[PATCH v2 09/23] kcsan: Document modeling of weak memory
From: Marco Elver
Date: Thu Nov 18 2021 - 03:11:59 EST
Document how KCSAN models a subset of weak memory and the subset of
missing memory barriers it can detect as a result.
Signed-off-by: Marco Elver <elver@xxxxxxxxxx>
* Note the reason that address or control dependencies do not require
Documentation/dev-tools/kcsan.rst | 76 +++++++++++++++++++++++++------
1 file changed, 63 insertions(+), 13 deletions(-)
diff --git a/Documentation/dev-tools/kcsan.rst b/Documentation/dev-tools/kcsan.rst
index 7db43c7c09b8..3ae866dcc924 100644
@@ -204,17 +204,17 @@ Ultimately this allows to determine the possible executions of concurrent code,
and if that code is free from data races.
KCSAN is aware of *marked atomic operations* (``READ_ONCE``, ``WRITE_ONCE``,
-``atomic_*``, etc.), but is oblivious of any ordering guarantees and simply
-assumes that memory barriers are placed correctly. In other words, KCSAN
-assumes that as long as a plain access is not observed to race with another
-conflicting access, memory operations are correctly ordered.
-This means that KCSAN will not report *potential* data races due to missing
-memory ordering. Developers should therefore carefully consider the required
-memory ordering requirements that remain unchecked. If, however, missing
-memory ordering (that is observable with a particular compiler and
-architecture) leads to an observable data race (e.g. entering a critical
-section erroneously), KCSAN would report the resulting data race.
+``atomic_*``, etc.), and a subset of ordering guarantees implied by memory
+barriers. With ``CONFIG_KCSAN_WEAK_MEMORY=y``, KCSAN models load or store
+buffering, and can detect missing ``smp_mb()``, ``smp_wmb()``, ``smp_rmb()``,
+``smp_store_release()``, and all ``atomic_*`` operations with equivalent
+Note, KCSAN will not report all data races due to missing memory ordering,
+specifically where a memory barrier would be required to prohibit subsequent
+memory operation from reordering before the barrier. Developers should
+therefore carefully consider the required memory ordering requirements that
Race Detection Beyond Data Races
@@ -268,6 +268,56 @@ marked operations, if all accesses to a variable that is accessed concurrently
are properly marked, KCSAN will never trigger a watchpoint and therefore never
report the accesses.
+Modeling Weak Memory
+KCSAN's approach to detecting data races due to missing memory barriers is
+based on modeling access reordering (with ``CONFIG_KCSAN_WEAK_MEMORY=y``).
+Each plain memory access for which a watchpoint is set up, is also selected for
+simulated reordering within the scope of its function (at most 1 in-flight
+Once an access has been selected for reordering, it is checked along every
+other access until the end of the function scope. If an appropriate memory
+barrier is encountered, the access will no longer be considered for simulated
+When the result of a memory operation should be ordered by a barrier, KCSAN can
+then detect data races where the conflict only occurs as a result of a missing
+barrier. Consider the example::
+ int x, flag;
+ void T1(void)
+ x = 1; // data race!
+ WRITE_ONCE(flag, 1); // correct: smp_store_release(&flag, 1)
+ void T2(void)
+ while (!READ_ONCE(flag)); // correct: smp_load_acquire(&flag)
+ ... = x; // data race!
+When weak memory modeling is enabled, KCSAN can consider ``x`` in ``T1`` for
+simulated reordering. After the write of ``flag``, ``x`` is again checked for
+concurrent accesses: because ``T2`` is able to proceed after the write of
+``flag``, a data race is detected. With the correct barriers in place, ``x``
+would not be considered for reordering after the proper release of ``flag``,
+and no data race would be detected.
+Deliberate trade-offs in complexity but also practical limitations mean only a
+subset of data races due to missing memory barriers can be detected. With
+currently available compiler support, the implementation is limited to modeling
+the effects of "buffering" (delaying accesses), since the runtime cannot
+"prefetch" accesses. Also recall that watchpoints are only set up for plain
+accesses, and the only access type for which KCSAN simulates reordering. This
+means reordering of marked accesses is not modeled.
+A consequence of the above is that acquire operations do not require barrier
+instrumentation (no prefetching). Furthermore, marked accesses introducing
+address or control dependencies do not require special handling (the marked
+access cannot be reordered, later dependent accesses cannot be prefetched).
@@ -290,8 +340,8 @@ Key Properties
4. **Detects Racy Writes from Devices:** Due to checking data values upon
setting up watchpoints, racy writes from devices can also be detected.
-5. **Memory Ordering:** KCSAN is *not* explicitly aware of the LKMM's ordering
- rules; this may result in missed data races (false negatives).
+5. **Memory Ordering:** KCSAN is aware of only a subset of LKMM ordering rules;
+ this may result in missed data races (false negatives).
6. **Analysis Accuracy:** For observed executions, due to using a sampling
strategy, the analysis is *unsound* (false negatives possible), but aims to