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earlyoom - The Early OOM Daemon

Build Status MIT License Latest release Total alerts Language grade: C/C++

The oom-killer generally has a bad reputation among Linux users. This may be part of the reason Linux invokes it only when it has absolutely no other choice. It will swap out the desktop environment, drop the whole page cache and empty every buffer before it will ultimately kill a process. At least that's what I think that it will do. I have yet to be patient enough to wait for it, sitting in front of an unresponsive system.

This made me and other people wonder if the oom-killer could be configured to step in earlier: reddit r/linux,,

As it turns out, no, it can't. At least using the in-kernel oom-killer. In the user space, however, we can do whatever we want.

What does it do

earlyoom checks the amount of available memory and free swap up to 10 times a second (less often if there is a lot of free memory). By default if both are below 10%, it will kill the largest process (highest oom_score). The percentage value is configurable via command line arguments.

In the free -m output below, the available memory is 2170 MiB and the free swap is 231 MiB.

              total        used        free      shared  buff/cache   available
Mem:           7842        4523         137         841        3182        2170
Swap:          1023         792         231

Why is "available" memory checked as opposed to "free" memory? On a healthy Linux system, "free" memory is supposed to be close to zero, because Linux uses all available physical memory to cache disk access. These caches can be dropped any time the memory is needed for something else.

The "available" memory accounts for that. It sums up all memory that is unused or can be freed immediately.

Note that you need a recent version of free and Linux kernel 3.14+ to see the "available" column. If you have a recent kernel, but an old version of free, you can get the value from cat /proc/meminfo | grep MemAvailable.

When both your available memory and free swap drop below 10% of the total, it will send the SIGTERM signal to the process that uses the most memory in the opinion of the kernel (/proc/*/oom_score). It can optionally (-i option) ignore any positive adjustments set in /proc/*/oom_score_adj to protect innocent victims (see below).

See also

  • nohang, a similar project like earlyoom, written in Python and with additional features and configuration options.
  • facebooks's pressure stall information (psi) kernel patches and the accompanying oomd userspace helper. The patches are merged in Linux 4.20.

Why not trigger the kernel oom killer?

Earlyoom does not use echo f > /proc/sysrq-trigger because the Chrome people made their browser (and all electron-based apps - vscode, skype, discord etc) always be the first (innocent!) victim by setting oom_score_adj very high. Instead, earlyoom finds out itself by reading through /proc/*/status (actually /proc/*/statm, which contains the same information but is easier to parse programmatically).

Additionally, in recent kernels (tested on 4.0.5), triggering the kernel oom killer manually may not work at all. That is, it may only free some graphics memory (that will be allocated immediately again) and not actually kill any process. Here you can see how this looks like on my machine (Intel integrated graphics).

How much memory does earlyoom use?

About 2 MiB (VmRSS), though only 220 kiB is private memory (RssAnon). The rest is the libc library (RssFile) that is shared with other processes. All memory is locked using mlockall() to make sure earlyoom does not slow down in low memory situations.

Download and compile

Compiling yourself is easy:

git clone
cd earlyoom

Optional: Run the integrated self-tests:

make test

Start earlyoom automatically by registering it as a service:

sudo make install              # systemd
sudo make install-initscript   # non-systemd

Note that for systems with SELinux disabled (Ubuntu 19.04, Debian 9 ...) chcon warnings reporting failure to set the context can be safely ignored.

For Debian 10+ and Ubuntu 18.04+, there's a Debian package:

sudo apt install earlyoom
sudo systemctl enable earlyoom
sudo systemctl start earlyoom

For Fedora and RHEL 8 with EPEL, there's a Fedora package:

sudo dnf install earlyoom
sudo systemctl enable --now earlyoom

For Arch Linux, there's an AUR package. Use your favorite AUR helper. For example:

yay -S earlyoom
sudo systemctl enable --now earlyoom


Just start the executable you have just compiled:


It will inform you how much memory and swap you have, what the minimum is, how much memory is available and how much swap is free.

earlyoom v1.2-10-ga8f30d7
mem total: 7834 MiB, swap total:    0 MiB
Sending SIGTERM when mem <= 10 % and swap <= 10 %,
        SIGKILL when mem <=  5 % and swap <=  5 %
mem avail: 4667 of 7834 MiB (59 %), swap free:    0 of    0 MiB ( 0 %)
mem avail: 4704 of 7834 MiB (60 %), swap free:    0 of    0 MiB ( 0 %)
mem avail: 4704 of 7834 MiB (60 %), swap free:    0 of    0 MiB ( 0 %)


If the values drop below the minimum, processes are killed until it is above the minimum again. Every action is logged to stderr. If you are running earlyoom as a systemd service, you can view the last 10 lines using

systemctl status earlyoom


The command-line flag -n enables notifications via notify-send. However, if earlyoom is being run by a user other than the one running your desktop environment (e.g. if it's run as a service or cron job) then notify-send will not work on its own, as DBUS, X, and/or display information may required.

In this case, you can use -N to supply environment variables or another command. The exact value will vary depending on your desktop environment, but the following command may work. YOUR_USER should be replaced with output of whoami and YOUR_USER_ID with output of echo $UID. Your DISPLAY value may also be different (check echo $DISPLAY).

earlyoom -N 'sudo -u YOUR_USER DISPLAY=:0 DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS=unix:path=/run/user/YOUR_USER_ID/bus notify-send'

Other options are discussed in this thread.

Note that if you choose to use a command other than notify-send, it must support the same arguments. Example invocation earlyoom uses:

NOTIFY_COMMAND -i dialog-warning 'notif title' 'notif text'

Preferred Processes

The command-line flag --prefer specifies processes to prefer killing; likewise, --avoid specifies processes to avoid killing. The list of processes is specified by a regex expression. For instance, to avoid having foo and bar be killed:

earlyoom --avoid '^(foo|bar)$'

The regex is matched against the basename of the process as shown in /proc/PID/stat.

Configuration file

If you are running earlyoom as a system service (through systemd or init.d), you can adjust its configuration via the file provided in /etc/default/earlyoom. The file already contains some examples in the comments, which you can use to build your own set of configuration based on the supported command line options, for example:

EARLYOOM_ARGS="-m 5 -r 60 --avoid '(^|/)(init|Xorg|ssh)$' --prefer '(^|/)(java|chromium)$'"

After adjusting the file, simply restart the service to apply the changes. For example, for systemd:

systemctl restart earlyoom

Please note that this configuration file has no effect on earlyoom instances outside of systemd/init.d.

Command line options

./earlyoom -h
earlyoom v1.3-15
Usage: ./earlyoom [OPTION]...

  -m PERCENT[,KILL_PERCENT] set available memory minimum to PERCENT of total
                            (default 10 %).
                            earlyoom sends SIGTERM once below PERCENT, then
                            SIGKILL once below KILL_PERCENT (default PERCENT/2).
  -s PERCENT[,KILL_PERCENT] set free swap minimum to PERCENT of total (default
                            10 %).
                            Note: both memory and swap must be below minimum for
                            earlyoom to act.
  -M SIZE[,KILL_SIZE]       set available memory minimum to SIZE KiB
  -S SIZE[,KILL_SIZE]       set free swap minimum to SIZE KiB
  -i                        user-space oom killer should ignore positive
                            oom_score_adj values
  -n                        enable notifications using "notify-send"
  -N COMMAND                enable notifications using COMMAND
  -d                        enable debugging messages
  -v                        print version information and exit
  -r INTERVAL               memory report interval in seconds (default 1), set
                            to 0 to disable completely
  -p                        set niceness of earlyoom to -20 and oom_score_adj to
  --prefer REGEX            prefer to kill processes matching REGEX
  --avoid REGEX             avoid killing processes matching REGEX
  -h, --help                this help text

See the man page for details.


Bug reports and pull requests are welcome via github. In particular, I am glad to accept

  • Use case reports and feedback


  • v1.3, 2019-05-26

    • Wait for processes to actually exit when sending a signal
      • This fixes the problem that earlyoom sometimes kills more than one process when one would be enough (issue #121)
    • Be more liberal in what limits to accepts for SIGTERM and SIGKILL (issue #97)
      • Don't exit with a fatal error if SIGTERM limit < SIGKILL limit
      • Allow zero SIGKILL limit
    • Reformat startup output to make it clear that BOTH swap and mem must be <= limit
    • Add helper script
    • Add (Contributor Covenant 1.4) (#102)
    • Fix possibly truncated UTF8 app names in log output (#110)
  • v1.2, 2018-10-28

    • Implement adaptive sleep time (= adaptive poll rate) to lower CPU usage further (issue #61)
    • Remove option to use kernel oom-killer (-k, now ignored for compatibility) (issue #80)
    • Gracefully handle the case of swap being added or removed after earlyoom was started (issue 62, commit)
    • Implement staged kill: first SIGTERM, then SIGKILL, with configurable limits (issue #67)
  • v1.1, 2018-07-07

    • Fix possible shell code injection through GUI notifications (commit)
    • On failure to kill any process, only sleep 1 second instead of 10 (issue #74)
    • Send the GUI notification after killing, not before (issue #73)
    • Accept --help in addition to -h
    • Fix wrong process name displayed in kill notification (commit)
    • Fix possible division by zero with -S (commit)
  • v1.0, 2018-01-28

    • Add --prefer and --avoid options (@TomJohnZ)
    • Add support for GUI notifications, add options -n and -N
  • v0.12: Add -M and -S options (@nailgun); add man page, parameterize Makefile (@yangfl)

  • v0.11: Fix undefined behavoir in get_entry_fatal (missing return, commit)

  • v0.10: Allow to override Makefile's VERSION variable to make packaging easier, add -v command-line option

  • v0.9: If oom_score of all processes is 0, use VmRss to find a victim

  • v0.8: Use a guesstimate if the kernel does not provide MemAvailable

  • v0.7: Select victim by oom_score instead of VmRSS, add options -i and -d

  • v0.6: Add command-line options -m, -s, -k

  • v0.5: Add swap support

  • v0.4: Add SysV init script (thanks @joeytwiddle), use the new MemAvailable from /proc/meminfo (needs Linux 3.14+, commit)

  • v0.2: Add systemd unit file

  • v0.1: Initial release

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