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Generic Mutex Subsystem
started by Ingo Molnar <>
"Why on earth do we need a new mutex subsystem, and what's wrong
with semaphores?"
firstly, there's nothing wrong with semaphores. But if the simpler
mutex semantics are sufficient for your code, then there are a couple
of advantages of mutexes:
- 'struct mutex' is smaller on most architectures: .e.g on x86,
'struct semaphore' is 20 bytes, 'struct mutex' is 16 bytes.
A smaller structure size means less RAM footprint, and better
CPU-cache utilization.
- tighter code. On x86 i get the following .text sizes when
switching all mutex-alike semaphores in the kernel to the mutex
text data bss dec hex filename
3280380 868188 396860 4545428 455b94 vmlinux-semaphore
3255329 865296 396732 4517357 44eded vmlinux-mutex
that's 25051 bytes of code saved, or a 0.76% win - off the hottest
codepaths of the kernel. (The .data savings are 2892 bytes, or 0.33%)
Smaller code means better icache footprint, which is one of the
major optimization goals in the Linux kernel currently.
- the mutex subsystem is slightly faster and has better scalability for
contended workloads. On an 8-way x86 system, running a mutex-based
kernel and testing creat+unlink+close (of separate, per-task files)
in /tmp with 16 parallel tasks, the average number of ops/sec is:
Semaphores: Mutexes:
$ ./test-mutex V 16 10 $ ./test-mutex V 16 10
8 CPUs, running 16 tasks. 8 CPUs, running 16 tasks.
checking VFS performance. checking VFS performance.
avg loops/sec: 34713 avg loops/sec: 84153
CPU utilization: 63% CPU utilization: 22%
i.e. in this workload, the mutex based kernel was 2.4 times faster
than the semaphore based kernel, _and_ it also had 2.8 times less CPU
utilization. (In terms of 'ops per CPU cycle', the semaphore kernel
performed 551 ops/sec per 1% of CPU time used, while the mutex kernel
performed 3825 ops/sec per 1% of CPU time used - it was 6.9 times
more efficient.)
the scalability difference is visible even on a 2-way P4 HT box:
Semaphores: Mutexes:
$ ./test-mutex V 16 10 $ ./test-mutex V 16 10
4 CPUs, running 16 tasks. 8 CPUs, running 16 tasks.
checking VFS performance. checking VFS performance.
avg loops/sec: 127659 avg loops/sec: 181082
CPU utilization: 100% CPU utilization: 34%
(the straight performance advantage of mutexes is 41%, the per-cycle
efficiency of mutexes is 4.1 times better.)
- there are no fastpath tradeoffs, the mutex fastpath is just as tight
as the semaphore fastpath. On x86, the locking fastpath is 2
c0377ccb <mutex_lock>:
c0377ccb: f0 ff 08 lock decl (%eax)
c0377cce: 78 0e js c0377cde <.text.lock.mutex>
c0377cd0: c3 ret
the unlocking fastpath is equally tight:
c0377cd1 <mutex_unlock>:
c0377cd1: f0 ff 00 lock incl (%eax)
c0377cd4: 7e 0f jle c0377ce5 <.text.lock.mutex+0x7>
c0377cd6: c3 ret
- 'struct mutex' semantics are well-defined and are enforced if
CONFIG_DEBUG_MUTEXES is turned on. Semaphores on the other hand have
virtually no debugging code or instrumentation. The mutex subsystem
checks and enforces the following rules:
* - only one task can hold the mutex at a time
* - only the owner can unlock the mutex
* - multiple unlocks are not permitted
* - recursive locking is not permitted
* - a mutex object must be initialized via the API
* - a mutex object must not be initialized via memset or copying
* - task may not exit with mutex held
* - memory areas where held locks reside must not be freed
* - held mutexes must not be reinitialized
* - mutexes may not be used in hardware or software interrupt
* contexts such as tasklets and timers
furthermore, there are also convenience features in the debugging
* - uses symbolic names of mutexes, whenever they are printed in debug output
* - point-of-acquire tracking, symbolic lookup of function names
* - list of all locks held in the system, printout of them
* - owner tracking
* - detects self-recursing locks and prints out all relevant info
* - detects multi-task circular deadlocks and prints out all affected
* locks and tasks (and only those tasks)
The stricter mutex API means you cannot use mutexes the same way you
can use semaphores: e.g. they cannot be used from an interrupt context,
nor can they be unlocked from a different context that which acquired
it. [ I'm not aware of any other (e.g. performance) disadvantages from
using mutexes at the moment, please let me know if you find any. ]
Implementation of mutexes
'struct mutex' is the new mutex type, defined in include/linux/mutex.h
and implemented in kernel/mutex.c. It is a counter-based mutex with a
spinlock and a wait-list. The counter has 3 states: 1 for "unlocked",
0 for "locked" and negative numbers (usually -1) for "locked, potential
waiters queued".
the APIs of 'struct mutex' have been streamlined:
void mutex_lock(struct mutex *lock);
int mutex_lock_interruptible(struct mutex *lock);
int mutex_trylock(struct mutex *lock);
void mutex_unlock(struct mutex *lock);
int mutex_is_locked(struct mutex *lock);
void mutex_lock_nested(struct mutex *lock, unsigned int subclass);
int mutex_lock_interruptible_nested(struct mutex *lock,
unsigned int subclass);