Introducing Hybrid Synchronization Objects

Daniel Santos daniel.santos at
Sat Jan 13 02:05:43 CST 2018


After putting this project down for a little while I've finally picked
it back up and have it working and passing its tests.  This is still a
proof-of-concept and needs a lot more cleanup before it's ready for
staging or any serious review.  I would be most interested to discover
additional programs whos performance improves with this patch set (the
Star Wars Battlefronts I and II by Pandemic were the original impetus of
this).  You must start your program with STAGING_SHARED_MEMORY=1
STAGING_SHM_SYNC=1 to enable it and I have hosted the patches on my
github to anyone interested in trying it out:

git clone
git checkout hybrid-sync

Although somewhat complex, this implements a fast synchronization
framework that:

  * Can support semaphores, mutexes and events (only semaphores
    implemented right now)
  * Is scaleable,
  * Can share objects with other processes,
  * Can perform most operations without a server call, and
  * Provides reasonably strong shared memory integrity guarantees with
    well-defined behaviour when shared memory is corrupted or altered

I have called them "Hybrid" objects because they have a private and
shared memory portion.  When another process opens one, the shared
memory portion is migrated to a new memory region shared only by the
processes that have access to the object.  This migration works even
when multiple threads and processes are performing operations on the
object.  Scaleability is achieved through the use of memfd-backed shared
memory slab caches on the server, from which all shared memory is allocated.

Since it uses memfd and futexes it's only supported on Linux.  Initial
support is for x86 systems, but ARM, PPC, can be added without too much
effort.  I have not yet closely examined a BSD implementation.

How It Works

Every struct process in the server can have one or more struct
process_group objects associated with it.  These represent unique sets
of processes that are sharing objects.  When a client requests a new
synchronization object, the server looks for a process_group that only
contains the calling process and creates one if none exists -- this also
creates a new slab cache, which allocates a block of shared memory.

When another process later requests to open the object, the server finds
or creates a process_group with exactly the two processes in it and then
migrates the shared portion of the object to the new shared memory
slab.  The migration is transparent to the client -- if a process is
waiting (natively) on the object it awakens its threads when the
migration is done so that one of them can request the new shared memory
data, map it into memory and continue its operation.  Similarly, when a
process closes such an object, it is again migrated back to a
process_group that only contains the remaining processes who have access
to it (or destroys it).

Sometimes traditional server-side synchronization objects are needed
(e.g., for a critical section) and these are created by adding a new
SYNC_OBJECT_ACCESS_SERVER_ONLY access flag to the request.

The shared portion of the object is 64-bits:

  * 32-bits of data,
  * 4-bits of flags, and
  * a 28-bit FNV1a hash

The 28 bits of hash are verified with every operation to detect if the
shared memory portion of the object has been incorrectly modified. 
Although not infallible, the chances are somewhere around one in a
million that an incorrect modification would not be detected.

Other Solutions

I should note that the addition of SGX extensions, although intended for
cryptography and sensitive data, might provide a superior solution to
optimizing synchronization objects as well as many other operations that
require a server call.  An SGX enclave provides a mechanism to share
memory in userspace while restricting, at the CPU level, what code is
allowed to read or alter that memory.  This could be exploited to write
a sort-of Wine Demi-Kernel that lives in the process space of each
client process, reading and manipulating memory shared from wineserver
with exceptional integrity guarantees.


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