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= On Locking schemes on device files and device drivers = = On Locking Schemes on Linux Device Drivers =
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recently we (cdrkit and cdrskin developers) came accross increasing
problems with reliable and safe device locking. This paper enlightens the issues behind the scenes and presents possible future solutions.
recently we (cdrkit and libburnia developers) came accross increasing
problems with reliable and safe device locking. This paper
collects our ponderings after having received this advise from Alan Cox
on LKML: http://lkml.org/lkml/2007/3/31/175 and having sincerely attempted to solve the problem in user space.
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Our original concern is
the influence of even read-only operations on optical media drives
(recorders) during their duty as recorders -- depending on the device
model such read-only work may interrupt the process badly practically
destroying the medium.
Our concern is the influence of even read-only operations on
optical media drives (recorders) during their duty as recorders --
depending on the device model such interference can spoil the
process of recording, eventually wasting the medium.
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Since many programs already do act on such devices in an unsafe manner,
either willingly (e.g. liblkid) or unwillingly (e.g. hald, opening with
O_EXCL but still clashing with cdr applications working on the competing
sg driver), we see the need for reliable communication in order to
ensure proper device locking where appropriate, in a way which is
appropriate for the particular application. In the following document,
first the currently possible mechanisms are itemized with their
advantages and their problems, followed by a draft of a locking scheme
which shall cope with the particular requirements and which may be
implemented in a library shared by our applications later.
Since many programs already act on such devices we see the need for
reliable communication in order to allow proper device locking if
good will for cooperation is present.
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State of the practice
---------------------
But in short: Good will seems not to be enough. We failed to find a viable method for the nexessary coordination of the participants.
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Currently, following mechanisms can be considered:
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1: O_EXCL locking
   Principle: passing of the O_EXCL flag to the open call. The device is
   locked exclusively for the calling PID, the lock is maintained in the
   device driver to the particular major/minor combination.
   Pros:
    - reliable for a device accessible through one driver
   Cons:
== State of the practice ==

There are various locking techniques used in other areas which are more or less applicable in our case.

=== Path/Inode based locking mechanisms ===

In general, these mechanisms are not optimally appropriate for our purpose.
They use the filename or inode as identity. In our case this imposes problems:
but they lack on two places which make then not reliable when used alone:
 * they do not cope with multiple device files which imply the access to the same driver through different files
 * they do not automatically cope with multiple device '''drivers''' accessible through different co-existing user space interfaces, like with sg vs. sr drivers.

We evaluated:

 * Lock files associated with target file

 Principle: an additional file is created during the action on the real target file. See http://www.pathname.com/fhs/pub/fhs-2.3.html#VARLOCKLOCKFILES

 Pros:
  * regular filesystem operation, no additional infrastructure required
   
 Cons:
  * The location and name of the lock file need to be known and discussed upfront among all application developers, or be documented excessively
  * Permission problems may disallow the creation of lock files (security issues), especially for self-compiled applications and having no root permissions to install them in a required way
  * Special precautions are necessary against stale locks

 * fcntl(2) exclusive file locking

 Principle: lock applied on open file handles. Thus probably refering to an inode. See fcntl(2) for details.
 
 Pros:
  * POSIX

 Cons:
  * needs open(2) as precondition which has to be avoided on unlocked device files
  * locks can be released inadvertedly by submodules which just open and close the same file (inode ?).

==== Other locking mechanisms ====
  
 * O_EXCL locking

 Principle: passing of the O_EXCL flag to the open call of a device file. The device is locked exclusively for the calling PID, the lock is maintained in the device driver to the particular major/minor combination.

 Pros:
  * reliable advisory exclusive locking for a device within one device driver
 
 Cons:
  * for sr it requires kernel 2.6.x (x>=7 or so), with sg it might work on 2.4.
  * O_EXCL already has a meaning for software like libbklid and this is not the same as we would need.


 * System V Semaphores

 See man semget(2), semop(2) SEM_UNDO. They have been considered and rejected mainly because of too many potential device names which would need pre-allocated semaphore objects.

----------------------------------------------------------------

None of the mechanisms above solves the problem with the co-existing drivers for sr and sg, anyway.
 

=== Applicability on CD/(HD)DVD/BD drives ===

As explained in the introduction, the locking is important on optical media
recording due to the delicate operation mode during the recording.
Ideally, no other application should touch them. Even reading info from the
drive can spoil the recording run.
Currently we are aware of at least the following participants in drive
collisions. They take differing precautions for this case, of which none
is really able to prevent inadverted open(2) of a busy drive under all
circumstances.

 * mount: the block device is mounted with the O_EXCL flag but the mount executable also uses libblkid which opens the devices without locking and reads magic data from it. (The problem is not with mutual exclusion of mount(8) and burn programs but with libblkid justifiably misunderstanding the meaning of our O_EXCL lock.)

 * hald (HAL daemon): frequently opens the block devices with O_EXCL flag.

 * wodim: opens the devices with O_EXCL flag. Opening /dev/sg is possible and happens more likely with versions prior to 1.1.4.

 * growisofs: opens the block devices with O_EXCL flag. Opening /dev/sg was never encouraged and does not work on kernel 2.4 (not tested yet on 2.6).

 * cdrskin (via libburn): opens the devices with O_EXCL flag. It uses only /dev/sr* exor /dev/hd* for serious operations on the drive. Operations on other path representations of the same device are restricted to open(2) O_RDONLY and to obtaining SCSI parameters host,channel,id,lun.

 * cdrecord: no locking. Author recommends to do it like Solaris does (which seems to do explicite locking, maintained internally on device driver or on major/minor pairs).

Any of the listed programs is currently able to spoil a recording run
just by its proper operation if only the circumstances are unfortunate enough.
This compilation is mostly heuristic and may be erroneous in details.
Whatever, the problems and the users' disappointment are real.

=== Hopeless proposal locking algorithm ===

We developed in dialog with Ted T'so a proposal which with substantial effort would nearly fulfill the coordination needs of good willing programs. Nearly but not sufficiently.

We finally failed due to the coarseness of O_EXCL and the feeble implementation of fcntl(F_SETLK) which is not really suitable for a modular software architecture.

See the detailed specification and declaration of failure at
http://libburnia.pykix.org/browser/libburn/trunk/doc/ddlp.txt?format=txt

On Locking Schemes on Linux Device Drivers

Hello fellow application developer or maintainer,

recently we (cdrkit and libburnia developers) came accross increasing problems with reliable and safe device locking. This paper collects our ponderings after having received this advise from Alan Cox on LKML: http://lkml.org/lkml/2007/3/31/175 and having sincerely attempted to solve the problem in user space.

Introduction

Our concern is the influence of even read-only operations on optical media drives (recorders) during their duty as recorders -- depending on the device model such interference can spoil the process of recording, eventually wasting the medium.

Since many programs already act on such devices we see the need for reliable communication in order to allow proper device locking if good will for cooperation is present.

But in short: Good will seems not to be enough. We failed to find a viable method for the nexessary coordination of the participants.

State of the practice

There are various locking techniques used in other areas which are more or less applicable in our case.

Path/Inode based locking mechanisms

In general, these mechanisms are not optimally appropriate for our purpose. They use the filename or inode as identity. In our case this imposes problems: but they lack on two places which make then not reliable when used alone:

  • they do not cope with multiple device files which imply the access to the same driver through different files
  • they do not automatically cope with multiple device drivers accessible through different co-existing user space interfaces, like with sg vs. sr drivers.

We evaluated:

  • Lock files associated with target file

    Principle: an additional file is created during the action on the real target file. See http://www.pathname.com/fhs/pub/fhs-2.3.html#VARLOCKLOCKFILES Pros:

    • regular filesystem operation, no additional infrastructure required
    Cons:
    • The location and name of the lock file need to be known and discussed upfront among all application developers, or be documented excessively
    • Permission problems may disallow the creation of lock files (security issues), especially for self-compiled applications and having no root permissions to install them in a required way
    • Special precautions are necessary against stale locks
  • fcntl(2) exclusive file locking Principle: lock applied on open file handles. Thus probably refering to an inode. See fcntl(2) for details. Pros:
    • POSIX
    Cons:
    • needs open(2) as precondition which has to be avoided on unlocked device files
    • locks can be released inadvertedly by submodules which just open and close the same file (inode ?).

Other locking mechanisms

  • O_EXCL locking Principle: passing of the O_EXCL flag to the open call of a device file. The device is locked exclusively for the calling PID, the lock is maintained in the device driver to the particular major/minor combination. Pros:
    • reliable advisory exclusive locking for a device within one device driver
    Cons:
    • for sr it requires kernel 2.6.x (x>=7 or so), with sg it might work on 2.4.

    • O_EXCL already has a meaning for software like libbklid and this is not the same as we would need.
  • System V Semaphores See man semget(2), semop(2) SEM_UNDO. They have been considered and rejected mainly because of too many potential device names which would need pre-allocated semaphore objects.


None of the mechanisms above solves the problem with the co-existing drivers for sr and sg, anyway.

Applicability on CD/(HD)DVD/BD drives

As explained in the introduction, the locking is important on optical media recording due to the delicate operation mode during the recording. Ideally, no other application should touch them. Even reading info from the drive can spoil the recording run. Currently we are aware of at least the following participants in drive collisions. They take differing precautions for this case, of which none is really able to prevent inadverted open(2) of a busy drive under all circumstances.

  • mount: the block device is mounted with the O_EXCL flag but the mount executable also uses libblkid which opens the devices without locking and reads magic data from it. (The problem is not with mutual exclusion of mount(8) and burn programs but with libblkid justifiably misunderstanding the meaning of our O_EXCL lock.)
  • hald (HAL daemon): frequently opens the block devices with O_EXCL flag.
  • wodim: opens the devices with O_EXCL flag. Opening /dev/sg is possible and happens more likely with versions prior to 1.1.4.
  • growisofs: opens the block devices with O_EXCL flag. Opening /dev/sg was never encouraged and does not work on kernel 2.4 (not tested yet on 2.6).
  • cdrskin (via libburn): opens the devices with O_EXCL flag. It uses only /dev/sr* exor /dev/hd* for serious operations on the drive. Operations on other path representations of the same device are restricted to open(2) O_RDONLY and to obtaining SCSI parameters host,channel,id,lun.
  • cdrecord: no locking. Author recommends to do it like Solaris does (which seems to do explicite locking, maintained internally on device driver or on major/minor pairs).

Any of the listed programs is currently able to spoil a recording run just by its proper operation if only the circumstances are unfortunate enough. This compilation is mostly heuristic and may be erroneous in details. Whatever, the problems and the users' disappointment are real.

Hopeless proposal locking algorithm

We developed in dialog with Ted T'so a proposal which with substantial effort would nearly fulfill the coordination needs of good willing programs. Nearly but not sufficiently.

We finally failed due to the coarseness of O_EXCL and the feeble implementation of fcntl(F_SETLK) which is not really suitable for a modular software architecture.

See the detailed specification and declaration of failure at http://libburnia.pykix.org/browser/libburn/trunk/doc/ddlp.txt?format=txt