Openwall GNU/*/Linux - a small security-enhanced Linux distro for servers
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Date: Sun, 9 Dec 2018 07:50:33 +0100
From: Markus Wichmann <>
Subject: Re: sem_wait and EINTR

On Sat, Dec 08, 2018 at 09:51:40PM -0500, Rich Felker wrote:
> Conceptually the logic looks correct, but I'm trying to phase out the
> __libc structure,

Oh? Well, I suppose it does offer no benefit the linker doesn't already
give you. I suppose we could make the flag a static int in sigaction(),
with a hidden getter function.

> and more importantly, introducing a bitfield here is
> not safe unless access to all bitfield members is controlled by a
> common mutex or other synchronization mechanism. There is a data race
> if any access to the other fields is accessed when sigaction is
> callable from another thread, and the impact of a data race on any of
> these is critical.

The flags can_do_thrads, threaded, and secure are all set before the
program becomes multi-threaded and they keep their values throughout the
rest of the program. So the only accesses are read accesses.

handling_sigs on the other hand might be written by multiple threads at
the same time, but to the same value. Can that ever be an issue?

Wait... I think I figured it out. On some architectures you can have
incoherent caches. Threads need to synchronize to access shared
ressources, and those synchronization functions take care of that
problem, but I circumvented them. Now, if the caches are set to
write-back mode (which is common), then writing to handling_sigs only
writes to the cache line for the address of handling_sigs, but not to
main memory. So another thread on another core will not see the update.

Worse: If by a bad roll of the dice the writing thread's cache line is
evicted before the reading thread's cache line is (it might have written
somewhere else in that cache line), that latter eviction will overwrite
handling_sigs back to 0.

Am I close?

> Unfortunately, even without the bitfield, there is a data race between
> access to the new flag from sem_timedwait and from sigaction. In
> theory, this potentially results in a race window where sem_wait
> retries on EINTR because it doesn't yet see the updated handling_sigs.

In that case, the sem_wait() and the sigaction() would be unserialized,
and any correct program cannot depend on the order of operations. In
particular, the caller if the sem_wait() can't depend on the sigaction()
having installed the signal handler yet.

> The "right" fix would be to use an AS-safe lock to protect the
> handling_sigs object, or make it atomic (a_store on the sigaction
> side, a_barrier before load on the sem side). Alternatively we could
> assume the above reasoning about sequencing of sigaction before EINTR
> and just use a lock on the sigaction side, but the atomic is probably
> simplest and "safer".

Plus, a lock for a single int that can only ever go from 0 to 1 would be
a bit overkill.

> A couple other small nits: comments especially should not exceed 80
> columns (preferably <75 or so) assuming tab width 8; code should avoid
> it too but I see it slightly does in a few places there. Spaces should
> not be used for indention.

Ah crap. I forgot the comment the first time I was in the file, and when
I started vim again, I forgot to re-apply the musl settings.

> And the commit message should reflect the
> change made; it's not adding a workaround, but reducing the scope of a
> previous workaround (which should be cited by commit id) to fix a
> conformance bug. The name "handling_sigs" is also a bit misleading;
> what it's indicating is that interrupting signal handlers are or have
> been present.
> I'm happy to fix up these issues and commit if there aren't mistakes
> in the above comments that still need to be addressed.
> Rich

Well, it certainly was a learning experience for me. Just goes to show
that you never learn as much as when you're making a mistake and have to
figure it out.


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