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Date: Mon, 29 May 2017 05:49:53 -0500
From: (Eric W. Biederman)
To: Peter Zijlstra <>
Cc: Christoph Hellwig <>,  Kees Cook <>,  Andrew Morton <>,  Elena Reshetova <>,  Greg KH <>,  Ingo Molnar <>,  Alexey Dobriyan <>,  "Serge E. Hallyn" <>,,  Davidlohr Bueso <>,  Manfred Spraul <>,  "axboe\" <>,  James Bottomley <>,  "x86\" <>,  Ingo Molnar <>,  Arnd Bergmann <>,  "David S. Miller" <>,  Rik van Riel <>,  linux-arch <>,  "kernel-hardening\" <>,  LKML <>
Subject: Re: [PATCH 0/3] ipc subsystem refcounter conversions

Peter Zijlstra <> writes:

> On Mon, May 29, 2017 at 04:11:13AM -0500, Eric W. Biederman wrote:
>> Kees I I have a concern:
>> __must_check bool refcount_add_not_zero(unsigned int i, refcount_t *r)
>> {
>>         unsigned int new, val = atomic_read(&r->refs);
>>         do {
>>                 if (!val)
>>                         return false;
>>                 if (unlikely(val == UINT_MAX))
>>                         return true;
>>                 new = val + i;
>>                 if (new < val)
>>                         new = UINT_MAX;
>>         } while (!atomic_try_cmpxchg_relaxed(&r->refs, &val, new));
>>         WARN_ONCE(new == UINT_MAX, "refcount_t: saturated; leaking memory.\n");
>>         return true;
>> }
>> Why in the world do you succeed when you the value saturates????
> Why not? On saturation the object will leak and returning a reference to
> it is always good.
>> From a code perspective that is bizarre.   The code already has to handle
>> the case when the counter does not increment.
> I don't see it as bizarre, we turned an overflow/use-after-free into a
> leak. That's the primary mechanism here.
> As long as we have a reference to a leaked object, we might as well use
> it, its not going anywhere.
>> Fixing the return value would move refcount_t into the realm of
>> something that is desirable because it has bettern semantics and
>> is more useful just on a day to day correctness point of view.  Even
>> ignoring the security implications.
> It changes the semantics between inc_not_zero() and inc(). It also
> complicates the semantics of inc_not_zero(), where currently the failure
> implies the count is 0 and means no-such-object, you complicate matters
> by basically returning 'busy'.

Busy is not a state of a reference count.

It is true I am suggesting treating something with a saturated reference
as not available.  If that is what you mean by busy.  But if it's
reference is zero it is also not available.  So there is no practical

> That is a completely new class of failure that is actually hard to deal
> with, not to mention that it completely destroys refcount_inc_not_zero()
> being a 'simple' replacement for atomic_inc_not_zero().
> In case of the current failure, the no-such-object, we can fix that by
> creating said object. But what to do on 'busy' ? Surely you don't want
> to create another. You'd have to somehow retrofit something to wait on
> in every user.

Using little words.

A return of true from inc_not_zero means we took a reference.
A return of false means we did not take a reference.

The code already handles I took a reference or I did not take a

Therefore lying with refcount_t is not helpful.  It takes failures
the code could easily handle and turns them into leaks.

At least that is how I have seen reference counts used.  And those
are definitely the plane obivous semantics.

Your changes are definitely not drop in replacements for atomic_t in my


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