The santad process does the heavy lifting when it comes to making decisions about binary executions. It also handles brokering all of the XPC connections between the various components of Santa. It does all of this with performance being at the forefront.

A note on performance

On an idling machine, santad and the other components of Santa consume virtually no CPU and a minimal amount of memory (5-50MB). When lots of processes execve() at the same time, the CPU and memory usage can spike. All of the execve() decisions are made on high priority threads to ensure decisions are posted back to the kernel as soon as possible. A watchdog thread will log warnings when sustained high CPU (>20%) and memory (>250MB) usage by santad is detected.

On Launch

The very first thing santad does once it has been launched is to load and connect to santa-driver. Only one connection may be active at any given time.

At this point, santa-driver is loaded and running in the kernel, but is allowing all executions and not sending any messages to santad. Before santad tells santa-driver it is ready to receive messages, it needs to setup a few more things:

  • The rule and event databases are initialized
  • Connections to Santa (GUI) and santactl sync daemon are established.
  • The config file is processed.

santad is now ready to start processing decision and logging messages from santa-driver. The listeners are started and santad sits in a run loop awaiting messages from santa-driver.


Messages are read from a shared memory queue (IODataQueueMemory ) on a single thread. A callback is invoked for each message. The callback then dispatches all the work of processing a decision message to a concurrent high priority queue. The log messages are dispatched to a low priority queue for processing.