Книга: Distributed operating systems

8.3.3. External Memory Managers

8.3.3. External Memory Managers

At the start of our discussion on memory management in Mach we briefly mentioned the existence of user-level memory managers. Let us now take a deeper look at them. Each memory object that is mapped in a process' address space must have an external memory manager that controls it. Different classes of memory objects are handled by different memory managers. Each of these can implement its own semantics, can determine where to store pages that are not in memory, and can provide its own rules about what becomes of objects after they are mapped out.

To map an object into a process' address space, the process sends a message to a memory manager asking it to do the mapping. Three ports are needed to do the job. The first, the object port, is created by the memory manager and will later be used by the kernel to inform the memory manager about page faults and other events relating to the object. The second, the control port, is created by the kernel itself so that the memory manager can respond to these events (many require some action on the memory manager's part). The use of distinct ports is due to the fact that ports are unidirectional. The object port is written by the kernel and read by the memory manager; the control port works the other way around. The third port, the name port, is used as a kind of name to identify the object. For example, a thread can give the kernel a virtual address and ask which region it belongs to. The answer is a pointer to the name port. If addresses belong to the same region, they will be identified by the same name port.

When the memory manager maps in an object, it provides the capability for the object port as one of the parameters. The kernel then creates the other two ports and sends an initial message to the object port telling it about the control and name ports. The memory manager then sends back a reply telling the kernel what the object's attributes are, and informing it whether or not to keep the object in its cache after it is unmapped. Initially, all the object's pages are marked as unreadable/unwritable, to force a trap on the first use.

At this point the memory manager does a read on the object port and blocks. The memory manager remains idle until the kernel requests it to do something by writing a message to the object port. The thread that mapped the object in is now unblocked and allowed to execute.

Sooner or later, the thread will undoubtedly attempt to read or write a page belonging to the memory object. This operation will cause a page fault and a trap to the kernel. The kernel will then send a message to the memory manager via the object port, telling it which page has been referenced and asking it to please provide the page. This message is asynchronous because the kernel does not dare to block any of its threads waiting for a user process that may not reply. While waiting for a reply, the kernel suspends the faulting thread and looks for another thread to run.

When the memory manager hears about the page fault, it checks to see if the reference is legal. If not, it sends the kernel an error message. If it is legal, the memory manager gets the page by whatever method is appropriate for the object in question. If the object is a file, the memory manager seeks to the correct address and reads the page into its own address space. It then sends a reply back to the kernel providing a pointer to the page. The kernel maps the page into the faulting thread's address space, The thread can now be unblocked. This process is repeated as often as necessary to load all the pages needed.

To make sure that there is a steady supply of free page frames, a paging daemon thread in the kernel wakes up from time to time and checks the state of memory. If there are not enough free page frames, it picks a page to free using the second-chance algorithm. If the page is clean, it is normally just discarded. If the page is dirty, the daemon sends it to the memory manager in charge of the page's object. The memory manager is expected to write the page to disk and tell when it is done. If the page belongs to a file, the memory manager will first seek to the page's offset in the file, then write it there.

Pages can be marked as precious, in which cases they will never be just discarded, even if they are clean. They will always be returned to their memory manager. Precious pages can be used, for example, for pages shared over the network for which there is only one copy which must never be discarded. Communication can also be initiated by the memory manager, for example, when a SYNC system call is done to flush the cache back to disk.

It is worth noting that the paging daemon is part of the kernel. Although the page replacement algorithm is completely machine independent, with a memory full of pages owned by different memory managers, there is no suitable way to let one of them decide which page to evict. The only method that might be possible is to statically partition the page frames among the various managers and let each one do page replacement on its set. However, since global algorithms are generally more efficient than local ones, this approach was not taken. Subsequent work has investigated this subject (Harty and Cheriton, 1992; and Subramian, 1991).

In addition to the memory managers for mapped files and other specialized objects, there is also a default memory manager for "ordinary" paged memory. When a process allocates a region of virtual address space using the allocate call, it is in fact mapping an object managed by the default manager. This manager provides zero-filled pages as needed. It uses a temporary file for swap space, rather than a separate swap area as UNIX does.

To make the idea of an external memory manager work, a strict protocol must be used for communication between the kernel and the memory managers. This protocol consists of a small number of messages that the kernel can send to a memory manager, and a small number of replies the memory manager can send back to the kernel. All communication is initiated by the kernel in the form of an asynchronous message on an object port for some memory object. Later, the memory manager sends an asynchronous reply on the control port.

Figure 8-11 lists the principal message types that the kernel sends to memory managers. When an object is mapped in using the map call of Fig. 8-8, the kernel sends an init message to the appropriate memory manager to let it initialize itself. The message specifies the ports to be used for discussing the object later. Requests from the kernel to ask for a page and deliver a page use data_request and data_write respectively. These handle the page traffic in both directions, and as such are the most important calls.

Call Description
Init Initialize a newly mapped-in memory object
Data-request Give kernel a specific page to handle a page fault
Data-write Take a page from memory and write it out
Data-unlock Unlock a page so kernel can use it
Lock-completed Previous Lock_request has been completed
Terminate Be informed that this object is no longer in use

Fig. 8-11. Selected message types from the kernel to the external memory managers.

Data_unlock is a request from the kernel for the memory manager to unlock a locked page so that the kernel can use it for another process. Lock_completed signals the end of a lock_request sequence, and will be described below. Finally, terminate tells the memory manager that the object named in the message is no longer in use and can be removed from memory. Some calls that are specific to the default memory manager also exist, as well as a few managing attributes and error handling.

The messages in Fig. 8-11 go from the kernel to the memory manager. The replies listed in Fig. 8-12 go the other way, from the memory manager back to the kernel. They are replies that the memory manager can use to respond to the above requests.

Call Description
Set-attributes Reply to Init
Data-provided Here is the requested page (Reply to Data-request)
Data-unavailable No page is available (Reply to Data-request)
Lock-request Ask kernel to clean, flush, or lock pages
Destroy Destroy an object that is no longer needed

Fig. 8-12. Selected message types from the external memory managers to the kernel.

The first one, set-attributes , is a reply to init. It tells the kernel that it is ready to handle a newly mapped-in object. The reply also provides mode bits for the object and tells the kernel whether or not to cache the object, even if no process currently has it mapped in. The next two are replies to data_request. That call asks the memory manager to provide a page. Which reply it gives depends on whether or not it can provide the page. The former supplies the page; the latter does not.

Lock_request allows the memory manager to ask the kernel to make certain pages clean, that is, send it the pages so that they can be written to disk. This call can also be used to change the protection mode on pages (read, write, execute). Finally, destroy is used to tell the kernel that a certain object is no longer needed.

It is worth noting that when the kernel sends a message to a memory manager, it is effectively making an upcall. Although flexibility is gained this way, some system designers consider it inelegant for the kernel to call user programs to perform services for it. These people usually believe in hierarchical systems, with the lower layers providing services to the upper layers, not vice versa.

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