MLOCK(2) Linux Programmer's Manual MLOCK(2)
mlock, mlock2, munlock, mlockall, munlockall - lock and unlock memory
int mlock(const void *addr, size_t len);
int mlock2(const void *addr, size_t len, int flags);
int munlock(const void *addr, size_t len);
int mlockall(int flags);
mlock(), mlock2(), and mlockall() lock part or all of the calling
process's virtual address space into RAM, preventing that memory from
being paged to the swap area.
munlock() and munlockall() perform the converse operation, unlocking
part or all of the calling process's virtual address space, so that
pages in the specified virtual address range may once more to be
swapped out if required by the kernel memory manager.
Memory locking and unlocking are performed in units of whole pages.
mlock(), mlock2(), and munlock()
mlock() locks pages in the address range starting at addr and continu-
ing for len bytes. All pages that contain a part of the specified ad-
dress range are guaranteed to be resident in RAM when the call returns
successfully; the pages are guaranteed to stay in RAM until later un-
mlock2() also locks pages in the specified range starting at addr and
continuing for len bytes. However, the state of the pages contained in
that range after the call returns successfully will depend on the value
in the flags argument.
The flags argument can be either 0 or the following constant:
Lock pages that are currently resident and mark the entire range
so that the remaining nonresident pages are locked when they are
populated by a page fault.
If flags is 0, mlock2() behaves exactly the same as mlock().
munlock() unlocks pages in the address range starting at addr and con-
tinuing for len bytes. After this call, all pages that contain a part
of the specified memory range can be moved to external swap space again
by the kernel.
mlockall() and munlockall()
mlockall() locks all pages mapped into the address space of the calling
process. This includes the pages of the code, data and stack segment,
as well as shared libraries, user space kernel data, shared memory, and
memory-mapped files. All mapped pages are guaranteed to be resident in
RAM when the call returns successfully; the pages are guaranteed to
stay in RAM until later unlocked.
The flags argument is constructed as the bitwise OR of one or more of
the following constants:
MCL_CURRENT Lock all pages which are currently mapped into the address
space of the process.
MCL_FUTURE Lock all pages which will become mapped into the address
space of the process in the future. These could be, for
instance, new pages required by a growing heap and stack as
well as new memory-mapped files or shared memory regions.
MCL_ONFAULT (since Linux 4.4)
Used together with MCL_CURRENT, MCL_FUTURE, or both. Mark
all current (with MCL_CURRENT) or future (with MCL_FUTURE)
mappings to lock pages when they are faulted in. When used
with MCL_CURRENT, all present pages are locked, but mlock-
all() will not fault in non-present pages. When used with
MCL_FUTURE, all future mappings will be marked to lock
pages when they are faulted in, but they will not be popu-
lated by the lock when the mapping is created. MCL_ONFAULT
must be used with either MCL_CURRENT or MCL_FUTURE or both.
If MCL_FUTURE has been specified, then a later system call (e.g.,
mmap(2), sbrk(2), malloc(3)), may fail if it would cause the number of
locked bytes to exceed the permitted maximum (see below). In the same
circumstances, stack growth may likewise fail: the kernel will deny
stack expansion and deliver a SIGSEGV signal to the process.
munlockall() unlocks all pages mapped into the address space of the
On success, these system calls return 0. On error, -1 is returned, er-
rno is set appropriately, and no changes are made to any locks in the
address space of the process.
ENOMEM (Linux 2.6.9 and later) the caller had a nonzero RLIMIT_MEMLOCK
soft resource limit, but tried to lock more memory than the
limit permitted. This limit is not enforced if the process is
ENOMEM (Linux 2.4 and earlier) the calling process tried to lock more
than half of RAM.
EPERM The caller is not privileged, but needs privilege (CAP_IPC_LOCK)
to perform the requested operation.
For mlock(), mlock2(), and munlock():
EAGAIN Some or all of the specified address range could not be locked.
EINVAL The result of the addition addr+len was less than addr (e.g.,
the addition may have resulted in an overflow).
EINVAL (Not on Linux) addr was not a multiple of the page size.
ENOMEM Some of the specified address range does not correspond to
mapped pages in the address space of the process.
ENOMEM Locking or unlocking a region would result in the total number
of mappings with distinct attributes (e.g., locked versus un-
locked) exceeding the allowed maximum. (For example, unlocking
a range in the middle of a currently locked mapping would result
in three mappings: two locked mappings at each end and an un-
locked mapping in the middle.)
EINVAL Unknown flags were specified.
EINVAL Unknown flags were specified or MCL_ONFAULT was specified with-
out either MCL_FUTURE or MCL_CURRENT.
EPERM (Linux 2.6.8 and earlier) The caller was not privileged
mlock2() is available since Linux 4.4; glibc support was added in ver-
POSIX.1-2001, POSIX.1-2008, SVr4.
mlock2 () is Linux specific.
On POSIX systems on which mlock() and munlock() are available,
_POSIX_MEMLOCK_RANGE is defined in <unistd.h> and the number of bytes
in a page can be determined from the constant PAGESIZE (if defined) in
<limits.h> or by calling sysconf(_SC_PAGESIZE).
On POSIX systems on which mlockall() and munlockall() are available,
_POSIX_MEMLOCK is defined in <unistd.h> to a value greater than 0.
(See also sysconf(3).)
Memory locking has two main applications: real-time algorithms and
high-security data processing. Real-time applications require deter-
ministic timing, and, like scheduling, paging is one major cause of un-
expected program execution delays. Real-time applications will usually
also switch to a real-time scheduler with sched_setscheduler(2). Cryp-
tographic security software often handles critical bytes like passwords
or secret keys as data structures. As a result of paging, these se-
crets could be transferred onto a persistent swap store medium, where
they might be accessible to the enemy long after the security software
has erased the secrets in RAM and terminated. (But be aware that the
suspend mode on laptops and some desktop computers will save a copy of
the system's RAM to disk, regardless of memory locks.)
Real-time processes that are using mlockall() to prevent delays on page
faults should reserve enough locked stack pages before entering the
time-critical section, so that no page fault can be caused by function
calls. This can be achieved by calling a function that allocates a
sufficiently large automatic variable (an array) and writes to the mem-
ory occupied by this array in order to touch these stack pages. This
way, enough pages will be mapped for the stack and can be locked into
RAM. The dummy writes ensure that not even copy-on-write page faults
can occur in the critical section.
Memory locks are not inherited by a child created via fork(2) and are
automatically removed (unlocked) during an execve(2) or when the
process terminates. The mlockall() MCL_FUTURE and MCL_FUTURE | MCL_ON-
FAULT settings are not inherited by a child created via fork(2) and are
cleared during an execve(2).
Note that fork(2) will prepare the address space for a copy-on-write
operation. The consequence is that any write access that follows will
cause a page fault that in turn may cause high latencies for a real-
time process. Therefore, it is crucial not to invoke fork(2) after an
mlockall() or mlock() operation--not even from a thread which runs at a
low priority within a process which also has a thread running at ele-
The memory lock on an address range is automatically removed if the ad-
dress range is unmapped via munmap(2).
Memory locks do not stack, that is, pages which have been locked sev-
eral times by calls to mlock(), mlock2(), or mlockall() will be un-
locked by a single call to munlock() for the corresponding range or by
munlockall(). Pages which are mapped to several locations or by sev-
eral processes stay locked into RAM as long as they are locked at least
at one location or by at least one process.
If a call to mlockall() which uses the MCL_FUTURE flag is followed by
another call that does not specify this flag, the changes made by the
MCL_FUTURE call will be lost.
The mlock2() MLOCK_ONFAULT flag and the mlockall() MCL_ONFAULT flag al-
low efficient memory locking for applications that deal with large map-
pings where only a (small) portion of pages in the mapping are touched.
In such cases, locking all of the pages in a mapping would incur a sig-
nificant penalty for memory locking.
Under Linux, mlock(), mlock2(), and munlock() automatically round addr
down to the nearest page boundary. However, the POSIX.1 specification
of mlock() and munlock() allows an implementation to require that addr
is page aligned, so portable applications should ensure this.
The VmLck field of the Linux-specific /proc/[pid]/status file shows how
many kilobytes of memory the process with ID PID has locked using
mlock(), mlock2(), mlockall(), and mmap(2) MAP_LOCKED.
Limits and permissions
In Linux 2.6.8 and earlier, a process must be privileged (CAP_IPC_LOCK)
in order to lock memory and the RLIMIT_MEMLOCK soft resource limit de-
fines a limit on how much memory the process may lock.
Since Linux 2.6.9, no limits are placed on the amount of memory that a
privileged process can lock and the RLIMIT_MEMLOCK soft resource limit
instead defines a limit on how much memory an unprivileged process may
In Linux 4.8 and earlier, a bug in the kernel's accounting of locked
memory for unprivileged processes (i.e., without CAP_IPC_LOCK) meant
that if the region specified by addr and len overlapped an existing
lock, then the already locked bytes in the overlapping region were
counted twice when checking against the limit. Such double accounting
could incorrectly calculate a "total locked memory" value for the
process that exceeded the RLIMIT_MEMLOCK limit, with the result that
mlock() and mlock2() would fail on requests that should have succeeded.
This bug was fixed in Linux 4.9
In the 2.4 series Linux kernels up to and including 2.4.17, a bug
caused the mlockall() MCL_FUTURE flag to be inherited across a fork(2).
This was rectified in kernel 2.4.18.
Since kernel 2.6.9, if a privileged process calls mlockall(MCL_FUTURE)
and later drops privileges (loses the CAP_IPC_LOCK capability by, for
example, setting its effective UID to a nonzero value), then subsequent
memory allocations (e.g., mmap(2), brk(2)) will fail if the RLIMIT_MEM-
LOCK resource limit is encountered.
mincore(2), mmap(2), setrlimit(2), shmctl(2), sysconf(3), proc(5), ca-
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