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BPF ring buffer
This document describes BPF ring buffer design, API, and implementation details.
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There are two distinctive motivators for this work, which are not satisfied by
existing perf buffer, which prompted creation of a new ring buffer
- more efficient memory utilization by sharing ring buffer across CPUs;
- preserving ordering of events that happen sequentially in time, even across
multiple CPUs (e.g., fork/exec/exit events for a task).
These two problems are independent, but perf buffer fails to satisfy both.
Both are a result of a choice to have per-CPU perf ring buffer. Both can be
also solved by having an MPSC implementation of ring buffer. The ordering
problem could technically be solved for perf buffer with some in-kernel
counting, but given the first one requires an MPSC buffer, the same solution
would solve the second problem automatically.
Semantics and APIs
Single ring buffer is presented to BPF programs as an instance of BPF map of
type ``BPF_MAP_TYPE_RINGBUF``. Two other alternatives considered, but
ultimately rejected.
One way would be to, similar to ``BPF_MAP_TYPE_PERF_EVENT_ARRAY``, make
``BPF_MAP_TYPE_RINGBUF`` could represent an array of ring buffers, but not
enforce "same CPU only" rule. This would be more familiar interface compatible
with existing perf buffer use in BPF, but would fail if application needed more
advanced logic to lookup ring buffer by arbitrary key.
``BPF_MAP_TYPE_HASH_OF_MAPS`` addresses this with current approach.
Additionally, given the performance of BPF ringbuf, many use cases would just
opt into a simple single ring buffer shared among all CPUs, for which current
approach would be an overkill.
Another approach could introduce a new concept, alongside BPF map, to represent
generic "container" object, which doesn't necessarily have key/value interface
with lookup/update/delete operations. This approach would add a lot of extra
infrastructure that has to be built for observability and verifier support. It
would also add another concept that BPF developers would have to familiarize
themselves with, new syntax in libbpf, etc. But then would really provide no
additional benefits over the approach of using a map. ``BPF_MAP_TYPE_RINGBUF``
doesn't support lookup/update/delete operations, but so doesn't few other map
types (e.g., queue and stack; array doesn't support delete, etc).
The approach chosen has an advantage of re-using existing BPF map
infrastructure (introspection APIs in kernel, libbpf support, etc), being
familiar concept (no need to teach users a new type of object in BPF program),
and utilizing existing tooling (bpftool). For common scenario of using a single
ring buffer for all CPUs, it's as simple and straightforward, as would be with
a dedicated "container" object. On the other hand, by being a map, it can be
combined with ``ARRAY_OF_MAPS`` and ``HASH_OF_MAPS`` map-in-maps to implement
a wide variety of topologies, from one ring buffer for each CPU (e.g., as
a replacement for perf buffer use cases), to a complicated application
hashing/sharding of ring buffers (e.g., having a small pool of ring buffers
with hashed task's tgid being a look up key to preserve order, but reduce
Key and value sizes are enforced to be zero. ``max_entries`` is used to specify
the size of ring buffer and has to be a power of 2 value.
There are a bunch of similarities between perf buffer
(``BPF_MAP_TYPE_PERF_EVENT_ARRAY``) and new BPF ring buffer semantics:
- variable-length records;
- if there is no more space left in ring buffer, reservation fails, no
- memory-mappable data area for user-space applications for ease of
consumption and high performance;
- epoll notifications for new incoming data;
- but still the ability to do busy polling for new data to achieve the
lowest latency, if necessary.
BPF ringbuf provides two sets of APIs to BPF programs:
- ``bpf_ringbuf_output()`` allows to *copy* data from one place to a ring
buffer, similarly to ``bpf_perf_event_output()``;
- ``bpf_ringbuf_reserve()``/``bpf_ringbuf_commit()``/``bpf_ringbuf_discard()``
APIs split the whole process into two steps. First, a fixed amount of space
is reserved. If successful, a pointer to a data inside ring buffer data
area is returned, which BPF programs can use similarly to a data inside
array/hash maps. Once ready, this piece of memory is either committed or
discarded. Discard is similar to commit, but makes consumer ignore the
``bpf_ringbuf_output()`` has disadvantage of incurring extra memory copy,
because record has to be prepared in some other place first. But it allows to
submit records of the length that's not known to verifier beforehand. It also
closely matches ``bpf_perf_event_output()``, so will simplify migration
``bpf_ringbuf_reserve()`` avoids the extra copy of memory by providing a memory
pointer directly to ring buffer memory. In a lot of cases records are larger
than BPF stack space allows, so many programs have use extra per-CPU array as
a temporary heap for preparing sample. bpf_ringbuf_reserve() avoid this needs
completely. But in exchange, it only allows a known constant size of memory to
be reserved, such that verifier can verify that BPF program can't access memory
outside its reserved record space. bpf_ringbuf_output(), while slightly slower
due to extra memory copy, covers some use cases that are not suitable for
The difference between commit and discard is very small. Discard just marks
a record as discarded, and such records are supposed to be ignored by consumer
code. Discard is useful for some advanced use-cases, such as ensuring
all-or-nothing multi-record submission, or emulating temporary
``malloc()``/``free()`` within single BPF program invocation.
Each reserved record is tracked by verifier through existing
reference-tracking logic, similar to socket ref-tracking. It is thus
impossible to reserve a record, but forget to submit (or discard) it.
``bpf_ringbuf_query()`` helper allows to query various properties of ring
buffer. Currently 4 are supported:
- ``BPF_RB_AVAIL_DATA`` returns amount of unconsumed data in ring buffer;
- ``BPF_RB_RING_SIZE`` returns the size of ring buffer;
- ``BPF_RB_CONS_POS``/``BPF_RB_PROD_POS`` returns current logical possition
of consumer/producer, respectively.
Returned values are momentarily snapshots of ring buffer state and could be
off by the time helper returns, so this should be used only for
debugging/reporting reasons or for implementing various heuristics, that take
into account highly-changeable nature of some of those characteristics.
One such heuristic might involve more fine-grained control over poll/epoll
notifications about new data availability in ring buffer. Together with
``BPF_RB_NO_WAKEUP``/``BPF_RB_FORCE_WAKEUP`` flags for output/commit/discard
helpers, it allows BPF program a high degree of control and, e.g., more
efficient batched notifications. Default self-balancing strategy, though,
should be adequate for most applications and will work reliable and efficiently
Design and Implementation
This reserve/commit schema allows a natural way for multiple producers, either
on different CPUs or even on the same CPU/in the same BPF program, to reserve
independent records and work with them without blocking other producers. This
means that if BPF program was interruped by another BPF program sharing the
same ring buffer, they will both get a record reserved (provided there is
enough space left) and can work with it and submit it independently. This
applies to NMI context as well, except that due to using a spinlock during
reservation, in NMI context, ``bpf_ringbuf_reserve()`` might fail to get
a lock, in which case reservation will fail even if ring buffer is not full.
The ring buffer itself internally is implemented as a power-of-2 sized
circular buffer, with two logical and ever-increasing counters (which might
wrap around on 32-bit architectures, that's not a problem):
- consumer counter shows up to which logical position consumer consumed the
- producer counter denotes amount of data reserved by all producers.
Each time a record is reserved, producer that "owns" the record will
successfully advance producer counter. At that point, data is still not yet
ready to be consumed, though. Each record has 8 byte header, which contains the
length of reserved record, as well as two extra bits: busy bit to denote that
record is still being worked on, and discard bit, which might be set at commit
time if record is discarded. In the latter case, consumer is supposed to skip
the record and move on to the next one. Record header also encodes record's
relative offset from the beginning of ring buffer data area (in pages). This
allows ``bpf_ringbuf_commit()``/``bpf_ringbuf_discard()`` to accept only the
pointer to the record itself, without requiring also the pointer to ring buffer
itself. Ring buffer memory location will be restored from record metadata
header. This significantly simplifies verifier, as well as improving API
Producer counter increments are serialized under spinlock, so there is
a strict ordering between reservations. Commits, on the other hand, are
completely lockless and independent. All records become available to consumer
in the order of reservations, but only after all previous records where
already committed. It is thus possible for slow producers to temporarily hold
off submitted records, that were reserved later.
One interesting implementation bit, that significantly simplifies (and thus
speeds up as well) implementation of both producers and consumers is how data
area is mapped twice contiguously back-to-back in the virtual memory. This
allows to not take any special measures for samples that have to wrap around
at the end of the circular buffer data area, because the next page after the
last data page would be first data page again, and thus the sample will still
appear completely contiguous in virtual memory. See comment and a simple ASCII
diagram showing this visually in ``bpf_ringbuf_area_alloc()``.
Another feature that distinguishes BPF ringbuf from perf ring buffer is
a self-pacing notifications of new data being availability.
``bpf_ringbuf_commit()`` implementation will send a notification of new record
being available after commit only if consumer has already caught up right up to
the record being committed. If not, consumer still has to catch up and thus
will see new data anyways without needing an extra poll notification.
Benchmarks (see tools/testing/selftests/bpf/benchs/bench_ringbufs.c) show that
this allows to achieve a very high throughput without having to resort to
tricks like "notify only every Nth sample", which are necessary with perf
buffer. For extreme cases, when BPF program wants more manual control of
notifications, commit/discard/output helpers accept ``BPF_RB_NO_WAKEUP`` and
``BPF_RB_FORCE_WAKEUP`` flags, which give full control over notifications of
data availability, but require extra caution and diligence in using this API.