DRAFT: Take more than your usual care.


This function gets a named file into use as a paging file or updates that use. The file remains in use as a paging file until Windows shuts down.


NtCreatePagingFile (
    PUNICODE_STRING PageFileName, 
    PLARGE_INTEGER MinimumSize,
    PLARGE_INTEGER MaximumSize,
    ULONG Flags);


The PageFileName argument provides a case-insensitive name for the file in the Object Manager’s namespace.

The MinimumSize and MaximumSize arguments specify minimum and maximum sizes, in bytes, for the file.

Other configuration is allowed through the Flags argument.

Return Value

The function returns STATUS_SUCCESS if successful, else a negative error code.


The NtCreatePagingFile function and its alias ZwCreatePagingFile are exported by name from NTDLL in version 3.51 and higher. In kernel mode, where ZwCreatePagingFile is a stub and NtCreatePagingFile is the implementation, neither is exported.

The ordinary caller of the function is SMSS.EXE, i.e., the Session Manager, which creates paging files (including, nowadays, working set swap paging files) as Windows starts. Of course, SMSS, with no user interface, works from its own assessment of the circumstances and from registry entries that tell it what’s wanted and how things were (and which are all beyond the scope of this article). What little exposure anyone ever has to the function through a user interface is from SYSDM.CPL, which implements the System applet in the Control Panel. A few clicks produces the Virtual Memory dialog. Perhaps nothing more is needed or would even be useful. Can anyone know? It’s not as if third-party configuration tools are readily available, given the poor description of this function on the Internet.

Documentation Status

Neither NtCreatePagingFile nor its alias is documented. As ZwCreatePagingFile, it is declared in the ZWAPI.H file in the Windows Driver Kit (WDK) for Windows 10.


The following implementation notes are from inspecting the x86 and x64 kernels from the original release of Windows 10. Though earlier versions have been looked at, e.g., to explore some apparent confusion at Microsoft over the Flags argument, anything given below of the history is tentative, at best.


Historically, the function allowed for Flags but ignored them. Meaningful flags start with version 6.2. The following are valid in at least some circumstances. The interpretations below are presently in terms of what the masked bits in the Flags become when the function eventually translates them to members of the MMPAGING_FILE structure that is the Memory Manager’s representation of a paging file that’s in use.

Mask Interpretation Versions
0x80000000 sets WsSwapPagefile;
and also NoReservations in 6.3 and higher;
and also SwapSupported in 10.0 and higher
6.2 and higher
0x40000000 sets NoReservations 6.2 and higher
0x20000000 sets SwapSupported 10.0 and higher
0x3C000000 becomes HybridPriority 6.3 and higher
0x02000000 not invalid, but ignored 10.0 and higher

If any bit is set in the Flags argument but is not among the bits that are valid for the applicable version, the function fails, returning STATUS_INVALID_PARAMETER_4. It is similarly invalid to set 0x80000000 in combination with whichever of 0x40000000 and 0x20000000 would otherwise be valid for the version.

Note the overlap of the single 0x20000000 bit, apparently inserted for version 10.0, with the 4-bit hybrid priority from the version before. This is surely a coding error. It looks very much as if definition of 0x20000000 as the bit that enables swap support was meant as an insertion, such that the hybrid priority should shift right. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that Microsoft has separate macros for a mask and a shift, and the mask got updated to 0x1E000000 when defining 0x20000000 while the shift stayed as 0x1A.

Maximum Number

All Windows versions hard-code a limit of 0x10 paging files, although in Windows 10 this means 0x10 paging files in the system partition (and 1 in each other memory partition). In versions up to and including 6.0, the function checks immediately that there are not 0x10 paging files in use already. If there are, the function fails, returning STATUS_TOO_MANY_PAGING_FILES. Versions 6.1 and higher of the function do notice, but not until much later (see far below).

Regarding memory partitions and Windows 10, note that the NtCreatePagingFile function, having no argument to specify a memory partition, works only with the system partition. To create a paging file for any other memory partition requires the NtManagePartition function.

User-Mode Defences

If executing for a user-mode request, the function has some specific requirements about privilege and some general defensiveness about addresses passed as arguments.


If the caller does not have SeCreatePagefilePrivilege, the function fails, returning STATUS_PRIVILEGE_NOT_HELD. Windows 10 also has the function fail, also returning STATUS_PRIVILEGE_NOT_HELD, if the current thread is in a server silo.


The PageFileName, MinimumSize and MaximumSize arguments all give addresses from which the function is to read some input. These must all be user-mode addresses. In 64-bit Windows, they must all have 4-byte alignment, but 32-bit Windows requires this just of MinimumSize and MaximumSize. At each of the addresses, one byte must be readable. This probing is all subject to exception handling, of course, such that failure at any of these defences is failure for the function, typically showing as a return of STATUS_DATATYPE_MISALIGNMENT or STATUS_ACCESS_VIOLATION.

Exception Handling

When the function proceeeds to read the whole of what it wants from each argument, it has yet more exception handling. The occurrence of any exception during such access is fatal for the function, which returns the exception code as its own result.


The minimum and maximum sizes that a caller of this function specifies for any one paging file must fit within system-specified minimum and maximum sizes that apply to all paging files. If the caller-supplied minimum size for the proposed paging file is less than the system’s minimum or greater than the system’s maximum, the function fails, returning STATUS_INVALID_PARAMETER_2. The function also fails, but returning STATUS_INVALID_PARAMETER_3, if the caller-supplied maximum is greater than the system’s maximum or is less than the caller-supplied minimum.

In all versions the system-specified minimum is 0x00100000 bytes, i.e., 1MB. In modern versions, the system-specified maximum makes more sense in pages. For 64-bit Windows and for the PAE kernels in version 5.1 and higher, the upper limit for paging files is 0xFFFFFFFF pages, i.e., 0x00000FFF`FFFFF000 bytes.

The upper limit in early versions is a little murky. Before version 5.0, the system’s maximum is simply 0xFFFFFFFF bytes. Though a LARGE_INTEGER provides for the future, these versions require the HighPart to be zero: after all, they have no means of addressing more. Version 5.0, however, supports Physical Address Extension (PAE). The non-PAE kernel continues as before, with 0xFFFFFFFF bytes as the upper limit, and then 0xFFFFF000 in version 5.1 and higher. The PAE kernel aims for the modern maximum of 0xFFFFFFFF pages but the early versions get their arithmetic wrong. The conversion of the given maximum size from bytes to pages, with upward-rounding of spare bytes, uses 32-bit arithmetic to produce a 32-bit result (perhaps because a cast to ULONG was hidden in a macro). Whatever the mechanics of the mistake, the result is that since the computed maximum in pages never can exceed 0xFFFFFFFF, there is in effect no test against any maximum at all. Microsoft had this corrected by Windows 2000 SP3 (perhaps without having noticed).

A name is required for the paging file. Moreover, it must not be too long. The function fails, returning STATUS_OBJECT_NAME_INVALID, if the UNICODE_STRING at PageFileName gives the name’s Length, not including any null terminator, as zero or as more than 0x0100 bytes. It is not known what motivates this upper limit. Even in version 3.51, the function captures the name to dynamically allocated memory such that hard-coding an upper limit on its length would seem to be unnecessary. If executing for a user-mode request, the Buffer in the UNICODE_STRING must lie wholly in user-mode address space. If the function cannot get memory (from the paged pool) for a copy of the name, it fails, returning STATUS_INSUFFICIENT_RESOURCES.

This pretty much ends what the caller can control, except if it turns out that the paging file is already in use (see below, under the heading Paging File Extension). Some would say it’s more than any caller needs to know. But even if the deeper implementation is only of passing interest to curious callers, they are not the only ones who are affected. Paging files are rather special, such that what the kernel does when preparing their use is distinctive for software that is called by the kernel. Writers of device drivers for disk storage and especially of file system drivers are arguably much more affected by the implementation details of this function than are any of the function’s few callers. Much of the sense that file system drivers are a black art is because Microsoft tends first to delay any documentation at all of what the drivers can or must do and then to provide too little detail of the circumstances.

Paging File Creation

Even while a paging file is not in use, it would ideally not be accessible to just anyone. In version 5.1 and higher, the function creates the paging file with an ACL that allows FILE_ALL_ACCESS (0x001F01FF) to Administrators and to the Local System account, and no access to anyone else. If the function can’t prepare the ACL (in memory from the paged pool, it being only a temporary need), it fails, typically returning STATUS_INSUFFICIENT_RESOURCES. Although all versions that set an ACL for the paging file prepare the ACL before creating the file, not until the build from Windows XP SP2 is the ACL presented as input to the file’s creation. The way that early builds of version 5.1 set the ACL is to request WRITE_DAC (0x00040000) permission for the created file and then set the ACL via ZwSetSecurityObject once they have a file handle. Later versions both specify the ACL while creating the file and then explicilty set the same ACL afterwards.

To create the file, the function specifies FILE_SUPERSEDE (0) as the disposition, the aim being to create the paging file if it doesn’t already exist else to replace whatever’s there. Notable details that can be seen easily by users are that the file gets the minimum size as its initial allocation, and gets the hidden and system attributes (in version 5.0 and higher). Less obvious is that the file is opened with no intermediate buffering and with no compression (starting with version 4.0) and with the intention that it be deleted when closed (in version 5.1 and higher), not that paging files typically do get closed before Windows shuts down.

Two options for the creation have consequences underneath the kernel, because file system drivers, including filter drivers, need to recognise at least one of them in the Flags member of the IRP_MJ_CREATE (0x00) request’s IO_STACK_LOCATION. Of the two, SL_OPEN_PAGING_FILE (0x02) is defined in WDM.H and is well known—as much as anything about file system drivers is well known—from Microsoft’s source-code samples, e.g., of FASTFAT.SYS, if not from smatterings of documentation. The other, which starts from version 6.0, is numerically 0x10. Microsoft’s name for it may be SL_MM_PAGING_FILE, which would match the IO_MM_PAGING_FILE that is passed in to IoCreateFile and which is defined in NTIFS.H but is apparently not otherwise documented. Plausibly, the reason this second flag exists is that IO_OPEN_PAGING_FILE is also used for various other sorts of special file, e.g., hibernation files, but IO_MM_PAGING_FILE truly is just for the Memory Manager’s paging files.

Since pages will be both written to the file and read back, the function asks for both read and write access. Originally, the function did not share any access. Starting with version 5.0, however, the function anticipates being called again to change the minimum and maximum sizes of a paging file that is already in use. This requires that the file, as named in subsequent calls, be opened to see if it is in fact among the paging files that are already in use. Exclusive access had to go. The function shares write access in version 5.0 and higher. Once a file is created by a first call to this function, the normal rules of file sharing then apply in two ways when the same file is named in subsequent calls. First, a repeated attempt to create the file will fail for wanting read access that isn’t shared. Second, the file can be opened if read access isn’t sought but is shared.

With these considerations, failure to create the file (or replace it) is not of itself failure for the function but instead puts the function into essentially a different mode, that of falling back to opening the file to see whether it is already in use as a paging file and can be given what the caller apparently wants as new minimum and maximum sizes. This update mode is described separately, some distance below, under the heading Paging File Extension. For now, take it that the named file gets created or replaced.

If the function cannot set its ACL for the newly created paging file, it fails.

In versions 5.0 and 5.1, the function checks now that the maximum capacity in pages that is allowed for this newly created paging file is not so great that adding it to the total commit limit would overflow the 32 bits that are allowed for that. If the wanted maximum size is indeed too much in this sense, the function fails, returning STATUS_INVALID_PARAMETER_3. It is not known why this is checked only after opening the file.

If the function cannot set the file’s size to the given minimum size rouned up to whole pages, it fails.

Validating the File

Continued preparation of the file as specifically a paging file, and eventually its efficent use, requires access to the file object not just the file handle. If the function can’t reference the file object from the handle, it fails.

In version 5.0 and higher, the first inspection of the file object is to check that the file has been created on an acceptable type of device. If it has not, the function fails, returning STATUS_UNRECOGNIZED_VOLUME. The acceptable device types are:

It’s vital that the paging file be entirely the Memory Manager’s to use. Ideally, the file should not already have been open. Even in the early versions that have the kernel obtain exclusive access to the file, in terms of file sharing, it is not acceptable if the file system driver or some filter driver looks like having done file I/O while opening the file, and the function checks that nothing of the paging file is yet in memory. Specifically, the file object must either have no SectionObjectPointer or the latter must have neither a DataSectionObject nor an ImageSectionObject. Otherwise, the function fails, returning STATUS_INCOMPATIBLE_FILE_MAP. (Versions before 5.0 assume that SectionObjectPointer is not NULL.)

Improbable as it sounds that anyone might even try to create a paging file on a floppy diskette, Windows has always defended against it. There is even a dedicated error code for this, STATUS_FLOPPY_VOLUME, which all versions return if the file is on a volume that’s on a floppy disk device. Note that what’s defended against is not that the device is removable but specifically that it’s a floppy diskette: this error code means a device driver answered the FileFsDeviceInformation case of a query for volume information by setting the FILE_FLOPPY_DISKETTE bit (0x04) in its report of the device characteristics.

Device Usage Notification

Having established that the created file, in terms of its properties as a file, looks to be usable as a paging file, the function asks all the applicable drivers to prepare for the possibility of paging I/O. Much of the point to paging I/O is to resolve page faults. Especially important is that drivers that handle paging I/O do not cause more page faults. All the code and data that each driver might ever use for access to the paging file must be locked into physical memory. This can’t be left until paging I/O actually occurs. It must be done in advance.

The notification has the form of an IRP_MN_DEVICE_USAGE_NOTIFICATION (0x16) case of an IRP_MJ_PNP (0x1B) request, with Type set to DeviceUsageTypePaging (1). Here, with the paging file ready as a file but with the Memory Manager not yet configured to use the file specifically as a paging file, the notification has InPath set to TRUE. If the Memory Manager finds it can’t configure after all, a balancing notification will be sent with InPath set to FALSE. Because each notification speaks only for one paging file and a device may be in the I/O path for multiple paging files, each driver that gets any of these notifications must keep a per-device tally of TRUE against FALSE, and act on the first of the former but only the last of the latter.

Device drivers, including filter drivers, have needed to be aware of this notification since Windows 2000. Because Microsoft wants that Windows has a paging file and doesn’t want this to be frustrated by lack of driver support, the requirements have long been documented, even well. Especially important about the notification is that each driver is required to cooperate with passing the notification to drivers beneath them and even to different device-object stacks.

If the function can’t set up the notification, it fails, typically returning STATUS_NO_MEMORY. If the notification fails, which can be arranged by any driver that receives it, then the function fails—in modern versions. Though documentation of IRP_MN_DEVICE_USAGE_NOTIFICATION in the Windows 2000 DDK starts “System components send this IRP to ask the drivers for a device whether the device can support a special file”, the Windows 2000 coding of this function ignores the answer.

File System Control

Starting with version 6.1, the function sends another type of notification. Microsoft has apparently cared less that programmers know of this: it’s another of those interfaces that has declarations (in NTIFS.H) but apparently no documentation. This notification goes to the same driver as does the other, but as an IRP_MJ_FILE_SYSTEM_CONTROL (0x0D) request with FSCTL_FILE_TYPE_NOTIFICATION (0x00090204) as the control code. The SystemBuffer in the request points to a FILE_TYPE_NOTIFICATION_INPUT that has one GUID and in which the Flags are FILE_TYPE_NOTIFICATION_FLAG_USAGE_BEGIN (0x01). The GUID is {0D0A64A1-38FC-4DB8-9FE7-3F4352CD7C5C}, known symbolically as FILE_TYPE_NOTIFICATION_GUID_PAGE_FILE. Drivers that receive this notification are presumably intended to vary their behaviour according to the file object, its address being available to them from the FileObject member of the IO_STACK_LOCATION.

That any driver receives this file system control is apparently only desirable, not necessary. The function does not check for success or failure. Also in contrast to the treatment of the device usage notification, if the Memory Manager later finds that it can’t configure for the paging file, then the function does not send a balancing notification in which the Flags are FILE_TYPE_NOTIFICATION_FLAG_USAGE_END (0x02).

First I/O

The function tests the I/O path by writing one page of zeros. If this fails, so does the function. Synchronous page writes such as this are recognisable by drivers because the Flags member of the IRP has the IRP_NOCACHE (0x01), IRP_PAGING_IO (0x02) and IRP_SYNCHRONOUS_PAGING_IO (0x40) bits set.

Memory Manager

What remains is for the Memory Manager to configure for using the paging file for memory management. This is mostly a matter of preparing the various structures in which the Memory Manager tracks its use. The primary representation of the Memory Manager’s use of a paging file is the MMPAGING_FILE structure. Failure to prepare it or any of its ever-changing collection of related structures causes the function to fail too, returning STATUS_INSUFFICIENT_RESOURCES.

As helpful as the details of that preparation may be for understanding how the paging file is used once this function has set it up, they seem to have no implications for drivers. If things go wrong, however, there are distinctive error codes for callers to know about.

First, the prepared MMPAGING_FILE becomes active when inserted into an array of MMPAGING_FILE pointers. If the array is full, the function fails in version 6.1 and higher, returning STATUS_TOO_MANY_PAGING_FILES. In version 6.2 and higher, at most one of the active paging files can be specifically a swap file. If one is already active, the function fails, also returning STATUS_TOO_MANY_PAGING_FILES.

Second, except if the new paging file is a swap file, its maximum capacity in pages counts towards the total commit limit. If adding the former to the latter would overflow, then the function fails, returning STATUS_INVALID_PARAMETER_3.


Paging File Extension

That the function can extend a paging file that’s in use is not original behaviour. Before version 5.0, if the function fails to create the file, as above, then the function fails. In version 5.0 and higher, however, if the attempt to create the paging file fails, the function attempts to open the file in the one way that is compatible with the file being still open from a first call to this function for the same file. Curiously, the function falls back to opening the file no matter what error code it got from trying to create the file. If the function fails to open the file, then there really is nothing to be done, and the function fails.

To open the file, the function asks for write access, not read access, while being willing to share both read and write access. If all that mattered were the usual rules for file sharing, then any program could do the same, and although the lack of read access would prevent it from editing paged-out pages intelligently, it could make mischief by overwriting. Importantly then, the function also specifies the IO_OPEN_PAGING_FILE option, and IO_MM_PAGING_FILE in version 6.1 and higher, as when creating the file. File system drivers can see these flags and know to be stricter about allowing multiple handles. If a file is already open as a paging file, then a request to open this same file without these flags would better be disallowed.

Of course, there can be many reasons that a file can’t be created but does open. The function must still check that what’s opened is indeed in use as a paging file. To do this it needs the file object, not just a file handle. If it cannot reference the file object from the handle, it fails. To determine that the opened file is in use as a paging file, the function depends on the rule that when file system drivers create multiple file objects for the same file, all must have the one SectionObjectPointer. If none of the active paging files (that aren’t virtual store paging files, but they’re another story) have the same SectionObjectPointer, the function fails, returning STATUS_NOT_FOUND for although the named file plainly was found it was not found as a paging file.

The function must be called with the same 0x80000000 bit in the Flags as when the paging file was created. Thus, if the paging file that is found is specifically a swap file, then the 0x80000000 bit must be set. If it is not, then the 0x80000000 bit must be clear. Otherwise, the function fails, returning STATUS_INVALID_PARAMETER.

The function can only extend the paging file. If fails, returning STATUS_INVALID_PARAMETER_2, if the proposed new minimum is less than the current minimum. If the proposed new maximum is less than the current maximu, the function fails, but returns STATUS_INVALID_PARAMETER_3.