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Version: 3.13

Memory Alarm Threshold


This guide covers RabbitMQ memory threshold (watermark) settings. It is accompanied by a few closely related guides:

Portions of this guide related to queue content paging to disk do not apply to classic queues v2 (CQv2), quorum queues, streams and super streams (partitioned streams). All of them actively move data to disk and do not generally accumulate a significant backlog of messages in memory.

Memory Threshold: What it is and How it Works

RabbitMQ nodes can be provided with a memory footprint limit hint. If the node's memory footprint goes above the value, a resource alarm will be triggered on this and eventually all other cluster nodes to block publishers.

The limit can be configured as an absolute or relative value. In the latter case, RabbitMQ will try to detect the total amount of RAM available to it on startup and when rabbitmqctl set_vm_memory_high_watermark value is executed.

By default, including if the limit hint is not configured, a RabbitMQ node will use about 40% of the available RAM, it raises a memory alarm and will block all connections that are publishing messages. Once the memory alarm has cleared (e.g. due to the server paging messages to disk or delivering them to clients that consume and acknowledge the deliveries) normal service resumes.


The limit does not prevent RabbitMQ nodes from using more than the computed limit, it is merely the point at which publishers are throttled

Note that this does not prevent the RabbitMQ server from using more than the computed limit, it is merely the point at which publishers are throttled. Erlang's garbage collector can, in the worst case, cause double the amount of memory to be used (by default, 80% of RAM). It is strongly recommended that OS swap or page files are enabled.

Configuring the Memory Limit (or Threshold)

Absolute Memory Limit


Using an absolute memory threshold is highly recommended in containerized environments such as Kubernetes. RabbitMQ nodes won't always be able to detect the effective cgroups limit

The memory threshold can be adjusted by setting an absolute limit of RAM used by the node. The example below sets the threshold to 1073741824 bytes (1024 MiB):

vm_memory_high_watermark.absolute = 1073741824

Same example, but using memory units:

vm_memory_high_watermark.absolute = 1024MiB
vm_memory_high_watermark.absolute = 4Gi
vm_memory_high_watermark.absolute = 1Ti

The supported decimal (power-of-ten) memory information units are:

  • GB for gigabytes (1000^3 or 10^9 bytes)
  • MB for megabytes (1000^2)
  • TB for terabytes (1000^4)
  • PB for petabytes

The supported binary (power-of-two) memory information units are:

  • Gi for gibibytes (1024^3 or 2^30 bytes)
  • Mi for mebibytes (1024^2)
  • Ti for tebibytes (1024^4)
  • Pi for pebibytes

Kubernetes-style information units are also supported:

  • Gi for gibibytes (1024^3 or 2^30 bytes)
  • Mi for mebibytes
  • Ti for tebibytes
  • Pi for pebibytes

If the absolute limit is larger than the installed RAM or available virtual address space, the threshold is set to whichever limit is smaller.

The memory limit is appended to the log file when the RabbitMQ node starts:

2023-06-10 23:17:05.976 [info] <0.308.0> Memory high watermark set to 1024 MiB (1073741824 bytes) of 8192 MiB (8589934592 bytes) total

The memory limit may also be queried using the rabbitmq-diagnostics memory_breakdown and rabbitmq-diagnostics status commands.

Relative Memory Threshold


Using a relative memory threshold is not recommended in containerized environments such as Kubernetes. Prefer the absolute threshold instead.

The memory threshold at which the flow control is triggered can be adjusted by editing the configuration file.

The example below sets the threshold to the default value of 0.4:

# new style config format, recommended
vm_memory_high_watermark.relative = 0.4

The default value of 0.4 stands for 40% of available (detected) RAM.

Updating Memory Threshold on a Running Node

The threshold can be changed while the broker is running using the

rabbitmqctl set_vm_memory_high_watermark <fraction>

command or

rabbitmqctl set_vm_memory_high_watermark absolute <em><memory_limit></em>

For example:

rabbitmqctl set_vm_memory_high_watermark 0.6


rabbitmqctl set_vm_memory_high_watermark absolute "4G"

For the memory information units supported, see Absolute Threshold

Both commands will have an effect until the node stops. To make the setting survive node restart, use the configuration setting instead.

The memory limit may change on systems with hot-swappable RAM when this command is executed without altering the threshold, due to the fact that the total amount of system RAM is queried.

Running RabbitMQ in Containers and on Kubernetes

When a RabbitMQ node is running in a container, its ability to detect the amount of available memory will depend on external factors: the version of the runtime used, the OS version and settings used by the image, the version of cgroups used, and ultimately the version of Kubernetes.

This means that in containerized environments, the optimal option is to configure an absolute memory limit.

Another Kubernetes-specific memory footprint aspect is how the OS-managed kernel page cache, in particular in clusters where streams and super streams are used.

How to Temporarily Stop All Publishing

When the threshold or absolute limit is set to 0, it makes the memory alarm go off immediately and thus eventually blocks all publishing connections. This may be useful if you wish to deactivate publishing globally:

rabbitmqctl set_vm_memory_high_watermark 0

Limited Address Space

::: danger RabbitMQ only targets 64 bit operating systems and a 64-bit Erlang runtime :::

RabbitMQ only targets 64 bit operating systems and a 64-bit Erlang runtime.

When running RabbitMQ inside a 32 bit Erlang VM in a 64 bit OS (or a 32 bit OS with PAE), the addressable memory is limited. The server will detect this and log a message like:

2018-11-22 10:44:33.654 [warning] Only 2048MB of 12037MB memory usable due to limited address space.

Unrecognised Platforms

If the RabbitMQ server is unable to detect the operating system it is running on, it will append a warning to the log file. It then assumes than 1GB of RAM is installed:

2018-11-22 10:44:33.654 [warning] Unknown total memory size for your OS {unix,magic_homegrown_os}. Assuming memory size is 1024MB.

In this case, the vm_memory_high_watermark configuration value is used to scale the assumed 1GB RAM. With the default value of vm_memory_high_watermark set to 0.4, RabbitMQ's memory threshold is set to 410MB, thus it will throttle producers whenever RabbitMQ is using more than 410MB memory. Thus when RabbitMQ can't recognize your platform, if you actually have 8GB RAM installed and you want RabbitMQ to throttle producers when the server is using above 3GB, set vm_memory_high_watermark to 3.

For guidelines on recommended RAM watermark settings, see Production Checklist.

CQv1: Configuring the Paging Threshold


This section is obsolete: it does not apply to quorum queues, streams and classic queues storage version 2 (CQv2); it is therefore only relevant for CQv1, the original classic queue storage implementation

All of them actively move data to disk and do not generally accumulate a significant backlog of messages in memory.

Before the broker hits the high watermark and blocks publishers, it will attempt to free up memory by instructing CQv1 queues to page their contents out to disc. Both persistent and transient messages will be paged out (the persistent messages will already be on disc but will be evicted from memory).

By default this starts to happen when the broker is 50% of the way to the high watermark (i.e. with a default high watermark of 0.4, this is when 20% of memory is used). To change this value, modify the vm_memory_high_watermark_paging_ratio configuration from its default value of 0.5. For example:

vm_memory_high_watermark_paging_ratio = 0.75
vm_memory_high_watermark.relative = 0.4

The above configuration starts paging at 30% of memory used, and blocks publishers at 40%.