Chapter 1. Introduction

SystemTap is a tracing and probing tool that allows users to study and monitor the activities of the operating system (particularly, the kernel) in fine detail. It provides information similar to the output of tools like netstat, ps, top, and iostat; however, SystemTap is designed to provide more filtering and analysis options for collected information.
SystemTap can be used by system administrators as a performance monitoring tool for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 or later. It is most useful when other similar tools cannot precisely pinpoint a bottleneck in the system, thus requiring a deep analysis of system activity. In the same manner, application developers can also use SystemTap to monitor, in fine detail, how their application behaves within the Linux system.

1.1. Documentation Goals

SystemTap provides the infrastructure to monitor the running Linux system for detailed analysis. This can assist administrators and developers in identifying the underlying cause of a bug or performance problem.
Without SystemTap, monitoring the activity of a running kernel would require a tedious instrument, recompile, install, and reboot sequence. SystemTap is designed to eliminate this, allowing users to gather the same information by simply running user-written SystemTap scripts.
However, SystemTap was initially designed for users with intermediate to advanced knowledge of the Linux kernel. This makes SystemTap less useful to administrators or developers with limited knowledge of and experience with the kernel. Moreover, much of the existing SystemTap documentation is similarly aimed at knowledgeable and experienced users.
To lower these barriers the SystemTap Beginners Guide was written with the following goals:
  • To introduce users to SystemTap, familiarize them with its architecture, and provide setup instructions for all kernel types.
  • To provide pre-written SystemTap scripts for monitoring detailed activity in different components of the system, along with instructions on how to run them and analyze their output.