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Date: Fri, 20 Jan 2017 13:04:28 -0800
From: Eric Hassold <>
Subject: Re: Fix pthread_create on some devices failing to initialize
 guard area

On 1/20/17 11:56 AM, Rich Felker wrote:
> On Fri, Jan 20, 2017 at 11:45:09AM -0800, Eric Hassold wrote:
>> Hi All,
>> While deploying test static executable across farm of different
>> embedded systems, found out that pthread_create() is failing
>> systematically on some (very few) arm-linux devices whenever non
>> null stack guard is enabled (that is, also when calling
>> pthread_create with default - i.e. null - attributes since default
>> is a one page of guard). One of those device is for example a
>> Marvell Armada 375 running Linux 3.10.39. Same test code, built with
>> alternative libc implementations (glibc, uClibc) works as expected
>> on those devices.
>> Issue
>> This occurs because of call to mprotect() in pthread_create fails.
>> In current implementation, if guard size is non null, memory for
>> (guard + stack + ...) is first allocated (mmap'ed) with no
>> accessibility (PROT_NONE), then mprotect() is called to re-enable
>> read/write access to (memory + guardsize). Since call to mprotect()
>> systematically fails in this scenario (returning error code EINVAL),
>> it is impossible to create thread.
> Failure is ignored and the memory is assumed to be writable in this
> case, since EINVAL is assumed to imply no MMU. Is this assumption
> wrong in your case, and if so, can you explain why?

In my case, devices exhibiting issue are not MMU-less, they are 
Cortex-A9 devices with valid mmu / page protection working as expected 
otherwise. Note that current Musl code assumes ENOSYS means no MMU and 
handles it by assuming the system has no page protection at all. For the 
case I observe, it is EINVAL which is returned, this is not ignored, so 
memory is unmap'ed and pthread_create() fails.

>> Patch
>> In proposed patch (attached below), memory for (guard + stack + ...)
>> is first mmap'ed with read/write accessibility, then guard area is
>> protected by calling mprotect() with PROT_NONE on guardsize first
>> bytes of returned memory. This call to mprotect() to remove all
>> accessibility on guard area, with guard area being at beginning of
>> previously mmap'ed memory, works correctly on those platforms having
>> issue with current implementation. Incidentally, this makes the
>> logic more concise to handle both cases (with or without guard) is a
>> more consistent way, and handle systems with partial/invalid page
>> protection implementation (e.g. mprotect() returning ENOSYS) more
>> gracefully since the stack is explicitly created with read/write
>> access.
> This doesn't work correctly on normal systems with mmu, because the
> size of the guard pages is accounted against commit charge. Linux
> should, but AFAIK doesn't, subtract it from commit charge once it's
> changed to PROT_NONE without having been dirtied, but even if this bug
> is fixed on the kernel side, there would still be a moment where
> excess commit charge is consumed and thus where pthread_create might
> spuriously fail or cause allocations in other processes/threads to
> fail.
> If the kernel is not allocating actually-usable address ranges for
> PROT_NONE on all nommu systems, I think the only solution is to handle
> EINVAL from mprotect by going back and re-doing the mmap with
> PROT_READ|PROT_WRITE. Do you have any better ideas?
> Rich
Had this "deja vu" feeling... reminds me conversation you had in this 
thread some time ago elsewhere...

Your proposition seems reasonable on nommu system, but again, the issue 
observed here is on legit systems with mmu, with mprotect failing with 
EINVAL (and not ENOSYS), for some other reason than system not 
supporting page protection. Catching EINVAL error returned by mprotect 
and falling back to re-doing the mmap would mean actually silently 
running without stack guard on system supporting it, so I believe it is 
actually legitimate to fail and return error in that case. But that's 
difference use case than the issue I'm observing.

I took note of Balazs's suggestion (in the thread referenced above) to 
switch to a pattern similar to Musl's current one (mmap(PROT_NONE) + 
mprotect(stack, READ|WRITE)) in order to avoid those guard pages to 
actually occupy resources. But I can indeed observe that this approach 
fails on some devices (which have valid mmu), while I'm not sure I'm 
seeing the issue with first mapping PROT_READ|PROT_WRITE then 
mprotect(PROT_NONE) guard area. Latter approach (as implemented by 
patch) is, at least, consistent with all the other implementations out 
there (I checked glibc's allocatestack.c, but also e.g. bionic), and 
couldn't find report of those failures you are envisaging.


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