How Load Average Is Calculated In Linux


Load average is an important metric in Linux systems that provides insights into the system’s workload. As a Linux enthusiast and system administrator, I find load average fascinating because it gives me a glimpse into how efficiently my system is handling the tasks at hand. In this article, I will delve deep into how load average is calculated in Linux and share my personal insights and experiences along the way.

Understanding Load Average

Before we dive into the intricacies of load average calculation, let’s first understand what load average represents. Load average is a measure of the average number of processes that are either currently running or waiting to be executed by the system. It is often represented as three values over a specific time period, typically 1, 5, and 15 minutes.

For example, a load average of 0.5 means that on average, half a process is running or waiting to be executed. Similarly, a load average of 1.0 suggests that, on average, one process is running or waiting to be executed.

The Load Average Calculation

The calculation of load average involves monitoring the tasks in the system’s run queue. The run queue is a list of processes that are waiting to be executed by the system’s processors. Each process is assigned a priority value based on its importance, and the load average is calculated based on these priority values.

Linux calculates load average using an exponential moving average over a specific time period. The formula used to calculate load average varies slightly between different versions of Linux, but the underlying principle remains the same. Generally, the load average is calculated using the number of processes in the run queue and the number of available processors in the system.

From my personal experience, I have noticed that load average tends to spike during times of high system activity, such as when multiple processes are competing for system resources. This can be an indication that the system is under heavy load and may require some optimization or additional resources to maintain optimal performance.

Interpreting Load Average Values

Interpreting load average values can be subjective and depends on various factors, such as the type of system and the workload it is designed to handle. However, there are some general guidelines that can help in understanding the load average values:

  • A load average of less than 1.0 suggests that the system is not heavily loaded and has spare capacity to handle additional tasks.
  • A load average between 1.0 and the number of available processors indicates that the system is running at full capacity.
  • A load average greater than the number of available processors suggests that the system is overloaded and may struggle to keep up with the workload.

It’s important to note that load average is just one metric among many that can help evaluate system performance. Other factors, such as CPU utilization, memory usage, and disk I/O, should also be taken into consideration when diagnosing performance issues.


Load average provides valuable insights into the workload of a Linux system. By monitoring the load average, system administrators can assess the system’s capacity and make informed decisions regarding resource allocation and optimization. Understanding how load average is calculated and interpreting its values empowers us to better manage our systems and ensure optimal performance.