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Subject[Announce] Development release 0.1 of the LatencyTOP tool
The Intel Open Source Technology Center is pleased to announce the
release of version 0.1 of LatencyTOP, a tool for developers to visualize
system latencies.

http://www.latencytop.org

Slow servers, Skipping audio, Jerky video --everyone knows the symptoms
of latency. But to know what's really going on in the system, what's causing
the latency, and how to fix it... those are difficult questions without
good answers right now.

LatencyTOP is a Linux tool for software developers (both kernel and
userspace), aimed at identifying where system latency occurs, and what
kind of operation/action is causing the latency to happen. By identifying
this, developers can then change the code to avoid the worst latency
hiccups.

There are many types and causes of latency, and LatencyTOP focus on type
that causes audio skipping and desktop stutters. Specifically, LatencyTOP
focuses on the cases where the applications want to run and execute useful
code, but there's some resource that's not currently available (and the
kernel then blocks the process). This is done both on a system level and
on a per process level, so that you can see what's happening to the system,
and which process is suffering and/or causing the delays.

Rather than spending a thousand words on describing what LatencyTOP is,
I'll let the numbers speak..

Here's some output of LatencyTOP, collected for a make -j4 of a kernel
on a quad core system:

Cause Maximum Average
process fork 1097.7 msec 2.5 msec
Reading from file 1097.0 msec 0.1 msec
updating atime 850.4 msec 60.1 msec
Locking buffer head 433.1 msec 94.3 msec
Writing to file 381.8 msec 0.6 msec
Synchronous bufferhead read 318.5 msec 16.3 msec
Waiting for buffer IO 298.8 msec 7.8 msec


This shows that during the kernel build, one fork() system call had
a > 1 second latency, as did a read from a file. Updating the atime
of a file (in memory!) had 850 milliseconds, etc etc.
With a small change to the EXT3 journaling layer to fix a priority
inversion problem that was found with LatencyTOP the following results
for the exact same test were achieved [*]
( http://kerneltrap.org/mailarchive/linux-kernel/2007/10/15/343499 )

Cause Maximum Average
Writing to file 814.9 msec 0.8 msec
Reading from file 441.1 msec 0.1 msec
Waiting for buffer IO 419.0 msec 3.4 msec
Locking buffer head 360.5 msec 75.7 msec
Unlinking file 292.7 msec 5.9 msec
EXT3 (jbd) do_get_write_access 274.0 msec 36.0 msec
Filename lookup 260.0 msec 0.5 msec

As you can see from the results, the maximum observed latency is down
from 1097 to 814 msec, and the other top latencies are down as well
(although some have shifted around some, such as writing to a file).


Kernel patches
--------------
LatencyTOP requires some kernel patches to work. These patches are
available from the website for review and I will be posting them as
reply to this announce email as well.
The patches aren't quite ready for mainline inclusion yet
(assuming they aren't hated universally in the first place). For example,
the locking is still rather coarse grained. However, it will be easy
to split the lock in a reasonable way. I'd rather incorporate all other
feedback first before doing more fancy locking though.
Annotations
-----------
The kernel patch is needed in part to allow the kernel to annotate certain
operations for tracking of latency. The idea for an annotation is that the
kernel keeps track of what high level operation it is doing, which is
subsequently used from the low level scheduler code to account the actual
observed latency to. The good news is that the number of annotations needed
is limited; for one, all low level functions that sleep directly don't need
annotation (this gets dealt with automatically), and there's only a finite
number of higher level operations that are relevant .
The most basic annotation looks like this (in the patches more complex
versions can be seen):

asmlinkage long sys_sync(void)
{
+ struct latency_entry reason;
+ set_latency_reason("sync system call", &reason);
do_sync(1);
+ restore_latency_reason(&reason);
+
return 0;
}
This annotation tells the kernel that for anything that sleeps in the
entire do_sync() codepath, the latency introduced by that should be
accounted as "sync system call". The nesting of this annotation is
very simple: latency gets accounted to highest level annotated; so
even if there's another annotation inside the do_sync codepath
somewhere, the blocking latency that happens in this codepath counts
towards the sync function call.


At this point, I would like to invite comments and reviews of the
concept and the code to see if people consider this tool useful,
what they would like the tool to do in addition to its current
functionality, and what kind of code improvements people would like
to see. I also fully realize that not everyone will like the way the
annotations are done and I'm open to better ways of achieving the same
goals.


Known TODO list:
* More finegrained reporting of scheduler based (CFS) statistics
* Improve locking granularity




[*] I'm not trying to get this patch merged, Jens Axboe had many
valid comments about it and it needs to be redone for mainline
inclusion. The patch and it's effect are for illustration
purposes only.


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