Kernel inotify watch limit reached

I’m currently facing a problem on a linux box where as root I have commands returning error because inotify watch limit has been reached.

# tail -f /var/log/messages
tail: cannot watch '/var/log/messages': No space left on device
# inotifywatch -v /var/log/messages
Establishing watches...
Failed to watch /var/log/messages; upper limit on inotify watches reached!
Please increase the amount of inotify watches allowed per user via '/proc/sys/fs/inotify/max_user_watches'.` 

I googled a bit and every solution I found is to increase the limit with:

sudo sysctl fs.inotify.max_user_watches=<some random high number>

But I was unable to find any information of the consequences of raising that value. I guess the default kernel value was set for a reason but it seems to be inadequate for particular usages. (e.g., when using Dropbox with a large number of folder, or software that monitors a lot of files)

So here are my questions:

  • Is it safe to raise that value and what would be the consequences of a too high value?
  • Is there a way to find out what are the currently set watches and which process set them to be able to determine if the reached limit is not caused by a faulty software?
Asked By: Ultraspider


Is it safe to raise that value and what would be the consequences of a too high value?

Yes, it’s safe to raise that value and below are the possible costs [source]:

  • Each used inotify watch takes up 540 bytes (32-bit system), or 1 kB (double – on 64-bit) [sources: 1, 2]
  • This comes out of kernel memory, which is unswappable.
  • Assuming you set the max at 524288 and all were used (improbable), you’d be using approximately 256MB/512MB of 32-bit/64-bit kernel memory.
    • Note that your application will also use additional memory to keep track of the inotify handles, file/directory paths, etc. — how much depends on its design.

To check the max number of inotify watches:

cat /proc/sys/fs/inotify/max_user_watches

To set max number of inotify watches


  • Run sudo sysctl fs.inotify.max_user_watches= with your preferred value at the end.

Permanently (more detailed info):

  • put fs.inotify.max_user_watches=524288 into your sysctl settings. Depending on your system they might be in one of the following places:
    • Debian/RedHat: /etc/sysctl.conf
    • Arch: put a new file into /etc/sysctl.d/, e.g. /etc/sysctl.d/40-max-user-watches.conf
  • you may wish to reload the sysctl settings to avoid a reboot: sysctl -p (Debian/RedHat) or sysctl --system (Arch)

Check to see if the max number of inotify watches have been reached:

Use tail with the -f (follow) option on any old file, e.g. tail -f /var/log/dmesg:
– If all is well, it will show the last 10 lines and pause; abort with Ctrl-C
– If you are out of watches, it will fail with this somewhat cryptic error:

tail: cannot watch '/var/log/dmsg': No space left on device

To see what’s using up inotify watches

find /proc/*/fd -lname anon_inode:inotify |
   cut -d/ -f3 |
   xargs -I '{}' -- ps --no-headers -o '%p %U %c' -p '{}' |
   uniq -c |
   sort -nr

The first column indicates the number of inotify fds (not the number of watches though) and the second shows the PID of that process [sources: 1, 2].

Answered By: tshepang

From this other topic how to get the number of inotify watches in use there is a reference to this script inotify-consumers which I found to be very helpful because it will show you exactly who is hogging the watchers.

Answered By: TaborKelly
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