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Paul Clarke | Published February 21, 2019
OProfile has been around for decades, and for some time was the workhorse of performance profiling on Linux®-based systems, and can serve the same role today. However, OProfile is not included in Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 8 beta, and so it may be prudent for OProfile users to start considering alternative tools. Analogous projects which compare very favorably to OProfile in features, ease-of-use, and vitality of the community do exist. One such project is the Linux perf command. Until recently, when compared to OProfile, perf had some drawbacks such as lack of support for Java™ just-in-time (JIT) compiled programs and hardware event mnemonics, but these have been addressed in recent releases. This tutorial offers current OProfile users a roadmap for transitioning from OProfile to perf.
Both OProfile and perf currently use the same basic mechanism in the Linux kernel for enabling the event tracing: the perf_events infrastructure. Although it is primarily a user-space tool, the perf command is part of the Linux kernel from a development perspective, and being part of the Linux kernel has advantages and disadvantages. One possible advantage is that the code is more easily maintained because the code bases won’t drift apart over time. A disadvantage is that the version of perf is inherently tied to the version of the Linux kernel to a significant degree: getting access to new features in perf generally means getting a new kernel. Arguably, the community around the Linux perf command is more active and vibrant, and many new features are appearing in perf without analogs in OProfile.
The following table shows the features supported by OProfile and perf.
Consider the following examples from http://oprofile.sourceforge.net/examples. In the following tables, for a given OProfile command (on the left), the equivalent perf command is provided (on the right).
perf report --stdio --sort=comm
perf report --stdio --sort=pid
perf report --stdio --pid=
opreport --symbols --image-path=
perf report --stdio –n
opreport --exclude-dependent --symbols
perf report --stdio -n --comm
perf report --stdio –n –F sample,overhead,dso --comm
perf report --stdio –g –n –comm=
opannotate --source --assembly
perf annotate --stdio [-n]
opannotate --source [--output-dir
Human-parsable event names are quite helpful for usability. It is arguably easier to profile for PM_DATA_FROM_L2MISS than 131326 or 0x200FE. The latter two (equivalent) numbers are the raw event code for PM_DATA_FROM_L2MISS (an IBM® POWER8® hardware event). All events are generally architecture-dependent and likely processor-generation-dependent. New processor generations often become available before the event mnemonics are incorporated into the supporting tools. Thus, it is useful to have the ability to use raw codes with the tools at hand. The perf command supports the use of raw event codes, making it potentially useful for profiling hardware events on newer processors or Linux distributions that do not have the required support yet. Support for IBM POWER® hardware event mnemonics was added to Linux 4.14 and has been backported to current enterprise Linux distributions (RHEL 7, SUSE 12, Ubuntu 18).
For POWER architecture, refer to the following raw event codes at:
POWER8 User’s Manual on IBM Portal for OpenPOWER (Appendix D)
POWER9 Performance Monitor Unit User’s Guide on IBM Portal for OpenPOWER (Chapter 5)
For profiling Java (JITed) code using OProfile:
operf java –agentpath:/usr/lib64/oprofile/libjvmti_oprofile.so command
operf java –agentpath:/usr/lib64/oprofile/libjvmti_oprofile.so
perf record –k 1 java –agentpath:/usr/lib64/libperf-jvmti.so command
perf inject --jit -i perf.data -o perf-jitted.data
perf record –k 1 java –agentpath:/usr/lib64/libperf-jvmti.so
perf inject --jit -i perf.data -o perf-jitted.data
The following tables provide mappings for OProfile commands and command parameters to their roughly equivalent perf command parameters.
perf record --all-cpus read
perf record –e
perf record [-g]
perf report --stdio
perf stat [--event=
-g or --call-graph
perf report –stdio
perf list [--details]
The output of opgprof is gprof-formatted profiling data. perf has no analog.
oparchive and opimport are used to allow performance analysis to be completed on a different system than the one being measured, with no further need to access the measured system.
To analyze the data collected by perf on a different system (where the application is not installed, the operating system has different versions of libraries or a completely different processor architecture):
On the system under test:
perf record …
Copy perf.data and perf.data.tar.bz2 to a different system.
Then, on the analysis system:
tar xvf perf.data.tar.bz2 -C ~/.debug
If instruction-level analysis is required, an objdump command from the system under test is required. Providing such a program is not trival, but certainly possible. One approach is to build a version of objdump that interprets the architecture and instructions of the system under test, but which runs natively on the analysis system. objdump is part of the GNU Binutils project at https://www.gnu.org/software/binutils/.
Another approach is to copy the objdump binary file and all of its dependencies to the analysis system, and run those in an emulated environment. Using the QEMU project‘s user-mode emulation is a way to perform the emulation. For example, on an IBM POWER processor-based system:
Find the objdump binary file.
Then find the dependencies.
linux-vdso64.so.1 => (0x00003fff868c0000)
libopcodes-2.27-34.base.el7.so => /lib64/libopcodes-2.27-34.base.el7.so (0x00003fff86820000
libbfd-2.27-34.base.el7.so => /lib64/libbfd-2.27-34.base.el7.so (0x00003fff86660000)
libdl.so.2 => /lib64/libdl.so.2 (0x00003fff86630000)
libc.so.6 => /lib64/libc.so.6 (0x00003fff86440000)
libz.so.1 => /lib64/libz.so.1 (0x00003fff86400000)
Copy all of these files to the analysis system, to a new directory, which would then look like this:
find objdump-ppc64le/ -type f
Then create a simple script to run the objdump binary under emulation.
qemu-ppc64le -L /home/pc/projects/objdump-ppc64le /home/pc/projects/objdump-ppc64le/objdump "$@"
Make the script executable.
chmod a+x ~/bin/objdump-ppc64le
Finally, pass the objdump command to perf.
perf annotate --objdump=~/bin/objdump-ppc64le
This section provides some of the additional features that are available with perf and not available with OProfile. It is not intended to be exhaustive, and perf is continually being enhanced. Some recent features (for example, eBPF) are not included here.
At certain key points in kernel code, events are raised by the software by way of explicit function calls such as:
perf_sw_event(PERF_COUNT_SW_PAGE_FAULTS, 1, regs, address);
You can record these events using the perf command.
To list software events:
perf list sw
To count software events:
perf stat -e software-event command
$ perf stat -e faults sleep 20
Performance counter stats for 'sleep 20':
20.001082886 seconds time elapsed
Run the following command to record software events:
perf record -e event command
Similar to software events, tracepoint events are embedded explicitly in kernel code. These events are exposed in the debugfs file system, which is commonly mounted at /sys/kernel/debug, and usually readable and thus usable only by the superuser. This directory hierarchy can be made world readable using the following command:
/usr/bin/sudo mount -o remount,mode=755 /sys/kernel/debug
To list tracepoints:
perf list tracepoint
To count tracepoint events:
perf stat -e tracepoint command
perf stat -e tracepoint
$ perf stat -e syscalls:sys_enter_nanosleep sleep 4
Performance counter stats for 'sleep 4':
4.001018613 seconds time elapsed
To record tracepoints:
perf record -e tracepoint
Software-defined tracepoints (SDTs) are predefined traceable points in user-mode code (applications and libraries) which can be enabled for tracing with the perf command.
To Enable software-defined tracepoints (SDTs) for a given DSO:
/usr/bin/sudo perf buildid-cache --add=dso
/usr/bin/sudo perf buildid-cache --add=/lib64/libpthread.so.0
To list SDTs:
perf list sdt
List of pre-defined events (to be used in -e):
sdt_libpthread:cond_broadcast [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:cond_destroy [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:cond_init [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:cond_signal [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:cond_wait [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:lll_futex_wake [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:lll_lock_wait [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:lll_lock_wait_private [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:mutex_acquired [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:mutex_destroy [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:mutex_entry [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:mutex_init [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:mutex_release [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:mutex_timedlock_acquired [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:mutex_timedlock_entry [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:pthread_create [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:pthread_join [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:pthread_join_ret [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:pthread_start [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:rdlock_acquire_read [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:rdlock_entry [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:rwlock_destroy [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:rwlock_unlock [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:wrlock_acquire_write [SDT event]
sdt_libpthread:wrlock_entry [SDT event]
To enable SDT as a true tracepoint:
/usr/bin/sudo perf probe sdt
/usr/bin/sudo perf probe sdt_libpthread:pthread_create
To count SDT events:
perf stat -e sdt command
perf stat -e sdt_libpthread:pthread_create sleep 8
To record SDT events:
perf record -e sdt command
Linux offers the capability to dynamically create tracepoints in user-space code (applications and libraries). These are called user probes or uprobes. User probes can be created anywhere in executable code, and are usually created at function entry points. Return points of functions are also commonly traced, and these are known as uretprobes.
To list probable functions for a user-mode DSO like an application or shared library:
perf probe -x dso --funcs
To enable dynamic tracepoint for a DSO function [return from function][including a variable value]:
perf probe -x dso --add=’func[%return][$vars]’
When creating user probes which include any variables (“$vars”), debugging information must be available. Many packages have corresponding debuginfo packages.
To record using a new dynamic tracepoint event:
perf record --event func_event …
Metrics are arithmetic combinations of events. Given a metric, the perf command can automatically record the events required, compute, and display the metric.
To list metrics:
perf list metrics
To record and display metrics:
perf stat record --metrics metric-or-group command
perf stat record --metrics metric-or-group
$ perf stat record --metrics Pipeline -a sleep 8
Performance counter stats for 'system wide':
297,071,773 uops_retired.retire_slots # 1.2 UPI (66.65%)
486,187,770 inst_retired.any (66.67%)
461,622,915 cycles (66.69%)
374,380,257 uops_executed.thread # 2.5 ILP (66.66%)
303,701,770 uops_executed.core_cycles_ge_1 (66.66%)
8.000978188 seconds time elapsed
perf provides the capability to write scripts to process a recorded event stream.
To generate a sample script based on the given perf data, with template functions for each of the recorded events:
perf script --gen-script [perl|python]
perf record -e syscalls:sys_enter_nanosleep sleep 1
perf script --gen-script python
perf script --gen-script python produces a perf-script.py file containing template functions for each event in the perf.data file as shown in the following example:
print "in trace_begin"
print "in trace_end"
def syscalls__sys_enter_nanosleep(event_name, context, common_cpu,
common_secs, common_nsecs, common_pid, common_comm,
common_callchain, nr, rqtp, rmtp, perf_sample_dict):
print_header(event_name, common_cpu, common_secs, common_nsecs,
def print_header(event_name, cpu, secs, nsecs, pid, comm):
print "%-20s %5u %05u.%09u %8u %-20s " % \
(event_name, cpu, secs, nsecs, pid, comm),
perf report, without --stdio, will launch an interactive analysis tool.
Initially, the basic results are displayed:
Samples: 7 of event 'cycles:ppp', Event count (approx.): 12785190
Overhead Command Shared Object Symbol
82.48% ls [kernel.kallsyms] [k] copypage_power7
17.26% ls [kernel.kallsyms] [k] move_page_tables
0.26% perf [kernel.kallsyms] [k] perf_event_exec
0.00% perf [unknown] [H] 0xc00000000020a4f4
0.00% perf [unknown] [H] 0xc00000000020a4d8
0.00% perf [unknown] [H] 0xc0000000000d24dc
Then, if a line is highlighted by moving the cursor with the arrow keys, and selected by pressing Enter, a menu (as shown below) is displayed.
Zoom into ls thread
Zoom into the Kernel DSO
Browse map details
Run scripts for samples of symbol [copypage_power7]
Run scripts for all samples
Switch to another data file in PWD
This allows more selective and detailed analysis of the data.
perf can show the differences between two similar recordings, which can help to show the effect that code changes have.
$ perf record -o perf-before.data command-before
$ perf record -o perf-after.data command-after
$ perf diff perf-before.data perf-after.data
# Event 'cycles:ppp'
# Baseline Delta Abs Shared Object Symbol
# ........ ......... ................. ................................
62.28% +0.12% load [.] main
19.11% -0.08% load [.] sum_add
18.42% -0.05% load [.] sum_sub
perf kvm, when run on a KVM host, can record events for a specified guest, just for the host itself, or both. There are modes for record-and-report and live display (perf kvm top and perf kvm stat live).
perf kvm top
perf kvm stat live
perf sched traces kernel scheduling events, and can report in different ways.
For scheduling latencies and other properties:
perf sched latency
Example output (edited to fit):
Task | Run |Switches| Avg | Max | Max delay at |
| time | | delay | delay | Max delay at |
| (ms) | | (ms) | (ms) | Max delay at |
kworker/6:1:29418 | 0.018 | 1 | 0.228 | 0.228 | 12605.527065 s
ls:496 | 1.969 | 2 | 0.007 | 0.008 | 12605.525392 s
perf:495 | 4.283 | 1 | 0.003 | 0.003 | 12605.527066 s
sshd:32452 | 0.000 | 1 | 0.003 | 0.003 | 12605.527078 s
migration/5:33 | 0.000 | 1 | 0.002 | 0.002 | 12605.525384 s
TOTAL: | 6.270 | 6 |
To display a detailed scheduling trace:
perf sched script
Example output (edited for clarity):
perf 495  12605.525094: sched:sched_wakeup: perf:496  success=1
swapper 0  12605.525100: sched:sched_switch: swapper/5:0  R ==>
perf 495  12605.525346: sched:sched_stat_runtime: comm=perf pid=495
runtime=4283140 [ns] vruntime=16981556937 [ns]
perf 495  12605.525348: sched:sched_switch: perf:495  S ==>
perf 496  12605.525382: sched:sched_wakeup: migration/5:33 
perf 496  12605.525382: sched:sched_stat_runtime: comm=perf pid=496
runtime=291800 [ns] vruntime=16541714462 [ns]
To run a workload timing simulation:
perf sched replay
run measurement overhead: 157 nsecs
sleep measurement overhead: 62650 nsecs
the run test took 1000029 nsecs
the sleep test took 1079223 nsecs
target-less wakeups: 19
task 0 ( swapper: 0), nr_events: 9
task 1 ( swapper: 1), nr_events: 1
task 80 ( bash: 28955), nr_events: 1
task 81 ( man: 28966), nr_events: 1
task 115 ( bash: 495), nr_events: 4
task 116 ( perf: 496), nr_events: 27
#1 : 3.596, ravg: 3.60, cpu: 74.00 / 74.00
#2 : 4.448, ravg: 3.68, cpu: 68.37 / 73.44
#3 : 4.166, ravg: 3.73, cpu: 61.90 / 72.29
#4 : 4.117, ravg: 3.77, cpu: 71.88 / 72.25
#5 : 4.019, ravg: 3.79, cpu: 69.11 / 71.93
#6 : 4.169, ravg: 3.83, cpu: 78.12 / 72.55
#7 : 4.366, ravg: 3.88, cpu: 68.03 / 72.10
#8 : 4.149, ravg: 3.91, cpu: 72.15 / 72.10
#9 : 3.941, ravg: 3.91, cpu: 63.79 / 71.27
#10 : 3.877, ravg: 3.91, cpu: 62.39 / 70.38
To display a context switching outline, including the timing by when tasks begin to run, are paused, and are migrated from one CPU to another:
perf sched map
*A0 12605.525100 secs A0 => perf:496
*. A0 12605.525348 secs . => swapper:0
. *B0 12605.525384 secs B0 => migration/5:33
. B0 *A0 12605.525392 secs
. *. A0 12605.525392 secs
. . *C0 12605.527065 secs C0 => kworker/6:1:29418
*D0 . C0 12605.527066 secs D0 => perf:495
*E0 D0 . C0 12605.527078 secs E0 => sshd:32452
E0 D0 . *. 12605.527086 secs
To display an analysis of individual scheduling events:
perf sched timehist
time cpu task name wait time sch delay run time
[tid/pid] (msec) (msec) (msec)
------------ ------ -------------- --------- --------- ---------
12605.525100  <idle> 0.000 0.000 0.000
12605.525348  perf 0.000 0.000 0.000
12605.525384  perf 0.000 0.006 0.283
12605.525392  <idle> 0.000 0.000 0.000
12605.525392  migration/5 0.000 0.002 0.008
12605.527065  ls 0.007 0.000 1.673
12605.527066  <idle> 0.000 0.000 1.718
12605.527078  <idle> 0.000 0.000 0.000
12605.527086  kworker/6:1 0.000 0.228 0.021
The perf timechart command records and graphically displays scheduling information.
To record timechart data:
perf timechart record command
To generate the scheduling information graphic in SVG format (as output.svg by default):
Observe when tasks are running, and on what CPU, as well as other scheduling-related events.
perf top, like the well-known top command that displays utilization information for tasks, will display live updates of the most active functions across a system. Closer analysis capabilities, as in perf report and perf annotate are available.
Similar to strace, the well-known command which records system calls, perf trace records and displays statistics related to system calls, page faults, and scheduling.
perf trace [-F all] [--sched] record command
perf trace –F all –sched record /bin/ls
perf trace -I perf.data --with-summary
0.000 ( 0.000 ms): ls/8918 minfault [__clear_user+0x25] => 0x0 (?k)
0.018 ( 0.000 ms): ls/8918 minfault [__clear_user+0x25] => 0x0 (?k)
0.089 ( 0.001 ms): ls/8918 brk() = 0x21f7000
0.094 ( 0.000 ms): ls/8918 minfault [strlen+0x0] => 0x0 (?.)
0.096 ( 0.000 ms): ls/8918 minfault [strlen+0xe5] => 0x0 (?.)
0.099 ( 0.000 ms): ls/8918 minfault [dl_main+0x14] => 0x0 (?.)
0.132 ( 0.004 ms): ls/8918 mmap(len: 4096, prot: READ|WRITE, flags: PRIVATE|ANONYMOUS) = 0x7f246d5e8000[…]
0.154 ( 0.007 ms): ls/8918 access(filename: 0x6d3e6cd0, mode: R) = -1 ENOENT No such file or directory
0.174 ( 0.326 ms): ls/8918 open(filename: 0x6d3e55c7, flags:CLOEXEC) = 3
0.502 ( 0.001 ms): ls/8918 fstat(fd: 3, statbuf: 0x7ffdcefb4a50) = 0
0.504 ( 0.004 ms): ls/8918 mmap(len: 130997, prot: READ, flags: PRIVATE, fd: 3) = 0x7f246d5c8000
0.509 ( 0.002 ms): ls/8918 close(fd: 3) = 0
The Linux perf command is a powerful tool, being continually advanced by a vibrant community. It can readily serve as a replacement for the OProfile suite of tools.
opcontrol is one of the interfaces used by OProfile to collect profiling data, and was deprecated before release 1.0.0 of OProfile, in favor of the Linux kernel’s perf_events interface. The opcontrol interface is still available with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 (OProfile 0.9.9), SUSE Linux Enterprise 12 (OProfile 0.9.9), and Ubuntu 14.04 (OProfile 0.9.9), but not with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 beta, SUSE Linux Enterprise 15, or Ubuntu 16 and later.
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