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Adding swap in CoreOS Container Linux

Swap is the process of moving pages of memory to a designated part of the hard disk, freeing up space when needed. Swap can be used to alleviate problems with low-memory environments.

By default Container Linux does not include a partition for swap, however one can configure their system to have swap, either by including a dedicated partition for it or creating a swapfile.

Managing swap with systemd

systemd provides a specialized .swap unit file type which may be used to activate swap. The below example shows how to add a swapfile and activate it using systemd.

Creating a swapfile

The following commands, run as root, will make a 1GiB file suitable for use as swap.

mkdir -p /var/vm
fallocate -l 1024m /var/vm/swapfile1
chmod 600 /var/vm/swapfile1
mkswap /var/vm/swapfile1

Creating the systemd unit file

The following systemd unit activates the swapfile we created. It should be written to /etc/systemd/system/var-vm-swapfile1.swap.

Description=Turn on swap



Enable the unit and start using swap

Use systemctl to enable the unit once created. The swappiness value may be modified if desired.

$ systemctl enable --now var-vm-swapfile1.swap
# Optionally
$ echo 'vm.swappiness=10' | sudo tee /etc/sysctl.d/80-swappiness.conf
$ systemctl restart systemd-sysctl

Swap has been enabled and will be started automatically on subsequent reboots. We can verify that the swap is activated by running swapon:

$ swapon
NAME              TYPE       SIZE USED PRIO
/var/vm/swapfile1 file      1024M   0B   -1

Problems and Considerations

Btrfs and xfs

Swapfiles should not be created on btrfs or xfs volumes. For systems using btrfs or xfs, it is recommended to create a dedicated swap partition.

Partition size

The swapfile cannot be larger than the partition on which it is stored.

Checking if a system can use a swapfile

Use the df(1) command to verify that a partition has the right format and enough available space:

$ df -Th
Filesystem     Type      Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/sdXN      ext4      2.0G  3.0M  1.8G   1% /var

The block device mounted at /var/, /dev/sdXN, is the correct filesystem type and has enough space for a 1GiB swapfile.

Adding swap with a Container Linux Config

The following config sets up a 1GiB swapfile located at /var/vm/swapfile1.

This is the human-readable config file. This should not be immediately passed to Container Linux. Learn more.
# This config is meant to be consumed by the config transpiler, which will
# generate the corresponding Ignition config. Do not pass this config directly
# to instances of Container Linux.

  - path: /etc/sysctl.d/80-swappiness.conf
    filesystem: root
      inline: "vm.swappiness=10"

    - name: var-vm-swapfile1.swap
      enabled: true
      contents: |
        Description=Turn on swap


    - name: create-swapfile.service
      contents: |
        Description=Create a swapfile
        ExecStart=/usr/bin/mkdir -p /var/vm
        ExecStart=/usr/bin/fallocate -l 1024m /var/vm/swapfile1
        ExecStart=/usr/bin/chmod 600 /var/vm/swapfile1
        ExecStart=/usr/sbin/mkswap /var/vm/swapfile1
This is the raw machine configuration, which is not intended for editing. Learn more. Validate the config here.
  "ignition": {
    "config": {},
    "timeouts": {},
    "version": "2.1.0"
  "networkd": {},
  "passwd": {},
  "storage": {
    "files": [
        "filesystem": "root",
        "group": {},
        "path": "/etc/sysctl.d/80-swappiness.conf",
        "user": {},
        "contents": {
          "source": "data:,vm.swappiness%3D10",
          "verification": {}
        "mode": 420
  "systemd": {
    "units": [
        "contents": "[Unit]\nDescription=Turn on swap\nRequires=create-swapfile.service\nAfter=create-swapfile.service\n\n[Swap]\nWhat=/var/vm/swapfile1\n\n[Install]\\n",
        "enabled": true,
        "name": "var-vm-swapfile1.swap"
        "contents": "[Unit]\nDescription=Create a swapfile\nRequiresMountsFor=/var\nConditionPathExists=!/var/vm/swapfile1\n\n[Service]\nType=oneshot\nExecStart=/usr/bin/mkdir -p /var/vm\nExecStart=/usr/bin/fallocate -l 1024m /var/vm/swapfile1\nExecStart=/usr/bin/chmod 600 /var/vm/swapfile1\nExecStart=/usr/sbin/mkswap /var/vm/swapfile1\nRemainAfterExit=true",
        "name": "create-swapfile.service"