Monday, April 26, 2010


Reading a few LWN articles on RCUs (1 2 3) really shed some light on their properties and use.

On read-intensive scenarios, it's more efficient to replace read/write locking with an RCU. This is possible because all Linux platforms have atomic pointer read/write operations.

Read critical section
  • dereferences pointers through a mechanism with platform specific memory ordering guarantees: rcu_dereference()
  • may not sleep
  • may not keep or pass dereferenced pointers outside the critical section
Write critical section
  • Protects agains concurrent writes using regular spinlock mutex
  • Makes a copy of the original structure, making updates in the copy
  • Swaps in the new version, while still keeping the old version (atomic)
  • Invokes synchronize_rcu() to wait for all readers to exit their current rcu read critical sections.
  • ( A non-pre-emptible kernel can simpy wait for all CPUs to switch contexts. )
  • Free the old version
Properly used RCUs are immune to deadlocks, but synchronous writes may be very slow due to need to wait for the context switches.

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