RSoC: improving drivers and kernel - part 6

By 4lDO2 on


So far it’s been two weeks since my third RSoC began, where so far I have mainly worked on moving large parts of kernel code, which deal with process management, to userspace. In this blog post I will try summarizing what has been accomplished so far, and exciting things I have started but not finished.

userspace_fexec (and later userspace_clone)

(This feature is not yet merged, but available on my respective userspace_fexec branches in kernel, syscall and relibc.)

Currently, the kernel has many syscalls related to process management as would be expected in a Unix-like system, such as fexec, clone, kill, waitpid, exit. Of the first two, fexec inherently is not as general as it could be, and while the reasons to allow other binfmts than ELF in the kernel may be few, moving it to userspace simplifies the kernel and if implemented correctly does not impair performance or functionality. clone is not as complex as fexec, but still calls fmap to re-obtain grants from the kernel.

The new implementation is in (my fork of) relibc, in execve, fork (does what clone without CLONE_VM used to do) and pte_clone (for threads, and does what clone with CLONE_VM used to do). The execve implementation is shared with escalated (a daemon run as root which is used to implement setuid/setgid) and uses interfaces from the proc: scheme (also used by ptrace) to change e.g. the process name, signal stack, address space, and file table in the case of clone.

If the kernel no longer understands ELF (well, it still uses goblin for resolving symbols when printing backtraces within the kernel), then it must obviously somehow load init. The way I implemented it was to add a new binary, named bootstrap, which starts extremely simple. The kernel simply loads initfs:bin/bootstrap as read+write+execute into address 0x0 and jumps to a fixed offset. A tiny stub is written in assembly, which sets up an environment for relibc and calls the normal _start entry point it provides. As soon as it relibc calls back into main(), it runs the userspace implementation execve("initfs:bin/init", empty_args, kernel_envs), and init continues as usual.

While syscall::process has shrunk by approximately 1500 lines, scheme::proc has gotten more powerful interfaces, including the ability to switch processes' address spaces (used by fork and execve), switching file tables (used by fork), transferring grants between address spaces (used by fork), and setting uid/gid if you’re root (used by escalated). The page table handling code has also been partially refactored so that threads now share the entire address space, and not simply what was previously the grant area. Some syscalls may also be replaced by the proc: scheme, for example chdir and getcwd.


Just because there is no longer io_uring in the title does not mean it has been abandoned! However, last summer, optimization of the nvmed driver using io_uring turned out to be harder than expected, pointing out that there is room for many other optimizations in the kernel, and perhaps that userspace-to-userspace as I mentioned in the io_uring RFC might be preferable for such situations, more than a syscall-multiplexing kernel would be (it could also have something to do with how it was benchmarked). And, user threads for any given process have temporarily been placed all on the same hardware thread. Meanwhile, I have also during the year been working a bit on a runqueue-based O(1) scheduler (O(n) with respect to the number of timers though).

That said, with the introduction of file descriptor forwarding, and the possibilities for sandboxing that follows, the current syscall interface may soon be reworked. For example, openat may allow opening new files from existing files even for processes in the null namespace, and there is an existing limitation that syscalls handled by schemes can only use up to 4 arguments. For that, the kernel-to-userspace io_urings, also mentioned before, can replace the current packet-based API with a ring-buffer interface (probably the same as is already implemented in io_uring) that would offer lower latency. In that case, a potential syscall-multiplexing (as I halfway implemented it last summer) kernel would also reduce complexity from 2x2 (syscalls initiated either from io_uring or blocking, and handled either by packets or io_uring) to 2x1 (client is blocking/io_uring, scheme only uses io_uring for handling requests).

The most exciting thing the new AddrSpace refactor will simplify, is implementing on-demand paging. First, page tables are now always locked upon access, and, all userspace virtual memory allocations now occur via Grant. In the best-case scenario, and if I don’t prioritize drivers/io_uring/scheduler instead, I’ll be able to implement on-demand paging before the end of this summer.

And of course, while both the userspace replacements of fexec and clone, as I implemented them now, are capable of making the OS boot all the way to desktop (and even implements setuid/setgid securely (in theory)), there are some things which still need to be finished. PTRACE_EVENT_CLONE is no longer generated (but could be, since creating a process via proc:new still (currently) copies e.g. uid from the caller (due to the lack of an interface to set uid for other processes unless you’re root). vfork is no longer supported either (in clone and exec, but remains in exit), but could be implemented in userspace as well and requires no complex kernel interface. And, there is memory corruption (only) in orblogin and background, but (1) it may be unrelated given that the new Grant “allocator” now reuses addresses more often than before, which debugging suggests has something to do with it, and (2) it was not present before userspace clone, which should make it easier to debug.

The kernel initfs implementation, which very recently was rewritten to use a proper filesystem format (as opposed to a source-level hack that required recompilation every time initfs had to be changed), can also be moved to userspace, if the kernel loads the raw initfs slice rather than loading initfs:bin/bootstrap.