Increasing memory (RAM) on DigitalOcean Droplets for free*

Published Jul 10, 2017Last updated Jan 05, 2018
Increasing memory (RAM) on DigitalOcean Droplets for free*

This post explains how to setup swap area on Debian machines which do not already have it.

As pointed out by a fellow mentor that I forgot to put explanation for '*' in the title, I would like to put it here at the beginning but not as a foot note so that it becomes clearly visible.

*= It denotes that, you actually do not increase the RAM size but by adding a SWAP area you are able to give more working memory to your machine. OS can then offload inactive/less active memory pages to SWAP file on your disk, so that it can manage tasks requiring memory beyond the limited memory on $5 droplet. And, Swap is not RAM.

I like the tiny $5 droplets from DigitalOcean a lot. But the trouble I used to face was frequently running out of memory while compiling or installing dependencies or projects which simple MEAN setups for development/testing. In most cases, without digging things out from logs you won't even know why is your build/install failing. By the way, I use Gitlab CI to automate build pipelines and deployments.

Mostly, I faced memory issues while things are getting installed using apt (Debian Package Manager) or when Angular CLI is compiling the app bundle. I use Debian distros on my droplets. When I faced memory related issues first, I wondered if the droplet had swap file set up?

I quickly checked this by

$ free -m

And the output suggested that there is no swap file provisioned. This is how the output looked -

     total   used   free   shared   buff/cache   available
Mem:  492     109    280      4         102         366
Swap:  0       0      0

Well, so we know the solution for this one, yes, we need to setup a swapfile. The no-frills procedure I followed to setup a swap file of 2 gigs is as below -

  1. Allocate 2 Gb to swap file

    $ sudo fallocate -l 2G /swapfile
  2. Set appropriate permissions for the swap area file

    $ sudo chmod 600 /swapfile
  3. Setup the swap area using the space allocated above

    $ sudo mkswap /swapfile
  4. Enable the swap area

    $ sudo swapon /swapfile
  5. Veify that swap area has been enabled

    $ sudo swapon -s


    Filename    Type     Size       Used     Priority
    /swapfile   file     2097148    44088    -1
  6. To make the swap file permanent, we need to add it to /etc/fstab file. Add the following line to the /etc/fstab file

    /swapfile   none    swap    sw    0   0

Well, that’s it.

So, before you think about upgrading to 1 GB ($10) or 2 GB ($20) droplet for the trivial things which $5 can achieve very well, check if you have a swap file set up and give it a try before going ahead with the upgrade.

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