How do I allocate memory to work as swap space in an Amazon EC2 instance by using a swap file?

Last updated: 2020-01-15

I want to allocate memory to work as a swap file in an Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instance. How do I do that?

Short Description

When physical RAM is already in use, Amazon EC2 instances use swap space as a short-term replacement for physical RAM.

Contents of RAM that aren't in active use or that aren't needed as urgently as other data or instructions can be temporarily paged to a swap file. This frees up RAM for more immediate use.

You can also create swap space on a partition. For more information, see How do I allocate memory to work as swap space on an Amazon EC2 instance using a partition on my hard drive?

Note: It's a best practice to create swap space only on ephemeral storage instance store volumes.


Calculate the swap space size

As a general rule, calculate swap space according to the following:

Amount of physical RAM Recommended swap space
2 GB of RAM or less 2x the amount of RAM but never less than 32 MB
More than 2 GB of RAM but less than 32 GB 4 GB + (RAM – 2 GB)
32 GB of RAM or more 1x the amount of RAM

Note: Swap space should never be less than 32 MB.

Create a swap file

1.    Use the dd command to create a swap file on the root file system. In the command, bs is the block size and count is the number of blocks. The size of the swap file is the block size option multiplied by the count option in the dd command. Adjust these values to determine the desired swap file size.

The block size you specify should be less than the available memory on the instance or you receive a "memory exhausted" error.

In this example dd command, the swap file is 4 GB (128 MB x 32):  

$ sudo dd if=/dev/zero of=/swapfile bs=128M count=32

2.    Update the read and write permissions for the swap file:

$ sudo chmod 600 /swapfile

3.    Set up a Linux swap area:

$ sudo mkswap /swapfile

4.    Make the swap file available for immediate use by adding the swap file to swap space:  

$ sudo swapon /swapfile

5.    Verify that the procedure was successful:

$ sudo swapon -s

6.    Enable the swap file at boot time by editing the /etc/fstab file.

Open the file in the editor:

$ sudo vi /etc/fstab

Add the following new line at the end of the file, save the file, and then exit:

/swapfile swap swap defaults 0 0

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