blob: 60ce02475142d881b0238f67eee5b9306830745e [file] [log] [blame]
.. _whatisrcu_doc:
What is RCU? -- "Read, Copy, Update"
Please note that the "What is RCU?" LWN series is an excellent place
to start learning about RCU:
| 1. What is RCU, Fundamentally?
| 2. What is RCU? Part 2: Usage
| 3. RCU part 3: the RCU API
| 4. The RCU API, 2010 Edition
| 2010 Big API Table
| 5. The RCU API, 2014 Edition
| 2014 Big API Table
| 6. The RCU API, 2019 Edition
| 2019 Big API Table
For those preferring video:
| 1. Unraveling RCU Mysteries: Fundamentals
| 2. Unraveling RCU Mysteries: Additional Use Cases
What is RCU?
RCU is a synchronization mechanism that was added to the Linux kernel
during the 2.5 development effort that is optimized for read-mostly
situations. Although RCU is actually quite simple, making effective use
of it requires you to think differently about your code. Another part
of the problem is the mistaken assumption that there is "one true way" to
describe and to use RCU. Instead, the experience has been that different
people must take different paths to arrive at an understanding of RCU,
depending on their experiences and use cases. This document provides
several different paths, as follows:
:ref:`1. RCU OVERVIEW <1_whatisRCU>`
:ref:`2. WHAT IS RCU'S CORE API? <2_whatisRCU>`
:ref:`8. FULL LIST OF RCU APIs <8_whatisRCU>`
:ref:`9. ANSWERS TO QUICK QUIZZES <9_whatisRCU>`
People who prefer starting with a conceptual overview should focus on
Section 1, though most readers will profit by reading this section at
some point. People who prefer to start with an API that they can then
experiment with should focus on Section 2. People who prefer to start
with example uses should focus on Sections 3 and 4. People who need to
understand the RCU implementation should focus on Section 5, then dive
into the kernel source code. People who reason best by analogy should
focus on Section 6 and 7. Section 8 serves as an index to the docbook
API documentation, and Section 9 is the traditional answer key.
So, start with the section that makes the most sense to you and your
preferred method of learning. If you need to know everything about
everything, feel free to read the whole thing -- but if you are really
that type of person, you have perused the source code and will therefore
never need this document anyway. ;-)
.. _1_whatisRCU:
The basic idea behind RCU is to split updates into "removal" and
"reclamation" phases. The removal phase removes references to data items
within a data structure (possibly by replacing them with references to
new versions of these data items), and can run concurrently with readers.
The reason that it is safe to run the removal phase concurrently with
readers is the semantics of modern CPUs guarantee that readers will see
either the old or the new version of the data structure rather than a
partially updated reference. The reclamation phase does the work of reclaiming
(e.g., freeing) the data items removed from the data structure during the
removal phase. Because reclaiming data items can disrupt any readers
concurrently referencing those data items, the reclamation phase must
not start until readers no longer hold references to those data items.
Splitting the update into removal and reclamation phases permits the
updater to perform the removal phase immediately, and to defer the
reclamation phase until all readers active during the removal phase have
completed, either by blocking until they finish or by registering a
callback that is invoked after they finish. Only readers that are active
during the removal phase need be considered, because any reader starting
after the removal phase will be unable to gain a reference to the removed
data items, and therefore cannot be disrupted by the reclamation phase.
So the typical RCU update sequence goes something like the following:
a. Remove pointers to a data structure, so that subsequent
readers cannot gain a reference to it.
b. Wait for all previous readers to complete their RCU read-side
critical sections.
c. At this point, there cannot be any readers who hold references
to the data structure, so it now may safely be reclaimed
(e.g., kfree()d).
Step (b) above is the key idea underlying RCU's deferred destruction.
The ability to wait until all readers are done allows RCU readers to
use much lighter-weight synchronization, in some cases, absolutely no
synchronization at all. In contrast, in more conventional lock-based
schemes, readers must use heavy-weight synchronization in order to
prevent an updater from deleting the data structure out from under them.
This is because lock-based updaters typically update data items in place,
and must therefore exclude readers. In contrast, RCU-based updaters
typically take advantage of the fact that writes to single aligned
pointers are atomic on modern CPUs, allowing atomic insertion, removal,
and replacement of data items in a linked structure without disrupting
readers. Concurrent RCU readers can then continue accessing the old
versions, and can dispense with the atomic operations, memory barriers,
and communications cache misses that are so expensive on present-day
SMP computer systems, even in absence of lock contention.
In the three-step procedure shown above, the updater is performing both
the removal and the reclamation step, but it is often helpful for an
entirely different thread to do the reclamation, as is in fact the case
in the Linux kernel's directory-entry cache (dcache). Even if the same
thread performs both the update step (step (a) above) and the reclamation
step (step (c) above), it is often helpful to think of them separately.
For example, RCU readers and updaters need not communicate at all,
but RCU provides implicit low-overhead communication between readers
and reclaimers, namely, in step (b) above.
So how the heck can a reclaimer tell when a reader is done, given
that readers are not doing any sort of synchronization operations???
Read on to learn about how RCU's API makes this easy.
.. _2_whatisRCU:
The core RCU API is quite small:
a. rcu_read_lock()
b. rcu_read_unlock()
c. synchronize_rcu() / call_rcu()
d. rcu_assign_pointer()
e. rcu_dereference()
There are many other members of the RCU API, but the rest can be
expressed in terms of these five, though most implementations instead
express synchronize_rcu() in terms of the call_rcu() callback API.
The five core RCU APIs are described below, the other 18 will be enumerated
later. See the kernel docbook documentation for more info, or look directly
at the function header comments.
void rcu_read_lock(void);
This temporal primitive is used by a reader to inform the
reclaimer that the reader is entering an RCU read-side critical
section. It is illegal to block while in an RCU read-side
critical section, though kernels built with CONFIG_PREEMPT_RCU
can preempt RCU read-side critical sections. Any RCU-protected
data structure accessed during an RCU read-side critical section
is guaranteed to remain unreclaimed for the full duration of that
critical section. Reference counts may be used in conjunction
with RCU to maintain longer-term references to data structures.
void rcu_read_unlock(void);
This temporal primitives is used by a reader to inform the
reclaimer that the reader is exiting an RCU read-side critical
section. Note that RCU read-side critical sections may be nested
and/or overlapping.
void synchronize_rcu(void);
This temporal primitive marks the end of updater code and the
beginning of reclaimer code. It does this by blocking until
all pre-existing RCU read-side critical sections on all CPUs
have completed. Note that synchronize_rcu() will **not**
necessarily wait for any subsequent RCU read-side critical
sections to complete. For example, consider the following
sequence of events::
----------------- ------------------------- ---------------
1. rcu_read_lock()
2. enters synchronize_rcu()
3. rcu_read_lock()
4. rcu_read_unlock()
5. exits synchronize_rcu()
6. rcu_read_unlock()
To reiterate, synchronize_rcu() waits only for ongoing RCU
read-side critical sections to complete, not necessarily for
any that begin after synchronize_rcu() is invoked.
Of course, synchronize_rcu() does not necessarily return
**immediately** after the last pre-existing RCU read-side critical
section completes. For one thing, there might well be scheduling
delays. For another thing, many RCU implementations process
requests in batches in order to improve efficiencies, which can
further delay synchronize_rcu().
Since synchronize_rcu() is the API that must figure out when
readers are done, its implementation is key to RCU. For RCU
to be useful in all but the most read-intensive situations,
synchronize_rcu()'s overhead must also be quite small.
The call_rcu() API is an asynchronous callback form of
synchronize_rcu(), and is described in more detail in a later
section. Instead of blocking, it registers a function and
argument which are invoked after all ongoing RCU read-side
critical sections have completed. This callback variant is
particularly useful in situations where it is illegal to block
or where update-side performance is critically important.
However, the call_rcu() API should not be used lightly, as use
of the synchronize_rcu() API generally results in simpler code.
In addition, the synchronize_rcu() API has the nice property
of automatically limiting update rate should grace periods
be delayed. This property results in system resilience in face
of denial-of-service attacks. Code using call_rcu() should limit
update rate in order to gain this same sort of resilience. See
checklist.rst for some approaches to limiting the update rate.
void rcu_assign_pointer(p, typeof(p) v);
Yes, rcu_assign_pointer() **is** implemented as a macro, though it
would be cool to be able to declare a function in this manner.
(Compiler experts will no doubt disagree.)
The updater uses this spatial macro to assign a new value to an
RCU-protected pointer, in order to safely communicate the change
in value from the updater to the reader. This is a spatial (as
opposed to temporal) macro. It does not evaluate to an rvalue,
but it does execute any memory-barrier instructions required
for a given CPU architecture. Its ordering properties are that
of a store-release operation.
Perhaps just as important, it serves to document (1) which
pointers are protected by RCU and (2) the point at which a
given structure becomes accessible to other CPUs. That said,
rcu_assign_pointer() is most frequently used indirectly, via
the _rcu list-manipulation primitives such as list_add_rcu().
typeof(p) rcu_dereference(p);
Like rcu_assign_pointer(), rcu_dereference() must be implemented
as a macro.
The reader uses the spatial rcu_dereference() macro to fetch
an RCU-protected pointer, which returns a value that may
then be safely dereferenced. Note that rcu_dereference()
does not actually dereference the pointer, instead, it
protects the pointer for later dereferencing. It also
executes any needed memory-barrier instructions for a given
CPU architecture. Currently, only Alpha needs memory barriers
within rcu_dereference() -- on other CPUs, it compiles to a
volatile load.
Common coding practice uses rcu_dereference() to copy an
RCU-protected pointer to a local variable, then dereferences
this local variable, for example as follows::
p = rcu_dereference(;
return p->data;
However, in this case, one could just as easily combine these
into one statement::
return rcu_dereference(>data;
If you are going to be fetching multiple fields from the
RCU-protected structure, using the local variable is of
course preferred. Repeated rcu_dereference() calls look
ugly, do not guarantee that the same pointer will be returned
if an update happened while in the critical section, and incur
unnecessary overhead on Alpha CPUs.
Note that the value returned by rcu_dereference() is valid
only within the enclosing RCU read-side critical section [1]_.
For example, the following is **not** legal::
p = rcu_dereference(;
x = p->address; /* BUG!!! */
y = p->data; /* BUG!!! */
Holding a reference from one RCU read-side critical section
to another is just as illegal as holding a reference from
one lock-based critical section to another! Similarly,
using a reference outside of the critical section in which
it was acquired is just as illegal as doing so with normal
As with rcu_assign_pointer(), an important function of
rcu_dereference() is to document which pointers are protected by
RCU, in particular, flagging a pointer that is subject to changing
at any time, including immediately after the rcu_dereference().
And, again like rcu_assign_pointer(), rcu_dereference() is
typically used indirectly, via the _rcu list-manipulation
primitives, such as list_for_each_entry_rcu() [2]_.
.. [1] The variant rcu_dereference_protected() can be used outside
of an RCU read-side critical section as long as the usage is
protected by locks acquired by the update-side code. This variant
avoids the lockdep warning that would happen when using (for
example) rcu_dereference() without rcu_read_lock() protection.
Using rcu_dereference_protected() also has the advantage
of permitting compiler optimizations that rcu_dereference()
must prohibit. The rcu_dereference_protected() variant takes
a lockdep expression to indicate which locks must be acquired
by the caller. If the indicated protection is not provided,
a lockdep splat is emitted. See Design/Requirements/Requirements.rst
and the API's code comments for more details and example usage.
.. [2] If the list_for_each_entry_rcu() instance might be used by
update-side code as well as by RCU readers, then an additional
lockdep expression can be added to its list of arguments.
For example, given an additional "lock_is_held(&mylock)" argument,
the RCU lockdep code would complain only if this instance was
invoked outside of an RCU read-side critical section and without
the protection of mylock.
The following diagram shows how each API communicates among the
reader, updater, and reclaimer.
+---------------------->| reader |---------+
| +--------+ |
| | |
| | | Protect:
| | | rcu_read_lock()
| | | rcu_read_unlock()
| rcu_dereference() | |
+---------+ | |
| updater |<----------------+ |
+---------+ V
| +-----------+
+----------------------------------->| reclaimer |
synchronize_rcu() & call_rcu()
The RCU infrastructure observes the temporal sequence of rcu_read_lock(),
rcu_read_unlock(), synchronize_rcu(), and call_rcu() invocations in
order to determine when (1) synchronize_rcu() invocations may return
to their callers and (2) call_rcu() callbacks may be invoked. Efficient
implementations of the RCU infrastructure make heavy use of batching in
order to amortize their overhead over many uses of the corresponding APIs.
The rcu_assign_pointer() and rcu_dereference() invocations communicate
spatial changes via stores to and loads from the RCU-protected pointer in
There are at least three flavors of RCU usage in the Linux kernel. The diagram
above shows the most common one. On the updater side, the rcu_assign_pointer(),
synchronize_rcu() and call_rcu() primitives used are the same for all three
flavors. However for protection (on the reader side), the primitives used vary
depending on the flavor:
a. rcu_read_lock() / rcu_read_unlock()
b. rcu_read_lock_bh() / rcu_read_unlock_bh()
local_bh_disable() / local_bh_enable()
c. rcu_read_lock_sched() / rcu_read_unlock_sched()
preempt_disable() / preempt_enable()
local_irq_save() / local_irq_restore()
hardirq enter / hardirq exit
NMI enter / NMI exit
These three flavors are used as follows:
a. RCU applied to normal data structures.
b. RCU applied to networking data structures that may be subjected
to remote denial-of-service attacks.
c. RCU applied to scheduler and interrupt/NMI-handler tasks.
Again, most uses will be of (a). The (b) and (c) cases are important
for specialized uses, but are relatively uncommon. The SRCU, RCU-Tasks,
RCU-Tasks-Rude, and RCU-Tasks-Trace have similar relationships among
their assorted primitives.
.. _3_whatisRCU:
This section shows a simple use of the core RCU API to protect a
global pointer to a dynamically allocated structure. More-typical
uses of RCU may be found in listRCU.rst, arrayRCU.rst, and NMI-RCU.rst.
struct foo {
int a;
char b;
long c;
struct foo __rcu *gbl_foo;
* Create a new struct foo that is the same as the one currently
* pointed to by gbl_foo, except that field "a" is replaced
* with "new_a". Points gbl_foo to the new structure, and
* frees up the old structure after a grace period.
* Uses rcu_assign_pointer() to ensure that concurrent readers
* see the initialized version of the new structure.
* Uses synchronize_rcu() to ensure that any readers that might
* have references to the old structure complete before freeing
* the old structure.
void foo_update_a(int new_a)
struct foo *new_fp;
struct foo *old_fp;
new_fp = kmalloc(sizeof(*new_fp), GFP_KERNEL);
old_fp = rcu_dereference_protected(gbl_foo, lockdep_is_held(&foo_mutex));
*new_fp = *old_fp;
new_fp->a = new_a;
rcu_assign_pointer(gbl_foo, new_fp);
* Return the value of field "a" of the current gbl_foo
* structure. Use rcu_read_lock() and rcu_read_unlock()
* to ensure that the structure does not get deleted out
* from under us, and use rcu_dereference() to ensure that
* we see the initialized version of the structure (important
* for DEC Alpha and for people reading the code).
int foo_get_a(void)
int retval;
retval = rcu_dereference(gbl_foo)->a;
return retval;
So, to sum up:
- Use rcu_read_lock() and rcu_read_unlock() to guard RCU
read-side critical sections.
- Within an RCU read-side critical section, use rcu_dereference()
to dereference RCU-protected pointers.
- Use some solid design (such as locks or semaphores) to
keep concurrent updates from interfering with each other.
- Use rcu_assign_pointer() to update an RCU-protected pointer.
This primitive protects concurrent readers from the updater,
**not** concurrent updates from each other! You therefore still
need to use locking (or something similar) to keep concurrent
rcu_assign_pointer() primitives from interfering with each other.
- Use synchronize_rcu() **after** removing a data element from an
RCU-protected data structure, but **before** reclaiming/freeing
the data element, in order to wait for the completion of all
RCU read-side critical sections that might be referencing that
data item.
See checklist.rst for additional rules to follow when using RCU.
And again, more-typical uses of RCU may be found in listRCU.rst,
arrayRCU.rst, and NMI-RCU.rst.
.. _4_whatisRCU:
In the example above, foo_update_a() blocks until a grace period elapses.
This is quite simple, but in some cases one cannot afford to wait so
long -- there might be other high-priority work to be done.
In such cases, one uses call_rcu() rather than synchronize_rcu().
The call_rcu() API is as follows::
void call_rcu(struct rcu_head *head, rcu_callback_t func);
This function invokes func(head) after a grace period has elapsed.
This invocation might happen from either softirq or process context,
so the function is not permitted to block. The foo struct needs to
have an rcu_head structure added, perhaps as follows::
struct foo {
int a;
char b;
long c;
struct rcu_head rcu;
The foo_update_a() function might then be written as follows::
* Create a new struct foo that is the same as the one currently
* pointed to by gbl_foo, except that field "a" is replaced
* with "new_a". Points gbl_foo to the new structure, and
* frees up the old structure after a grace period.
* Uses rcu_assign_pointer() to ensure that concurrent readers
* see the initialized version of the new structure.
* Uses call_rcu() to ensure that any readers that might have
* references to the old structure complete before freeing the
* old structure.
void foo_update_a(int new_a)
struct foo *new_fp;
struct foo *old_fp;
new_fp = kmalloc(sizeof(*new_fp), GFP_KERNEL);
old_fp = rcu_dereference_protected(gbl_foo, lockdep_is_held(&foo_mutex));
*new_fp = *old_fp;
new_fp->a = new_a;
rcu_assign_pointer(gbl_foo, new_fp);
call_rcu(&old_fp->rcu, foo_reclaim);
The foo_reclaim() function might appear as follows::
void foo_reclaim(struct rcu_head *rp)
struct foo *fp = container_of(rp, struct foo, rcu);
The container_of() primitive is a macro that, given a pointer into a
struct, the type of the struct, and the pointed-to field within the
struct, returns a pointer to the beginning of the struct.
The use of call_rcu() permits the caller of foo_update_a() to
immediately regain control, without needing to worry further about the
old version of the newly updated element. It also clearly shows the
RCU distinction between updater, namely foo_update_a(), and reclaimer,
namely foo_reclaim().
The summary of advice is the same as for the previous section, except
that we are now using call_rcu() rather than synchronize_rcu():
- Use call_rcu() **after** removing a data element from an
RCU-protected data structure in order to register a callback
function that will be invoked after the completion of all RCU
read-side critical sections that might be referencing that
data item.
If the callback for call_rcu() is not doing anything more than calling
kfree() on the structure, you can use kfree_rcu() instead of call_rcu()
to avoid having to write your own callback::
kfree_rcu(old_fp, rcu);
If the occasional sleep is permitted, the single-argument form may
be used, omitting the rcu_head structure from struct foo.
This variant almost never blocks, but might do so by invoking
synchronize_rcu() in response to memory-allocation failure.
Again, see checklist.rst for additional rules governing the use of RCU.
.. _5_whatisRCU:
One of the nice things about RCU is that it has extremely simple "toy"
implementations that are a good first step towards understanding the
production-quality implementations in the Linux kernel. This section
presents two such "toy" implementations of RCU, one that is implemented
in terms of familiar locking primitives, and another that more closely
resembles "classic" RCU. Both are way too simple for real-world use,
lacking both functionality and performance. However, they are useful
in getting a feel for how RCU works. See kernel/rcu/update.c for a
production-quality implementation, and see:
for papers describing the Linux kernel RCU implementation. The OLS'01
and OLS'02 papers are a good introduction, and the dissertation provides
more details on the current implementation as of early 2004.
This section presents a "toy" RCU implementation that is based on
familiar locking primitives. Its overhead makes it a non-starter for
real-life use, as does its lack of scalability. It is also unsuitable
for realtime use, since it allows scheduling latency to "bleed" from
one read-side critical section to another. It also assumes recursive
reader-writer locks: If you try this with non-recursive locks, and
you allow nested rcu_read_lock() calls, you can deadlock.
However, it is probably the easiest implementation to relate to, so is
a good starting point.
It is extremely simple::
static DEFINE_RWLOCK(rcu_gp_mutex);
void rcu_read_lock(void)
void rcu_read_unlock(void)
void synchronize_rcu(void)
[You can ignore rcu_assign_pointer() and rcu_dereference() without missing
much. But here are simplified versions anyway. And whatever you do,
don't forget about them when submitting patches making use of RCU!]::
#define rcu_assign_pointer(p, v) \
({ \
smp_store_release(&(p), (v)); \
#define rcu_dereference(p) \
({ \
typeof(p) _________p1 = READ_ONCE(p); \
(_________p1); \
The rcu_read_lock() and rcu_read_unlock() primitive read-acquire
and release a global reader-writer lock. The synchronize_rcu()
primitive write-acquires this same lock, then releases it. This means
that once synchronize_rcu() exits, all RCU read-side critical sections
that were in progress before synchronize_rcu() was called are guaranteed
to have completed -- there is no way that synchronize_rcu() would have
been able to write-acquire the lock otherwise. The smp_mb__after_spinlock()
promotes synchronize_rcu() to a full memory barrier in compliance with
the "Memory-Barrier Guarantees" listed in:
It is possible to nest rcu_read_lock(), since reader-writer locks may
be recursively acquired. Note also that rcu_read_lock() is immune
from deadlock (an important property of RCU). The reason for this is
that the only thing that can block rcu_read_lock() is a synchronize_rcu().
But synchronize_rcu() does not acquire any locks while holding rcu_gp_mutex,
so there can be no deadlock cycle.
.. _quiz_1:
Quick Quiz #1:
Why is this argument naive? How could a deadlock
occur when using this algorithm in a real-world Linux
kernel? How could this deadlock be avoided?
:ref:`Answers to Quick Quiz <9_whatisRCU>`
This section presents a "toy" RCU implementation that is based on
"classic RCU". It is also short on performance (but only for updates) and
on features such as hotplug CPU and the ability to run in CONFIG_PREEMPTION
kernels. The definitions of rcu_dereference() and rcu_assign_pointer()
are the same as those shown in the preceding section, so they are omitted.
void rcu_read_lock(void) { }
void rcu_read_unlock(void) { }
void synchronize_rcu(void)
int cpu;
Note that rcu_read_lock() and rcu_read_unlock() do absolutely nothing.
This is the great strength of classic RCU in a non-preemptive kernel:
read-side overhead is precisely zero, at least on non-Alpha CPUs.
And there is absolutely no way that rcu_read_lock() can possibly
participate in a deadlock cycle!
The implementation of synchronize_rcu() simply schedules itself on each
CPU in turn. The run_on() primitive can be implemented straightforwardly
in terms of the sched_setaffinity() primitive. Of course, a somewhat less
"toy" implementation would restore the affinity upon completion rather
than just leaving all tasks running on the last CPU, but when I said
"toy", I meant **toy**!
So how the heck is this supposed to work???
Remember that it is illegal to block while in an RCU read-side critical
section. Therefore, if a given CPU executes a context switch, we know
that it must have completed all preceding RCU read-side critical sections.
Once **all** CPUs have executed a context switch, then **all** preceding
RCU read-side critical sections will have completed.
So, suppose that we remove a data item from its structure and then invoke
synchronize_rcu(). Once synchronize_rcu() returns, we are guaranteed
that there are no RCU read-side critical sections holding a reference
to that data item, so we can safely reclaim it.
.. _quiz_2:
Quick Quiz #2:
Give an example where Classic RCU's read-side
overhead is **negative**.
:ref:`Answers to Quick Quiz <9_whatisRCU>`
.. _quiz_3:
Quick Quiz #3:
If it is illegal to block in an RCU read-side
critical section, what the heck do you do in
CONFIG_PREEMPT_RT, where normal spinlocks can block???
:ref:`Answers to Quick Quiz <9_whatisRCU>`
.. _6_whatisRCU:
Although RCU can be used in many different ways, a very common use of
RCU is analogous to reader-writer locking. The following unified
diff shows how closely related RCU and reader-writer locking can be.
@@ -5,5 +5,5 @@ struct el {
int data;
/* Other data fields */
-rwlock_t listmutex;
+spinlock_t listmutex;
struct el head;
@@ -13,15 +14,15 @@
struct list_head *lp;
struct el *p;
- read_lock(&listmutex);
- list_for_each_entry(p, head, lp) {
+ rcu_read_lock();
+ list_for_each_entry_rcu(p, head, lp) {
if (p->key == key) {
*result = p->data;
- read_unlock(&listmutex);
+ rcu_read_unlock();
return 1;
- read_unlock(&listmutex);
+ rcu_read_unlock();
return 0;
@@ -29,15 +30,16 @@
struct el *p;
- write_lock(&listmutex);
+ spin_lock(&listmutex);
list_for_each_entry(p, head, lp) {
if (p->key == key) {
- list_del(&p->list);
- write_unlock(&listmutex);
+ list_del_rcu(&p->list);
+ spin_unlock(&listmutex);
+ synchronize_rcu();
return 1;
- write_unlock(&listmutex);
+ spin_unlock(&listmutex);
return 0;
Or, for those who prefer a side-by-side listing::
1 struct el { 1 struct el {
2 struct list_head list; 2 struct list_head list;
3 long key; 3 long key;
4 spinlock_t mutex; 4 spinlock_t mutex;
5 int data; 5 int data;
6 /* Other data fields */ 6 /* Other data fields */
7 }; 7 };
8 rwlock_t listmutex; 8 spinlock_t listmutex;
9 struct el head; 9 struct el head;
1 int search(long key, int *result) 1 int search(long key, int *result)
2 { 2 {
3 struct list_head *lp; 3 struct list_head *lp;
4 struct el *p; 4 struct el *p;
5 5
6 read_lock(&listmutex); 6 rcu_read_lock();
7 list_for_each_entry(p, head, lp) { 7 list_for_each_entry_rcu(p, head, lp) {
8 if (p->key == key) { 8 if (p->key == key) {
9 *result = p->data; 9 *result = p->data;
10 read_unlock(&listmutex); 10 rcu_read_unlock();
11 return 1; 11 return 1;
12 } 12 }
13 } 13 }
14 read_unlock(&listmutex); 14 rcu_read_unlock();
15 return 0; 15 return 0;
16 } 16 }
1 int delete(long key) 1 int delete(long key)
2 { 2 {
3 struct el *p; 3 struct el *p;
4 4
5 write_lock(&listmutex); 5 spin_lock(&listmutex);
6 list_for_each_entry(p, head, lp) { 6 list_for_each_entry(p, head, lp) {
7 if (p->key == key) { 7 if (p->key == key) {
8 list_del(&p->list); 8 list_del_rcu(&p->list);
9 write_unlock(&listmutex); 9 spin_unlock(&listmutex);
10 synchronize_rcu();
10 kfree(p); 11 kfree(p);
11 return 1; 12 return 1;
12 } 13 }
13 } 14 }
14 write_unlock(&listmutex); 15 spin_unlock(&listmutex);
15 return 0; 16 return 0;
16 } 17 }
Either way, the differences are quite small. Read-side locking moves
to rcu_read_lock() and rcu_read_unlock, update-side locking moves from
a reader-writer lock to a simple spinlock, and a synchronize_rcu()
precedes the kfree().
However, there is one potential catch: the read-side and update-side
critical sections can now run concurrently. In many cases, this will
not be a problem, but it is necessary to check carefully regardless.
For example, if multiple independent list updates must be seen as
a single atomic update, converting to RCU will require special care.
Also, the presence of synchronize_rcu() means that the RCU version of
delete() can now block. If this is a problem, there is a callback-based
mechanism that never blocks, namely call_rcu() or kfree_rcu(), that can
be used in place of synchronize_rcu().
.. _7_whatisRCU:
The reader-writer analogy (illustrated by the previous section) is not
always the best way to think about using RCU. Another helpful analogy
considers RCU an effective reference count on everything which is
protected by RCU.
A reference count typically does not prevent the referenced object's
values from changing, but does prevent changes to type -- particularly the
gross change of type that happens when that object's memory is freed and
re-allocated for some other purpose. Once a type-safe reference to the
object is obtained, some other mechanism is needed to ensure consistent
access to the data in the object. This could involve taking a spinlock,
but with RCU the typical approach is to perform reads with SMP-aware
operations such as smp_load_acquire(), to perform updates with atomic
read-modify-write operations, and to provide the necessary ordering.
RCU provides a number of support functions that embed the required
operations and ordering, such as the list_for_each_entry_rcu() macro
used in the previous section.
A more focused view of the reference counting behavior is that,
between rcu_read_lock() and rcu_read_unlock(), any reference taken with
rcu_dereference() on a pointer marked as ``__rcu`` can be treated as
though a reference-count on that object has been temporarily increased.
This prevents the object from changing type. Exactly what this means
will depend on normal expectations of objects of that type, but it
typically includes that spinlocks can still be safely locked, normal
reference counters can be safely manipulated, and ``__rcu`` pointers
can be safely dereferenced.
Some operations that one might expect to see on an object for
which an RCU reference is held include:
- Copying out data that is guaranteed to be stable by the object's type.
- Using kref_get_unless_zero() or similar to get a longer-term
reference. This may fail of course.
- Acquiring a spinlock in the object, and checking if the object still
is the expected object and if so, manipulating it freely.
The understanding that RCU provides a reference that only prevents a
change of type is particularly visible with objects allocated from a
slab cache marked ``SLAB_TYPESAFE_BY_RCU``. RCU operations may yield a
reference to an object from such a cache that has been concurrently freed
and the memory reallocated to a completely different object, though of
the same type. In this case RCU doesn't even protect the identity of the
object from changing, only its type. So the object found may not be the
one expected, but it will be one where it is safe to take a reference
(and then potentially acquiring a spinlock), allowing subsequent code
to check whether the identity matches expectations. It is tempting
to simply acquire the spinlock without first taking the reference, but
unfortunately any spinlock in a ``SLAB_TYPESAFE_BY_RCU`` object must be
initialized after each and every call to kmem_cache_alloc(), which renders
reference-free spinlock acquisition completely unsafe. Therefore, when
using ``SLAB_TYPESAFE_BY_RCU``, make proper use of a reference counter.
(Those willing to use a kmem_cache constructor may also use locking,
including cache-friendly sequence locking.)
With traditional reference counting -- such as that implemented by the
kref library in Linux -- there is typically code that runs when the last
reference to an object is dropped. With kref, this is the function
passed to kref_put(). When RCU is being used, such finalization code
must not be run until all ``__rcu`` pointers referencing the object have
been updated, and then a grace period has passed. Every remaining
globally visible pointer to the object must be considered to be a
potential counted reference, and the finalization code is typically run
using call_rcu() only after all those pointers have been changed.
To see how to choose between these two analogies -- of RCU as a
reader-writer lock and RCU as a reference counting system -- it is useful
to reflect on the scale of the thing being protected. The reader-writer
lock analogy looks at larger multi-part objects such as a linked list
and shows how RCU can facilitate concurrency while elements are added
to, and removed from, the list. The reference-count analogy looks at
the individual objects and looks at how they can be accessed safely
within whatever whole they are a part of.
.. _8_whatisRCU:
The RCU APIs are documented in docbook-format header comments in the
Linux-kernel source code, but it helps to have a full list of the
APIs, since there does not appear to be a way to categorize them
in docbook. Here is the list, by category.
RCU list traversal::
RCU pointer/list update::
Critical sections Grace period Barrier
rcu_read_lock synchronize_net rcu_barrier
rcu_read_unlock synchronize_rcu
rcu_dereference synchronize_rcu_expedited
rcu_read_lock_held call_rcu
rcu_dereference_check kfree_rcu
Critical sections Grace period Barrier
rcu_read_lock_bh call_rcu rcu_barrier
rcu_read_unlock_bh synchronize_rcu
[local_bh_disable] synchronize_rcu_expedited
[and friends]
Critical sections Grace period Barrier
rcu_read_lock_sched call_rcu rcu_barrier
rcu_read_unlock_sched synchronize_rcu
[preempt_disable] synchronize_rcu_expedited
[and friends]
Critical sections Grace period Barrier
N/A call_rcu_tasks rcu_barrier_tasks
Critical sections Grace period Barrier
N/A call_rcu_tasks_rude rcu_barrier_tasks_rude
Critical sections Grace period Barrier
rcu_read_lock_trace call_rcu_tasks_trace rcu_barrier_tasks_trace
rcu_read_unlock_trace synchronize_rcu_tasks_trace
Critical sections Grace period Barrier
srcu_read_lock call_srcu srcu_barrier
srcu_read_unlock synchronize_srcu
srcu_dereference synchronize_srcu_expedited
SRCU: Initialization/cleanup::
All: lockdep-checked RCU utility APIs::
All: Unchecked RCU-protected pointer access::
All: Unchecked RCU-protected pointer access with dereferencing prohibited::
See the comment headers in the source code (or the docbook generated
from them) for more information.
However, given that there are no fewer than four families of RCU APIs
in the Linux kernel, how do you choose which one to use? The following
list can be helpful:
a. Will readers need to block? If so, you need SRCU.
b. Will readers need to block and are you doing tracing, for
example, ftrace or BPF? If so, you need RCU-tasks,
RCU-tasks-rude, and/or RCU-tasks-trace.
c. What about the -rt patchset? If readers would need to block in
an non-rt kernel, you need SRCU. If readers would block when
acquiring spinlocks in a -rt kernel, but not in a non-rt kernel,
SRCU is not necessary. (The -rt patchset turns spinlocks into
sleeplocks, hence this distinction.)
d. Do you need to treat NMI handlers, hardirq handlers,
and code segments with preemption disabled (whether
via preempt_disable(), local_irq_save(), local_bh_disable(),
or some other mechanism) as if they were explicit RCU readers?
If so, RCU-sched readers are the only choice that will work
for you, but since about v4.20 you use can use the vanilla RCU
update primitives.
e. Do you need RCU grace periods to complete even in the face of
softirq monopolization of one or more of the CPUs? For example,
is your code subject to network-based denial-of-service attacks?
If so, you should disable softirq across your readers, for
example, by using rcu_read_lock_bh(). Since about v4.20 you
use can use the vanilla RCU update primitives.
f. Is your workload too update-intensive for normal use of
RCU, but inappropriate for other synchronization mechanisms?
If so, consider SLAB_TYPESAFE_BY_RCU (which was originally
named SLAB_DESTROY_BY_RCU). But please be careful!
g. Do you need read-side critical sections that are respected even
on CPUs that are deep in the idle loop, during entry to or exit
from user-mode execution, or on an offlined CPU? If so, SRCU
and RCU Tasks Trace are the only choices that will work for you,
with SRCU being strongly preferred in almost all cases.
h. Otherwise, use RCU.
Of course, this all assumes that you have determined that RCU is in fact
the right tool for your job.
.. _9_whatisRCU:
Quick Quiz #1:
Why is this argument naive? How could a deadlock
occur when using this algorithm in a real-world Linux
kernel? [Referring to the lock-based "toy" RCU
Consider the following sequence of events:
1. CPU 0 acquires some unrelated lock, call it
"problematic_lock", disabling irq via
2. CPU 1 enters synchronize_rcu(), write-acquiring
3. CPU 0 enters rcu_read_lock(), but must wait
because CPU 1 holds rcu_gp_mutex.
4. CPU 1 is interrupted, and the irq handler
attempts to acquire problematic_lock.
The system is now deadlocked.
One way to avoid this deadlock is to use an approach like
that of CONFIG_PREEMPT_RT, where all normal spinlocks
become blocking locks, and all irq handlers execute in
the context of special tasks. In this case, in step 4
above, the irq handler would block, allowing CPU 1 to
release rcu_gp_mutex, avoiding the deadlock.
Even in the absence of deadlock, this RCU implementation
allows latency to "bleed" from readers to other
readers through synchronize_rcu(). To see this,
consider task A in an RCU read-side critical section
(thus read-holding rcu_gp_mutex), task B blocked
attempting to write-acquire rcu_gp_mutex, and
task C blocked in rcu_read_lock() attempting to
read_acquire rcu_gp_mutex. Task A's RCU read-side
latency is holding up task C, albeit indirectly via
task B.
Realtime RCU implementations therefore use a counter-based
approach where tasks in RCU read-side critical sections
cannot be blocked by tasks executing synchronize_rcu().
:ref:`Back to Quick Quiz #1 <quiz_1>`
Quick Quiz #2:
Give an example where Classic RCU's read-side
overhead is **negative**.
Imagine a single-CPU system with a non-CONFIG_PREEMPTION
kernel where a routing table is used by process-context
code, but can be updated by irq-context code (for example,
by an "ICMP REDIRECT" packet). The usual way of handling
this would be to have the process-context code disable
interrupts while searching the routing table. Use of
RCU allows such interrupt-disabling to be dispensed with.
Thus, without RCU, you pay the cost of disabling interrupts,
and with RCU you don't.
One can argue that the overhead of RCU in this
case is negative with respect to the single-CPU
interrupt-disabling approach. Others might argue that
the overhead of RCU is merely zero, and that replacing
the positive overhead of the interrupt-disabling scheme
with the zero-overhead RCU scheme does not constitute
negative overhead.
In real life, of course, things are more complex. But
even the theoretical possibility of negative overhead for
a synchronization primitive is a bit unexpected. ;-)
:ref:`Back to Quick Quiz #2 <quiz_2>`
Quick Quiz #3:
If it is illegal to block in an RCU read-side
critical section, what the heck do you do in
CONFIG_PREEMPT_RT, where normal spinlocks can block???
Just as CONFIG_PREEMPT_RT permits preemption of spinlock
critical sections, it permits preemption of RCU
read-side critical sections. It also permits
spinlocks blocking while in RCU read-side critical
Why the apparent inconsistency? Because it is
possible to use priority boosting to keep the RCU
grace periods short if need be (for example, if running
short of memory). In contrast, if blocking waiting
for (say) network reception, there is no way to know
what should be boosted. Especially given that the
process we need to boost might well be a human being
who just went out for a pizza or something. And although
a computer-operated cattle prod might arouse serious
interest, it might also provoke serious objections.
Besides, how does the computer know what pizza parlor
the human being went to???
:ref:`Back to Quick Quiz #3 <quiz_3>`
My thanks to the people who helped make this human-readable, including
Jon Walpole, Josh Triplett, Serge Hallyn, Suzanne Wood, and Alan Stern.
For more information, see