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As part of doing some cold cache timings, I'm trying to free the OS cache. The kernel documentation says:


Writing to this will cause the kernel to drop clean caches, dentries and
inodes from memory, causing that memory to become free.

To free pagecache:
    echo 1 > /proc/sys/vm/drop_caches
To free dentries and inodes:
    echo 2 > /proc/sys/vm/drop_caches
To free pagecache, dentries and inodes:
    echo 3 > /proc/sys/vm/drop_caches

As this is a non-destructive operation and dirty objects are not freeable, the
user should run `sync' first.

I'm a bit sketchy about the details. Running

echo 3 > /proc/sys/vm/drop_caches

frees pagecache, dentries and inodes. Ok.

So, if I want the system to start caching normally again, do I need to reset it to 0 first? My system has the value currently set to 0, which I assume is the default. Or will it reset on its own? I see at least two possibilities here, and I'm not sure which one is true:

  1. echo 3 > /proc/sys/vm/drop_caches frees pagecache, dentries and inodes. The system then immediately starts caching again. I'm not sure what I would expect the value in /proc/sys/vm/drop_caches to do if this is the case. Go back to 0 almost immediately?

  2. If /proc/sys/vm/drop_caches is set to 3, the system does not do any memory caching till it is reset to 0.

Which case is true?

share|improve this question
To use it with sudo: echo 3 | sudo tee /proc/sys/vm/drop_caches – Volker Siegel Aug 3 '14 at 22:40
Holy cow! @VolkerSiegel I've been scrubbing the Interwebs for hours and randomly found your comment. Tried it and it worked perfectly! Thanks for adding this little trick. I don't want to hijack this question but if it's not inappropriate, I'd like to ask for explanation. When I use sshpass with sudo -i && echo 3 > /proc/sys/vm/drop_caches, I get an error: stdin: is not a tty. Using your "sudo" method works. Why? – harperville Feb 26 at 15:57
@harperville Ask a question; this is almost certainly an unrelated issue. – Faheem Mitha Feb 26 at 16:36
@harperville Yes - that is a very good question - with an interesting answer, Do ask it separately! Then let me know here. Or you want me to ask the question myself and then answer it? – Volker Siegel Feb 26 at 16:57
Though the question might be a dupe - the issue sounds familiar. Do a search first. – Faheem Mitha Feb 26 at 17:34
up vote 32 down vote accepted

It isn't sticky - you just write to the file to make it drop the caches and then it immediately starts caching again.

Basically when you write to that file you aren't really changing a setting, you are issuing a command to the kernel. The kernel acts on that command (by dropping the caches) then carries on as before.

share|improve this answer
Ok, thanks. Does the value immediately change back to 0? – Faheem Mitha Aug 3 '11 at 8:49
@FaheemMitha No, the value you can read is whatever you put last, but it's not used anywhere, only the action of writing matters. The source code is in fs/drop_caches.c. – Gilles Aug 4 '11 at 0:16
@Gilles: Thanks. – Faheem Mitha Aug 4 '11 at 6:58
@TomH: Thanks!! – hermanjunge May 16 at 5:01

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