Review Checklist for RCU Patches
This document contains a checklist for producing and reviewing patches
that make use of RCU. Violating any of the rules listed below will
result in the same sorts of problems that leaving out a locking primitive
would cause. This list is based on experiences reviewing such patches
over a rather long period of time, but improvements are always welcome!
0. Is RCU being applied to a read-mostly situation? If the data
structure is updated more than about 10% of the time, then you
should strongly consider some other approach, unless detailed
performance measurements show that RCU is nonetheless the right
tool for the job. Yes, RCU does reduce read-side overhead by
increasing write-side overhead, which is exactly why normal uses
of RCU will do much more reading than updating.
Another exception is where performance is not an issue, and RCU
provides a simpler implementation. An example of this situation
is the dynamic NMI code in the Linux 2.6 kernel, at least on
architectures where NMIs are rare.
Yet another exception is where the low real-time latency of RCU's
read-side primitives is critically important.
1. Does the update code have proper mutual exclusion?
RCU does allow -readers- to run (almost) naked, but -writers- must
still use some sort of mutual exclusion, such as:
b. atomic operations, or
c. restricting updates to a single task.
If you choose #b, be prepared to describe how you have handled
memory barriers on weakly ordered machines (pretty much all of
them -- even x86 allows later loads to be reordered to precede
earlier stores), and be prepared to explain why this added
complexity is worthwhile. If you choose #c, be prepared to
explain how this single task does not become a major bottleneck on
big multiprocessor machines (for example, if the task is updating
information relating to itself that other tasks can read, there
by definition can be no bottleneck).
2. Do the RCU read-side critical sections make proper use of
rcu_read_lock() and friends? These primitives are needed
to prevent grace periods from ending prematurely, which
could result in data being unceremoniously freed out from
under your read-side code, which can greatly increase the
actuarial risk of your kernel.
As a rough rule of thumb, any dereference of an RCU-protected
pointer must be covered by rcu_read_lock(), rcu_read_lock_bh(),
rcu_read_lock_sched(), or by the appropriate update-side lock.
Disabling of preemption can serve as rcu_read_lock_sched(), but
is less readable.
3. Does the update code tolerate concurrent accesses?
The whole point of RCU is to permit readers to run without
any locks or atomic operations. This means that readers will
be running while updates are in progress. There are a number
of ways to handle this concurrency, depending on the situation:
a. Use the RCU variants of the list and hlist update
primitives to add, remove, and replace elements on
an RCU-protected list. Alternatively, use the other
RCU-protected data structures that have been added to
the Linux kernel.
This is almost always the best approach.
b. Proceed as in (a) above, but also maintain per-element
locks (that are acquired by both readers and writers)
that guard per-element state. Of course, fields that
the readers refrain from accessing can be guarded by
some other lock acquired only by updaters, if desired.
This works quite well, also.
c. Make updates appear atomic to readers. For example,
pointer updates to properly aligned fields will
appear atomic, as will individual atomic primitives.
Sequences of perations performed under a lock will -not-
appear to be atomic to RCU readers, nor will sequences
of multiple atomic primitives.
This can work, but is starting to get a bit tricky.
d. Carefully order the updates and the reads so that
readers see valid data at all phases of the update.
This is often more difficult than it sounds, especially
given modern CPUs' tendency to reorder memory references.
One must usually liberally sprinkle memory barriers
(smp_wmb(), smp_rmb(), smp_mb()) through the code,
making it difficult to understand and to test.
It is usually better to group the changing data into
a separate structure, so that the change may be made
to appear atomic by updating a pointer to reference
a new structure containing updated values.
4. Weakly ordered CPUs pose special challenges. Almost all CPUs
are weakly ordered -- even x86 CPUs allow later loads to be
reordered to precede earlier stores. RCU code must take all of
the following measures to prevent memory-corruption problems:
a. Readers must maintain proper ordering of their memory
accesses. The rcu_dereference() primitive ensures that
the CPU picks up the pointer before it picks up the data
that the pointer points to. This really is necessary
on Alpha CPUs. If you don't believe me, see:
The rcu_dereference() primitive is also an excellent
documentation aid, letting the person reading the code
know exactly which pointers are protected by RCU.
Please note that compilers can also reorder code, and
they are becoming increasingly aggressive about doing
just that. The rcu_dereference() primitive therefore
also prevents destructive compiler optimizations.
The rcu_dereference() primitive is used by the
various "_rcu()" list-traversal primitives, such
as the list_for_each_entry_rcu(). Note that it is
perfectly legal (if redundant) for update-side code to
use rcu_dereference() and the "_rcu()" list-traversal
primitives. This is particularly useful in code that
is common to readers and updaters. However, lockdep
will complain if you access rcu_dereference() outside
of an RCU read-side critical section. See lockdep.txt
to learn what to do about this.
Of course, neither rcu_dereference() nor the "_rcu()"
list-traversal primitives can substitute for a good
concurrency design coordinating among multiple updaters.
b. If the list macros are being used, the list_add_tail_rcu()
and list_add_rcu() primitives must be used in order
to prevent weakly ordered machines from misordering
structure initialization and pointer planting.
Similarly, if the hlist macros are being used, the
hlist_add_head_rcu() primitive is required.
c. If the list macros are being used, the list_del_rcu()
primitive must be used to keep list_del()'s pointer
poisoning from inflicting toxic effects on concurrent
readers. Similarly, if the hlist macros are being used,
the hlist_del_rcu() primitive is required.
The list_replace_rcu() and hlist_replace_rcu() primitives
may be used to replace an old structure with a new one
in their respective types of RCU-protected lists.
d. Rules similar to (4b) and (4c) apply to the "hlist_nulls"
type of RCU-protected linked lists.
e. Updates must ensure that initialization of a given
structure happens before pointers to that structure are
publicized. Use the rcu_assign_pointer() primitive
when publicizing a pointer to a structure that can
be traversed by an RCU read-side critical section.
5. If call_rcu(), or a related primitive such as call_rcu_bh(),
call_rcu_sched(), or call_srcu() is used, the callback function
must be written to be called from softirq context. In particular,
it cannot block.
6. Since synchronize_rcu() can block, it cannot be called from
any sort of irq context. The same rule applies for
synchronize_rcu_bh(), synchronize_sched(), synchronize_srcu(),
synchronize_sched_expedite(), and synchronize_srcu_expedited().
The expedited forms of these primitives have the same semantics
as the non-expedited forms, but expediting is both expensive
and unfriendly to real-time workloads. Use of the expedited
primitives should be restricted to rare configuration-change
operations that would not normally be undertaken while a real-time
workload is running.
In particular, if you find yourself invoking one of the expedited
primitives repeatedly in a loop, please do everyone a favor:
Restructure your code so that it batches the updates, allowing
a single non-expedited primitive to cover the entire batch.
This will very likely be faster than the loop containing the
expedited primitive, and will be much much easier on the rest
of the system, especially to real-time workloads running on
the rest of the system.
In addition, it is illegal to call the expedited forms from
a CPU-hotplug notifier, or while holding a lock that is acquired
by a CPU-hotplug notifier. Failing to observe this restriction
will result in deadlock.
7. If the updater uses call_rcu() or synchronize_rcu(), then the
corresponding readers must use rcu_read_lock() and
rcu_read_unlock(). If the updater uses call_rcu_bh() or
synchronize_rcu_bh(), then the corresponding readers must
use rcu_read_lock_bh() and rcu_read_unlock_bh(). If the
updater uses call_rcu_sched() or synchronize_sched(), then
the corresponding readers must disable preemption, possibly
by calling rcu_read_lock_sched() and rcu_read_unlock_sched().
If the updater uses synchronize_srcu() or call_srcu(),
the the corresponding readers must use srcu_read_lock() and
srcu_read_unlock(), and with the same srcu_struct. The rules for
the expedited primitives are the same as for their non-expedited
counterparts. Mixing things up will result in confusion and
One exception to this rule: rcu_read_lock() and rcu_read_unlock()
may be substituted for rcu_read_lock_bh() and rcu_read_unlock_bh()
in cases where local bottom halves are already known to be
disabled, for example, in irq or softirq context. Commenting
such cases is a must, of course! And the jury is still out on
whether the increased speed is worth it.
8. Although synchronize_rcu() is slower than is call_rcu(), it
usually results in simpler code. So, unless update performance is
critically important, the updaters cannot block, or the latency of
synchronize_rcu() is visible from userspace, synchronize_rcu()
should be used in preference to call_rcu(). Furthermore,
kfree_rcu() usually results in even simpler code than does
synchronize_rcu() without synchronize_rcu()'s multi-millisecond
latency. So please take advantage of kfree_rcu()'s "fire and
forget" memory-freeing capabilities where it applies.
An especially important property of the synchronize_rcu()
primitive is that it automatically self-limits: if grace periods
are delayed for whatever reason, then the synchronize_rcu()
primitive will correspondingly delay updates. In contrast,
code using call_rcu() should explicitly limit update rate in
cases where grace periods are delayed, as failing to do so can
result in excessive realtime latencies or even OOM conditions.
Ways of gaining this self-limiting property when using call_rcu()
a. Keeping a count of the number of data-structure elements
used by the RCU-protected data structure, including
those waiting for a grace period to elapse. Enforce a
limit on this number, stalling updates as needed to allow
previously deferred frees to complete. Alternatively,
limit only the number awaiting deferred free rather than
the total number of elements.
One way to stall the updates is to acquire the update-side
mutex. (Don't try this with a spinlock -- other CPUs
spinning on the lock could prevent the grace period
from ever ending.) Another way to stall the updates
is for the updates to use a wrapper function around
the memory allocator, so that this wrapper function
simulates OOM when there is too much memory awaiting an
RCU grace period. There are of course many other
variations on this theme.
b. Limiting update rate. For example, if updates occur only
once per hour, then no explicit rate limiting is required,
unless your system is already badly broken. The dcache
subsystem takes this approach -- updates are guarded
by a global lock, limiting their rate.
c. Trusted update -- if updates can only be done manually by
superuser or some other trusted user, then it might not
be necessary to automatically limit them. The theory
here is that superuser already has lots of ways to crash
d. Use call_rcu_bh() rather than call_rcu(), in order to take
advantage of call_rcu_bh()'s faster grace periods.
e. Periodically invoke synchronize_rcu(), permitting a limited
number of updates per grace period.
The same cautions apply to call_rcu_bh(), call_rcu_sched(),
call_srcu(), and kfree_rcu().
9. All RCU list-traversal primitives, which include
rcu_dereference(), list_for_each_entry_rcu(), and
list_for_each_safe_rcu(), must be either within an RCU read-side
critical section or must be protected by appropriate update-side
locks. RCU read-side critical sections are delimited by
rcu_read_lock() and rcu_read_unlock(), or by similar primitives
such as rcu_read_lock_bh() and rcu_read_unlock_bh(), in which
case the matching rcu_dereference() primitive must be used in
order to keep lockdep happy, in this case, rcu_dereference_bh().
The reason that it is permissible to use RCU list-traversal
primitives when the update-side lock is held is that doing so
can be quite helpful in reducing code bloat when common code is
shared between readers and updaters. Additional primitives
are provided for this case, as discussed in lockdep.txt.
10. Conversely, if you are in an RCU read-side critical section,
and you don't hold the appropriate update-side lock, you -must-
use the "_rcu()" variants of the list macros. Failing to do so
will break Alpha, cause aggressive compilers to generate bad code,
and confuse people trying to read your code.
11. Note that synchronize_rcu() -only- guarantees to wait until
all currently executing rcu_read_lock()-protected RCU read-side
critical sections complete. It does -not- necessarily guarantee
that all currently running interrupts, NMIs, preempt_disable()
code, or idle loops will complete. Therefore, if your
read-side critical sections are protected by something other
than rcu_read_lock(), do -not- use synchronize_rcu().
Similarly, disabling preemption is not an acceptable substitute
for rcu_read_lock(). Code that attempts to use preemption
disabling where it should be using rcu_read_lock() will break
in real-time kernel builds.
If you want to wait for interrupt handlers, NMI handlers, and
code under the influence of preempt_disable(), you instead
need to use synchronize_irq() or synchronize_sched().
This same limitation also applies to synchronize_rcu_bh()
and synchronize_srcu(), as well as to the asynchronous and
expedited forms of the three primitives, namely call_rcu(),
call_rcu_bh(), call_srcu(), synchronize_rcu_expedited(),
synchronize_rcu_bh_expedited(), and synchronize_srcu_expedited().
12. Any lock acquired by an RCU callback must be acquired elsewhere
with softirq disabled, e.g., via spin_lock_irqsave(),
spin_lock_bh(), etc. Failing to disable irq on a given
acquisition of that lock will result in deadlock as soon as
the RCU softirq handler happens to run your RCU callback while
interrupting that acquisition's critical section.
13. RCU callbacks can be and are executed in parallel. In many cases,
the callback code simply wrappers around kfree(), so that this
is not an issue (or, more accurately, to the extent that it is
an issue, the memory-allocator locking handles it). However,
if the callbacks do manipulate a shared data structure, they
must use whatever locking or other synchronization is required
to safely access and/or modify that data structure.
RCU callbacks are -usually- executed on the same CPU that executed
the corresponding call_rcu(), call_rcu_bh(), or call_rcu_sched(),
but are by -no- means guaranteed to be. For example, if a given
CPU goes offline while having an RCU callback pending, then that
RCU callback will execute on some surviving CPU. (If this was
not the case, a self-spawning RCU callback would prevent the
victim CPU from ever going offline.)
14. SRCU (srcu_read_lock(), srcu_read_unlock(), srcu_dereference(),
synchronize_srcu(), synchronize_srcu_expedited(), and call_srcu())
may only be invoked from process context. Unlike other forms of
RCU, it -is- permissible to block in an SRCU read-side critical
section (demarked by srcu_read_lock() and srcu_read_unlock()),
hence the "SRCU": "sleepable RCU". Please note that if you
don't need to sleep in read-side critical sections, you should be
using RCU rather than SRCU, because RCU is almost always faster
and easier to use than is SRCU.
If you need to enter your read-side critical section in a
hardirq or exception handler, and then exit that same read-side
critical section in the task that was interrupted, then you need
to srcu_read_lock_raw() and srcu_read_unlock_raw(), which avoid
the lockdep checking that would otherwise this practice illegal.
Also unlike other forms of RCU, explicit initialization
and cleanup is required via init_srcu_struct() and
cleanup_srcu_struct(). These are passed a "struct srcu_struct"
that defines the scope of a given SRCU domain. Once initialized,
the srcu_struct is passed to srcu_read_lock(), srcu_read_unlock()
synchronize_srcu(), synchronize_srcu_expedited(), and call_srcu().
A given synchronize_srcu() waits only for SRCU read-side critical
sections governed by srcu_read_lock() and srcu_read_unlock()
calls that have been passed the same srcu_struct. This property
is what makes sleeping read-side critical sections tolerable --
a given subsystem delays only its own updates, not those of other
subsystems using SRCU. Therefore, SRCU is less prone to OOM the
system than RCU would be if RCU's read-side critical sections
were permitted to sleep.
The ability to sleep in read-side critical sections does not
come for free. First, corresponding srcu_read_lock() and
srcu_read_unlock() calls must be passed the same srcu_struct.
Second, grace-period-detection overhead is amortized only
over those updates sharing a given srcu_struct, rather than
being globally amortized as they are for other forms of RCU.
Therefore, SRCU should be used in preference to rw_semaphore
only in extremely read-intensive situations, or in situations
requiring SRCU's read-side deadlock immunity or low read-side
Note that, rcu_assign_pointer() relates to SRCU just as it does
to other forms of RCU.
15. The whole point of call_rcu(), synchronize_rcu(), and friends
is to wait until all pre-existing readers have finished before
carrying out some otherwise-destructive operation. It is
therefore critically important to -first- remove any path
that readers can follow that could be affected by the
destructive operation, and -only- -then- invoke call_rcu(),
synchronize_rcu(), or friends.
Because these primitives only wait for pre-existing readers, it
is the caller's responsibility to guarantee that any subsequent
readers will execute safely.
16. The various RCU read-side primitives do -not- necessarily contain
memory barriers. You should therefore plan for the CPU
and the compiler to freely reorder code into and out of RCU
read-side critical sections. It is the responsibility of the
RCU update-side primitives to deal with this.
17. Use CONFIG_PROVE_RCU, CONFIG_DEBUG_OBJECTS_RCU_HEAD, and the
__rcu sparse checks (enabled by CONFIG_SPARSE_RCU_POINTER) to
validate your RCU code. These can help find problems as follows:
CONFIG_PROVE_RCU: check that accesses to RCU-protected data
structures are carried out under the proper RCU
read-side critical section, while holding the right
combination of locks, or whatever other conditions
CONFIG_DEBUG_OBJECTS_RCU_HEAD: check that you don't pass the
same object to call_rcu() (or friends) before an RCU
grace period has elapsed since the last time that you
passed that same object to call_rcu() (or friends).
__rcu sparse checks: tag the pointer to the RCU-protected data
structure with __rcu, and sparse will warn you if you
access that pointer without the services of one of the
variants of rcu_dereference().
These debugging aids can help you find problems that are
otherwise extremely difficult to spot.