Kernel Korner - Using RCU in the Linux 2.5 Kernel

Read-copy update, a synchronization technique optimized for read-mostly data structures, is new with the 2.5/2.6 kernel and promises better SMP scalability.
Where Do We Go from Here?

RCU will become more important as CPU architecture continues to evolve. Nonetheless, other primitives always will be needed. It is quite likely that Rusty Russell's implementation of RCU (the call_rcu() and synchronize_kernel() primitives themselves) can be modified to be entirely free of locks, memory barriers and atomic instructions. This implementation might run faster than the current 2.5 kernel implementation.

Numerous people are looking at new uses of RCU in the VFS layer, VM code, filesystems and networking code. I look forward to continuing to learn about RCU and its uses and am grateful to the many people who have tried it out.

Paul E. McKenney has worked on SMP and NUMA algorithms for longer than he cares to admit. Prior to that, he worked on packet-radio and Internet protocols (but long before the Internet became popular). His hobbies include running and the usual house-wife-and-kids habit. This work represents the view of the author and does not necessarily represent the view of IBM.

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Can you explain a little more about smp_wmb?

Anonymous's picture

It seems that smp memory barrier is tightly linked with RCU. Codes taking advantage of RCU also use smp_wmb to deal with weak memory-consistency processes, for example, in the routing cache. So, I think understanding this thing is key to the "USEING" of RCU. Thanks.

Re: Can you explain a little more about smp_wmb?

Anonymous's picture

When you are using the linux/list.h _rcu macros along with normal locking to protect against concurrent updates, the memory barriers are taken care of for you. Many of the places where one can use RCU do involve linked lists, so this works much of the time. However, if you are in a situation where you cannnot use these macros, then you are quite right that an understanding of memory barriers is required.

Modern CPUs are within their rights to reorder operations unless explicitly told not to. Therefore, locking primitives on many CPUs contain memory barriers that prevent (for example) the contents of the critical section from "bleeding out" into the surrounding code. Any such "bleeding" would mean that part of the critical section was no longer protected by the lock, which would result in failure. Hence the memory barriers in locking primitives.

This situation means that lock-free operations require explicit memory barriers. A full explanation is beyond the scope of this comment, but the LKML thread starting with this message and this web page are a place to start. If you want a full treatment, Gharachorloo's Ph.D. thesis is a place to finish.

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