idea for running out of RAM

Gary C Martin gary at
Sun Nov 2 15:29:30 EST 2008

On 2 Nov 2008, at 06:07, Albert Cahalan wrote:

> On Sat, Nov 1, 2008 at 11:01 AM, Benjamin M. Schwartz
> <bmschwar at> wrote:
>> Albert Cahalan wrote:
>>> Memory reservations are a different beast entirely. Running
>>> out of memory becomes approximately impossible because
>>> the user is blocked from starting too many activities.
>> This seems like a silly statement to me.  Almost every activity on  
>> the XO
>> is capable of exceeding the hardware memory limit all on its own.
> If so, then most are broken. Tux Paint doesn't suffer from
> this defect.
> The only semi-respectible excuse is that the activity accepts
> arbitrary input. The web browser is the obvious example.
> It's only semi-respectible because the activity can often have
> an internal limit (enforced in the easy code paths) for this,
> and because partial document rendering can prevent activities
> like Read from having this problem.
> If the activity can not be modified to limit itself, then it can't
> legitimately specify a reservation. Sugar can make these
> badly behaved activities run by themselves.
>> Per-activity memory reservations are also per-activity limits, and  
>> they
>> are only safe if those limits are set higher than the maximum  
>> amount of
>> memory required by that activity, and that maximum value is simply  
>> far too
>> large.
> The difference is that activities never get killed under a
> reservation system unless one is malicious or horribly buggy.
> Under a limit system, activities will die. It's unacceptable.
>> I like the idea of memory reservations, and they were part of the
>> original design, but if we set them high enough to be safe, we  
>> would have
>> a single-tasking (and maybe zero-tasking!) operating system.
> No, although there are massive usability advantages for the
> elimination of being able to run multiple things at once.
> When a kid runs multiple activities, 100% of the time it was
> unintentional. The kid got confused, probably because the
> damn frame popped up under his mouse and stole a click.
>> I should also be clear that I don't think Activities should receive  
>> the
>> low-mem signal.  I think Sugar should catch the low-mem signal, so  
>> that it
>> can attempt to do something smarter than the OOM killer because it  
>> knows
>> much more about the system.  For example, it can choose to kill the
>> activity instance that is using the most memory, or the
>> least-recently-used activity instance, or even the instance that  
>> has most
>> recently saved its state.
> Destroying the user's work by killing an activity: FAIL
>> This works especially well if we also use the knobs on the OOM  
>> killer.
>> For example, the low-mem signal, after pausing all other processes,  
>> could
>> cause Sugar to (1) select an activity to kill, (2) set that  
>> activity's
>> oomadj parameter to make sure that it will be the first one killed  
>> if we
>> hit OOM (3) ask that instance to save its state to the datastore, (4)
>> close the activity instance, and (5) pop up a notification to the  
>> user
>> about what just happened.
> In a fit of rage, the kid throws his XO out the window. It just ate
> his work for the eleventy-seventh time today.
> Lots of things are wrong with that.
> You may kill an activity that could have survived; there is
> no good way to tell when OOM will be hit until you hit it.
> Setting oomadj doesn't prevent the laptop from getting so
> slow that the user decides to hard reboot.
> There is no reasonable way to "ask" an activity to save state.
> People don't write perfectly modeless code with atomic
> operations on a database.
> Since we can often determine an upper bound for the RAM usage
> of an activity, we can trivially determine if a given set of  
> activities
> is capable of causing OOM. If we determine that starting a new
> activity would place the XO in danger of OOM, then there is no
> excuse for allowing that activity to start.
>> The cgroups stuff could also help here, since the OOM killer by  
>> default
>> thinks in terms of processes, but each Activity can be multiple  
>> processes.
> That would cause activities to die. Work is lost. FAIL

Just to chime in on this thread, the 4 conditions that I have  
(knowingly) encountered OOM in order of importance (personal opinion)  

1) Read (when zooming in several or more times, zooming on a map is a  
good use case)
2) Browse (large pages, or long usage, using Google reader for ~20min  
is a good use case)
3) olpc-update (used to OOM often but seems much better now that 8.2  
is final, hoping this is resolved)
4) Control Panel -> Software Update (used to OOM often but seems much  
better now that 8.2 is final, hoping this is resolved)

I do think it's still way to easy to double click, or re-click, to  
multi-launch/resume an activity due to the laggy launch screen  
appearance (there's plenty of floating trac tickets about this still),  
but it is much better than it was during some of the 81 unstable dev  
cycle. However, ** as an adult **, I rarely encounter OOM due to  
launching too many activities – unfortunately I'm sure this will still  
be a UI issue for kids (that's where single tasking UI's win – like  
the iPhone).

Anyway, not sure who's 'camp' this falls into, but from observation,  
Activities each tend to take ~25Mb of memory to get up and running.  
Could a really simple block be put on launching any new Activity  
instance if there is less than ~25Mb free? Ideally it would fail with  
an alert message or modal dialogue, perhaps with a list of running  
instances with stop icons, asking the kid to stop one to continue (or  

This does not resolve the more common case (for me) of an activity  
chewing up all mem by making wild requests** and then borking (Read  
and Browse****), but should help to keep some free head room in the  
case of multiple activity launching (intended or not).

** resolution on wild mem requests is clearly something for Activity  
authors to try to resolve. I can easily freak out my 1.5Ghz, 2Gb ram,  
+ swap, OSX system with some badly (or just very memory hungry) code.

**** The attempt at making Firefox run is way, way, way worse on  
memory than Browse, and for me is a really good example of why "trying  
to make Sugar run any old desktop application" is such a dismal  
direction to move in – unless you're willing to throw out the ideals  
of low energy use, low cost, and kid friendly UI out the window.


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