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Ubuntu 18.10 top reports a large consumption of virtual memory by Geary. What is going on here?

17194 stephen   20   0   *99.5g* 814024  88196 S   0.3  10.0  88:12.44 geary

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It could be memory leaks if Geary has been running for a long time, and so the leaked memory is getting paged to swap. There are a few around, I fix them whenever I can find them, but also compiling Geary against newer versions of vala generally helps.

It is more likely to be the WebKit Gigacage however, which is a security feature that makes it harder for attackers to run malicious code on your computer. It does this by pre-allocating several large (32G) chunks of virtual memory for storing different kinds of web page data separately. Even though it allocates these large chunks, very little of it gets actually used - just enough to display pages.

Since Geary uses WebKitGTK to render email (even plain text email), it will have a number of Gigacages allocated when it starts up. You can confirm this by comparing virtual memory size of other apps that also use WebKitGTK, such as GNOME Web, or by looking at Geary's virtual memory size right after starting it up.

Virtual memory is used for pre-allocations like this, for memory mapping files, and a bunch of other things that don't actually use any memory. So it isn't a very useful metric for determining how much memory a program is using and it's not worth worrying about. Keep an eye on a program's resident set size and the amount of swap being used instead.

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