Preemption Instrumentation

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@) Preliminary Draft @) under construction


Preemption instrumentation is used to detect and measure periods where the kernel is non-preemptible for a long period of time. The maximum non-preemptible period corresponds with the maximum scheduling latency in the kernel, and thus an important characteristic of realtime accuracy.

By instrumenting the kernel to measure the longest preemption-off periods, it becomes possible to identify and resolve realtime problems with the kernel.

CELF 1.0 (2.4.20-based) system

The CELF 1.0 kernel contains something called "preempt-times", to find the maximum preemption-off periods in the kernel.

Not much information is available about this system. But here are some pointers if you want to poke around:

- the code for this is conditional on CONFIG_PREEMPT_TIMES
- the main source file for the system appears to be in the file /kernel/preem_latency.c

The 2.4 code generates a report of the 20 longest preempt-off windows per-CPU, identified by start and end source file and line number, whenever a /proc file is read.

preemption latency measurementin 2.6

Con Kolivas introduced a preemption latency measurement mechanism for 2.6.8-rc1

The mechanism sets a reporting threshold and dumps function names and addresses of the start/stop points, plus a stack trace of the end point, to the console/syslog if the time exceeds that threshold.

Con said:

Because of the recent discussion about latency in the kernel I asked William Lee Irwin III to help create some instrumentation to determine where in the kernel there were still sustained periods of non-preemptible code. He hacked together this simple patch which times periods according to the preempt count. Hopefully we can use this patch in the advice of Linus to avoid the "mental masturbation" at guessing where latency is and track down real problem areas.

It is enabled via a config option and by setting the threshold at boot by passing the parameter: preempt_thresh=2 to set the threshold at 2ms for example.

The output is a warning in syslog like so:

5ms non-preemptible critical section violated 2 ms preempt threshold starting at add_wait_queue+0x21/0x82 and ending at add_wait _queue+0x4a/0x82

I would not recommend using this patch for daily use but please try it out on multiple setups/filesystems etc and help us track down the areas. Unfortunately I am not personally capable of fixing the code paths in question so I'll need the help of others in this.

LKML discussion

The thread of kernel discussion about this feature is here.

Comparison of two systems

Todd Poynor of Monta Vista Software wrote:

The code in the CELF tree is an older version of the instrumentation shipped with Monta Vista's products; it originated (I believe) from Jun Sun and George Anzinger (a.o.?), and was formerly publically maintained during 2.4 and perhaps 2.5 as the preempt-times patch by Robert Love.

I haven't looked at wli's new patch in detail. The instrumentation is probably similar between the two, except that the 2.4 code doesn't handle conditional scheduling "lock break" -- there was a community-contributed version that fixed this, but preempt-times went into unmaintained status around that time and nobody picked it up. There are a number of special cases in the 2.4 code, such as explicit scheduling by a process with a non-zero preempt count, that are probably better handled by the conditional scheduling logic. There's also some obscure reporting of softirq masks handled in preempt-off windows for softirq processing, which might not be appropriate for 2.6 or for systems that run softirqs in threads.

The William Irwin patch was incorporated into Ingo Molnar's Involuntary preemption patch

Ingo's patch



Takashi Iwai, as leader in the ALSA project, is the author of a program called "latencytest"



This is useful for finding spots of maximum preemption off.



- Patch for 2.6.7 is here:
  - base patch: Media:preempt-timing-1.patch
  - fixup patch: Media:preempt-timing-fixup.patch
NOTE: William Lee Irwin III said he would be providing a cleaned-up patch against 2.6.8 or -mm soon
- Patch for 2.6.8-rc2 is here:
  - Ingo Molnar made some additional fixes, and posted an updated patch
  - see
  - see continuing discussion of this version at:
  - try searching for "voluntary preempt" on lkml for additional discussion

Utility programs


How To Use

See introduction text.

Ingo Molnar wrote this in another thread:

the kernel command line option for immediate 2:1 is:

  "voluntary-preempt=2 preempt=1"

Sample Results

Con wrote:

This works very nicely standalone getting us this for example with the fixed patch:

6ms non-preemptible critical section violated 1 ms preempt threshold 
starting at exit_mmap+0x1c/0x188 and ending at exit_mmap+0x118/0x188
  [<c011d769>] dec_preempt_count+0x14f/0x151
  [<c014d0d4>] exit_mmap+0x118/0x188
  [<c014d0d4>] exit_mmap+0x118/0x188
  [<c011df0a>] mmput+0x61/0x7b
  [<c01226fa>] do_exit+0x142/0x510
  [<c014c928>] unmap_vma_list+0xe/0x17
  [<c0122b8a>] do_group_exit+0x41/0xf9
  [<c0105fd5>] sysenter_past_esp+0x52/0x71

which then an objdump of the inlined code has allowed us to track it down to this:

c014cfce:       e8 18 72 ff ff          call   c01441eb <lru_add_drain>
c014cfd3:       e8 16 06 fd ff          call   c011d5ee <inc_preempt_count>

That's pretty specific. I dont think this comes under the umbrella of statistics as such. Sure it can be modified to do it but I was looking for a tool to find where specific latency hotspots still exist.

Future Work

Here is a list of things that could be worked on for this feature:


uncategorized information

Here is some more stuff I found, that I haven't categorized yet.

  • realfeel.c is a program which programs the RTC to generate data at the rate of 2KHz, and measure the deviation from expected time to the actual time of wakeup of the program. It is available at:
  • surely LTT could show data on interrupt and scheduling latency (with a good post-processor)
  • surely HRT facilities could be used to create short periodic interrupt timer tests

stress testing

Here's information about stress tests that were conducted by Clark Williams in his preemption testing in March 2002:

After a bit of experimentation, I set up stress-kernel to run the following programs:

    • TTCP
    • P3_FPU
    • FS

The NFS-COMPILE script is the repeated compilation of a Linux kernel, via an NFS filesystem exported over the loopback device. The TTCP (Test TCP) program sends and receives large data sets via the loopback device. FIFOS_MMAP is a combination test that alternates between sending data between two processes via a FIFO and mmap'ing and operating on a file. The P3_FPU test does operations on floating point matrices. The FS test performs all sorts of unnatural acts on a set of files, such as creating large files with holes in the middle, then truncating and extending those files. Finally the CRASHME test generates buffers of random data, then jumps to that data and tries to execute it.