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kmemcached - a Linux Kernel Memcached

by Anthony Chivetta


Memcached is an in-memory key/value cache service used by nearly all large websites as a lookaside cache to scale their authoritative database. It supports simple operations such as GET, SET, PUT, INCREMENT, etc. on a in-memory hash table of key/value pairs. Servers typically operate as a LRU cache with additional per-item expire times.

Memcached's use case in web applications means that it is highly latency-sensitive. Further, the dumb nature of the cache means that very little of the time spent servicing a request is spent doing business processing. These two factors make memcached a prime candidate to move into the kernel as a means of removing sources of latency and experimenting with different techniques for servicing requests.

Usually, in-kernel servers are considered a Bad Thing(TM). On the security front an in-kernel server makes any vulnerabilities much more dangerous as they effect the kernel directly and have full access to the system. However, memcached was never designed to be exposed to untrusted users and so this issue is minimized by the network security already in place. Stability and complexity of kernel code are also issues -- writing robust kernel code is generally considered more difficult than writing equivalent user-space code and bugs can have system-wide effects. Fortunately, memcached has a simple protocol and application logic to make bug-free implementation easier. Finally, an in-kernel server is typically much harder to setup and maintain than a user-space server. In the case of memcached, users are typically seasoned system administrators who are likely to already be experienced in compiling their own kernels.

The Project

As an experiment, we've ported memcached to the Linux kernel as a dynamically loadable module that exists outside of the Linux kernel source tree. The current code is highly experimental and may be used for further development into a production system or experimental endeavors. It is the hope that with further development it can be demonstrated that in-kernel servers can achieve lower-latency in simple applications with minimal complexity increase.


There are four main components:

Core: The core of the module is contained in main.c. This is responsible for startup and teardown. It interfaces with the kernel's networking layer and provides dispatch for client work. You should start here to get a feel for the code. All code in this file is original to the project.

libmemcachedprotocol: The folder libmp/ contains the library used to parse incoming memcached requests. It was taken from the libmemcached library and modified to run in the kernel. The file protocol_handler.c contains the default_send and default_recv functions which write to a kernel socket and may be of interest.

Memcached Logic: The file interface.c contains the implementation of the memcached business logic. This is also pulled from the libmemcached source.

Storage Engine: The file storage.c contains a hash table implementation taken from the memcached source code.

Current Limitations

This code is not yet anywhere near production ready, however it does pass the memcapable binary tests. Most of the significant limitations are documented by comments containing the string "TODO" (try make todo to see them). Some of the most significant include a lock of support for:

  • Concurrent hash table access.
  • Support for hash table expansion
  • Freeing disconnected client structures
  • Eviction or expiration of items

Any help to fix these limitations would be appreciated.

Possible Future Investigations

Some avenues for future development include

  • Paging aware storage structures
  • Tighter integration with sockets, scheduler or VM system.


Some code has been adopted from the memcached and libmemcache projects. All code is licenced under the BSD license (see the LICENSE file). Additionally, all code is dual licenced under the GNU General Public License v2.


in-kernel memcached for linux







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