2.5.5. OProfile

The OProfile system-wide profiler is a low-overhead monitoring tool. OProfile makes use of the processor's performance monitoring hardware[8] to determine the nature of performance-related problems.
Performance monitoring hardware is part of the processor itself. It takes the form of a special counter, incremented each time a certain event (such as the processor not being idle or the requested data not being in cache) occurs. Some processors have more than one such counter and allow the selection of different event types for each counter.
The counters can be loaded with an initial value and produce an interrupt whenever the counter overflows. By loading a counter with different initial values, it is possible to vary the rate at which interrupts are produced. In this way it is possible to control the sample rate and, therefore, the level of detail obtained from the data being collected.
At one extreme, setting the counter so that it generates an overflow interrupt with every event provides extremely detailed performance data (but with massive overhead). At the other extreme, setting the counter so that it generates as few interrupts as possible provides only the most general overview of system performance (with practically no overhead). The secret to effective monitoring is the selection of a sample rate sufficiently high to capture the required data, but not so high as to overload the system with performance monitoring overhead.


You can configure OProfile so that it produces sufficient overhead to render the system unusable. Therefore, you must exercise care when selecting counter values. For this reason, the opcontrol command supports the --list-events option, which displays the event types available for the currently-installed processor, along with suggested minimum counter values for each.
It is important to keep the tradeoff between sample rate and overhead in mind when using OProfile. OProfile Components

Oprofile consists of the following components:
  • Data collection software
  • Data analysis software
  • Administrative interface software
The data collection software consists of the oprofile.o kernel module, and the oprofiled daemon.
The data analysis software includes the following programs:
Displays the number and relative percentages of samples taken for each executable file
Displays the number and relative percentage of samples taken by either function, individual instruction, or in gprof-style output
Displays annotated source code and/or assembly listings
Graphically displays collected data
These programs make it possible to display the collected data in a variety of ways.
The administrative interface software controls all aspects of data collection, from specifying which events are to be monitored to starting and stopping the collection itself. This is done using the opcontrol command.

[8] OProfile can also use a fallback mechanism (known as TIMER_INT) for those system architectures that lack performance monitoring hardware.