 return false;
283 }
So two conditions that can trigger this "Out of socket memory" error:
  1. There are "too many" orphan sockets (most common).
  2. The socket already has the minimum amount of memory and we can't give it more because TCP is already using more than its limit.
In order to remedy to your problem, you need to figure out which case you fall into. The vast majority of the people (especially those dealing with frontend servers like Varnish) fall into case 1.

Are you running out of TCP memory?

Ruling out case 2 is easy. All you need is to see how much memory your kernel is configured to give to TCP vs how much is actually being used. If you're close to the limit (uncommon), then you're in case 2. Otherwise (most common) you're in case 1. The kernel keeps track of the memory allocated to TCP in multiple of pages, not in bytes. This is a first bit of confusion that a lot of people run into because some settings are in bytes and other are in pages (and most of the time 1 page = 4096 bytes).

Rule out case 2: find how much memory the kernel is willing to give to TCP:
$ cat /proc/sys/net/ipv4/tcp_mem
3093984 4125312 6187968
The values are in number of pages. They get automatically sized at boot time (values above are for a machine with 32GB of RAM). They mean:
  1. When TCP uses less than 3093984 pages (11.8GB), the kernel will consider it below the "low threshold" and won't bother TCP about its memory consumption.
  2. When TCP uses more than 4125312 pages (15.7GB), enter the "memory pressure" mode.
  3. The maximum number of pages the kernel is willing to give to TCP is 6187968 (23.6GB). When we go above this, we'll start seeing the "Out of socket memory" error and Bad Things will happen.
Now let's find how much of that memory TCP actually uses.
$ cat /proc/net/sockstat
sockets: used 14565
TCP: inuse 35938 orphan 21564 tw 70529 alloc 35942 mem 1894
UDP: inuse 11 mem 3
UDPLITE: inuse 0
RAW: inuse 0
FRAG: inuse 0 memory 0
The last value on the second line (mem 1894) is the number of pages allocated to TCP. In this case we can see that 1894 is way below 6187968, so there's no way we can possibly be running out of TCP memory. So in this case, the "Out of socket memory" error was caused by the number of orphan sockets.

Do you have "too many" orphan sockets?

First of all: what's an orphan socket? It's simply a socket that isn't associated to a file descriptor. For instance, after you close() a socket, you no longer hold a file descriptor to reference it, but it still exists because the kernel has to keep it around for a bit more until TCP is done with it. Because orphan sockets aren't very useful to applications (since applications can't interact with them), the kernel is trying to limit the amount of memory consumed by orphans, and it does so by limiting the number of orphans that stick around. If you're running a frontend web server (or an HTTP load balancer), then you'll most likely have a sizeable number of orphans, and that's perfectly normal.

In order to find the limit on the number of orphan sockets, simply do:
$ cat /proc/sys/net/ipv4/tcp_max_orphans
Here we see the default value, which is 64k. In order to find the number of orphan sockets in the system, look again in sockstat:
$ cat /proc/net/sockstat
sockets: used 14565
TCP: inuse 35938 orphan 21564 tw 70529 alloc 35942 mem 1894
So in this case we have 21564 orphans. That doesn't seem very close to 65536... Yet, if you look once more at the code above that prints the warning, you'll see that there is this shift variable that has a value between 0 and 2, and that the check is testing if (orphans << shift > sysctl_tcp_max_orphans). What this means is that in certain cases, the kernel decides to penalize some sockets more, and it does so by multiplying the number of orphans by 2x or 4x to artificially increase the "score" of the "bad socket" to penalize. The problem is that due to the way this is implemented, you can see a worrisome "Out of socket memory" error when in fact you're still 4x below the limit and you just had a couple "bad sockets" (which happens frequently when you have an Internet facing service). So unfortunately that means that you need to tune up the maximum number of orphan sockets even if you're 2x or 4x away from the threshold. What value is reasonable for you depends on your situation at hand. Observe how the count of orphans in /proc/net/sockstat is changing when your server is at peak traffic, multiply that value by 4, round it up a bit to have a nice value, and set it. You can set it by doing a echo of the new value in /proc/sys/net/ipv4/tcp_max_orphans, and don't forget to update the value of net.ipv4.tcp_max_orphans in /etc/sysctl.conf so that your change persists across reboots.

That's all you need to get rid of these "Out of socket memory" errors, most of which are "false alarms" due to the shift variable of the implementation.