Useless dovetail hacks

Philippe Gerum rpm at
Sat Sep 12 18:40:34 CEST 2020

Jan Kiszka <jan.kiszka at> writes:

> On 11.09.20 18:32, Philippe Gerum wrote:
>> Jan Kiszka via Xenomai <xenomai at> writes:
>>> Hi all,
>>> to permit sharing the work of porting Xenomai over dovetail, I finally
>>> pushed my baseline hacks to [1]. You can "use" that on [2] (use
>>> fa1e9ba5e822, 0d68e5607286 leaks evl bits and is broken)
>> Fixed on top of [2] now, thanks.
> Thanks, confirmed!

Ok. I'll push this to 5.9-rc4 too.

>>> just like you
>>> would for an I-pipe kernel ( The thing builds for me,
>>> it even starts and gives a prompt, but that's because of
>>> [    1.186025] [Xenomai] init failed, code -19
>>> All the timing stuff is not mapped yet. Like a lot of other things. ETIME...
>> This rough enumeration of what would change in Cobalt as a result of
>> rebasing on Dovetail still applies:
>> To summarize this, a significant issue would involve switching the
>> xntimer abstraction to nanosecs, dropping all references to the internal
>> time unit which may be used by the clock and timer devices (e.g. TSC on
>> x86, free running counters from assorted ARM/aarch64 timers).
> I'm thinking of running with timers/clocks that have a 1:1 translation
> in first step. Obviously, that is not optimal.
>> Overall, switching to Dovetail entails disabling a significant amount of
>> low-level code from Cobalt, which implements features the former already
>> handles (like core context switch support, fpu sharing between execution
>> stages, shared interrupt support [in xnintr] and reading the POSIX
>> clocks from the real-time context via the generic vDSO).
>>> Please raise your hand when you'd like to join this endeavor, then we
>>> can discuss a split-up of tasks. Next steps would be:
>>> - make it initialize dovetail properly and activate Xenomai
>>> - hack on it until Xenomai tasks work properly
>>> - look at the result an decide how to integrate with I-pipe or whether
>>>   to make this Xenomai 3.2 without any I-pipe support
>> Assuming you meant that an option might be to enable Xenomai 3.1 to run
>> over Dovetail, I would say that a Dovetail-based Cobalt core implies
>> Xenomai 3.2+ instead, because 3.1.x is deemed stable, therefore the ABI
>> changes involved in such a transition should not make their way into the
>> stable tree.  There is also the issue of ppc32 and x86_32, which
>> Dovetail does not support.
> x86_32 is long gone, no one needs this anymore. ppc32 is different, but
> we would not hold breath if one arch is not able to follow in time. I
> wouldn't see an issue with leaving a combination initially unsupported.
> Anyway, the criteria for 3.2 vs. 3.1 enhancement is whether we can keep
> the kernel-user ABI stable. I have no concrete feeling for that yet.
> Primarily, we are working on the kernel internals. But prio is on being
> able to move forward, and if that is much simpler via a new major
> release, than we will do that.
>> Although having both ABIs live side-by-side in a way that would maintain
>> backward compat with I-pipe kernels might be done, the result would not
>> be pretty implementation-wise: redundancies and ugly wrappings to be
>> expected in libcobalt, and two set of build settings for the latter
>> depending on which ABI is targeted to avoid indirect calls all over the
>> place. Which would also require having separate sets of user-space
>> libraries, specifically built for one IRQ pipeline core or the
>> other, adding to the confusion.
> Can you give some example where ipipe concepts "leak" into userspace?

The ARM port exports the current clocksource counter to user-space via
MMIO mapping in order for application processes to perform fast readings
(i.e. arch/arm/include/asm/xenomai/uapi/tsc.h). Then comes the ticks to
nanosecs translation from the read value via the arith code, both in
kernel and libcobalt.

Also, Dovetail reworked the foreign syscall identification scheme on
ARM. The I-pipe relies on a specific SWI instruction argument signature
(0xF0042) to detect syscalls which shall be directed to the real-time
core. The reason is rooted into the OABI/EABI call convention split,
Xenomai still supporting both of them.  With other architectures, the
I-pipe makes this decision on the syscall number instead (i.e. checking
the MSB). Now that OABI is pretty much dead, Dovetail has aligned the
ARM implementation on the common rule for encoding a co-kernel syscall,
supporting EABI only. In other words, the way XENOMAI_SYSCALL() expands
on ARM would differ between an I-pipe and a Dovetail-based system.

>> On a more general note, isn't the issue about which should be the final
>> kernel release the project would pledge to support with Xenomai 3.1.x?
>> As of today, Xenomai 3.1 is (almost) running kernel 5.4 LTS over the
>> I-pipe, at least on x86. If things go as usual upstream, the next LTS
>> kernel is going to be post-5.7, which means the effort in porting the
>> I-pipe to the next LTS release may be quite significant, with many
>> conflicts to expect between the upstream changes and the pipeline code
>> starting from kernel 5.8, particularly for x86. For this reason, keeping
>> the Cobalt core compatible with the I-pipe beyond kernel 5.4, adding
>> support for Dovetail the right way in the meantime seems a hard nut to
>> crack maintenance-wise.
> Having a 5.4 I-pipe in reach definitely relaxes our pressure to move the
> core over dovetail and do many necessary and reasonable refactoring
> along that. 5.10 will most likely by the next LTS, and that is what the
> dovetail porting is targeting.
>> Out of curiosity, are there teams at Intel/Siemens planning for this
>> already?
> Intel stepped up to work with the I-pipe 5.4 port for x86 and would also
> like to support with the dovetail work. At Siemens we are looking at the
> y2038 conversion and the dovetail baseline. For the former topic
> Chensong is joining us.

An approach that worked well for EVL is to combine the y2038 and 32-bit
compat mode (aarch32->aarch64) efforts. Many (if not most) syscall32
wrappers which Cobalt implements are actually addressing the long-type
representation issue with timespecs, which y2038 also has to solve.

At the end of the day, syscall32 wrapping became pointless (granted, the
EVL core only needs three system calls, one of which receives those data
structures, but the Cobalt ABI could be reworked in a similar fashion).
Reducing the number of system call entries Cobalt implements would also
go a long way towards libcobalt compatibility with Valgrind.

>> Also, are there any discussions about what the next major Xenomai
>> release (i.e. post-3.1) should aim at, particularly in the context of
>> upstream's plans to merge the last preempt-rt bits in the 5.10
>> timeframe? Should this major Xenomai release be exclusively about
>> solving the I-pipe maintenance issue by rebasing Cobalt over Dovetail?
> It is surely the primary topic, along with y2038 (with our without
> backward compatibility) and associated cleanups. Rather than putting
> more on the table, I would prefer getting that release done in a timely
> manner, in order to have recent kernel and, thus, also hardware support.
>> Could this be also an opportunity to have an all-out conversation about
>> the best way to ensure Xenomai stays relevant in the years to come as a
>> enabler for a particular class of real-time applications? Are there any
>> discussions about the scope and purpose of what Xenomai as a system
>> should provide? such as (and not exclusively):
>> - is API emulation of legacy RTOS (VxWorks, pSOS) still relevant in this
>>   day and age? Corollary: is allowing people to develop their own flavor
>>   of whatever real-time API something Xenomai should still provide
>>   support for.
> That is a valid question, and I would also like to hear voices from the
> user community on that.
> We do have one of such use case on out side at Siemens, and it's clear
> that we will need a certain level of customization on top for some more
> years to come. Reducing it is clearly a goal, just a longer effort.

If the interface you mention is the one I'm aware of, you would only
need a limited portion of libcopperplate to support it. The work to
support this API mostly happens in kernel space, over the so-called
"personality" abstraction Cobalt implements.

>> - how to solve the general issue of driver bit rotting over Cobalt/RTDM?
>>   (e.g. can, uart, spi, rtnet)
> Drivers for hardware that deceased a decade ago or so should probably be
> removed (RTnet hosts several candidates). The rest depends on users
> looking for it. Latest when things stop to build and no one notices, we
> should start removing more agressively. The next major release should
> probable be used to sweep the corners.
> As we know, there is no magic answer to this problem. When you split
> scheduling and, thus, also synchronization primitives, you automatically
> create a second world for drivers. Sharing setup and resource management
> logic with Linux, which we do to a certain degree already, mitigates
> this a bit but will never solve this fundamental issue. So, only
> interfaces/hw that matter enough will see the required extra effort to
> run over co-kernel environments.

I agree. However, with hindsight and quite some time spent working on
this issue with EVL, I believe that in many cases, it is possible to
merge the "dual kernel" execution logic into the common driver semantics
in a way which does not require having a separate driver stack, but
rather the common driver model knowing about the out-of-band/primary
mode contexts.

If we cannot make the whole driver run happily in primary mode for the
reasons you mentioned, it may still be possible to define a set of
simple operations which may do so provided they are mutually exclusive
with the regular driver work, and have them live directly into the
original driver, instead of forking off of the latter to implement an ad
hoc driver, which is pretty much signing up for bit rot down the
road. Although there are still two competing execution contexts (primary
vs secondary in Xenomai's lingo) and only very few bridges between them,
such level of integration limits the amount of -semantically- redundant
code between both.

SPI, DMA, and GPIOs are a no brainer for this and are already available
in such form, serial and network need more analysis because their
execution contexts are either more clumsy/complex. I also got the PCM
portion of the Alsa stack enabled with a complete I/O path over the
real-time context, from the user (ioctl) request to send/recv frames to
some i2s device, via DMA transactions controlled by the PCM core. As
weird as it may seem, it is actually not that intrusive, and works quite
well, including at insane acquisition rates for feeding an audio
pipeline. There is still some work ahead to fix rough edges, but the
fundamentals look sane.

Overall, the idea is not about preventing people to depend on some
abstract driver interface like RTDM would they wish to, but instead to
make this indirection optional when a deeper integration with the common
device driver model is possible and preferred.

Of course, the whole idea only makes sense if one is willing to maintain
the real-time core directly into the linux kernel tree, which is how EVL
is maintained.

>> - with hindsight, is maintaining a unified API support between the
>>   I-pipe and preempt-rt environments via libcopperplate still relevant,
>>   compared to the complexity this brings into the code base? Generally
>>   speaking, should Xenomai still pledge to support both environments
>>   transparently (which is still not fully the case in absence of a
>>   modern native RTDM implementation), or should the project exclusively
>>   (re-)focus on its dual kernel technology instead?
> Also a very good question. I've seen contributions and reports for the
> mercury setup in the past, but it is very hard to estimate its relevance
> today - or its potential when preempt-rt is mainline.
> My guess is that today mercury is highly under-tested in our regular
> development and may only work "by chance". Lifting it into automated
> testings would be no rocket science, but maintaining it when it needs
> care would require someone stepping up - or a clear benefit for the
> overall quality of the code base.

Mercury can be seen as a by-product of abstracting the common RTOS
features in libcopperplate in order to support legacy RTOS emulation,
without having to bloat the kernel with exotic APIs (unlike Xenomai
2.6). As libcopperplate mediates between the app and the real-time core,
it has been fairly simple to split the implementation between dual
kernel and native preemption support for each of these features.

In other words, you should still be able to provide API emulation
without native preemption support.

>> - should an orphaned stack like Analogy be kept in, knowing that nobody
>>   really cared over the years to maintain it since it was merged, back
>>   in 2009?
> See above.
>> - could significant limitations such as the poor SMP scalability of the
>>   Cobalt core be lifted?
> This is a mid- to long-term goal, at least to the degree that
> independent applications could run contention free when they are bound
> to different cores and do not have common resources.

The timer management code is still a common resource you cannot unshare
in Cobalt, unless the code is refactored in a way which decouples it
from the nklock rules. So as long as a CPU may run real-time tasks, it
has to receive clock ticks, therefore the ugly big lock will be required
to serialize accesses to the timer management code. Because that code
has locking dependencies on the scheduler implementation, the path to a
better scalability should start with protecting the timer machinery
without relying on that lock.

> However, fine-grained locking does not come for free and can quickly
> lead to complex lock nesting and - at least theoretically - even worse
> results. So this will have to be a careful transition. Or EVL proves to
> have solved that better in all degrees, and we just jump over.

I believe that the issue of dropping the nklock has been an unfortunate
bogeyman since this idea was first floated circa 2008. Obviously, this
is not trivial, and this process has to be gradual, removing all
roadblocks one after another, which includes rewriting portions of
touchy code (like xnsynch). However, the final implemention is far from
being that complex. On the contrary, the resulting code is much simpler
in the end. To give practical details, a basic lock nesting hierarchy
which would fit the Cobalt scheduler can be as simple as:


No more than three nesting levels would be needed to cover the basic
timer and scheduling systems. I can only tell about my experience
following this process with the EVL core, which as you know started off
from the Cobalt core: after a year running this new scalable
implementation with no more big lock inside, I believe the effort to get
there was well worth it, not only in terms of SMP performance, but it
also helped a lot cleaning up the internal interfaces, such as the core
synchronization mechanisms.

Last but not least, this effort also helped in addressing the issue of
stale references to core objects in a reliable way. Cobalt most often
relies on holding the nklock in order to prevent a user (request) from
referring to a core object while some other thread might be dismantling
it. In some cases, this approach is fragile enough to require the
memory-independent, opaque handle representing the object to be
re-validated multiple times to make sure the underlying stuff was not
wiped out under our feet while we had to temporarily release the big
lock for whatever reason. This also means that destructors of internal
objects have to hold the big lock, which ends up not looking pretty in
latency figures (the jitter caused by hitting ^C when switchtest runs on
4+ CPUs is noticeable).

In other words, once one agrees that there should be no big lock
anymore, the conversation has to start about how to protect against
stale references in a proper, more efficient way.

>> - is guaranteeing that a single Cobalt release can run over the span of
>>   tenths of upstream kernel releases still affordable and sound
>>   maintenance-wise? Although some users may be happy with such
>>   guarantee, this also limits improvements in the real-time core by
>>   having to stick to the least common denominator when it comes to
>>   leveraging the latest host kernel features to date, leading to code
>>   obsolescence and noisy wrappers (currently, Cobalt must implement
>>   things in a way which must build and run on top of kernel 3.10, which
>>   is 7-years old).
> We may still have stuff lying around that was designed for making 3.10
> happy and was never cleaned up, but even 3.0.x is limited to 4.4 by now
> (likely no one is testing older kernels with it).
> I still see value in decoupling the RT core from the kernel, at least as
> long as the kernel reasonably permits this. In our domain, there is a
> high demand for long-term support, and providing that for n-kernel
> versions is already hard when looking at the core patches and its fixes
> at different releases. Adding the whole scheduling core and APIs to that
> will not make things easier IMHO. Unless someone convinces upstream to
> merge a co-scheduling core, that would obviously change the rules...

I see multiple aspects in this discussion which relate to distinct goals
and endeavors. I won't discuss the issue of merging a co-scheduling core
upstream, because although this would indeed lift many maintenance
problems for such core, I don't see this as a prereq for implementing a
maintenance process more aligned on what happens upstream. In fact, I
would say that the opposite is true: more coupling would be required for
submitting anything upstream.

I believe it is fair to say that only a tiny fraction of the kernel
releases Xenomai 3 officially supports (35 releases or so since v3.10)
is routinely tested, only the most recent are, and most of them on x86
hardware, thanks to the work of the Siemens team on CI. Not to speak
about the actual test coverage (most of the I/O driver support is
unlikely to be tested on a regular basis, most of the tests exercise the
core system calls instead).

Therefore, although there is a single Xenomai code base which in theory
might still build on top of any of these ~35 releases, and despite the
fact that you are careful about not introducing potential regressions
when accepting new code, it would be fairly hazardous to derive from
this any practical guarantee that Xenomai 3 would work just fine on
every possible legacy kernel release down to v3.10. That validation part
is being taken care of by interested users themselves. So I would say
that there may be a perceived upside about maintaining the RT core
outside of the target kernel tree, but in practice, this only applies to
a few kernel releases, with decent but limited test coverage fitting the
resources, likely starting with v4.4 as you mentioned.

In addition, we have to acknowledge the fact that among the projects
deploying Xenomai in industrial solutions, quite a few of them are
running vendor kernels, particularly in the ARM world (I'll refrain from
trying to figure out why this pain may be self-inflicted for no valid
reason in many cases). Since Xenomai (and EVL the same way) exclusively
targets mainline kernels, the "one code base for many kernels" perceived
advantage I mentioned earlier looks even more shallow there.

Still, this decoupling may have spared many projects/companies from
having to maintain their own Xenomai-enabled linux tree for a slew of
possible Xenomai and kernel release combos over time. In other words,
those companies might have been outsourcing this long-running
maintenance task to the Xenomai project, throughout their product(s)
lifetime. Some of them may have been happy with the result, other may
have faced issues with some broken Xenomai/linux/architecture combo they
had to fix, we actually don't know how to assess how successful this
strategy might have been for them given the endemic deficit in feedback.

Which brings me back to the point of high demand for long-term support:
for sure such support is certainly a requirement in our field, but is
properly maintaining and thoroughly testing more than a couple of
real-time core/linux combos on a handful of CPU architectures at any
point in time, something anyone of us can pledge given the resources at
hand? Are Siemens or Intel planning for anything like this?


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