Follow @Openwall on Twitter for new release announcements and other news
[<prev] [next>] [<thread-prev] [thread-next>] [day] [month] [year] [list]
Date: Fri, 10 Aug 2012 13:59:10 -0400
From: Rich Felker <>
Subject: Re: Using unistd functions vs calling syscall straight in the

On Sat, Aug 11, 2012 at 12:40:25AM +0900, Murali Vijayaraghavan wrote:
> On Fri, Aug 10, 2012 at 11:59 PM, Szabolcs Nagy <> wrote:
> > * Murali Vijayaraghavan <> [2012-08-10 23:32:11
> > +0900]:
> > > For example, I could have implemented src/stdio/__stdio_read.c using
> > > src/unistd/readv.c's readv function instead of calling
> > > syscall/syscall_cp(SYS_readv, ...) in lines 20 and 24. I believe unistd
> > is
> > > the POSIX compatibility layer (correct me if I am wrong). So shouldn't
> > the
> > > C standard library, namely stdio functions like scanf eventually use the
> > > unistd functions instead of using the syscall directly?
> > >
> >
> > that's not how it works,
> >
> > unistd is no more posix than stdio
> > they are all part of the posix api
> >
> > stdio functions are also defined by the
> > c standard so in this sense it's good
> > that the stdio implementation does not
> > depend on the larger posix api
> > (it only depends on the syscall api)
> >
> > but yes otherwise stdio could use unistd
> > functions and then it would be a bit
> > slower (+1 call) and +1 symbol resolution
> > during linking i guess
> >
> Oh k. I thought one was on top of the other. If they are all supposed to be
> part of POSIX, I guess it makes more sense to avoid an extra call.

It's tricky because from a _functionality_ standpoint, stdio is built
on primitives that correspond to the low-level POSIX IO functions in
unistd.h, but from a _standards_ standpoint, POSIX is built on top of
plain ISO C and not the other way around.

To understand why stdio functions cannot call read() or write() (or
readv or writev), consider the following conforming C program:

#include <stdio.h>
int read()
	int c = getchar();
	if (c==EOF) exit(0);
	return c;
int main()
	for (;;) printf("got '%c'\n", read());

If getchar internally called read, you'd have infinite mutual
recursion; even if this weren't a problem, the _semantics_ of the
application-provided function named "read" do not match the POSIX
semantics, so it would break.

Even if there weren't this namespace problem with using the unistd
functions, there are also semantic issues. Many of the syscalls made
from stdio (open, close, ...) are cancellation points per POSIX, and 
often the cancellation behavior is undesirable in stdio. Just not
invoking the cancellable version is cheaper than wrapping the call
with code to change the cancellabilty status before and after the

> > > This would have made my job easier because I could have just modified
> > this
> > > POSIX compability layer instead of scanning through the C standard
> > library
> > > functions and changing them one by one. Remember I have multiple special
> >
> > you are not supposed to change the functions
> >
> > you only need to implement the syscalls
> > and dummy out the ones you don't use
> > (ie. have a large switch, with a defalut: return -ENOSYS;)

I would do it this way:

#define __syscall0(n) __syscall_#n()
#define __syscall1(n,a) __syscall_#n(a)

Then __syscall(SYS_exit, val) expands to __syscall_SYS_exit(val), and
as long as you implement a function __syscall_SYS_exit with the proper
semantics, everything will work as expected.

Of course another possible design for musl would have been to do this
all the other way around: for each syscall foo, making a function
__syscall_foo and using that for all the internals rather than using
syscall(SYS_foo, ...). I chose the latter however because it's closer
to the (de facto) standard way you'd use syscalls from an application,
and because it better facilitates expanding the syscall inline (which
usually reduces code size quite a bit; it's irrelevant to performance
of course since syscall time is dominated by overhead entering/exiting
kernelspace or doing the actual work in kernelspace.


Powered by blists - more mailing lists

Confused about mailing lists and their use? Read about mailing lists on Wikipedia and check out these guidelines on proper formatting of your messages.