Lab: user-level threads and alarm

This lab will familiarize you with how state is saved and restored in context switches and system calls. You will implement switching between threads in a user-level threads package, and implement an "alarm" feature that delivers interrupt-like events to programs.

Before writing code, you should make sure you have read "Chapter 4: Traps and device drivers" and "Chapter 6: Scheduling" from the xv6 book and studied the corresponding code.

  $ git fetch
  $ git checkout syscall

Warmup: RISC-V assembly

For this lab it will be important to understand a bit of RISC-V assembly. There is a file user/call.c in your xv6 repo. make fs.img builds a user program call and a readable assembly version of the program in user/call.asm.

Read the code in call.asm for the functions g, f, and main. The instruction manual for RISC-V is in the doc directory (doc/riscv-spec-v2.2.pdf). Here are some questions that you should answer (store the answers in a file answers-syscall.txt):

Which registers contain arguments to functions? For example, which register holds 13 in main's call to printf?
Where is the function call to f from main? Where is the call to g? (Hint: the compiler may inline functions.)
At what address is the function printf located?
What value is in the register ra just after the jalr to printf in main?

Uthread: switching between threads

In this exercise you will design the context switch mechanism for a user-level threading system, and then implement it. To get you started, your xv6 has two files user/uthread.c and user/uthread_switch.S, and a rule in the Makefile to build a uthread program. uthread.c contains most of a user-level threading package, and code for three simple test threads. The threading package is missing some of the code to create a thread and to switch between threads.

Your job is to come up with a plan to create threads and save/restore registers to switch between threads, and implement that plan.

Once you've finished, you should see the following output when you run uthread on xv6 (the three threads might start in a different order):
~/classes/6828/xv6$ make qemu
$ uthread
thread_a started
thread_b started
thread_c started
thread_c 0
thread_a 0
thread_b 0
thread_c 1
thread_a 1
thread_b 1
thread_c 99
thread_a 99
thread_b 99
thread_c: exit after 100
thread_a: exit after 100
thread_b: exit after 100
thread_schedule: no runnable threads

This output comes from the three test threads, each of which has a loop that prints a line and then yields the CPU to the other threads.

At this point, however, with no context switch code, you'll see no output.

You should complete thread_create to create a properly initialized thread so that when the scheduler switches to that thread for the first time, thread_switch returns to the function passed as argument func, running on the thread's stack. You will have to decide where to save/restore registers. Several solutions are possible. You are allowed to modify struct thread. You'll need to add a call to thread_switch in thread_schedule; you can pass whatever arguments you need to thread_switch, but the intent is to switch from thread t to the next_thread.

Some hints:


In this exercise you'll add a feature to xv6 that periodically alerts a process as it uses CPU time. This might be useful for compute-bound processes that want to limit how much CPU time they chew up, or for processes that want to compute but also want to take some periodic action. More generally, you'll be implementing a primitive form of user-level interrupt/fault handlers; you could use something similar to handle page faults in the application, for example. Your solution is correct if it passes alarmtest and usertests.

You should add a new sigalarm(interval, handler) system call. If an application calls sigalarm(n, fn), then after every n "ticks" of CPU time that the program consumes, the kernel should cause application function fn to be called. When fn returns, the application should resume where it left off. A tick is a fairly arbitrary unit of time in xv6, determined by how often a hardware timer generates interrupts.

You'll find a file user/alarmtest.c in your xv6 repository. Add it to the Makefile. It won't compile correctly until you've added sigalarm and sigreturn system calls (see below).

alarmtest calls sigalarm(2, periodic) in test0 to ask the kernel to force a call to periodic() every 2 ticks, and then spins for a while. You can see the assembly code for alarmtest in user/alarmtest.asm, which may be handy for debugging. Your solution is correct when alarmtest produces output like this and usertests also runs correctly:

$ alarmtest
test0 start
test0 passed
test1 start
test1 passed
$ usertests

The first challenge is to arrange that the handler is invoked when the process's alarm interval expires. You'll need to modify usertrap() in kernel/trap.c so that when a process's alarm interval expires, the process executes the handler. How can you do that? You will need to understand how system calls work (i.e., the code in kernel/trampoline.S and kernel/trap.c). Which register contains the user-space instruction address to which system calls return?

Your solution will be only a few lines of code, but it may be tricky to get it right. We'll test your code with the version of alarmtest.c in the original repository; if you modify alarmtest.c, make sure your kernel changes cause the original alarmtest to pass the tests.

test0: invoke handler

Get started by modifying the kernel to jump to the alarm handler in user space, which will cause test0 to print "alarm!". Don't worry yet what happens after the "alarm!" output; it's OK for now if your program crashes after printing "alarm!". Here are some hints:

test1(): resume interrupted code

Chances are that alarmtest crashes in test0 or test1 after it prints "alarm!", or that alarmtest (eventually) prints "test1 failed", or that alarmtest exits without printing "test1 passed". To fix this, you must ensure that, when the alarm handler is done, control returns to the instruction at which the user program was originally interrupted by the timer interrupt. You must ensure that the register contents are restored to the values they held at the time of the interrupt, so that the user program can continue undisturbed after the alarm. Finally, you should "re-arm" the alarm counter after each time it goes off, so that the handler is called periodically.

As a starting point, we've made a design decision for you: user alarm handlers are required to call the sigreturn system call when they have finished. Have a look at periodic in alarmtest.c for an example. This means that you can add code to usertrap and sys_sigreturn that cooperate to cause the user process to resume properly after it has handled the alarm.

Some hints:

Once you pass test0 and test1, run usertests to make sure you didn't break any other parts of the kernel.

This completes the lab. Make sure you pass all of the make grade tests and don't forget to write up your answers to the questions in answers-syscall.txt. Commit your changes (including adding answers-syscall.txt) and type make handin in the lab directory to hand in your lab.

Optional challenges for uthread

The user-level thread package interacts badly with the operating system in several ways. For example, if one user-level thread blocks in a system call, another user-level thread won't run, because the user-level threads scheduler doesn't know that one of its threads has been descheduled by the xv6 scheduler. As another example, two user-level threads will not run concurrently on different cores, because the xv6 scheduler isn't aware that there are multiple threads that could run in parallel. Note that if two user-level threads were to run truly in parallel, this implementation won't work because of several races (e.g., two threads on different processors could call thread_schedule concurrently, select the same runnable thread, and both run it on different processors.)

There are several ways of addressing these problems. One is using scheduler activations and another is to use one kernel thread per user-level thread (as Linux kernels do). Implement one of these ways in xv6. This is not easy to get right; for example, you will need to implement TLB shootdown when updating a page table for a multithreaded user process.

Add locks, condition variables, barriers, etc. to your thread package.