Program that generates approximately N page faults.
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Page Faults

This was a challenge for Spring 2014's CS 4414: Operating Systems class at the University of Virginia taught by Professor David Evans.

Preliminary Questions

  • When does a page fault occur?
    • A page fault occurs
  • Question: Is there a way to exploit this to write a program that generates approximately N page faults?
    • Yes!

Breakdown of the Code

  1. By using getpagesize() or something similar, we grab the machine's given page size.

    • By default, on an x86 machine, this should be 4 KB = 4096 bytes.
  2. Next, by using sizeof(int), we can grab the language's signed integer size.

    • For C, this should default to 4 bytes.
    • For Rust, this defaults to 8 bytes.
    • For Python, this defaults to 24 bytes.
  3. Then, we can find the number of ints per page.

    • For C, 4096/4 = 1024.
    • For Rust, 4096/8 = 512.
    • For Python, 4096/24 = 170.67 ~ 171.
  4. By using a 2D int array int arr[N][ints_per_page], where N = number of desired page faults and ints_per_page = page sized normalized to an int, we loop in column major order, which skips over an entire page. Therefore, each iteration of the inner loop results in a minor page fault. Having N rows means we ultimately perform this N times, which yields approximately N page faults.

Running the Code

What you'll need:

  • C Compiler: gcc, clang, or llvm compiler
    • My 2011 13" Macbook Air Mac OS X 10.9.1 runs Apple LLVM version 5.0 (clang-500.2.79) (based on LLVM 3.3svn)
  • Rust Compiler: rustc 0.9
  • Python Interpreter: (Anything really) 2.7.5 or higher
    • Mac OS X comes preinstalled with a Python interpreter

How to Run Automated Test Script:

  • First, ensure all print statements within page_fault.c,, and are commented out.
  • I have provided a Python test script which will run page_fault.c,, and 500 times with varying inputs.
    • To run: python
    • This will output several new files of the form c_0.txt denoting the language (C) and the number of desired page faults (0).
  • Then, using cat <textfile.txt> | grep "[0-9]* page reclaims" | sed "s/[a-z]//g"> <output.out> you can grab the specific number of minor page faults and pipe the result to a new file.
  • Finally, to average each file, just run python < <output.out>.

How to Run without Test Script:

  • For C: gcc -o c_page_fault page_fault.c && /usr/bin/time -l ./c_page_fault <number of desired page faults>.
    • Note: if you're using clang, just replace gcc with clang in previous command.
  • For Rust: rustc && /usr/bin/time -l ./page_fault <number of desired page faults>
  • For Python: /usr/bin/time -l python <number of desired page faults>

Note: Also, if you run top and view the FAULTS column, this will list the approximate number of page faults for any given process. If you would like to see this program in top, just include the print statements so the programs execute for a longer duration.

Note: use /usr/bin/time -l because time -l is not a valid flag for that command.

Note: you will most likely see page faults: 0, this is OK! page faults indicates number of major page faults (to be discussed later...). What we're interested in is page reclaims, which are minor page faults.


From my test script, I found the following results:

For 0 desired page faults and 500 runs:

  • C: 145.41
  • Rust: 434.89
  • Python: 1501.182

For 500 desired page faults and 500 runs:

  • C: 641.648
  • Rust: 937.048
  • Python: 1664.762

Difference between major and minor (and invalid!) page faults

Major Page Faults

The page is still in memory, but the MMU doesn’t know about it.

Minor Page Faults

The page is only on disk and must be retrieved with the disk penalty.

Invalid Page Faults

When MMU/TLB goes to disk address, null pointer or permission denial -> program terminates via segmentation fault and core is dumped.

Can we write a program to generate N major page faults?

Maybe. The reason why major page faults are more difficult to program is because the OS will try to predict which pages you may want to access.

The elephant, or python, in the room

Why does Python generate 1000+ minor page faults every time the program runs?

If you're interested, the following article offers a great explanation as to the internal workings of Python. From this, you may be able to see where these page faults might be generated.

Why Your Python Runs Slow Pt. 1, - Data Structures


  • CS 4414
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