Linux System Programs

Determining freely available physical memory.

Determining the exact magnitude of freely available system memory within a program can be very difficult on most UNIX platforms. This is due to the fact that the memory managers on all advanced UNIX operating systems are very dynamic and aggressive. However, there are many ways to arrive at an approximate ball-park figure of how much physical memory would be available at a given instance of time using the following code snippet on GNU/Linux:

   #include <stdio.h>
   #include <unistd.h>
   #define FREE_PHYS_MEMORY (sysconf(_SC_PAGESIZE) * sysconf(_SC_AVPHYS_PAGES))
   int main()
        printf("Available memory: %lu bytes.\n", FREE_PHYS_MEMORY);
        return 0;

Determining memory statistics (free memory, total memory, swap, cache) on Linux

Most Linux programs parse the files /proc/meminfo or /proc/vmstat to gather more accurate memory statistics as reported by the Linux memory manager. Commands like free and top use this technique. The following code snippet shows how this technique could be used effectively:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <fcntl.h>
#include <errno.h>

#define BUFFER_SIZE 338 /* We are bothered about only the 
                           first 338 bytes of the /proc/meminfo file */
#define PROC_MEM_FILE "/proc/meminfo"

struct meminfo {
  unsigned long total;
  unsigned long free;
  unsigned long buffered;
  unsigned long cached;
  unsigned long swapcached;
  unsigned long swaptotal;
  unsigned long swapfree;

/* Extract numbers from a string between the start and end indices */
unsigned long extract_number(char *str, int start, int end)
  int i, j;
  char buf[end-start];

  for (i=start, j=0; i<end; i++)
    isdigit(str[i]) && (buf[j++] = str[i]);
  buf[j] = '\0';

  return strtoul(buf, NULL, 0) * 1024;

/* Parse the contents of /proc/meminfo file into the meminfo structure */
int get_memory_stats(struct meminfo *mem)

  char buf[BUFFER_SIZE];
  int in;

  if ((in = open(PROC_MEM_FILE, O_RDONLY)) total = extract_number(buf, 9, 22);
  mem->free = extract_number(buf, 35, 49);
  mem->buffered = extract_number(buf, 61, 75);
  mem->cached = extract_number(buf, 86, 101);
  mem->swapcached = extract_number(buf, 116, 127);
  mem->swaptotal = extract_number(buf, 297, 309);
  mem->swapfree = extract_number(buf, 322, 335);

  return 0;


int main(int argc, char **argv)

  struct meminfo memory;

  if (get_memory_stats(&memory) < 0) {
    fprintf(stderr, "%s: %s.\n", argv[0], strerror(errno));
    return -1;

  printf("Total memory: %10lu bytes.\n",;
  printf("Free memory:  %10lu bytes.\n",;
  printf("Buffered:     %10lu bytes.\n", memory.buffered);
  printf("Cached:       %10lu bytes.\n", memory.cached);
  printf("Swap Cached:  %10lu bytes.\n", memory.swapcached);
  printf("Swap Total:   %10lu bytes.\n", memory.swaptotal);
  printf("Swap Free:    %10lu bytes.\n", memory.swapfree);

  return 0;