Posts Tagged 'GNU'

Profiling Memory using GNU glibc tools

One of the tools I’m using for quite a while to profile memory usage is the built-in profiling support in glibc. For some reason this isn’t known very much, so I thought documenting it here makes sense, so I can simply point the people to this post, instead of explaining everything 😉

What does glibc support?

  • Detecting mem leaks
  • Printing a memory histogram
  • Plotting a graph of memory usage over time
  • Measuring not only the heap, but also stack usage
  • Works also for embedded system which use glibc, not only on the PC

How does it work?

The functionality is implemented in a library called, which
gets preloaded by the dynamic linker simply be defining the variable LD_PRELOAD=/lib64/
The path may vary depending on the system you use of course.


LD_PRELOAD=/lib64/ ./helloworld

You can configure where the profile output is store by exporting the variable MEMUSAGE_OUTPUT=profile.dat.

There exists also a convenience wrapper script named memusage which does all this for you. A second program called memusagestat can generate nice graphics from the profiling data. Normally this scripts don’t get installed with glibc and must be installed separately.

Gentoo: compile glibc with ‘gd’ use flag.
Debian: libc6-dbg contains /usr/lib/debug/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/, but the scripts are missing.
On other systems you may find a package called glibc-utils which contains the scripts. As a last resource you can download it from

Now lets see this in action: There for I created a simple example application, which allocated memory and creates one memory leak.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <malloc.h>

int main(int argc, char *argv[])
    int i;
    void *data[10];

    printf("Hello World\n");

    for (i = 0; i < 10; ++i) {
        data[i] = malloc(i+10);

    for (i = 0; i < 9; ++i) {

    return 0;

Compile it like this: gcc -o hello hello.c
And run it using memusage

$> memusage ./hello
Hello World

Memory usage summary: heap total: 1169, heap peak: 1169, stack peak: 656
         total calls   total memory   failed calls
 malloc|         11           1169              0
realloc|          0              0              0  (nomove:0, dec:0, free:0)
 calloc|          0              0              0
   free|          9            126
Histogram for block sizes:
    0-15              6  54% ==================================================
   16-31              4  36% =================================
 1024-1039            1   9% ========

As you can see there are 11 malloc calls, 10 from our code, 1 from printf,
and only 9 frees, so we have found a memory leak.
We can also see the memory distribution in the histogram and in the summary
we can see the heap and stack peak values.

Now lets do the same thing again and lets plot a memory usage chart.

$> memusage -d profile.dat ./hello
$> memusagestat -o profile.png profile.dat

This creates the following graphics:


Of course this is a little boring in this simple application, but is very useful in bigger applications. For detecting memory leaks are better solutions available like valgrind, but this chart is very useful to see how much memory an application needs at what time, even though no memory leaks exists. E.g. consistently growing memory usage would be a problem.

How to use this on embedded devices?

In most cross-compiler toolchains that use glibc the library does exist also. You can use this on the embedded system by SSHing and using the LD_PRELOAD approach described above even though the convenience scripts are not available there usually. Then you copy back the results to your PC using SSH and generate the plot on the PC using memusagestat.

Latency Heatmaps

Latency heatmaps are a great way to visualize latencies which are hard to grasp from pure test data. Brendan Gregg ( has written a great Perl script for generating such heatmaps as interactive SVG graphics. Also the flamegraphs are just awesome, but this is another story.

(Unfortunately SVGs are not allowed on wordpress, so I converted this to PNG for this blog.)

Latency Heatmap

Just recently I used the heatmaps to visualize the accuracy of our OPC UA Server SDKs. So this time I use this opportunity to blog about it.

I used a python test tool for measuring the sampling rate using the OPC UA timestamps.
This outputs a simple list as integer values [µs since UNIX epoch].


But for generating a heatmap you need input like that:

# time              latency
1477661743761997    50125
1477661743811750    49753
1477661743861417    49667
1477661743912030    50613

Normally when measuring services like UA read and UA write I have both values, the time when measured (sending the request) and the latency (time until I get the response from the server). This time, when measuring the sampling rate for UA monitored items this is a little bit different. I only get the timestamps when the data was sampled. I don’t care when I received the data. So I compute the latency information as the difference of two sample points.

This can simply be computed using a few lines of awk script:

BEGIN { last = 0; }
    if (/[0-9]+/) {
        if (last == 0) {
            last = $1;
        } else {
            latency = $1 - last;
            last = $1;
            printf "%u\t%u\n", $1, latency

The result I can feed into Brandon’s Perl script.

The whole process of measuring and generating the SVG is put into a simple BASH script which does the following:
1.) Calling the python test UA client
2.) Calling the awk script to prepare the data for
3.) Calling to generate the SVG

This also shows the power of Linux commandline tools like BASH, awk, and Perl. I love how these tools work seamlessly together.

Excerpt of this BASH script:

# do measurement
echo "Starting measurement for 10s..."
if [ $PRINT_ONLY -eq 0 ]; then
    ./ $URL subscription >log.txt || { cat log.txt; exit 1; }
echo "Done."
# compute latency based on source timestamps
echo "Computing latency data using awk..."
awk -f latency.awk log.txt >latency.txt || exit 1
# generate heatmap
echo "Generating heatmap..."
./ --stepsec=0.1 --unitstime=us --unitslatency=us --grid --minlat=$MINLAT --maxlat=$MAXLAT --reflat=$REFLAT --title="$TITLE" latency.txt > $SVGFILE || exit 1
echo "Done. Open $SVGFILE in your browser."

I used this to measure at 50ms sampling rate, once on Window 10, and once on Linux.
The results are quiet different.

Windows 10 measurement:
Latency Heatmap

It is interesting to see that we are quiet far away from the configured 50ms sampling interval. The reason for this is that our software uses software timers for sampling that are derived from the Windows GetTickCount() API function. The resolution of this is quiet bad and is about 15-16ms. Maybe this could be improved using QueryPerformanceCounter.
See also

Linux measurement: (Linux ws-gergap 4.4.6-gentoo)
Latency Heatmap

On Linux we use clock_gettime() to replicate the Windows GetTickCount() functionality. And this works much better. Also we don’t have such runwaway measurement results due to scheduling delays. Event though it’s a standard Linux kernel without real-time extension. Linux does a pretty good job.

Note that both graphics above use the same scale. When zooming in more into the Linux measurement we recognize another phenomenon:
Latency Heatmap
You can see two lines in the measurement. The distance is exactly 1ms. The reason for this is that in our platform abstraction layer we have a tickcount() function which is modelled after the Win32 API, which means it uses ms units. This in turn means our software cannot create more accurate timer events, even though Linux itself would be able to handle this.

We should think about changing this to µs to get better accuracy, and maybe QueryPerformanceCounter can fix the problem also on Windows. But for the moment we are happy with the results, as they are already much better than on Windows.

2nd note: I modified the a little bit to show also the configured sampling rate (red line). This way it is easier to see how far away the measured timestamps are from the configured sampling rate. The Perl script is really easy to understand, so custom modifications are a no-brainer.

If somebody is interested in these scripts, just leave me a comment and I will put it on github.

Thanks to Brendan for this script and his great book and website.