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SubjectRe: Compiling C++ modules
Kyle Moffett wrote:
> On Apr 25, 2006, at 03:08:02, Avi Kivity wrote:
>> Kyle Moffett wrote:
>>> The "advantages" of the former over the latter:
>>> (1) Without exceptions (which are fragile in a kernel), the former
>>> can't return an error instead of initializing the Foo.
>> Don't discount exceptions so fast. They're exactly what makes the
>> code clearer and more robust.
> Except making exceptions work in the kernel is exceptionally
> nontrivial (sorry about the pun).
My experience with exceptions in kernel-like code (a distributed
filesystem) was excellent.
>> A very large proportion of error handling consists of:
>> - detect the error
>> - undo local changes (freeing memory and unlocking spinlocks)
>> - propagate the error/
>> Exceptions make that fully automatic. The kernel uses a mix of gotos
>> and alternate returns which bloat the code and are incredibly error
>> prone. See the recent 2.6.16.x for examples.
> You talk about code bloat here. Which of the following fits better
> into a 4k stack?
The C++ code. See below.
> Which of the following shows the flow of code better?
Once you accept the idea that an exception can occur (almost) anywhere,
the C++ code shows you what the code does in the normal case without
obfuscating it with error handling. Pretend that after every semicolon
there is a comment of the form:

/* possible exceptional return */

once you think like that, you can see what the code actually does rather
than how it handles errors. A 15-line function can do something
meaningful, not just call two functions.
> C version:
> int result;
> spin_lock(&lock);
> result = do_something();
> if (result)
> goto out;
> result = do_something_else();
> if (result)
> goto out;
> out:
> spin_unlock(&lock);
> return result;
> C++ version:
> int result;
not needed unless you actually return something.
> TakeLock l(&lock);
> do_something();
> do_something_else();
> First of all, that extra TakeLock object chews up stack, at least 4 or
> 8 bytes of it, depending on your word size.
No, it's optimized out. gcc notices that &lock doesn't change and that
'l' never escapes the function.
> Secondly with standard integer error returns you have one or two
> easily-predictable assembly instructions at each step of the way,
> whereas with exceptions you trade the absence of error handling in the
> rest of the code for a lot of extra instructions at the exception
> throw and catch points.
The extra code is out of line (not even an if (unlikely())). So yes,
total code grows, but the exceptional paths can be in a .text.exception
section and not consume cache or TLB space.
> Secondly, while the former is much longer it shows _explicitly_
> exactly where the flow of code can go. In an OS kernel, that is
> critical; your debugability is directly dependent on how easy it is
> to see where the flow of code is going.
I can only say that I had very positive experience with code that used
exceptions. Having less code to view actually improves visibility.
>>> (2) You can't control when you initialize the Foo. For example in
>>> this code, the "Foo item;" declarations seem to be trivially
>>> relocatable, even if they're not.
>>> spin_lock(&foo_lock);
>>> Foo item1;
>>> Foo item2;
>>> spin_unlock(&foo_lock);
>> They only seem relocatable with your C glasses on. Put on your C++
>> glasses (much thicker), and initialization no longer seems trivially
>> movable.
> This is a really _really_ bad idea for a kernel. Having simple
> declaration statements have big side effects (like the common TakeLock
> object example I gave above) is bound to lead to people screwing up
> and forgetting about the side effects. In C it's impossible to miss
> the side effects of a statement; function calls are obvious, as is
> global memory modification.
In C++ you just have to treat declarations as executable statements.
Just as you can't compile the code with a C compiler, you can't read it
with a C mindset. Once you get used to it, it isn't surprising at all.
>> On the other hand, you can replace the C code
>> {
>> Foo item1, item2;
>> int r;
>> spin_lock(&foo_lock);
>> if ((r = foo_init(&item1)) < 0) {
>> spin_unlock(&foo_lock);
>> return r;
>> }
>> if ((r = foo_init(&item2)) < 0) {
>> foo_destroy(&item1);
>> spin_unlock(&foo_lock);
>> return r;
>> }
>> foo_destroy(&item2);
>> foo_destroy(&item1);
>> spin_unlock(&foo_lock);
>> return 0;
>> }
>> with
>> {
>> spinlock_t::guard foo_guard(foo_lock);
>> Foo item1;
>> Foo item2;
>> }
> Let me point out _again_ how unobvious and fragile the flow of code
> there is. Not to mention the fact that the C++ compiler can easily
> notice that item1 and item2 are never used and optimize them out entirely.
Excellent! If there are no side effects, I want it out. If there are
side effects, it won't optimize them out.
> You also totally missed the "int flags" argument you're supposed to
> pass to object specifying allocation parameters,
There is no allocation here (both the C and the C++ code allocate on the

Should you want to allocate from the heap, try this:

spinlock_t::guard g(some_lock);
auto_ptr<Foo> item(new (gfp_mask) Foo); /* or pass a kmem_cache_t */
return item.release();

contrast with

Foo *item = 0;
int r;

item = kmalloc(sizeof(Foo), gfp_flags);
if (!item) {
goto out;
if ((r = foo_do_something(item))) {
item = PTR_ERR(-r);
goto out;
if ((r = foo_do_something_else(item))) {
item = PTR_ERR(-r);
return item;

(oops, you wrote another version further on...)
> not to mention the fact that you just allocated 2 objects of unknown
> size on the stack (which is limited to 4k).
So did the C code. I was just side-by-side comparisons of *equivalent* code.
> AND there's the fact that the order of destruction of foo_guard,
> item1, and item2 is implementation-defined and can't easily be relied
> upon without adding massive amounts of excess braces:
It is well defined. guard ctor, item1 ctor, item2 ctor, item2 dtor,
item1 dtor, guard dtor.

It is also well defined that if a constructor is executed for an
automatic variable, so will its destructor. That makes the "guard" work
so well with exceptions.
> {
> spinlock_t::guard foo_guard(&foo_lock);
> {
> Foo item1;
> {
> Foo item2;
> }
> }
> }
Absolutely unneeded braces there.
> Also, your spinlock_t::guard chews up stack space that otherwise
> wouldn't be used. It would be much better to rewrite your above C
> function like this:
> {
> struct foo *item1, *item2;
> int result;
> spin_lock(&foo_lock);
> item1 = kmalloc(sizeof(*item1), GFP_KERNEL);
> item2 = kmalloc(sizeof(*item2), GFP_KERNEL);
> if (!item1 || !item2)
> goto out;
> result = foo_init(item1, GFP_KERNEL);
> if (result)
> goto out;
> result = foo_init(item2, GFP_KERNEL);
> if (result)
> goto out;
> out:
> /* If alloc and init went ok, register them */
> if (item1 && item2 && !result) {
> result = register_foo_pair(item1, item2);
> }
> /* If anything failed, free resources */
> if (!item1 || !item2 || result) {
> kfree(item1);
> kfree(item2);
> }
> spin_unlock(&foo_lock);
> return result;
> }
>> 14 lines vs 3, one variable eliminated. How many potential security
>> vulnerabilities? How much time freed to work on the algorithm/data
>> structure, not on error handling?
> Yeah, sure, yours is 3 lines when you omit the following:
> (1) Handling allocation flags like GFP_KERNEL
> (2) Not allocating things on the stack
> (3) Proper cleanup ordering
done, without lifting a finger
> (4) Reference counting, garbage collection, or another way to
> selectively free the allocated objects based on success or failure of
> other code.
Reference counting is ridiculously to do in C++. I'll spare you the details.
> Those are all critical things that we want to force people to think
> about; in many cases the exact ordering of operations _is_ important
> and that needs to be specified _and_ commented on. How often do you
> think people write comments talking about things that don't even
> appear in the source code?
C++ preserves the order (unless it can prove the order doesn't matter,
same as C)
> Also, since when is error handling _not_ a critical part of the
> algorithm? You can see in my more complicated example that you only
> want to free the items if the registration was unsuccessful. How do
> you handle that without adding a refcount to everything (bloat) or
> implementing garbage collection (worse bloat).
Use auto_ptr<>.

Yes, error handling is critical. That's why I want language help. Just
like I don't want to:
- calculate the carry for 64 bit addition on a 32 bit machine
- calculate structure offsets for structs (even though struct layout is

I faced exactly these problems (fibre channel and ethernet cables pulled
out during I/O) and C++ made error handling easier, not more difficult.

>>> Does that actually make it any easier to understand the code? How
>>> does it make it more obvious to be able to write a "+" operator that
>>> allocates memory?
>> Not all C++ features need to be used in the kernel. In fact, not all
>> C++ features need to be used, period. Ever tried to understand code
>> which uses overloaded operator,() (the comma operator)?
> The very fact that the language provides such features mean that
> people would try to get code using them into the kernel. Have you
> ever looked at all the ugly debugging macros that various people use?
> The C preprocessor provides few features at all, and yet people still
> abuse those, I don't see why C++ would be any different.
Probably not. I agree C++ is much more abusable.

BTW, under C++ preprocessor abuse drops significantly as it can be
replaced by safer and cleaner constructs.

Do not meddle in the internals of kernels, for they are subtle and quick to panic.

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