What is cgroups? A Comprehensive Guide to the Definition and Use Cases

47000027 - What is cgroups? A Comprehensive Guide to the Definition and Use Cases

Explore the world of cgroups with our comprehensive guide. Understand its definition, benefits, and practical uses in system resource management. Dive into the intricate details of this essential Linux feature.


Join 2000+ tech leaders

A digest from our CEO on technology, talent and hard truth. Get it straight to your inbox every two weeks.

    No SPAM. Unsubscribe anytime.

    Cgroups, also known as control groups, are a Linux kernel feature that helps in allocating, prioritizing, and monitoring system resources like CPU, memory, and I/O amongst different processes and applications. Initially introduced in Linux Kernel 2.6.24 in 2007, control groups were further enhanced in 2013 with Linux Kernel 3.10 to include resource control and tracking, and are now widely adopted in containerization technologies like Docker and Kubernetes.

    “Managing computer resources is a lot like managing a city’s resources. Cgroups is like the city planner for Linux, keeping everything running smoothly and in its place.” – Linus Torvalds

    What are cgroups? Definition of Control Groups

    Cgroups, which stands for control groups, are a feature of the Linux kernel that provides a structured approach to manage how processes share and consume system resources. Simply put, cgroups allow the administrator to partition hardware resources into isolated groups and then assign processes to these groups with defined resource limits.

    How cgroups work

    Cgroups use a hierarchical model to manage resources, where every process has a place in the hierarchy and inherits attributes from its parent group. The hierarchy consists of various controllers, each responsible for a specific type of resource, like:

    – cpu: Limits CPU usage
    – memory: Manages memory allocation
    – blkio: Controls block I/O operations

    These controllers are manipulated by creating, modifying, or deleting cgroup nodes in the Linux virtual file system. When a process is assigned to a cgroup, it follows the constraints defined by its controllers, allowing the administrator to enforce strict resource utilization policies and prevent system failures due to resource exhaustion.

    Benefits of using cgroups

    • Resource allocation: Cgroups help in distributing system resources evenly amongst different applications, ensuring that no single application hogs resources and deprives other applications of their fair share.
    • Performance optimization: By setting different priorities for applications, cgroups ensure that important processes get more resources, resulting in an optimized overall system performance.
    • Resource monitoring: Cgroups enable administrators to track performance metrics, which helps in timely identification and resolution of resource bottlenecks.
    • Enhanced security: By isolating processes in separate control groups, an exploited vulnerability in one application won’t affect other processes, thereby reducing potential damages.
    • Containerization support: Cgroups are a foundational technology used by containerization solutions like Docker and Kubernetes, offering resource management capabilities for containers.
    ā­  What is Code Refactoring? An In-Depth Explanation

    cgroups use cases

    Cgroup usage spans across multiple industries and use cases:

    1. Cloud computing: In cloud environments, where multiple tenants compete for resources, cgroups help in partitioning these resources for a better application performance and customer satisfaction.
    2. High-performance computing: Employing cgroups in high-performance computing ensures a fair distribution of resources, allowing all tasks to run efficiently.
    3. Containers and microservices: Cgroups are critical for container technologies by managing resources at a granular level, optimizing container performance and security.

    Code Examples

    #include <stdio.h>
    #include <string.h>
    #include <stdlib.h>
    #include <unistd.h>
    #include <sys/types.h>
    #include <fcntl.h>
    int main(int argc, char *argv[]) {
      pid_t pid;
      int cgroup_fd;
      char pid_str[32];
      pid = getpid();
      sprintf(pid_str, "%d", pid);
      // Create a cgroup and set its CPU shares
      mkdir("/sys/fs/cgroup/cpu/demo_cgroup", 0755);
      cgroup_fd = open("/sys/fs/cgroup/cpu/demo_cgroup/cpu.shares", O_WRONLY);
      write(cgroup_fd, "512", strlen("512"));
      // Add the current process to the cgroup
      cgroup_fd = open("/sys/fs/cgroup/cpu/demo_cgroup/cgroup.procs", O_WRONLY);
      write(cgroup_fd, pid_str, strlen(pid_str));
      // Run the workload in the limited cgroup
      if (argc > 1) {
        execvp(argv[1], &argv[1]);
        perror("Failed to start workload");
      // Busy loop
      for (;;) {}
      return 0;

    Best Practices

    When using cgroups, it is essential to create a well-defined hierarchy that maps to your organizational structure and application profiles. Make sure to set realistic resource limits to prevent application crashes and system instability. Periodic monitoring and assessment of resource constraints are crucial to adapt to changing application requirements. Leverage existing cgroup management tools like systemd and LXC to simplify the implementation and upkeep of cgroups.

    Most recommended books about cgroups

    For readers interested in gaining a deeper understanding of cgroups, the following books are highly recommended:

    1. Linux Control Groups: A Practical Example by Michael Kerrisk: A hands-on guide to using cgroups with practical examples and use cases.
    2. Linux Performance by Brendan Gregg: Although not solely focused on cgroups, this book covers various Linux performance monitoring and optimization techniques, featuring a section on cgroups.
    3. Containers on Linux: Learn Container Technologies by Practice, Including Control Groups and Namespaces by Ahmed Kamal: This book provides an in-depth understanding of containerization techniques, including cgroups as a crucial component.

    ā­  What You Need to Know: Breaking Down the Definition of Incremental Development


    Cgroups are a powerful Linux kernel feature, offering fine-grained control and monitoring of system resources, helping administrators ensure optimal performance and security in different environments. By understanding the fundamentals of cgroups and adopting best practices, organizations can leverage this feature to build more efficient and reliable systems.

    Tags: cgroups, containers, cpu, definition, guide.

    Lou photo
    Back in 2013, I founded Echo with the simple business idea: "Connect great tech companies around the globe with the brightest software engineers in Eastern Europe." We've employed hundreds of talents so far and keep going.
    Lou photo
    li profile Lou Reverchuk

    IT Entrepreneur

    Notify of

    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments
    Ready to discuss your hiring needs? Let's talk