In Chapter 11 we devised a formula to calculate the optimum value for the MaxClients directive when sharing is taking place. In the same section, we warned that it's very important that the system not be heavily engaged in swapping. Some systems do swap in and out every so often even if they have plenty of real memory available, and that's OK. The following discussion applies to conditions when there is hardly any free memory available.
If the system uses almost all of its real memory (including the cache), there is a danger of the parent process's memory pages being swapped out (i.e., written to a swap device). If this happens, the memory-usage reporting tools will report all those swapped out pages as nonshared, even though in reality these pages are still shared on most OSs. When these pages are getting swapped in, the sharing will be reported back to normal after a certain amount of time. If a big chunk of the memory shared with child processes is swapped out, it's most likely that Apache::SizeLimit or Apache::GTopLimit will notice that the shared memory threshold was crossed and as a result kill those processes. If many of the parent process's pages are swapped out, and the newly created child process is already starting with shared memory below the limit, it'll be killed immediately after serving a single request (assuming that the $CHECK_EVERY_N_REQUESTS variable is set to 1). This is a very bad situation that will eventually lead to a state where the system won't respond at all, as it'll be heavily engaged in the swapping process.
This effect may be less or more severe depending on the memory manager's implementation, and it certainly varies from OS to OS and between kernel versions. Therefore, you should be aware of this potential problem and simply try to avoid situations where the system needs to swap at all, by adding more memory, reducing the number of child servers, or spreading the load across more machines (if reducing the number of child servers is not an option because of the request-rate demands).