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madvise() - Unix, Linux System Call

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madvise - give advice about use of memory


#include <sys/mman.h>

int madvise(void *start, size_t length, int advice);


The madvise() system call advises the kernel about how to handle paging input/output in the address range beginning at address start and with size length bytes. It allows an application to tell the kernel how it expects to use some mapped or shared memory areas, so that the kernel can choose appropriate read-ahead and caching techniques. This call does not influence the semantics of the application (except in the case of MADV_DONTNEED), but may influence its performance. The kernel is free to ignore the advice.

The advice is indicated in the advice parameter which can be

  No special treatment. This is the default.
  Expect page references in random order. (Hence, read ahead may be less useful than normally.)
  Expect page references in sequential order. (Hence, pages in the given range can be aggressively read ahead, and may be freed soon after they are accessed.)
  Expect access in the near future. (Hence, it might be a good idea to read some pages ahead.)
  Do not expect access in the near future. (For the time being, the application is finished with the given range, so the kernel can free resources associated with it.) Subsequent accesses of pages in this range will succeed, but will result either in re-loading of the memory contents from the underlying mapped file (see mmap()) or zero-fill-on-demand pages for mappings without an underlying file.


On success madvise() returns zero. On error, it returns -1 and errno is set appropriately.


EAGAIN A kernel resource was temporarily unavailable.
EBADF The map exists, but the area maps something that isn’t a file.
EINVAL The value len is negative, start is not page-aligned, advice is not a valid value, or the application is attempting to release locked or shared pages (with MADV_DONTNEED).
EIO (for MADV_WILLNEED) Paging in this area would exceed the process’s maximum resident set size.
ENOMEM (for MADV_WILLNEED) Not enough memory: paging in failed.
ENOMEM Addresses in the specified range are not currently mapped, or are outside the address space of the process.


The current Linux implementation (2.4.0) views this system call more as a command than as advice and hence may return an error when it cannot do what it usually would do in response to this advice. (See the ERRORS description above.) This is nonstandard behaviour.

The Linux implementation requires that the address start be page-aligned, and allows length to be zero. If there are some parts of the specified address range that are not mapped, the Linux version of madvise() ignores them and applies the call to the rest (but returns ENOMEM from the system call, as it should).


The madvise() function first appeared in 4.4BSD.


POSIX.1b. POSIX.1-2001 describes posix_madvise() with constants POSIX_MADV_NORMAL, etc., with a behaviour close to that described here. There is a similar posix_fadvise() for file access.


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