diary at Telent Netowrks

Kernel interfaces vs Glibc/POSIX: discuss#

Fri, 14 Nov 2003 13:05:11 +0000

Kernel interfaces vs Glibc/POSIX: discuss.

One thing that working on SBCL threads has really brought home to me is that there is sometimes much better taste in API design in the Linux kernel than there is in the POSIX standards that the GNU/Linux project as a whole seeks to follow.

clone() vs POSIX threads is one example: either I can have this nice clean interface where the receiver of a signal is the person who asked for it or otherwise induced it, or I can have some weird monstrosity where signals are sent randomly to any thread that hasn't blocked them. But I'm sure I've talked about that before, at the UKUUG conference if nowhere else.

I think I'm finding similar issues in futexes. The system call support for futexes is, at base, really really simple: you have

But then, you have the "approved" method of accessing it from userspace (futex(4)): basically a counting semaphore which uses these syscalls when the lock is contended. But we didn't want a counting semaphore. And even that you're not supposed to use directly, instead relying on your trusty NPTL implementation - which means FFI bindings to pthread_* functions in glibc, which means function call overhead - even in the uncontended case - if they really are functions, and screwing around with glue code if as I suspect half of them turn out to be inlined or macros.

So, considered in isolation, I think good taste requires that I call sysfutex() directly (modulo that I'm not sure it didn't get deprecated and replaced with a separate futex* call for each different operation sometime in 2.5). Considered in the context of programs that do FFI to libraries that expect the full layered NPTL experience, though, will we interoperate?

At root the question is: are we building a Lisp that runs on a Linux system, or a Lisp that runs on a GNU/Linux system? It's ironic that I can use Richard Stallman's nomenclature to describe the difference: the Linux system that he's not involved with seems pretty language-agnostic, but the GNU system, which was originally created by this Lisp advocate and former Lisp Machine hacker, seems to only really like C programmers. Good luck finding the value of SIGRTMIN in any other language, anyway. (Yes, the Glibc behaviour described there is certaintly allowed by POSIX. It's not particularly helpful and I don't think it really holds up against the Principle of Least Surprise, but I can't argue that the SUS says "integral expression" and not something more helpful like "constant expression")