If /etc/security/limits.conf has not been edited or changed, there are nothing but comments. However 'cat /proc/self/limits' shows there are some limits in effect. Are these compiled into the kernel? If no where does the system get the initial default limits in an unmodified environment?

[~]$ cat /proc/self/limits
Limit                     Soft Limit           Hard Limit           Units     
Max cpu time              unlimited            unlimited            seconds   
Max file size             unlimited            unlimited            bytes     
Max data size             unlimited            unlimited            bytes     
Max stack size            10485760             unlimited            bytes     
Max core file size        0                    unlimited            bytes     
Max resident set          unlimited            unlimited            bytes     
Max processes             1024                 60413                processes 
Max open files            1024                 4096                 files     
Max locked memory         65536                65536                bytes     
Max address space         unlimited            unlimited            bytes     
Max file locks            unlimited            unlimited            locks     
Max pending signals       60413                60413                signals   
Max msgqueue size         819200               819200               bytes     
Max nice priority         0                    0                    
Max realtime priority     0                    0                    
Max realtime timeout      unlimited            unlimited            us        

1 Answer 1


You should probably check the highest voted answer ServerFault SE where are the default ulimit values set? (linux, centos) .

UPDATE: As suggested, copy/pasting the information from the other site:

These "default" limits are applied by:

  • the Linux kernel at boot time (to the init process),
  • inheritance, from the parent process' limits (at fork(2) time),
  • PAM when the user session is opened (can replace kernel/inherited values),
  • the process itself (can replace PAM & kernel/inherited values, see setrlimit(2)).

Normal users' processes cannot rise hard limits.

The Linux kernel

At boot time, Linux sets default limits to the init process, which are then inherited by all the other (children) processes. To see this limit: grep process /proc/1/limits.

For example, the kernel default for maximum number of file descriptors (ulimit -n) was 1024/1024 (soft, hard), and has been raised to 1024/4096 in Linux 2.6.39.

The default maximum number of processes you're talking about is limited to approximately:

Total RAM in kB / 128

for x86 architectures (at least), but distributions sometimes change default kernel values, so check your kernel source code for kernel/fork.c, fork_init(). The "number of processes" limit is called RLIMIT_NPROC there.


Usually, to ensure user authentification at login, PAM is used along with some modules (see /etc/pam.d/login).

On Debian, the PAM module responsible for setting limits is here : /lib/security/pam_limits.so.

This library will read its configuration from limits.conf and limits.d/*.conf, but even if those files are empty, pam_limits.so might use hardcoded values that you can check within the source code.

For example, on Debian, the library has been patched so that by default, the maximum number of processes (nproc) is unlimited, and the maximum number of files (nofile) is 1024/1024:

      pl->limits[i].limit.rlim_cur = 1024;
      pl->limits[i].limit.rlim_max = 1024;

So, check your CentOS' PAM module source code (look for RLIMIT_NPROC).

However, please note that many processes will not go through PAM (usually, if they are not launched by a logged in user, like daemons and maybe cron jobs).

  • This looks to be exactly what I was asking. I note its not a simple answer either. Many Thx.
    – user25849
    Aug 9, 2013 at 19:46
  • 1
    Welcome to Stack Exchange. This is a questions and answers site, not a link collection. Please do not answer with just a link. Since this is from another Stack Exchange site, you could even copy the relevant content with attribution. Aug 9, 2013 at 22:56
  • Peter it's OK to repost some of that information on this site too. Even though it's a SE site each site is a bit of an island and wants to maintain relevant information internal to the site. Obviously you want to reference any copied material.
    – slm
    Aug 9, 2013 at 23:43
  • as suggested copy/pasted the relevant information to have all the information on one place only Aug 10, 2013 at 5:49
  • @user25849 just s side note, once you consider answer correct, you should mark it correct, thanks Aug 10, 2013 at 5:51

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