When should I use mmap for file access?
One area where I found mmap() to not be an advantage was when reading small files (under 16K). The overhead of page faulting to read the whole file was very high compared with just doing a single read() system call. This is because the kernel can sometimes satisify a read entirely in your time slice, meaning your code doesn't switch away. With a page fault, it seemed more likely that another program would be scheduled, making the file operation have a higher latency.
POSIX environments provide at least two ways of accessing files. There's the standard system calls
write(), and friends, but there's also the option of using
mmap() to map the file into virtual memory.
When is it preferable to use one over the other? What're their individual advantages that merit including two interfaces?
Memory mapping has a potential for a huge speed advantage compared to traditional IO. It lets the operating system read the data from the source file as the pages in the memory mapped file are touched. This works by creating faulting pages, which the OS detects and then the OS loads the corresponding data from the file automatically.
This works the same way as the paging mechanism and is usually optimized for high speed I/O by reading data on system page boundaries and sizes (usually 4K) - a size for which most file system caches are optimized to.