5. Linux® emulation layer -MI part

This section talks about machine independent part of the Linuxulator. It covers the emulation infrastructure needed for Linux® 2.6 emulation, the thread local storage (TLS) implementation (on i386) and futexes. Then we talk briefly about some syscalls.

5.1. Description of NPTL

One of the major areas of progress in development of Linux® 2.6 was threading. Prior to 2.6, the Linux® threading support was implemented in the linuxthreads library. The library was a partial implementation of POSIX® threading. The threading was implemented using separate processes for each thread using the clone syscall to let them share the address space (and other things). The main weaknesses of this approach was that every thread had a different PID, signal handling was broken (from the pthreads perspective), etc. Also the performance was not very good (use of SIGUSR signals for threads synchronization, kernel resource consumption, etc.) so to overcome these problems a new threading system was developed and named NPTL.

The NPTL library focused on two things but a third thing came along so it is usually considered a part of NPTL. Those two things were embedding of threads into a process structure and futexes. The additional third thing was TLS, which is not directly required by NPTL but the whole NPTL userland library depends on it. Those improvements yielded in much improved performance and standards conformance. NPTL is a standard threading library in Linux® systems these days.

The FreeBSD Linuxulator implementation approaches the NPTL in three main areas. The TLS, futexes and PID mangling, which is meant to simulate the Linux® threads. Further sections describe each of these areas.

5.2. Linux® 2.6 emulation infrastructure

These sections deal with the way Linux® threads are managed and how we simulate that in FreeBSD.

5.2.1. Runtime determining of 2.6 emulation

The Linux® emulation layer in FreeBSD supports runtime setting of the emulated version. This is done via sysctl(8), namely compat.linux.osrelease. Setting this sysctl(8) affects runtime behavior of the emulation layer. When set to 2.6.x it sets the value of linux_use_linux26 while setting to something else keeps it unset. This variable (plus per-prison variables of the very same kind) determines whether 2.6 infrastructure (mainly PID mangling) is used in the code or not. The version setting is done system-wide and this affects all Linux® processes. The sysctl(8) should not be changed when running any Linux® binary as it might harm things.

5.2.2. Linux® processes and thread identifiers

The semantics of Linux® threading are a little confusing and uses entirely different nomenclature to FreeBSD. A process in Linux® consists of a struct task embedding two identifier fields - PID and TGID. PID is not a process ID but it is a thread ID. The TGID identifies a thread group in other words a process. For single-threaded process the PID equals the TGID.

The thread in NPTL is just an ordinary process that happens to have TGID not equal to PID and have a group leader not equal to itself (and shared VM etc. of course). Everything else happens in the same way as to an ordinary process. There is no separation of a shared status to some external structure like in FreeBSD. This creates some duplication of information and possible data inconsistency. The Linux® kernel seems to use task -> group information in some places and task information elsewhere and it is really not very consistent and looks error-prone.

Every NPTL thread is created by a call to the clone syscall with a specific set of flags (more in the next subsection). The NPTL implements strict 1:1 threading.

In FreeBSD we emulate NPTL threads with ordinary FreeBSD processes that share VM space, etc. and the PID gymnastic is just mimicked in the emulation specific structure attached to the process. The structure attached to the process looks like:

struct linux_emuldata {
  pid_t pid;

  int *child_set_tid; /* in clone(): Child.s TID to set on clone */
  int *child_clear_tid;/* in clone(): Child.s TID to clear on exit */

  struct linux_emuldata_shared *shared;

  int pdeath_signal; /* parent death signal */

  LIST_ENTRY(linux_emuldata) threads; /* list of linux threads */

The PID is used to identify the FreeBSD process that attaches this structure. The child_se_tid and child_clear_tid are used for TID address copyout when a process exits and is created. The shared pointer points to a structure shared among threads. The pdeath_signal variable identifies the parent death signal and the threads pointer is used to link this structure to the list of threads. The linux_emuldata_shared structure looks like:

struct linux_emuldata_shared {

  int refs;

  pid_t group_pid;

  LIST_HEAD(, linux_emuldata) threads; /* head of list of linux threads */

The refs is a reference counter being used to determine when we can free the structure to avoid memory leaks. The group_pid is to identify PID ( = TGID) of the whole process ( = thread group). The threads pointer is the head of the list of threads in the process.

The linux_emuldata structure can be obtained from the process using em_find. The prototype of the function is:

struct linux_emuldata *em_find(struct proc *, int locked);

Here, proc is the process we want the emuldata structure from and the locked parameter determines whether we want to lock or not. The accepted values are EMUL_DOLOCK and EMUL_DOUNLOCK. More about locking later.

5.2.3. PID mangling

As there is a difference in view as what to the idea of a process ID and thread ID is between FreeBSD and Linux® we have to translate the view somehow. We do it by PID mangling. This means that we fake what a PID (=TGID) and TID (=PID) is between kernel and userland. The rule of thumb is that in kernel (in Linuxulator) PID = PID and TGID = shared -> group pid and to userland we present PID = shared -> group_pid and TID = proc -> p_pid. The PID member of linux_emuldata structure is a FreeBSD PID.

The above affects mainly getpid, getppid, gettid syscalls. Where we use PID/TGID respectively. In copyout of TIDs in child_clear_tid and child_set_tid we copy out FreeBSD PID.

5.2.4. Clone syscall

The clone syscall is the way threads are created in Linux®. The syscall prototype looks like this:

int linux_clone(l_int flags, void *stack, void *parent_tidptr, int dummy,
void * child_tidptr);

The flags parameter tells the syscall how exactly the processes should be cloned. As described above, Linux® can create processes sharing various things independently, for example two processes can share file descriptors but not VM, etc. Last byte of the flags parameter is the exit signal of the newly created process. The stack parameter if non-NULL tells, where the thread stack is and if it is NULL we are supposed to copy-on-write the calling process stack (i.e. do what normal fork(2) routine does). The parent_tidptr parameter is used as an address for copying out process PID (i.e. thread id) once the process is sufficiently instantiated but is not runnable yet. The dummy parameter is here because of the very strange calling convention of this syscall on i386. It uses the registers directly and does not let the compiler do it what results in the need of a dummy syscall. The child_tidptr parameter is used as an address for copying out PID once the process has finished forking and when the process exits.

The syscall itself proceeds by setting corresponding flags depending on the flags passed in. For example, CLONE_VM maps to RFMEM (sharing of VM), etc. The only nit here is CLONE_FS and CLONE_FILES because FreeBSD does not allow setting this separately so we fake it by not setting RFFDG (copying of fd table and other fs information) if either of these is defined. This does not cause any problems, because those flags are always set together. After setting the flags the process is forked using the internal fork1 routine, the process is instrumented not to be put on a run queue, i.e. not to be set runnable. After the forking is done we possibly reparent the newly created process to emulate CLONE_PARENT semantics. Next part is creating the emulation data. Threads in Linux® does not signal their parents so we set exit signal to be 0 to disable this. After that setting of child_set_tid and child_clear_tid is performed enabling the functionality later in the code. At this point we copy out the PID to the address specified by parent_tidptr. The setting of process stack is done by simply rewriting thread frame %esp register (%rsp on amd64). Next part is setting up TLS for the newly created process. After this vfork(2) semantics might be emulated and finally the newly created process is put on a run queue and copying out its PID to the parent process via clone return value is done.

The clone syscall is able and in fact is used for emulating classic fork(2) and vfork(2) syscalls. Newer glibc in a case of 2.6 kernel uses clone to implement fork(2) and vfork(2) syscalls.

5.2.5. Locking

The locking is implemented to be per-subsystem because we do not expect a lot of contention on these. There are two locks: emul_lock used to protect manipulating of linux_emuldata and emul_shared_lock used to manipulate linux_emuldata_shared. The emul_lock is a nonsleepable blocking mutex while emul_shared_lock is a sleepable blocking sx_lock. Due to the per-subsystem locking we can coalesce some locks and that is why the em find offers the non-locking access.

5.3. TLS

This section deals with TLS also known as thread local storage.

5.3.1. Introduction to threading

Threads in computer science are entities within a process that can be scheduled independently from each other. The threads in the process share process wide data (file descriptors, etc.) but also have their own stack for their own data. Sometimes there is a need for process-wide data specific to a given thread. Imagine a name of the thread in execution or something like that. The traditional UNIX® threading API, pthreads provides a way to do it via pthread_key_create(3), pthread_setspecific(3) and pthread_getspecific(3) where a thread can create a key to the thread local data and using pthread_getspecific(3) or pthread_getspecific(3) to manipulate those data. You can easily see that this is not the most comfortable way this could be accomplished. So various producers of C/C++ compilers introduced a better way. They defined a new modifier keyword thread that specifies that a variable is thread specific. A new method of accessing such variables was developed as well (at least on i386). The pthreads method tends to be implemented in userspace as a trivial lookup table. The performance of such a solution is not very good. So the new method uses (on i386) segment registers to address a segment, where TLS area is stored so the actual accessing of a thread variable is just appending the segment register to the address thus addressing via it. The segment registers are usually %gs and %fs acting like segment selectors. Every thread has its own area where the thread local data are stored and the segment must be loaded on every context switch. This method is very fast and used almost exclusively in the whole i386 UNIX® world. Both FreeBSD and Linux® implement this approach and it yields very good results. The only drawback is the need to reload the segment on every context switch which can slowdown context switches. FreeBSD tries to avoid this overhead by using only 1 segment descriptor for this while Linux® uses 3. Interesting thing is that almost nothing uses more than 1 descriptor (only Wine seems to use 2) so Linux® pays this unnecessary price for context switches.

5.3.2. Segments on i386

The i386 architecture implements the so called segments. A segment is a description of an area of memory. The base address (bottom) of the memory area, the end of it (ceiling), type, protection, etc. The memory described by a segment can be accessed using segment selector registers (%cs, %ds, %ss, %es, %fs, %gs). For example let us suppose we have a segment which base address is 0x1234 and length and this code:

mov %edx,%gs:0x10

This will load the content of the %edx register into memory location 0x1244. Some segment registers have a special use, for example %cs is used for code segment and %ss is used for stack segment but %fs and %gs are generally unused. Segments are either stored in a global GDT table or in a local LDT table. LDT is accessed via an entry in the GDT. The LDT can store more types of segments. LDT can be per process. Both tables define up to 8191 entries.

5.3.3. Implementation on Linux® i386

There are two main ways of setting up TLS in Linux®. It can be set when cloning a process using the clone syscall or it can call set_thread_area. When a process passes CLONE_SETTLS flag to clone, the kernel expects the memory pointed to by the %esi register a Linux® user space representation of a segment, which gets translated to the machine representation of a segment and loaded into a GDT slot. The GDT slot can be specified with a number or -1 can be used meaning that the system itself should choose the first free slot. In practice, the vast majority of programs use only one TLS entry and does not care about the number of the entry. We exploit this in the emulation and in fact depend on it.

5.3.4. Emulation of Linux® TLS i386

Loading of TLS for the current thread happens by calling set_thread_area while loading TLS for a second process in clone is done in the separate block in clone. Those two functions are very similar. The only difference being the actual loading of the GDT segment, which happens on the next context switch for the newly created process while set_thread_area must load this directly. The code basically does this. It copies the Linux® form segment descriptor from the userland. The code checks for the number of the descriptor but because this differs between FreeBSD and Linux® we fake it a little. We only support indexes of 6, 3 and -1. The 6 is genuine Linux® number, 3 is genuine FreeBSD one and -1 means autoselection. Then we set the descriptor number to constant 3 and copy out this to the userspace. We rely on the userspace process using the number from the descriptor but this works most of the time (have never seen a case where this did not work) as the userspace process typically passes in 1. Then we convert the descriptor from the Linux® form to a machine dependant form (i.e. operating system independent form) and copy this to the FreeBSD defined segment descriptor. Finally we can load it. We assign the descriptor to threads PCB (process control block) and load the %gs segment using load_gs. This loading must be done in a critical section so that nothing can interrupt us. The CLONE_SETTLS case works exactly like this just the loading using load_gs is not performed. The segment used for this (segment number 3) is shared for this use between FreeBSD processes and Linux® processes so the Linux® emulation layer does not add any overhead over plain FreeBSD. amd64

The amd64 implementation is similar to the i386 one but there was initially no 32bit segment descriptor used for this purpose (hence not even native 32bit TLS users worked) so we had to add such a segment and implement its loading on every context switch (when a flag signaling use of 32bit is set). Apart from this the TLS loading is exactly the same just the segment numbers are different and the descriptor format and the loading differs slightly.

5.4. Futexes

5.4.1. Introduction to synchronization

Threads need some kind of synchronization and POSIX® provides some of them: mutexes for mutual exclusion, read-write locks for mutual exclusion with biased ratio of reads and writes and condition variables for signaling a status change. It is interesting to note that POSIX® threading API lacks support for semaphores. Those synchronization routines implementations are heavily dependant on the type threading support we have. In pure 1:M (userspace) model the implementation can be solely done in userspace and thus be very fast (the condition variables will probably end up being implemented using signals, i.e. not fast) and simple. In 1:1 model, the situation is also quite clear - the threads must be synchronized using kernel facilities (which is very slow because a syscall must be performed). The mixed M:N scenario just combines the first and second approach or rely solely on kernel. Threads synchronization is a vital part of thread-enabled programming and its performance can affect resulting program a lot. Recent benchmarks on FreeBSD operating system showed that an improved sx_lock implementation yielded 40% speedup in ZFS (a heavy sx user), this is in-kernel stuff but it shows clearly how important the performance of synchronization primitives is.

Threaded programs should be written with as little contention on locks as possible. Otherwise, instead of doing useful work the thread just waits on a lock. As a result of this, the most well written threaded programs show little locks contention.

5.4.2. Futexes introduction

Linux® implements 1:1 threading, i.e. it has to use in-kernel synchronization primitives. As stated earlier, well written threaded programs have little lock contention. So a typical sequence could be performed as two atomic increase/decrease mutex reference counter, which is very fast, as presented by the following example:


1:1 threading forces us to perform two syscalls for those mutex calls, which is very slow.

The solution Linux® 2.6 implements is called futexes. Futexes implement the check for contention in userspace and call kernel primitives only in a case of contention. Thus the typical case takes place without any kernel intervention. This yields reasonably fast and flexible synchronization primitives implementation.

5.4.3. Futex API

The futex syscall looks like this:

int futex(void *uaddr, int op, int val, struct timespec *timeout, void *uaddr2, int val3);

In this example uaddr is an address of the mutex in userspace, op is an operation we are about to perform and the other parameters have per-operation meaning.

Futexes implement the following operations:







This operation verifies that on address uaddr the value val is written. If not, EWOULDBLOCK is returned, otherwise the thread is queued on the futex and gets suspended. If the argument timeout is non-zero it specifies the maximum time for the sleeping, otherwise the sleeping is infinite. FUTEX_WAKE

This operation takes a futex at uaddr and wakes up val first futexes queued on this futex. FUTEX_FD

This operations associates a file descriptor with a given futex. FUTEX_REQUEUE

This operation takes val threads queued on futex at uaddr, wakes them up, and takes val2 next threads and requeues them on futex at uaddr2. FUTEX_CMP_REQUEUE

This operation does the same as FUTEX_REQUEUE but it checks that val3 equals to val first. FUTEX_WAKE_OP

This operation performs an atomic operation on val3 (which contains coded some other value) and uaddr. Then it wakes up val threads on futex at uaddr and if the atomic operation returned a positive number it wakes up val2 threads on futex at uaddr2.

The operations implemented in FUTEX_WAKE_OP:







There is no val2 parameter in the futex prototype. The val2 is taken from the struct timespec *timeout parameter for operations FUTEX_REQUEUE, FUTEX_CMP_REQUEUE and FUTEX_WAKE_OP.

5.4.4. Futex emulation in FreeBSD

The futex emulation in FreeBSD is taken from NetBSD and further extended by us. It is placed in linux_futex.c and linux_futex.h files. The futex structure looks like:

struct futex {
  void *f_uaddr;
  int f_refcount;

  LIST_ENTRY(futex) f_list;

  TAILQ_HEAD(lf_waiting_paroc, waiting_proc) f_waiting_proc;

And the structure waiting_proc is:

struct waiting_proc {

  struct thread *wp_t;

  struct futex *wp_new_futex;

  TAILQ_ENTRY(waiting_proc) wp_list;
}; futex_get / futex_put

A futex is obtained using the futex_get function, which searches a linear list of futexes and returns the found one or creates a new futex. When releasing a futex from the use we call the futex_put function, which decreases a reference counter of the futex and if the refcount reaches zero it is released. futex_sleep

When a futex queues a thread for sleeping it creates a working_proc structure and puts this structure to the list inside the futex structure then it just performs a tsleep(9) to suspend the thread. The sleep can be timed out. After tsleep(9) returns (the thread was woken up or it timed out) the working_proc structure is removed from the list and is destroyed. All this is done in the futex_sleep function. If we got woken up from futex_wake we have wp_new_futex set so we sleep on it. This way the actual requeueing is done in this function. futex_wake

Waking up a thread sleeping on a futex is performed in the futex_wake function. First in this function we mimic the strange Linux® behavior, where it wakes up N threads for all operations, the only exception is that the REQUEUE operations are performed on N+1 threads. But this usually does not make any difference as we are waking up all threads. Next in the function in the loop we wake up n threads, after this we check if there is a new futex for requeueing. If so, we requeue up to n2 threads on the new futex. This cooperates with futex_sleep. futex_wake_op

The FUTEX_WAKE_OP operation is quite complicated. First we obtain two futexes at addresses uaddr and uaddr2 then we perform the atomic operation using val3 and uaddr2. Then val waiters on the first futex is woken up and if the atomic operation condition holds we wake up val2 (i.e. timeout) waiter on the second futex. futex atomic operation

The atomic operation takes two parameters encoded_op and uaddr. The encoded operation encodes the operation itself, comparing value, operation argument, and comparing argument. The pseudocode for the operation is like this one:

oldval = *uaddr2
*uaddr2 = oldval OP oparg

And this is done atomically. First a copying in of the number at uaddr is performed and the operation is done. The code handles page faults and if no page fault occurs oldval is compared to cmparg argument with cmp comparator. Futex locking

Futex implementation uses two lock lists protecting sx_lock and global locks (either Giant or another sx_lock). Every operation is performed locked from the start to the very end.

5.5. Various syscalls implementation

In this section I am going to describe some smaller syscalls that are worth mentioning because their implementation is not obvious or those syscalls are interesting from other point of view.

5.5.1. *at family of syscalls

During development of Linux® 2.6.16 kernel, the *at syscalls were added. Those syscalls (openat for example) work exactly like their at-less counterparts with the slight exception of the dirfd parameter. This parameter changes where the given file, on which the syscall is to be performed, is. When the filename parameter is absolute dirfd is ignored but when the path to the file is relative, it comes to the play. The dirfd parameter is a directory relative to which the relative pathname is checked. The dirfd parameter is a file descriptor of some directory or AT_FDCWD. So for example the openat syscall can be like this:

file descriptor 123 = /tmp/foo/, current working directory = /tmp/

openat(123, /tmp/bah\, flags, mode)	/* opens /tmp/bah */
openat(123, bah\, flags, mode)		/* opens /tmp/foo/bah */
openat(AT_FDWCWD, bah\, flags, mode)	/* opens /tmp/bah */
openat(stdio, bah\, flags, mode)	/* returns error because stdio is not a directory */

This infrastructure is necessary to avoid races when opening files outside the working directory. Imagine that a process consists of two threads, thread A and thread B. Thread A issues open(./tmp/foo/bah., flags, mode) and before returning it gets preempted and thread B runs. Thread B does not care about the needs of thread A and renames or removes /tmp/foo/. We got a race. To avoid this we can open /tmp/foo and use it as dirfd for openat syscall. This also enables user to implement per-thread working directories.

Linux® family of *at syscalls contains: linux_openat, linux_mkdirat, linux_mknodat, linux_fchownat, linux_futimesat, linux_fstatat64, linux_unlinkat, linux_renameat, linux_linkat, linux_symlinkat, linux_readlinkat, linux_fchmodat and linux_faccessat. All these are implemented using the modified namei(9) routine and simple wrapping layer. Implementation

The implementation is done by altering the namei(9) routine (described above) to take additional parameter dirfd in its nameidata structure, which specifies the starting point of the pathname lookup instead of using the current working directory every time. The resolution of dirfd from file descriptor number to a vnode is done in native *at syscalls. When dirfd is AT_FDCWD the dvp entry in nameidata structure is NULL but when dirfd is a different number we obtain a file for this file descriptor, check whether this file is valid and if there is vnode attached to it then we get a vnode. Then we check this vnode for being a directory. In the actual namei(9) routine we simply substitute the dvp vnode for dp variable in the namei(9) function, which determines the starting point. The namei(9) is not used directly but via a trace of different functions on various levels. For example the openat goes like this:

openat() --> kern_openat() --> vn_open() -> namei()

For this reason kern_open and vn_open must be altered to incorporate the additional dirfd parameter. No compat layer is created for those because there are not many users of this and the users can be easily converted. This general implementation enables FreeBSD to implement their own *at syscalls. This is being discussed right now.

5.5.2. Ioctl

The ioctl interface is quite fragile due to its generality. We have to bear in mind that devices differ between Linux® and FreeBSD so some care must be applied to do ioctl emulation work right. The ioctl handling is implemented in linux_ioctl.c, where linux_ioctl function is defined. This function simply iterates over sets of ioctl handlers to find a handler that implements a given command. The ioctl syscall has three parameters, the file descriptor, command and an argument. The command is a 16-bit number, which in theory is divided into high 8 bits determining class of the ioctl command and low 8 bits, which are the actual command within the given set. The emulation takes advantage of this division. We implement handlers for each set, like sound_handler or disk_handler. Each handler has a maximum command and a minimum command defined, which is used for determining what handler is used. There are slight problems with this approach because Linux® does not use the set division consistently so sometimes ioctls for a different set are inside a set they should not belong to (SCSI generic ioctls inside cdrom set, etc.). FreeBSD currently does not implement many Linux® ioctls (compared to NetBSD, for example) but the plan is to port those from NetBSD. The trend is to use Linux® ioctls even in the native FreeBSD drivers because of the easy porting of applications.

5.5.3. Debugging

Every syscall should be debuggable. For this purpose we introduce a small infrastructure. We have the ldebug facility, which tells whether a given syscall should be debugged (settable via a sysctl). For printing we have LMSG and ARGS macros. Those are used for altering a printable string for uniform debugging messages.

All FreeBSD documents are available for download at https://download.freebsd.org/ftp/doc/

Questions that are not answered by the documentation may be sent to <freebsd-questions@FreeBSD.org>.
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