It is explained here: Will Linux start killing my processes without asking me if memory gets short? that the OOM-Killer can be configured via overcommit_memory and that:

  • 2 = no overcommit. Allocations fail if asking too much.
  • 0, 1 = overcommit (heuristically or always). Kill some process(es) based on some heuristics when too much memory is actually accessed.

Now, I may completely misunderstand that, but why isn't there an option (or why isn't it the default) to kill the very process that actually tries to access too much memory it allocated?

  • What if a critical system process asks for too much memory ?
    – Lawrence
    Jun 10, 2014 at 8:40
  • In the first place - it can do this thing. But, the biggest problem with that question is that in all likelihood if a process is asking for memory then it is being newly executed - or, in other words, this is a new process involved in very current processing. Would you rather the OOM allowed your not-opened-for-3-days im client to keep on wasting system memory or would you rather YouTube actually loaded some time this year? linuxatemyram.com
    – mikeserv
    Jun 10, 2014 at 8:44
  • 3
    This is what the no overcommit option essentially does. If a process asks for too much memory, it fails. If it checks for the error, it will usually kill itself; if it doesn't, it will probably get a Segmentation Error when it tries to dereference the null pointer that malloc() returns, and it will crash.
    – Barmar
    Jun 11, 2014 at 19:11
  • Note that 2 is actually the no overcommit mode, according to the cited sources (such as kernel.org/doc/Documentation/vm/overcommit-accounting ). I think I'll edit your question accordingly.
    – hans_meine
    Aug 2, 2018 at 10:55
  • These guys always use the same arguments, but such problems never happen on Windows side of things, even in machines with only 4GB of memory. A common example is Linux not killing the obvious culprit, the internet browser using 2GB for a single process, while it goes on to kill all my panel and background processes. Sometimes, the OOM even kills my Pulseaudio process, while it lets the browser escape intact. It's just broken, let's just admit it at this point. Obsolete. This is an area of Linux that is in dire need of new talents to update it. Swapping too, not updated since the 90's.
    – Winampah
    May 19, 2021 at 10:08

2 Answers 2


Consider this scenario:

  • You have 4GB of memory free.
  • A faulty process allocates 3.999GB.
  • You open a task manager to kill the runaway process. The task manager allocates 0.002GB.

If the process that got killed was the last process to request memory, your task manager would get killed.


  • You have 4GB of memory free.
  • A faulty process allocates 3.999GB.
  • You open a task manager to kill the runaway process. The X server allocates 0.002GB to handle the task manager's window.

Now your X server gets killed. It didn't cause the problem; it was just "in the wrong place at the wrong time". It happened to be the first process to allocate more memory when there was none left, but it wasn't the process that used all the memory to start with.

  • To extend your example it means that if a process was consuming 99.999% of your memory you'd never be able to kill it since anything that could kill it would require memory and thus get itself killed before the errant process could be killed!
    – Sled
    Jun 10, 2014 at 17:22
  • 13
    Mind you, this is the Linux philosophy, not a necessary fact. Windows 3.0 solved it by having sufficient memory reserved for OOM handling, including the necessary dialogs.
    – MSalters
    Jun 10, 2014 at 19:20
  • @MSalters: That doesn't really apply to the example, though; The example was about a process that has reserved nearly all memory, ie. not enough to get itself OOM killed. Obviously there has to be enough memory reserved for OOM handling on any OS. But the process that invokes the OOM handling would be the next process that happens to reserve memory, not the misbehaving one. Unless, of course, you meant that Windows 3.0 always had enough memory reserved for running task manager, or that the OOM handler always prompted the user for the process to kill. (Which != killing the offending process) Jun 16, 2015 at 22:58
  • 3
    @AleksiTorhamo: I indeed meant the latter. Windows 3.0 didn't have a fullblown task manager, it had the famous blue screens whose memory was preallocated.
    – MSalters
    Jun 17, 2015 at 7:24

This problems has been plaguing me for the longest time, and all I find out there are the almighty "Linux defenders" preaching that the OOM Killer is the ultimate tool ever invented. (I wonder if most of these guys even use Linux on a daily basis because their remarks sound distant to what I see in reality...)

From my experience with it (many many freezes and crashes, hard reboots and a lot of pain, hours wasted that will never get back) my understanding of the OOM Killer is that it is BROKEN, it does NOT work and it's fundamentally flawed in the way it is designed because (as original post mentions) it won't kill the main offender (the app that is allocating more memory, like Windoze does...) Instead, it kills the processes SURROUNDING the main big process, which brings no results whatsoever.

To me this Linux OOM Killer looks like something that was designed way back when computers had less than 128 MB of RAM and before internet browsers were a thing. It's unpractical and innefective to today's standards.

These commands should proove useful for you to assign to a keyboard shortcut:

First, test what process you want to kill using this command:

ps aux | grep STRING

If it shows the process you want to kill, then put it in the script below inside the parenthesis.

kill -9 $(ps aux | grep type=renderer)
# the above will kill all my Chromium processes
# without having to restart my entire browser or losing progress
# incognito window will be kept alive, instead of lost
sudo killall tumblerd
# (optional)

Or even better:

sudo apt remove tumbler
  • Rant about the OOM reaper aside, this doesn't answer the question asked. It would be more helpful to answer the question directly or provide more information about how the reaping process works. More useful information is here: lwn.net/Articles/590960
    – Liczyrzepa
    Jul 14, 2020 at 22:34

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