Sawmill's dataspaces and the Hurd's physmem

Neal H. Walfield neal at
Tue Oct 18 15:40:00 CEST 2005

At Tue, 18 Oct 2005 19:42:27 +0800,
yuan Darwin-r62832 wrote:
> 	I think these 2 approachs are not incompatible. Here are the reasons,
> 	1. In Hurd's approach, every application could manage its own
> physical memory. However, for most of application developers, they
> don't want to take care of the VM replacement policy. To solve this
> problem, Hurd has to provide a general VM server to be the pager of
> this kind of applications. However, as the philosophy of Hurd,
> should this applications trust this server?

Physical memory management needn't be an all or nothing deal.
Certainly, an application might wish to completely manage the paging
policy and its address space layout, however, I tend to think that
this is the exception.  And as we will provide a POSIX personality, we
need to have some sort of default VM manager.

The solution that I've opted for is a library based one: a default
memory management library will, for instance, implement an LRU based
eviction scheme and require no application input.  For many
applications this will be appropriate and sufficient.  Those
applications wishing to take complete control will also be able to
completely replace the library.

I think that some applications can provide useful hints in relatively
concise ways.  A document viewer, for instance xpdf, might want to
cache previously rendered pages.  It does not make sense to send these
to swap if rereading the data and rerendering is cheaper.  In this
case, the application can attach a function to drain the cache to a
library provided hook which is called when there is memory pressure.
I think that this small type of change may offer dramatic results.
Moreover, if the change is highly isolated (which in this case seems
feasible), it will be easily accepted upstream.

An even less invasive hint would be to set some environment variables.
Clearly we wouldn't expect most users to set these but an
application's packager could based on observed behavior.  In the case
of e.g. grep or cat we might want to set the read ahead parameter to
"very aggressive".

If a developper so desires, a more aggressive, but more invasive
approach, can also be adopted.  Instead of using malloc and free, the
application can use a slab allocator.  I think this can only be
effectively done if the slab allocator participates in the eviction
scheme.  Again, this is possible in our case with a number of library
provided hooks but not for user applications running on a traditional
Unix-like core.  This can be made backwards compatible by having the
configure script check for the required mechanisms and if they are not
available then to redefine slab_alloc and slab_free to malloc and

> 	2. In Sawmill's DS approach, every task(AS) has a specific
> thread named "region mapper" to be the pager of other threads. It
> captures the page fault, then decide to forward it to corresponding
> server, and get mapped. So from the higher level point of view,
> these servers are the pagers of the task. If Hurd application should
> trust that general VM pager, the applications using Sawmill's DS
> framework should trust these servers as well.

I hope it is now clear that there is no general VM server.

> 	3. Relative to Sawmill's approach, Hurd provides a clear &
> great physical memory server, which makes the whole physical memory
> of platform could be fairly used by all of the servers &
> applications.
> 	Therefore, we can use Hurd's physmem server as the central
> controller. Sawmill's DSMs apply physical memory from it. The
> applications who wanna use Sawmill's approach could still walk on
> their own way. For some applications who wanna manage their own
> physical memory, they can apply memory from physmem server directly.

I see a number of problems with SawMill's dataspaces.  The root of
this thread is the presentation of a potential security flaw in the
design of dataspaces.  (Whether this is important or not depends on
the assumed trust model and security goals.)  Another is that as far
as I can tell paging decisions are made towards the root of a
dataspace hierarchy and not at the applications themselves.

Hopefully it is clear why I've choosen to reject this scheme.


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