Demand paging

Demand paging

In computer operating systems, demand paging is an application of virtual memory. In a system that uses demand paging, the operating system copies a disk page into physical memory only if an attempt is made to access it (i.e., if a page fault occurs). It follows that a process begins execution with none of its pages in physical memory, and many page faults will occur until most of a process's working set of pages is located in physical memory. This is an example of lazy loading techniques.


Demand paging, as opposed to loading all pages immediately:

  • Does not load the pages that are never accessed, so saves the memory for other programs and increases the degree of multiprogramming.
  • Less loading latency at the program startup.
  • Less of initial disk overhead because of fewer page reads.
  • Does not need extra hardware support than what paging needs, since protection fault can be used to get page fault.

Advantages over non-virtual memory systems:

  • Pages will be shared by multiple programs until they are modified by one of them, so a technique called copy on write will be used to save more resources.
  • Ability to run large programs on the machine, even though it does not have sufficient memory to run the program. This method is easier for a programmer than an old manual overlays.


  • Individual programs face extra latency when they access a page for the first time. So prepaging, a method of remembering which pages a process used when it last executed and preloading a few of them, is used to improve performance.
  • Programs running on low-cost, low-power embedded systems may not have a memory management unit that supports page replacement.
  • Memory management with page replacement algorithms becomes slightly more complex.
  • Possible security risks, including vulnerability to timing attacks; see Percival 2005 Cache Missing for Fun and Profit (specifically the virtual memory attack in the first section).

Unix implementation

In Unix systems, and also in Linux, demand paging is actually built into the mmap() system call itself. The operating system maps the executable file (and its dependent libraries) into the newly created program's virtual address space, without actually allocating any physical RAM for the contents of those files. When the mappings are read-only and shared, the program may actually run literally from the page cache.

See also


  • Tanenbaum, Andrew S. Operating Systems: Design and Implementation (Second Edition). New Jersey: Prentice-Hall 1997.
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