Memory Slabs

A memory slab is a kernel object that allows memory blocks to be dynamically allocated from a designated memory region. All memory blocks in a memory slab have a single fixed size, allowing them to be allocated and released efficiently and avoiding memory fragmentation concerns.


Any number of memory slabs can be defined. Each memory slab is referenced by its memory address.

A memory slab has the following key properties:

  • The block size of each block, measured in bytes. It must be at least 4N bytes long, where N is greater than 0.
  • The number of blocks available for allocation. It must be greater than zero.
  • A buffer that provides the memory for the memory slab’s blocks. It must be at least “block size” times “number of blocks” bytes long.

The memory slab’s buffer must be aligned to an N-byte boundary, where N is a power of 2 larger than 2 (i.e. 4, 8, 16, …). To ensure that all memory blocks in the buffer are similarly aligned to this boundary, the block size must also be a multiple of N.

A memory slab must be initialized before it can be used. This marks all of its blocks as unused.

A thread that needs to use a memory block simply allocates it from a memory slab. When the thread finishes with a memory block, it must release the block back to the memory slab so the block can be reused.

If all the blocks are currently in use, a thread can optionally wait for one to become available. Any number of threads may wait on an empty memory slab simultaneously; when a memory block becomes available, it is given to the highest-priority thread that has waited the longest.

Unlike a heap, more than one memory slab can be defined, if needed. This allows for a memory slab with smaller blocks and others with larger-sized blocks. Alternatively, a memory pool object may be used.

Internal Operation

A memory slab’s buffer is an array of fixed-size blocks, with no wasted space between the blocks.

The memory slab keeps track of unallocated blocks using a linked list; the first 4 bytes of each unused block provide the necessary linkage.


Defining a Memory Slab

A memory slab is defined using a variable of type struct k_mem_slab. It must then be initialized by calling k_mem_slab_init().

The following code defines and initializes a memory slab that has 6 blocks that are 400 bytes long, each of which is aligned to a 4-byte boundary..

struct k_mem_slab my_slab;
char __aligned(4) my_slab_buffer[6 * 400];

k_mem_slab_init(&my_slab, my_slab_buffer, 400, 6);

Alternatively, a memory slab can be defined and initialized at compile time by calling K_MEM_SLAB_DEFINE.

The following code has the same effect as the code segment above. Observe that the macro defines both the memory slab and its buffer.

K_MEM_SLAB_DEFINE(my_slab, 400, 6, 4);

Allocating a Memory Block

A memory block is allocated by calling k_mem_slab_alloc().

The following code builds on the example above, and waits up to 100 milliseconds for a memory block to become available, then fills it with zeroes. A warning is printed if a suitable block is not obtained.

char *block_ptr;

if (k_mem_slab_alloc(&my_slab, &block_ptr, 100) == 0)) {
    memset(block_ptr, 0, 400);
} else {
    printf("Memory allocation time-out");

Releasing a Memory Block

A memory block is released by calling k_mem_slab_free().

The following code builds on the example above, and allocates a memory block, then releases it once it is no longer needed.

char *block_ptr;

k_mem_slab_alloc(&my_slab, &block_ptr, K_FOREVER);
... /* use memory block pointed at by block_ptr */
k_mem_slab_free(&my_slab, &block_ptr);

Suggested Uses

Use a memory slab to allocate and free memory in fixed-size blocks.

Use memory slab blocks when sending large amounts of data from one thread to another, to avoid unnecessary copying of the data.

Configuration Options

Related configuration options:

  • None.