Optimizing PostgreSQL Performance: Understanding and Managing Linux Page Types for Efficient Disk I/O

Detailed Explanation of Linux Page Types and Their Influence on Disk I/O Performance in PostgreSQL Applications

In Linux, memory management involves various types of pages, which are fundamental units of memory used by the operating system. Understanding these page types and their influence on disk I/O performance is crucial for optimizing PostgreSQL applications.

Types of Pages in Linux

  1. Anonymous Pages:
    • These are memory pages that are not backed by any file on disk. They are typically used for program data, stack, and heap.
    • Influence: High usage of anonymous pages can lead to increased swapping if the system runs out of physical memory, affecting PostgreSQL performance.
  2. Page Cache (File-Backed Pages):
    • Pages that store contents of files. The page cache is used to buffer file I/O to reduce disk access.
    • Influence: A large page cache improves PostgreSQL performance by reducing disk reads for frequently accessed data.
  3. Mapped Pages:
    • These are pages mapped into the address space of a process, often used by shared libraries and memory-mapped files.
    • Influence: Efficient use of mapped pages can reduce memory usage and improve performance by sharing common data between processes.
  4. Slab Pages:
    • Used for kernel object caches. The slab allocator helps manage memory for kernel objects efficiently.
    • Influence: While they have a lesser direct impact on PostgreSQL, efficient kernel memory management can indirectly improve overall system performance.
  5. Swap Pages:
    • Pages that have been moved to swap space on disk due to memory pressure.
    • Influence: Swapping can severely degrade PostgreSQL performance by introducing high-latency disk I/O.
  6. Huge Pages:
    • Larger memory pages (usually 2MB or 1GB) used to reduce TLB (Translation Lookaside Buffer) misses and improve performance.
    • Influence: Using huge pages can improve PostgreSQL performance, especially for large databases and high-memory workloads.

Influence of Page Types on Disk I/O Performance in PostgreSQL

1. Page Cache (File-Backed Pages)


  • Positive: A well-sized page cache significantly reduces disk I/O by keeping frequently accessed data in memory. PostgreSQL relies heavily on the page cache to improve read performance.
  • Negative: Insufficient page cache can lead to increased disk reads, causing higher latency and reduced throughput.


Increase shared_buffers: PostgreSQL’s shared_buffers setting controls how much memory is dedicated to PostgreSQL’s buffer cache.

Monitor Page Cache Usage:

2. Anonymous Pages


Positive: Properly sized anonymous memory reduces the need for swapping.

Negative: High usage of anonymous pages leading to swapping can cause severe performance degradation due to high disk I/O latency.


Increase System Memory: Adding more RAM to the system can help accommodate anonymous pages without swapping.

Tune work_mem: Adjust PostgreSQL’s work_mem setting to manage the amount of memory used for internal sort operations and hash tables.

3. Mapped Pages


Positive: Memory-mapped I/O can improve performance for read-heavy workloads by allowing direct file access in memory.

Negative: Excessive memory mapping without sufficient memory can lead to performance issues.


Use huge_pages: Enable huge pages to reduce TLB misses and improve memory access performance.

4. Swap Pages


Negative: Swapping introduces high-latency disk I/O, severely impacting PostgreSQL performance.


Disable Swap: For dedicated PostgreSQL servers, consider disabling swap or using it minimally.

Tune vm.swappiness: Adjust the swappiness parameter to reduce the tendency of the kernel to swap out pages.

Monitoring and Tuning Tools

1. free Command:

• Provides a summary of memory usage, including the page cache and swap.

2. vmstat Command:

• Displays information about processes, memory, paging, block I/O, traps, and CPU activity.

3. sar Command:

• Collects, reports, and saves system activity information.

4. pg_buffercache Extension:

• Provides detailed information about the PostgreSQL buffer cache.

5. pg_stat_activity View:

• Monitors current database activity.


Understanding and optimizing Linux page types can significantly influence the disk I/O performance of PostgreSQL applications. Effective use of the page cache, avoiding swapping, and leveraging huge pages are key strategies. By monitoring system metrics and tuning PostgreSQL and Linux configurations, you can ensure efficient memory and I/O management, leading to improved PostgreSQL performance. Regular monitoring and adjustments based on workload changes are essential for maintaining optimal performance.

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About Shiv Iyer 456 Articles
Open Source Database Systems Engineer with a deep understanding of Optimizer Internals, Performance Engineering, Scalability and Data SRE. Shiv currently is the Founder, Investor, Board Member and CEO of multiple Database Systems Infrastructure Operations companies in the Transaction Processing Computing and ColumnStores ecosystem. He is also a frequent speaker in open source software conferences globally.