IPC Timeouts

Jonathan S. Shapiro shap at eros-os.org
Wed Feb 23 23:24:47 CET 2005

On Wed, 2005-02-23 at 21:52 +0100, Marcus Brinkmann wrote:
> At Wed, 23 Feb 2005 19:49:44 +0100 (CET),
> "Ronald Aigner" <ra3 at os.inf.tu-dresden.de> wrote:
> > It was brought to my attention that pagefault timeouts _are_ important as
> > to enforce trust relation with your communication partner. I don't know
> > what the semantic of a zero pagefault timeout is. If it means that the
> > page has to be present and a infinite pagefault timeout means that you
> > don't care, then finite pagefault timeouts seems reasonable. Still,
> > defining a useful value seems unpractical to me.
> If you use string items in a reply from a server to the client, I
> think even small timeouts can be used for DoS attacks.  This is why I
> use timeout and transfer timeout 0 for all IPC from the server to the
> client.  The client just has to be ready, and all buffers to receive
> string items need to be wired down (or other mechanisms need to be
> used, like trusted buffer objects, or resuming the operation for the
> not-transfered data).  Of course, other systems may have different
> trust considerations.

[In the following, please note that when I use the term "paging" I mean
the virtualization of available physical memory by migrating pages of
content between store and memory. This should not be confused with "page
fault handling", which is the implementation of a policy that defines
the validity and protection of locations in an address space. Allowing a
timeout for the recipient page definition policy engine (which in L4 is
a pager) is potentially useful, but not compellingly so.]

Marcus is exactly correct. The problem with the need for a zero timeout
on the pager is that it violates the encapsulation of paging. A paging
system is supposed to be able to page out portions of a process without
altering the semantics of its behavior (ignoring latency). An immediate
consequence of this definition is that it should not be necessary for a
server transmitting a string item to a client to consider the behavior
of the paging agent to be part of the threat model. Because the L4
memory model cannot distinguish between the logical presence/absence of
a mapping and the physical presence/absence of a mapping, it is not
possible to accurately capture the semantics of paging within the L4
operational semantics.

Some might object that the pager should not have to be trusted. What is
emerging from the discussion at hand is that this architectural view
does not map well to real usage. Marcus's approach of using a zero pager
timeout in server->client sends implies that the client must have means
to pin its receive area (a client-defined number of page frames) for an
indefinite time (there may be no contract on how fast the server
replies). This can induce a very real and urgent resource denial of
service problem, and may be in contradiction with the residency policy
requirements under which the client must operate. It works very well in
non-paging environments such as embedded applications.

Just to be clear: I'm certainly not claiming for an instant that EROS
got this stuff perfect. And I think it would definitely be nice to have
a paging agent that could be outside of the universally trusted
computing base. Unfortunately, nobody has been able to suggest a paging
architecture in which this has turned out to be feasible. In all current
L4-derived systems, the region manager (or the software that plays the
equivalent functional role) is necessarily trusted completely by all of
the programs that it serves.

It appears to me that there is no behavioral difference that motivates
the desire for untrusted pagers. All pagers do basically the same thing:
move pages into and out of memory. The rationale for untrusted pagers
usually turns out to be a desire to have distinguishable *policies* for
page replacement (equivalently: for residency retention). Separating the
policy of paging from the mechanism of paging is definitely possible,
and it simplifies the trust problem greatly. Once these things are
separated, we may reduce the trust assumption to:

  1. The *mechanism* of paging must be universally trusted.
  2. The relevant *policy* under which the page fault is
     triggered must ensure progress of transfer for the string
     item that is being returned to the client. The latency
     characteristics of this policy must be understood by the
     sender (the server).

We have spent some time thinking about this in the Coyotos design, and
we have concluded that the *second* requirement (knowledge of the
policy) is still problematic. Our conclusion is that the sender must
always be in charge of the policy under which any page (including a
receiver page) involved in an IPC is fetched in. Only if this is true
can the server know whether the delay characteristics of the recipient
page faults will be acceptable. We have therefore concluded that the
*sender* must have the ability to specify the working set (or whatever
page replacement policy embodiment is used) that should be used to bring
in recipient pages if the receiver is untrusted. The reverse is also
true -- the receiver must be able to deny the sender control over
receiver residency policy. The end result is very much like schedule
donation by mutual agreement.

Once the IPC is done, these pages become subject to cleaning in the
usual way, and will remain resident only if the recipient has ensured
adequate working set guarantees to ensure their residence.

This is not a simple mechanism, and there are serious difficulties in
reasoning about residence behavior of redundantly sponsored pages, but
it is the best that we have been able to come up with.

> Finite IPC timeouts seem to be necessary to sleep for a specified time
> (receiving from yourself), for implementing functions like sleep() and
> timed waits on a synchronization primitive.

This is indeed a reasonable way to do these things in L4. As an
alternative approach to consider, these functions are provided in EROS
by kernel-implemented services. In the case of both kernel-implemented
and process-implemented services, what the invoker sees is that they are
invoking a capability.

Apologies if this aside is off topic. My point is only that there is a
choice of design spaces, and embedding the timeout in the IPC
specification may be a reasonable choice, but that the desire for delays
of the type that Marcus identifies for self-send and sleep do not imply
a requirement for timeout in the IPC primitive.

> The timer event is
> not dropped, but instead defered - the next time the thread does an
> IPC, and there are no pending partners, it is canceled immediately and
> does not block.

It appears to me that this amounts to a special case of a more general
problem: non-blocking reliable delivery of event notification. We have
run into places in EROS where there is a serious need for such a
mechanism, and we have been contemplating how to achieve this in
Coyotos. We have now concluded that it should *not* be done in
endpoints, because it is extremely desirable for endpoints to be
stateless and pending events must be recorded somewhere. It is unclear
at this point what alternative will emerge.


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