29 Oct 2020

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Paul E. Mc Kenney: Stupid RCU Tricks: Torturing RCU Fundamentally, Parts IV and V

Continuing further into the Linux-kernel Documentation/RCU/Design/Requirements/Requirements.rst file uncovers RCU's final two fundamental guarantees:

  1. The common-case RCU primitives are unconditional, and
  2. RCU users can perform a guaranteed read-to-write upgrade.

The first guarantee is trivially verified by inspection of the RCU API. The type of rcu_read_lock(), rcu_read_unlock(), synchronize_rcu(), call_rcu(), and rcu_assign_pointer() are all void. These API members therefore have no way to indicate failure. Even primitives like rcu_dereference(), which do have non-void return types, will succeed any time a load of their pointer argument would succeed. That is, if you do rcu_dereference(*foop), where foop is a NULL pointer, then yes, you will get a segmentation fault. But this segmentation fault will be unconditional, as advertised!

The second guarantee is a consequence of the first four guarantees, and must be tested not within RCU itself, but rather within the code using RCU to carry out the read-to-write upgrade.

Thus for these last two fundamental guarantees there is no code in rcutorture. So perhaps even rcutorture deserves a break from time to time! ;-)

29 Oct 2020 11:27pm GMT

Paul E. Mc Kenney: Stupid RCU Tricks: Torturing RCU Fundamentally, Part III

Even more reading of the Linux-kernel Documentation/RCU/Design/Requirements/Requirements.rst file encounters RCU's memory-barrier guarantees. These guarantees are a bit ornate, but roughly speaking guarantee that RCU read-side critical sections lapping over one end of a given grace period are fully ordered with anything past the other end of that same grace period. RCU's overall approach towards this guarantee is shown in the Linux-kernel Documentation/RCU/Design/Memory-Ordering/Tree-RCU-Memory-Ordering.rst file, so one approach would be to argue that these guarantees are proven by a combination of this documentation along with periodic code inspection. Although this approach works well for some properties, the periodic code inspections require great attention to detail spanning a large quantity of intricate code. As such, these inspections are all too vulnerable to human error.

Another approach is formal verification, and in fact RCU's guarantees have been formally verified. Unfortunately, these formal-verification efforts, groundbreaking though they are, must be considered to be one-off tours de force. In contrast, RCU needs regular regression testing.

This leaves rcutorture, which has the advantage of being tireless and reasonably thorough, especially when compared to human beings. Except that rcutorture does not currently test RCU's memory-barrier guarantees.

Or at least it did not until today.

A new commit on the -rcu tree enlists the existing RCU readers. Each reader frequently increments a free-running counter, which can then be used to check memory ordering: If the counter appears to have counted backwards, something is broken. Each reader samples and records a randomly selected reader's counter, and assigns some other randomly selected reader to check for backwardsness. A flag is set at the end of each grace period, and once this flag is set, that other reader takes another sample of that same counter and compares them.

Of course, the reality is a bit more involved, and probably will become even more involved as review and testing proceeds. But in the meantime, the interested reader can find the initial state of this rcutorture enhancement here.

The test strategy for this particular fundamental property of RCU is more complex and likely less effective than the memory-ordering property described earlier, but life is like that sometimes.

29 Oct 2020 10:47pm GMT

14 Oct 2020

feedKernel Planet

Paul E. Mc Kenney: Stupid RCU Tricks: Torturing RCU Fundamentally, Part II

Further reading of the Linux-kernel Documentation/RCU/Design/Requirements/Requirements.rst file encounters RCU's publish/subscribe guarantee. This guarantee ensures that RCU readers that traverse a newly inserted element of an RCU-protected data structure never see pre-initialization garbage in that element. In CONFIG_PREEMPT_NONE=y kernels, this guarantee combined with the grace-period guarantee permits RCU readers to traverse RCU-protected data structures using exactly the same sequence of instructions that would be used if these data structures were immutable. As always, free is a very good price!

However, some care is required to make use of this publish-subscribe guarantee. When inserting a new element, updaters must take care to first initialize everything that RCU readers might access and only then use an RCU primitive to carry out the insertion. Such primitives include rcu_assign_pointer() and list_add_rcu(), but please see The RCU API, 2019 edition or the Linux-kernel source code for the full list.

For their part, readers must use an RCU primitive to carry out their traversals, for example, rcu_dereference() or list_for_each_entry_rcu(). Again, please see The RCU API, 2019 edition or the Linux-kernel source code for the full list of such primitives.

Of course, rcutorture needs to test this publish/subscribe guarantee. It does this using yet another field in the rcu_torture structure:

struct rcu_torture {
  struct rcu_head rtort_rcu;
  int rtort_pipe_count;
  struct list_head rtort_free;
  int rtort_mbtest;

This additional field is ->rtort_mbtest, which is set to zero when a given rcu_torture structure is freed for reuse (see the rcu_torture_pipe_update_one() function), and then set to 1 just before that structure is made available to readers (see the rcu_torture_writer() function). For its part, the rcu_torture_one_read() function checks to see if this field is zero, and if so flags the error by atomically incrementing the global n_rcu_torture_mberror counter. As you would expect, any run ending with a non-zero value in this counter is considered to be a failure.

Thus we have an important fundamental property of RCU that nevertheless happens to have a simple but effective test strategy. To the best of my knowledge, this was also the first aspect of Linux-kernel RCU that was subjected to an automated proof of correctness.

Sometimes you get lucky! ;-)

14 Oct 2020 11:16pm GMT