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1\chapter{User Level \io}
2As mentioned in Section~\ref{prev:io}, User-Level \io requires multiplexing the \io operations of many \glspl{thrd} onto fewer \glspl{proc} using asynchronous \io operations. Different operating systems offer various forms of asynchronous operations and as mentioned in Chapter~\ref{intro}, this work is exclusively focused on the Linux operating-system.
4\section{Kernel Interface}
5Since this work fundamentally depends on operating-system support, the first step of any design is to discuss the available interfaces and pick one (or more) as the foundations of the non-blocking \io subsystem.
8In Linux, files can be opened with the flag @O_NONBLOCK@~\cite{MAN:open} (or @SO_NONBLOCK@~\cite{MAN:accept}, the equivalent for sockets) to use the file descriptors in ``nonblocking mode''. In this mode, ``Neither the @open()@ nor any subsequent \io operations on the [opened file descriptor] will cause the calling
9process to wait''~\cite{MAN:open}. This feature can be used as the foundation for the non-blocking \io subsystem. However, for the subsystem to know when an \io operation completes, @O_NONBLOCK@ must be use in conjunction with a system call that monitors when a file descriptor becomes ready, \ie, the next \io operation on it does not cause the process to wait\footnote{In this context, ready means \emph{some} operation can be performed without blocking. It does not mean an operation returning \lstinline{EAGAIN} succeeds on the next try. For example, a ready read may only return a subset of bytes and the read must be issues again for the remaining bytes, at which point it may return \lstinline{EAGAIN}.}.
10This mechanism is also crucial in determining when all \glspl{thrd} are blocked and the application \glspl{kthrd} can now block.
12There are three options to monitor file descriptors in Linux\footnote{For simplicity, this section omits \lstinline{pselect} and \lstinline{ppoll}. The difference between these system calls and \lstinline{select} and \lstinline{poll}, respectively, is not relevant for this discussion.}, @select@~\cite{MAN:select}, @poll@~\cite{MAN:poll} and @epoll@~\cite{MAN:epoll}. All three of these options offer a system call that blocks a \gls{kthrd} until at least one of many file descriptors becomes ready. The group of file descriptors being waited is called the \newterm{interest set}.
14\paragraph{\lstinline{select}} is the oldest of these options, it takes as an input a contiguous array of bits, where each bits represent a file descriptor of interest. On return, it modifies the set in place to identify which of the file descriptors changed status. This destructive change means that calling select in a loop requires re-initializing the array each time and the number of file descriptors supported has a hard limit. Another limit of @select@ is that once the call is started, the interest set can no longer be modified. Monitoring a new file descriptor generally requires aborting any in progress call to @select@\footnote{Starting a new call to \lstinline{select} is possible but requires a distinct kernel thread, and as a result is not an acceptable multiplexing solution when the interest set is large and highly dynamic unless the number of parallel calls to \lstinline{select} can be strictly bounded.}.
16\paragraph{\lstinline{poll}} is an improvement over select, which removes the hard limit on the number of file descriptors and the need to re-initialize the input on every call. It works using an array of structures as an input rather than an array of bits, thus allowing a more compact input for small interest sets. Like @select@, @poll@ suffers from the limitation that the interest set cannot be changed while the call is blocked.
18\paragraph{\lstinline{epoll}} further improves these two functions by allowing the interest set to be dynamically added to and removed from while a \gls{kthrd} is blocked on an @epoll@ call. This dynamic capability is accomplished by creating an \emph{epoll instance} with a persistent interest set, which is used across multiple calls. This capability significantly reduces synchronization overhead on the part of the caller (in this case the \io subsystem), since the interest set can be modified when adding or removing file descriptors without having to synchronize with other \glspl{kthrd} potentially calling @epoll@.
20However, all three of these system calls have limitations. The @man@ page for @O_NONBLOCK@ mentions that ``[@O_NONBLOCK@] has no effect for regular files and block devices'', which means none of these three system calls are viable multiplexing strategies for these types of \io operations. Furthermore, @epoll@ has been shown to have problems with pipes and ttys~\cit{Peter's examples in some fashion}. Finally, none of these are useful solutions for multiplexing \io operations that do not have a corresponding file descriptor and can be awkward for operations using multiple file descriptors.
22\subsection{POSIX asynchronous I/O (AIO)}
23An alternative to @O_NONBLOCK@ is the AIO interface. Its interface lets programmers enqueue operations to be performed asynchronously by the kernel. Completions of these operations can be communicated in various ways: either by spawning a new \gls{kthrd}, sending a Linux signal, or by polling for completion of one or more operation. For this work, spawning a new \gls{kthrd} is counter-productive but a related solution is discussed in Section~\ref{io:morethreads}. Using interrupts handlers can also lead to fairly complicated interactions between subsystems. Leaving polling for completion, which is similar to the previous system calls. While AIO only supports read and write operations to file descriptors, it does not have the same limitation as @O_NONBLOCK@, \ie, the file descriptors can be regular files and blocked devices. It also supports batching multiple operations in a single system call.
25AIO offers two different approach to polling: @aio_error@ can be used as a spinning form of polling, returning @EINPROGRESS@ until the operation is completed, and @aio_suspend@ can be used similarly to @select@, @poll@ or @epoll@, to wait until one or more requests have completed. For the purpose of \io multiplexing, @aio_suspend@ is the best interface. However, even if AIO requests can be submitted concurrently, @aio_suspend@ suffers from the same limitation as @select@ and @poll@, \ie, the interest set cannot be dynamically changed while a call to @aio_suspend@ is in progress. AIO also suffers from the limitation of specifying which requests have completed, \ie programmers have to poll each request in the interest set using @aio_error@ to identify the completed requests. This limitation means that, like @select@ and @poll@ but not @epoll@, the time needed to examine polling results increases based on the total number of requests monitored, not the number of completed requests.
26Finally, AIO does not seem to be a popular interface, which I believe is due in part to this poor polling interface. Linus Torvalds talks about this interface as follows:
29        AIO is a horrible ad-hoc design, with the main excuse being ``other,
30        less gifted people, made that design, and we are implementing it for
31        compatibility because database people - who seldom have any shred of
32        taste - actually use it''.
34        But AIO was always really really ugly.
36        \begin{flushright}
37                -- Linus Torvalds\cit{}
38        \end{flushright}
41Interestingly, in this e-mail, Linus goes on to describe
42``a true \textit{asynchronous system call} interface''
43that does
44``[an] arbitrary system call X with arguments A, B, C, D asynchronously using a kernel thread''
46``some kind of arbitrary \textit{queue up asynchronous system call} model''.
47This description is actually quite close to the interface described in the next section.
50A very recent addition to Linux, @io_uring@~\cite{MAN:io_uring}, is a framework that aims to solve many of the problems listed in the above interfaces. Like AIO, it represents \io operations as entries added to a queue. But like @epoll@, new requests can be submitted while a blocking call waiting for requests to complete is already in progress. The @io_uring@ interface uses two ring buffers (referred to simply as rings) at its core: a submit ring to which programmers push \io requests and a completion ring from which programmers poll for completion.
52One of the big advantages over the prior interfaces is that @io_uring@ also supports a much wider range of operations. In addition to supporting reads and writes to any file descriptor like AIO, it supports other operations like @open@, @close@, @fsync@, @accept@, @connect@, @send@, @recv@, @splice@, \etc.
54On top of these, @io_uring@ adds many extras like avoiding copies between the kernel and user-space using shared memory, allowing different mechanisms to communicate with device drivers, and supporting chains of requests, \ie, requests that automatically trigger followup requests on completion.
56\subsection{Extra Kernel Threads}\label{io:morethreads}
57Finally, if the operating system does not offer a satisfactory form of asynchronous \io operations, an ad-hoc solution is to create a pool of \glspl{kthrd} and delegate operations to it to avoid blocking \glspl{proc}, which is a compromise for multiplexing. In the worst case, where all \glspl{thrd} are consistently blocking on \io, it devolves into 1-to-1 threading. However, regardless of the frequency of \io operations, it achieves the fundamental goal of not blocking \glspl{proc} when \glspl{thrd} are ready to run. This approach is used by languages like Go\cit{Go} and frameworks like libuv\cit{libuv}, since it has the advantage that it can easily be used across multiple operating systems. This advantage is especially relevant for languages like Go, which offer a homogeneous \glsxtrshort{api} across all platforms. As opposed to C, which has a very limited standard api for \io, \eg, the C standard library has no networking.
60These options effectively fall into two broad camps: waiting for \io to be ready versus waiting for \io to complete. All operating systems that support asynchronous \io must offer an interface along one of these lines, but the details vary drastically. For example, Free BSD offers @kqueue@~\cite{MAN:bsd/kqueue}, which behaves similarly to @epoll@, but with some small quality of use improvements, while Windows (Win32)~\cit{} offers ``overlapped I/O'', which handles submissions similarly to @O_NONBLOCK@ with extra flags on the synchronous system call, but waits for completion events, similarly to @io_uring@.
62For this project, I selected @io_uring@, in large parts because to its generality. While @epoll@ has been shown to be a good solution for socket \io (\cite{DBLP:journals/pomacs/KarstenB20}), @io_uring@'s transparent support for files, pipes, and more complex operations, like @splice@ and @tee@, make it a better choice as the foundation for a general \io subsystem.
65An event engine's responsibility is to use the kernel interface to multiplex many \io operations onto few \glspl{kthrd}. In concrete terms, this means \glspl{thrd} enter the engine through an interface, the event engines then starts the operation and parks the calling \glspl{thrd}, returning control to the \gls{proc}. The parked \glspl{thrd} are then rescheduled by the event engine once the desired operation has completed.
67\subsection{\lstinline{io_uring} in depth}
68Before going into details on the design of my event engine, more details on @io_uring@ usage are presented, each important in the design of the engine.
69Figure~\ref{fig:iouring} shows an overview of an @io_uring@ instance.
70Two ring buffers are used to communicate with the kernel: one for submissions~(left) and one for completions~(right).
71The submission ring contains entries, \newterm{Submit Queue Entries} (SQE), produced (appended) by the application when an operation starts and then consumed by the kernel.
72The completion ring contains entries, \newterm{Completion Queue Entries} (CQE), produced (appended) by the kernel when an operation completes and then consumed by the application.
73The submission ring contains indexes into the SQE array (denoted \emph{S}) containing entries describing the I/O operation to start;
74the completion ring contains entries for the completed I/O operation.
75Multiple @io_uring@ instances can be created, in which case they each have a copy of the data structures in the figure.
78        \centering
79        \input{io_uring.pstex_t}
80        \caption{Overview of \lstinline{io_uring}}
81%       \caption[Overview of \lstinline{io_uring}]{Overview of \lstinline{io_uring} \smallskip\newline Two ring buffer are used to communicate with the kernel, one for completions~(right) and one for submissions~(left). The completion ring contains entries, \newterm{CQE}s: Completion Queue Entries, that are produced by the kernel when an operation completes and then consumed by the application. On the other hand, the application produces \newterm{SQE}s: Submit Queue Entries, which it appends to the submission ring for the kernel to consume. Unlike the completion ring, the submission ring does not contain the entries directly, it indexes into the SQE array (denoted \emph{S}) instead.}
82        \label{fig:iouring}
85New \io operations are submitted to the kernel following 4 steps, which use the components shown in the figure.
88An SQE is allocated from the pre-allocated array (denoted \emph{S} in Figure~\ref{fig:iouring}). This array is created at the same time as the @io_uring@ instance, is in kernel-locked memory visible by both the kernel and the application, and has a fixed size determined at creation. How these entries are allocated is not important for the functioning of @io_uring@, the only requirement is that no entry is reused before the kernel has consumed it.
90The SQE is filled according to the desired operation. This step is straight forward, the only detail worth mentioning is that SQEs have a @user_data@ field that must be filled in order to match submission and completion entries.
92The SQE is submitted to the submission ring by appending the index of the SQE to the ring following regular ring buffer steps: \lstinline{buffer[head] = item; head++}. Since the head is visible to the kernel, some memory barriers may be required to prevent the compiler from reordering these operations. Since the submission ring is a regular ring buffer, more than one SQE can be added at once and the head is updated only after all entries are updated.
94The kernel is notified of the change to the ring using the system call @io_uring_enter@. The number of elements appended to the submission ring is passed as a parameter and the number of elements consumed is returned. The @io_uring@ instance can be constructed so this step is not required, but this requires elevated privilege.% and an early version of @io_uring@ had additional restrictions.
98The completion side is simpler: applications call @io_uring_enter@ with the flag @IORING_ENTER_GETEVENTS@ to wait on a desired number of operations to complete. The same call can be used to both submit SQEs and wait for operations to complete. When operations do complete, the kernel appends a CQE to the completion ring and advances the head of the ring. Each CQE contains the result of the operation as well as a copy of the @user_data@ field of the SQE that triggered the operation. It is not necessary to call @io_uring_enter@ to get new events because the kernel can directly modify the completion ring. The system call is only needed if the application wants to block waiting for operations to complete.
101The @io_uring_enter@ system call is protected by a lock inside the kernel. This protection means that concurrent call to @io_uring_enter@ using the same instance are possible, but there is no performance gained from parallel calls to @io_uring_enter@. It is possible to do the first three submission steps in parallel, however, doing so requires careful synchronization.
103@io_uring@ also introduces constraints on the number of simultaneous operations that can be ``in flight''. Obviously, SQEs are allocated from a fixed-size array, meaning that there is a hard limit to how many SQEs can be submitted at once. In addition, the @io_uring_enter@ system call can fail because ``The  kernel [...] ran out of resources to handle [a request]'' or ``The application is attempting to overcommit the number of requests it can  have  pending.''. This restriction means \io request bursts may have to be subdivided and submitted in chunks at a later time.
105\subsection{Multiplexing \io: Submission}
106The submission side is the most complicated aspect of @io_uring@ and its design largely dictates the completion side.
108While it is possible to do the first steps of submission in parallel, the duration of the system call scales with number of entries submitted. The consequence is that the amount of parallelism used to prepare submissions for the next system call is limited. Beyond this limit, the length of the system call is the throughput limiting factor. I concluded from early experiments that preparing submissions seems to take about as long as the system call itself, which means that with a single @io_uring@ instance, there is no benefit in terms of \io throughput to having more than two \glspl{hthrd}. Therefore the design of the submission engine must manage multiple instances of @io_uring@ running in parallel, effectively sharding @io_uring@ instances. Similarly to scheduling, this sharding can be done privately, \ie, one instance per \glspl{proc}, or in decoupled pools, \ie, a pool of \glspl{proc} use a pool of @io_uring@ instances without one-to-one coupling between any given instance and any given \gls{proc}.
110\subsubsection{Pool of Instances}
111One approach is to have multiple shared instances. \Glspl{thrd} attempting \io operations pick one of the available instances and submits operations to that instance. Since the completion will be sent to the same instance, all instances with pending operations must be polled continuously\footnote{As will be described in Chapter~\ref{practice}, this does not translate into constant CPU usage.}. Since there is no coupling between \glspl{proc} and @io_uring@ instances in this approach, \glspl{thrd} running on more than one \gls{proc} can attempt to submit to the same instance concurrently. Since @io_uring@ effectively sets the amount of sharding needed to avoid contention on its internal locks, performance in this approach is based on two aspects: the synchronization needed to submit does not induce more contention than @io_uring@ already does and the scheme to route \io requests to specific @io_uring@ instances does not introduce contention. This second aspect has an oversized importance because it comes into play before the sharding of instances, and as such, all \glspl{hthrd} can contend on the routing algorithm.
113Allocation in this scheme can be handled fairly easily. Free SQEs, \ie, SQEs that aren't currently being used to represent a request, can be written to safely and have a field called @user_data@ which the kernel only reads to copy to CQEs. Allocation also requires no ordering guarantee as all free SQEs are interchangeable. This requires a simple concurrent bag. The only added complexity is that the number of SQEs is fixed, which means allocation can fail. This failure needs to be pushed up to the routing algorithm, \glspl{thrd} attempting \io operations must not be directed to @io_uring@ instances without any available SQEs. Ideally, the routing algorithm would block operations up-front if none of the instances have available SQEs.
115Once an SQE is allocated, \glspl{thrd} can fill them normally, they simply need to keep track of the SQE index and which instance it belongs to.
117Once an SQE is filled in, what needs to happen is that the SQE must be added to the submission ring buffer, an operation that is not thread-safe on itself, and the kernel must be notified using the @io_uring_enter@ system call. The submission ring buffer is the same size as the pre-allocated SQE buffer, therefore pushing to the ring buffer cannot fail\footnote{This is because it is invalid to have the same \lstinline{sqe} multiple times in the ring buffer.}. However, as mentioned, the system call itself can fail with the expectation that it will be retried once some of the already submitted operations complete. Since multiple SQEs can be submitted to the kernel at once, it is important to strike a balance between batching and latency. Operations that are ready to be submitted should be batched together in few system calls, but at the same time, operations should not be left pending for long period of times before being submitted. This can be handled by either designating one of the submitting \glspl{thrd} as the being responsible for the system call for the current batch of SQEs or by having some other party regularly submitting all ready SQEs, \eg, the poller \gls{thrd} mentioned later in this section.
119In the case of designating a \gls{thrd}, ideally, when multiple \glspl{thrd} attempt to submit operations to the same @io_uring@ instance, all requests would be batched together and one of the \glspl{thrd} would do the system call on behalf of the others, referred to as the \newterm{submitter}. In practice however, it is important that the \io requests are not left pending indefinitely and as such, it may be required to have a current submitter and a next submitter. Indeed, as long as there is a ``next'' submitter, \glspl{thrd} submitting new \io requests can move on, knowing that some future system call will include their request. Once the system call is done, the submitter must also free SQEs so that the allocator can reused them.
121Finally, the completion side is much simpler since the @io_uring@ system call enforces a natural synchronization point. Polling simply needs to regularly do the system call, go through the produced CQEs and communicate the result back to the originating \glspl{thrd}. Since CQEs only own a signed 32 bit result, in addition to the copy of the @user_data@ field, all that is needed to communicate the result is a simple future~\cite{wiki:future}. If the submission side does not designate submitters, polling can also submit all SQEs as it is polling events.  A simple approach to polling is to allocate a \gls{thrd} per @io_uring@ instance and simply let the poller \glspl{thrd} poll their respective instances when scheduled. This design is especially convenient for reasons explained in Chapter~\ref{practice}.
123With this pool of instances approach, the big advantage is that it is fairly flexible. It does not impose restrictions on what \glspl{thrd} submitting \io operations can and cannot do between allocations and submissions. It also can gracefully handle running out of resources, SQEs or the kernel returning @EBUSY@. The down side to this is that many of the steps used for submitting need complex synchronization to work properly. The routing and allocation algorithm needs to keep track of which ring instances have available SQEs, block incoming requests if no instance is available, prevent barging if \glspl{thrd} are already queued up waiting for SQEs and handle SQEs being freed. The submission side needs to safely append SQEs to the ring buffer, make sure no SQE is dropped or left pending forever, notify the allocation side when SQEs can be reused and handle the kernel returning @EBUSY@. Sharding the @io_uring@ instances should alleviate much of the contention caused by this, but all this synchronization may still have non-zero cost.
125\subsubsection{Private Instances}
126Another approach is to simply create one ring instance per \gls{proc}. This alleviate the need for synchronization on the submissions, requiring only that \glspl{thrd} are not interrupted in between two submission steps. This is effectively the same requirement as using @thread_local@ variables. Since SQEs that are allocated must be submitted to the same ring, on the same \gls{proc}, this effectively forces the application to submit SQEs in allocation order\footnote{The actual requirement is that \glspl{thrd} cannot context switch between allocation and submission. This requirement means that from the subsystem's point of view, the allocation and submission are sequential. To remove this requirement, a \gls{thrd} would need the ability to ``yield to a specific \gls{proc}'', \ie, park with the promise that it will be run next on a specific \gls{proc}, the \gls{proc} attached to the correct ring. This is not a current or planned feature of \CFA.}, greatly simplifying both allocation and submission. In this design, allocation and submission form a ring partitioned ring buffer as shown in Figure~\ref{fig:pring}. Once added to the ring buffer, the attached \gls{proc} has a significant amount of flexibility with regards to when to do the system call. Possible options are: when the \gls{proc} runs out of \glspl{thrd} to run, after running a given number of threads \glspl{thrd}, etc.
129        \centering
130        \input{pivot_ring.pstex_t}
131        \caption[Partitioned ring buffer]{Partitioned ring buffer \smallskip\newline Allocated sqes are appending to the first partition. When submitting, the partition is simply advanced to include all the sqes that should be submitted. The kernel considers the partition as the head of the ring.}
132        \label{fig:pring}
135This approach has the advantage that it does not require much of the synchronization needed in the shared approach. This comes at the cost that \glspl{thrd} submitting \io operations have less flexibility, they cannot park or yield, and several exceptional cases are handled poorly. Instances running out of SQEs cannot run \glspl{thrd} wanting to do \io operations, in such a case the \gls{thrd} needs to be moved to a different \gls{proc}, the only current way of achieving this would be to @yield()@ hoping to be scheduled on a different \gls{proc}, which is not guaranteed. Another problematic case is that \glspl{thrd} that do not park for long periods of time will delay the submission of any SQE not already submitted. This issue is similar to fairness issues which schedulers that use work-stealing mentioned in the previous chapter.
140Finally, the last important part of the \io subsystem is it's interface. There are multiple approaches that can be offered to programmers, each with advantages and disadvantages. The new \io subsystem can replace the C runtime's API or extend it. And in the later case the interface can go from very similar to vastly different. The following sections discuss some useful options using @read@ as an example. The standard Linux interface for C is :
142@ssize_t read(int fd, void *buf, size_t count);@.
145Replacing the C \glsxtrshort{api}
147\subsection{Synchronous Extension}
149\subsection{Asynchronous Extension}
151\subsection{Interface directly to \lstinline{io_uring}}
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