free: Little to say that hasn’t been said

This will be a very short post. free is a simple, one-shot tool to display the amount of free memory in a system.


I am guessing that, unless you began working with Linux yesterday, you have already seen and used the free tool. It’s in procps (or a derivative) in most distros I’ve seen, and is probably the meterstick everyone uses to measure what’s left of their precious memories.

Unfortunately free can be a bit confusing to decipher. Interpreting it has been the topic of countless forum debates, plog boasts, Internet hatefests, TED talks and G8 summits.

I won’t add to the swirl of sewage surrounding free and it’s correct interpretation. No more than I would dare add my own tiny voice to the clamor around the Oracle of Delphi.

If you’re looking for a tutorial on free, I honestly suggest a few passes through your favorite search engine. I’m not dumping you off to DuckDuckGo; there honestly is a lot of information out there on free and how to read it.

I will only add that I have found other, less contentious methods to gage memory use, and have a tendency to stick to them instead of free. I know, it’s Unix heresy, but sometimes the best way to end debate is not to enter it in the first place.

Now go forth and study the gospel of free.

3 thoughts on “free: Little to say that hasn’t been said

  1. Mike

    Is there really a discussion about “free”? It looks strange at first, but there really can’t be _any_ discussion about it as you can read out byte-exact what memory is used and free. As a starter, one may just look at the “-/+ buffers/cache”-line which does all the calculus for you (withdraw buffers and cache from “overall used memory” in first line)

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