Re: Question about driver ioctl, big kernel lock, mutexes

From: Arnd Bergmann
Date: Wed Mar 16 2011 - 15:06:29 EST

On Wednesday 16 March 2011 16:50:33 scameron@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx wrote:
> I just noticed the existence of this change (I guess
> I'm a little slow):
> commit 2a48fc0ab24241755dc93bfd4f01d68efab47f5a
> Author: Arnd Bergmann <arnd@xxxxxxxx>
> Date: Wed Jun 2 14:28:52 2010 +0200
> block: autoconvert trivial BKL users to private mutex
> The block device drivers have all gained new lock_kernel
> calls from a recent pushdown, and some of the drivers
> were already using the BKL before.
> This turns the BKL into a set of per-driver mutexes.
> Still need to check whether this is safe to do.
> This changes the behavior of, for example, the CCISS_PASSTHRU and
> other ioctls. Previously, these were "protected" by the Big
> Kernel Lock. Now, from what I understand and what I've observed,
> the Big Kernel Lock is kind of strange, in that it auto-releases
> whenever you sleep. This means that the ioctl path in cciss used
> to allow concurrency (which is fine, they should all be thread
> safe. I'm kind of wondering why the BKL was there in the first
> place. I guess I assumed it was necessary for reasons having to
> do with the upper layers.)

The reason to have the BKL there is that the BKL used to protect
every syscall. The block ioctl handling was simply one of the
final places to lose it, after it was gone almost everywhere

Originally (before Linux-1.3!), the only concurrency that was
going on in the kernel was when one task was sleeping, so it was
straightforward to add the semantics of the BKL that look so
strange in retrospect.

> Now, if I understand things correctly, with this new driver specific mutex
> surrounding the ioctl path, only one thread is permitted in the ioctl path at a
> time, and whether it sleeps or not, the mutex is not released until it's done.


> That's a pretty big change in behavior. Some commands sent through
> the passthrough ioctls may take awhile, and they're going to block
> any other ioctls from getting started while they're going. Previously,
> it was possible to saturate the controller using multiple threads or
> processes hammering on the ioctl path. This would appear to no longer
> be the case.

Correct. Almost all ioctls in the kernel are of the "instantly
return" kind, any ioctl that blocks for a potentially unlimited
amount of time under a mutex would be a bug that I introduced
in the conversion.

> That being said, there was previously no real limit (other than
> pci_alloc_consistent eventually failing) on how many commands
> could be shoved through the cciss ioctl path at once, which was probably
> a bug. It has occurred to me to put a limit on this, and return
> -EBUSY when the limit is hit, though I don't know if programs using
> the ioctl are prepared to receive EBUSY... but maybe that's not my
> problem.
> Thoughts?
> I'm thinking that if there's no reason the ioctl path can't allow
> concurrency, then it should allow concurrency.

Absolutely. The best way forward would be to prove that the mutex
I introduced is actually pointless, or alternatively change the code
so that the mutex is only held in the places where it is really
required, if any.

When I submitted the patches, I always tried to make it clear that
most of the new mutexes are not required at all, but that proving
this for every single driver takes a lot of hard work.

Having a mutex that should not be there causes a performance regression
or a deadlock, both of which are fairly easy to bisect and fix, but
missing a mutex because of a subtle BKL dependency would have meant
introducing a race condition that would be extremely hard to analyse.

Limiting the number of concurrent I/Os submitted to a device might
be a good idea, but I think that's a separate discussion.

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