Knowledge Base

Increasing Systemd Thread Limits


In some high workload, and large scale multi-database environments, you may find that your Systemd unit configuration limits the maximum number of processes ("tasks") too low for your use case.

When this problem occurs, you can see the following in the Neo4j debug.log file:

java.lang.OutOfMemoryError: unable to create native thread: possibly out of memory or process/resource limits reached

If you are looking at the output from systemctl status neo4j you will see the number of running tasks is at or near to the limit, 4915 in this example:

● neo4j.service - Neo4j Graph Database
Loaded: loaded (/lib/systemd/system/neo4j.service; enabled; vendor preset: enabled)
Active: active (running) since Thu 1970-01-01 00:00:00 UTC; 48min ago
Main PID: 20000 (java)
Tasks: 4915 (limit: 4915)
CGroup: /system.slice/neo4j.service
  ├─20000 /usr/bin/java     org.neo4j.server.startup.Neo4jCommand console
  └─20047 /usr/lib/jvm/java-11-openjdk-amd64/bin/java     com.neo4j.server.enterprise.EnterpriseEntryPoint

Looking further, you might find this reported in your Linux syslog or messages file as something similar to:

Jan 01 00:48:00 neo4j-core1 kernel: [ TIME ] cgroup: fork rejected by pids controller in /system.slice/neo4j.service
Jan 01 00:48:02 neo4j-core1 neo4j[ PID ]: [ TIME ][warning][os,thread] Failed to start thread - pthread_create failed (EAGAIN) for attributes: stacksize: 1024k, guardsize: 0k, detached.
Jan 01 00:48:02 neo4j-core1 neo4j[ PID ]: Exception in thread "neo4j.Scheduler-1" java.lang.OutOfMemoryError: unable to create native thread: possibly out of memory or process/resource limits reached

Systemd may then terminate and restart Neo4j Server.


In these cases, you may want to conservatively increase the maximum thread limit as a workaround. This should only need to be temporary in all but the most extreme cases.

First, ensure Neo4j is stopped:

systemctl stop neo4j

Then edit the neo4j.service unit file:

systemctl edit neo4j

and add/increase the TasksMax setting:

# The user and group which the service runs as.

# If it takes longer than this then the shutdown is considered to have failed.
# This may need to be increased if the system serves long-running transactions.

# Increase the systemd process / task limit

After uncommenting the above lines, restart neo4j.

systemctl daemon-reload
systemctl start neo4j

Again, be very conservative when increasing the task limit for a system service. High process thread counts can be a strong indicator of poor configuration, sizing issues, or plugins that are misbehaving.

As with all workarounds, they should be used sparingly until a root cause can be fully identified and a more permanent solution put in place.