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 enlightens the issues behind the scenes and presents possible future solutions.


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.

Since many programs already do act on such devices in an unsafe manner, either willingly (e.g. liblkid) or accidentally (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.

State of the practice

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

General inter-process locking mechanisms

In general, all the mechanisms listed below are not optimally appropriate for our purpose. They lack on two places which make then not reliable when used alone:

Finally, they may be sufficient to lower the risk on inappropriate operation. Which exactly are available in the wild?

Advanced Linux-specific locking mechanisms

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 application should touch them, even reading from the media is an evil task. But how does the state of the practice look like?

Proposed general locking algorithms

What can be done within the CD/DVD tool community

The following method is proposed to create a midway between the limitations of kernel and the requirements of others, also unifying the way of dealing with the device locks.

The locking methods with additional lock files are identified as very cumbersome because of inconsistent security settings on different applications, see above. Instead, this proposal relies on a two-step locking method and does not yet solve the ambiguity problem of sr-scd-sg paths:

  1. Open the device. For applications that operate in a delicate way (burning tools), O_EXCL shall be set. For others, it may be omited.
  2. Set or check the additional fcntl lock on the device file. It must be exclusive! Sample code (by Thomas Schmitt)

        struct flock lockthing;
        f = open(device, mode|O_EXCL);
        if (f != -1) {
             memset(&lockthing, 0, sizeof(lockthing));
             lockthing.l_type = F_WRLCK;
             lockthing.l_whence = SEEK_SET;
             lockthing.l_start = 0;
             lockthing.l_len = 0;
             if (fcntl(f, F_SETLK, &lockthing)) {
                /* user feedback, report error, etc... */
                f = -1;

Normally, fcntl(2) imposes advisory locking. But the sysadmin can make this mandatory locking by a mount option. (But is /dev/ mount(8)ed at all ?)

Unique path resolution is necessary so all interested processes come together at the same inode where this locking is guaranteed to collide. (Does F_SETLK work with all the implementations of directory /dev/ ?)

Links or additional device paths created by mknod(1) can be translated into /dev/sg* resp. /dev/sr* by help of call stat(2) and its result element .st_rdev. But the jump from /dev/sg* to /dev/sr* is not possible via stat(2). For that we need open(2) O_RDONLY, ioctl(SCSI_IOCTL_GET_IDLUN), close(2).

The translation is done by obtaining info from the given path, by iterating over the desired device paths /dev/hd%c , /dev/sg%d , /dev/sr%d, and by comparing their info with the one we look for. Kernel 2.6: If the result is a /dev/sg%d then it has to be translated into a /dev/sr%d in another step.

NOTE: there are sysfs symlinks that set up a path usable to map exactly. However, this depends on a mounted sysfs and the required symlinks have also been declared deprecated in the recent Linux kernel versions.

Kernel 2.4 imposes the problem that ioctl(SG_IO) is not possible with sr, so most of the programs have to use sg. Only growisofs uses sr via ioctl(CDROM_SEND_PACKET). We will possibly not come to a completely sufficient agreement under these circumstances. Well, we 2.4ers are used to suffer neglect. (sob, hehe)

Obstacles for a better solution

Why not FHS compliant /var/lock/ files?

First: races, stale locks.

Second: unclear or unreliable cleanup technique, dangling bad lockfiles possible

Third: The most obvious problem is the usual permission setting of /var/lock :

SuSE 9.0 (kernel 2.4):
  drwxrwxr-x    3 root     uucp         4096 Apr  4     05:07 /var/lock
SuSE 9.3 (kernel 2.6):
  drwxrwxr-t    4 root     uucp         4096 2007-04-04 17:50 /var/lock
| Fedora Core 3.x:
|   drwxrwxr-x    5 root     lock         4096 Apr  4     04:03 /var/lock
| Debian gives rw-permission to anybody and thus would be no problem.

This system may work with the plain old UUCP program and few others programs with low device opening activity AND administrated by root but is a real PITA nowadays.

The better solution would be ...

(to come after breakfast :)