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Date: Mon, 8 Jan 2024 18:16:49 +0100
From: Markus Wichmann <>
Cc: Patrick Rauscher <>
Subject: Re: ENOFILE after reaching SEM_NSEMS_MAX

Am Mon, Jan 08, 2024 at 03:01:46PM +0100 schrieb Patrick Rauscher:
> Hello everyone,
> in POSIX, the constant SEM_NSEMS_MAX is defined as 256 from some time. While
> glibc nowadays ignores the limit and will yield -1 when asked for it [1], musl
> currently will return ENOFILE when asking for the 256th semaphore.
> This hit me (and obviously another person) when using python multiprocessing
> [2]: Jan H detected, that while allocating a large number of semaphores (or
> objects using at least one semaphore) works on Debian, it fails on alpine.
> Thanks to psykose on the IRC the issue could be identified to the different
> libc. To make this finding less ephemeral than on the IRC log, I leave a note
> here. As sem_open works in the documented way, this is certainly no bug
> report, rather a feature request if you will so.
> Due to my lack of C-knowledge I may only standby and marvel to further
> discussion, but maybe someone can come up with ideas 🙂
> Thanks for your time,
> Patrick
> 1:
> 2:
I should probably explain what the limit is used for at the moment.
POSIX requires that all successful calls to sem_open() with the same
name argument have to return the same pointer and increase a refcount.
Practically, this is only possible by having a list of all file-backed
semaphores. The code goes through the file mapping code normally, then
at the end checks if the semaphore was mapped already, and if so unmaps
the new copy and returns the old one.

With the limit in place, the memory for the semaphore map can be
allocated once and never returned. Iterations on the map have a
well-defined end, and there's a defined maximum run-time to all such
loops. If the limit were no longer imposed, the semaphore map would have
to become a data structure capable of growth, e.g. a list. But then
you'd get all the negative effects of having a list vs. the array we
currently have. Whatever data structure you choose, you basically always
get worse performance than with a simple array.

For the python example, I would ask whether this pattern of creating
named semaphores with random names is really all that wise. What is the
point? You have to transmit the name to the destination process somehow.
This is not really what named semaphores are for. Mayhaps a shared
memory would suit you better? Or foregoing semaphores in favor of
another primitive altogether?


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