How To Check Linux Memory Usage?

Linux operating system manages and uses different system resources. The memory or RAM is one of the most important system resources where every running process, command, service, the job requires and uses some memory. So a typical system has a lot of processes and services it uses and manages a lot of memory. A typical system administrator should monitor and manage memory usage for the Linux servers. Some applications may use a lot of memory even non-existing memory for specific time periods. Hopefully, Linux provides a lot of different ways and commands in order to check and monitor memory/RAM usage. The ram usage can be checked via a command or file or GUI tool.

top Command

The top command is the most popular command used to monitor and check Linux system resources. The top command is installed default by most of the Linux distributions like Ubuntu, Debian, Mint, Kali, Fedora, CentOS, RHEL, SuSe, etc. It provides information about CPU, Memory, Disk usage, and their details. The memory usage can be checked with the top command easily. The top command is an interactive command which provides and refreshes up-to-date information. The top command can be started like below.


From the screenshot, we can see that the %MEM column shows the memory usage percentage. For example, if we have 10GB memory %4,5 memory usage is about 450 MB memory. The top command interactively updates this memory information and may change during the time with lower and higher values.

The processes can be sorted according to their memory usage by pressing the m key. Alternatively, the top command can be started with the -o %MEM option which sorts processes according to their memory usage by default.

top -o %MEM

/proc/meminfo File

Linux provides the memory related information via the /proc/meminfo file. This file provides very raw information for the all memory related information. The Linux kernel provides this information and most of the commands use this information. The /proc/meminfo is a text based file and can be read with a text editor or printed to the bash shell easily with the cat command.

cat /proc/meminfo
MemTotal:        1395848 kB
 MemFree:          162336 kB
 MemAvailable:     220464 kB
 Buffers:           10428 kB
 Cached:           133860 kB
 SwapCached:        26968 kB
 Active:           345624 kB
 Inactive:         321896 kB
 Active(anon):     254744 kB
 Inactive(anon):   270296 kB
 Active(file):      90880 kB
 Inactive(file):    51600 kB
 Unevictable:          16 kB
 Mlocked:              16 kB
 SwapTotal:       2097148 kB
 SwapFree:         521984 kB
 Dirty:                 0 kB
 Writeback:             0 kB
 AnonPages:        496536 kB
 Mapped:            71848 kB
 Shmem:              1764 kB
 KReclaimable:      89116 kB
 Slab:             246712 kB
 SReclaimable:      89116 kB
 SUnreclaim:       157596 kB
 KernelStack:       12064 kB
 PageTables:        18612 kB
 NFS_Unstable:          0 kB
 Bounce:                0 kB
 WritebackTmp:          0 kB
 CommitLimit:     2795072 kB
 Committed_AS:    5245848 kB
 VmallocTotal:   34359738367 kB
 VmallocUsed:       39732 kB
 VmallocChunk:          0 kB
 Percpu:           105472 kB
 HardwareCorrupted:     0 kB
 AnonHugePages:         0 kB
 ShmemHugePages:        0 kB
 ShmemPmdMapped:        0 kB
 FileHugePages:         0 kB
 FilePmdMapped:         0 kB
 HugePages_Total:       0
 HugePages_Free:        0
 HugePages_Rsvd:        0
 HugePages_Surp:        0
 Hugepagesize:       2048 kB
 Hugetlb:               0 kB
 DirectMap4k:      483200 kB
 DirectMap2M:      999424 kB
 DirectMap1G:           0 kB

As we can see from the output the “cat /proc/meminfo” command provides a lot of and detailed information about the memory.

free Command

The free command can be also used to check and monitor memory usage. It is very simple when compared with other commands. The free displays the total amount of free and used memory and swap memory with buffer and cache information. The free command gathers information from the /proc/meminfo file.

          total    used        free   shared  buff/cache   available
 Mem:        1395848     1000480       98904        1780      296464             219948
 Swap:       2097148     1572348      524800

We can see the actual RAM or memory information is printed in the line Mem and swap information is printed in the second line with the Swap.

By default free command checks memory usage as byte but we can change the format into the megabyte with the -m option like below. The megabyte format is a lot easier to read and understand.

free -m

vmstat Command

The vmstat command is used to report information about the process, memory, paging, disk, etc. The vmstat command can be also used to check and monitor memory usage. If the vmstat executed without an option the average memory usage from the start of the system is printed.

vmstat Command

From the output we can see that there are detailed information about the memory usage like swapped, free, buffered and cached.

  • swpd: the amount of virtual memory used.
  • free: the amount of idle memory.
  • buff: the amount of memory used as buffers.
  • cache: the amount of memory used as cache.
  • inact: the amount of inactive memory. (-a option)
  • active: the amount of active memory. (-a option)

Alternatively, the vmstat can be run interactively by specifying the interval. This interactive mode displays and updates information for every interval average. In the following example, the vmstat runs interactively and updates memory usage information every 5 seconds.

vmstat 5

htop Command

The htop is an alternative to the top command in order to check and monitor memory usage. the htop provides more attracting displays which are colored with some basic graphic components. The memory usage is displayed with the usage percentage as a number and with bard graphics for the command line interface or bash. But the htop command is not installed by default and can be installed like below.

Ubuntu, Debian, Mint, Kali:

sudo apt install htop

Fedora, CentOS, RHEL:

sudo dnf install htop

nmon Command

The nmon command is another command with a graphical display for memory usage. It provides the memory usage as well as

Ubuntu, Debian, Mint, Kali:

sudo apt install nmon

Fedora, CentOS, RHEL:

sudo yum install nmon

In order to start nmon first run the nmon command.


To display and check memory-related information in the default nmon screen type m key which starts the memory screen.

Use nmon To Check Memory Usage

Resouce Monitor GUI

Every Linux desktop environment provides some GUI or desktop tool to show, check and monitor resource usage. The memory can be checked via these tools. Even these tools are not so detailed they provide process-based memory usage and the ability to sort these processes according to their memory usage. These tools are generally called “System Monitor” and can be opened via the Show Applications.

Resouce Monitor GUI

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