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cgroups (aka control groups) is a Linux kernel feature to limit, police and account the resource usage of certain processes (actually process groups). Compared to other approaches like the 'nice' command or /etc/security/limits.conf, cgroups are more flexible.

Control groups can be used in multiple ways:

  • create and manage them on the fly using tools like cgcreate, cgexec, cgclassify etc
  • the "rules engine daemon", to automatically move certain users/groups/commands to groups (/etc/cgrules.conf and /usr/lib/systemd/system/cgconfig.service)
  • through other software such as Linux Containers (LXC) virtualization

Unfortunately this feature is often underappreciated due to lack of easy "how-to" style documentation. This is an attempt of fixing the problem. :)


First, install the utilities for managing cgroups; you need to install the libcgroupAUR package from the AUR.

Note: Cgroups can be handled natively by systemd, see this for more information.

Simple usage

Ad-hoc groups

One of the powers of cgroups is that you can create "ad-hoc" groups on the fly. In fact, you can even grant the privileges to create custom groups to regular users. Run this as root (replace $USER with your user name and groupname with the name you want to give to the cgroup):

sudo cgcreate -a $USER -g memory,cpu:groupname

That's it! Now all the tunables in the group groupname are writable by your user:

$ ls -l /sys/fs/cgroup/memory/groupname
total 0
-rwxrwxr-x 1 user root 0 Sep 25 00:39 cgroup.event_control
-rwxrwxr-x 1 user root 0 Sep 25 00:39 cgroup.procs
-rwxrwxr-x 1 user root 0 Sep 25 00:39 cpu.rt_period_us
-rwxrwxr-x 1 user root 0 Sep 25 00:39 cpu.rt_runtime_us
-rwxrwxr-x 1 user root 0 Sep 25 00:39 cpu.shares
-rwxrwxr-x 1 user root 0 Sep 25 00:39 notify_on_release
-rwxrwxr-x 1 user root 0 Sep 25 00:39 tasks

Cgroups are hierarchical, so you can create as many subgroups as you like. Let's say that, as a normal user, you want to run a bash shell under a new subgroup called 'foo':

cgcreate -g memory,cpu:groupname/foo
cgexec   -g memory,cpu:groupname/foo bash

There we go! Just to make sure:

$ cat /proc/self/cgroup

A new subdirectory was created for this group. To limit the memory usage of all processes in this group to 10 MB, run the following:

$ echo 10000000 > /sys/fs/cgroup/memory/groupname/foo/memory.limit_in_bytes

Note that the memory limit applies to RAM use only -- once tasks hit this limit, they will begin to swap. But it won't affect the performance of other processes significantly.

Similarly you can change the CPU priority ("shares") of this group. By default all groups have 1024 shares. A group with 100 shares will get a ~10% portion of the CPU time:

$ echo 100 > /sys/fs/cgroup/cpu/groupname/foo/cpu.shares

You can find more tunables or statistics by listing the cgroup directory.

You can also change the cgroup of already running processes. To move all 'bash' commands to this group:

$ pidof bash
13244 13266
$ cgclassify -g memory,cpu:groupname/foo `pidof bash`
$ cat /proc/13244/cgroup

Persistent group configuration

If you want your cgroups to be created at boot, you can define them in /etc/cgconfig.conf instead. For example, the "groupname" and "groupname/foo" group definitions would look like this:

group groupname {
  perm {
# who can manage limits
    admin {
      uid = $USER;
# who can add tasks to this group
    task {
      uid = $USER;
# create this group in cpu and memory controllers
  cpu { }
  memory { }

group groupname/foo {
  cpu {
    cpu.shares = 100;
  memory {
    memory.limit_in_bytes = 10000000;
Note: Comments should begin at the start of a line! The # character for comments must appear as the first character of a line. Else, cgconfigparser will have problem parsing it but will only report cgroup change of group failed as the error.

Useful examples


Matlab does not have any protection against taking all your machine's memory or CPU. Launching a large calculation can thus trash your system. Here's the what I have put in /etc/cgconfig.conf to protect from this (replace $USER with your username):

# Prevent Matlab from taking all memory
group matlab {
    perm {
        admin {
            uid = $USER;
        task {
            uid = $USER;

    cpuset {
    memory {
# 5 GiB limit
        memory.limit_in_bytes = 5368709120;
Note: Don't forget to change $USER to the actual username Matlab will be run by!!!

This cgroup will bind Matlab to cores 0 to 5 (I have 8, so Matlab will only see 6) and cap its memory usage to 5 GiB. The "cpu" resource constrain can also be defined to prevent CPU usage, but I find the "cpuset" constrain to be sufficient.

Launch matlab like this:

$ cgexec -g memory,cpuset:matlab /opt/MATLAB/2012b/bin/matlab -desktop

Make sure to use the right path to the executable.


For information on controllers and what certain switches and tunables mean, refer to kernel's Documentation/cgroup (or install linux-docs and see /usr/src/linux/Documentation/cgroup

For commands and configuration files, see relevant man pages, e.g. man cgcreate or man cgrules.conf