transaction blog
Jun 9, 2017 • 7 min read

More on Resource Privatization

This is a follow-up post to last week’s piece on resource privatization for transactional memory. We’re going to support C strings and look at combining load and store operations with privatization.

Privatizing C Strings

Privatazion provides a way of directly accessing a resource from within a transaction. For memory this means direct access to the memory region, instead of working on a transaction-local copy.

The interface for privatizing regions of memory looks like this.

void
privatize(uintptr_t addr, size_t siz, bool load, bool store);

This function takes the address of the first byte of the memory region to be privatized, the number bytes in the region, and two booleans enabling load and store access. If it succeeds, the memory region is owned by the transaction and can be accessed directly.

The interface is fine for memory regions of known size. In last week’s example code we implemented a transactional memcpy(); and anything that is typically accessed with memcpy() by be privatized this way.

There is one noteable exception: C strings. Strings in C have their length implicitly signalled with a trailing \0 character. The get a string’s length a call to strlen() is required.

A first attempt to privatize a C string will fail quickly.

char* str = "Hello World!";

tm_begin

    privatize(str, ???, true, false);

tm_commit

When using the current interface, we don’t know of which length the string is. Maybe using strlen() could help.

char* str = "Hello World!";

tm_begin

    size_t siz = strlen(str);
    privatize(str, siz, true, false);

tm_commit

We now have all parameters required by privatize() but the call to strlen() does not protect against concurrent access to str. Another transaction can modify the content of str concurrently, which would make the returned length incorrect. Maybe we can solve this problem by providing a transactional implementation of strlen().

size_t
strlen_tx(const char* str)
{
    privatize(str, ???, true, false);

    return strlen(str);
}

char* str = "Hello World!";

tm_begin

    size_t siz = strlen_tx(str);
    privatize(str, siz, true, false);

tm_commit

This approach creates a chicken-and-egg problem. Our transactional implementation of strlen() requires privatize() to protect the string against concurrent modification. But privatize() is what we’re trying to support in the first place.

Clearly a different approach is required.

The solution implemented by picotm is to have a privatize function that stops at a caller-specified terminating character. For a C string the terminating character would be \0.

Our function is called privatize_c() with c for character. The interface is similar to the regular privatize(), but it receives a character instead of the length.

void
privatize_c(uintptr_t addr, int chr, bool load, bool store);
{
    bool found_chr = false

    while (!found_chr) {

        struct resource* res = acquire_resource(addr & BASE_BITMASK);
        if (!res) {
            tm_restart();
        }

        unsigned long index = addr & RESOURCE_BITMASK;
        unsigned long bits = 1ul << index;

        uint8_t* beg = arraybeg(res->local_value) + index;
        uint8_t* end = arrayend(res->local_value);

        while (!found_chr && (beg < end)) {
            /* If we're about to store, we first have to
             * save the old value for possible rollbacks. */
            if (store && !(res->local_bits & bits) ) {
                *beg = *((uint8_t*)addr);
            }

            bits <<= 1;
            --siz;
            ++addr;
            ++beg;

            found_chr = (*beg == chr);
        }

        if (store) {
            res->flags |= RESOURCE_FLAG_WRITE_THROUGH;
        }
    }
}

The code is again very similar to the implementation of the original privatize(), but instead of testing for the size of the supplied memory region, it tests for the existence of the terminating character. Once the memory location containing the character has been privatized, privatize_c() returns.

Our original example now becomes trivial to implement.

char* str = "Hello World!";

tm_begin

    privatize_c(str, '\0', true, false);

tm_commit

Loading and Storing Privatized Memory

Remember that load and store operations used a transaction-local buffer to work on. We called this write-back, as the buffer is only written back to the shared memory resource during a commit. Privatization instead required write-through semantics, where transactions operate directly on the shared resource.

Because of this difference, our implementation of privatize() can not be combined with load() and store() calls on the same memory regions. Here’s an example transaction.1

int value = 0;

tm_begin

    privatize(&value, sizeof(value), true, true);

    value = 1;

    load_int(&value); /* returns 0 */

tm_commit

This transaction privatizes an integer variable and stores 1. It then transactionally loads the variable, but this gives an incorrect result of 0.

Loads and stores currently use a write-back scheme. When acquiring a resource, they operate on a transaction-local buffer. Only at commit time this buffer is written back to the shared value. The call to privatize() initializes the transaction-local buffer with the original value of 0, so this is what load_int() returns.

The solution to this problem is to support write-through mode for load and store operation. Without going into details, an implementation would have to provide the following semantics.

This behavior is implemented in picotm, but probably not worth the effort for our simpletm transaction manager.

A further optimization would be the use of write-through mode for all load operations until the transaction executed a store operation on the resource. This would spare reader transactions from the overhead of filling transaction-local buffers that they are never going to modify.

Summary

In this block post, we looked at two corner cases of memory privatization.

If you like this series about writing a transaction manager in C, please subscribe to the RSS feed, follow on Twitter or share on social networks.

Footnotes

  1. There might be other limitations in our current implementation that prevent this example from working. One is that acquiring the same resource multiple times from within the same transaction is currently not supported. 

Post by: Thomas Zimmermann


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