Differences between revisions 54 and 55
Revision 54 as of 2007-04-27 17:11:19
Size: 6249
Revision 55 as of 2009-03-16 03:30:58
Size: 6249
Editor: anonymous
Comment: converted to 1.6 markup
No differences found!

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.


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
    • 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
    • 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
    • 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 of a locking algorithm

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

We finally failed due to the coarseness of O_EXCL and the 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