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    Subject[RFC PATCH 00/11] mcount tracing utility

    The following patch series brings to vanilla Linux a bit of the RT kernel
    trace facility. This incorporates the "-pg" profiling option of gcc
    that will call the "mcount" function for all functions called in
    the kernel.

    This patch series implements the code for x86 (32 and 64 bit), but
    other archs can easily be implemented as well.

    Some Background:

    A while back, Ingo Molnar and William Lee Irwin III created a latency tracer
    to find problem latency areas in the kernel for the RT patch. This tracer
    became a very integral part of the RT kernel in solving where latency hot
    spots were. One of the features that the latency tracer added was a
    function trace. This function tracer would record all functions that
    were called (implemented by the gcc "-pg" option) and would show what was
    called when interrupts or preemption was turned off.

    This feature is also very helpful in normal debugging. So it's been talked
    about taking bits and pieces from the RT latency tracer and bring them
    to LKML. But no one had the time to do it.

    Arnaldo Carvalho de Melo took a crack at it. He pulled out the mcount
    as well as part of the tracing code and made it generic from the point
    of the tracing code. I'm not sure why this stopped. Probably because
    Arnaldo is a very busy man, and his efforts had to be utilized elsewhere.

    While I still maintain my own Logdev utility:

    I came across a need to do the mcount with logdev too. I was successful
    but found that it became very dependent on a lot of code. One thing that
    I liked about my logdev utility was that it was very non-intrusive, and has
    been easy to port from the Linux 2.0 days. I did not want to burden the
    logdev patch with the intrusiveness of mcount (not really that intrusive,
    it just needs to add a "notrace" annotation to functions in the kernel
    that will cause more conflicts in applying patches for me).

    Being close to the holidays, I grabbed Arnaldos old patches and started
    massaging them into something that could be useful for logdev, and what
    I found out (and talking this over with Arnaldo too) that this can
    be much more useful for others as well.

    The main thing I changed, was that I made the mcount function itself
    generic, and not the dependency on the tracing code. That is I added


    So when ever mcount is enabled and a function is registered that function
    is called for all functions in the kernel that is not labeled with the
    "notrace" annotation.

    The key thing here is that *any* utility can now hook its own function into

    The Simple Tracer:

    To show the power of this I also massaged the tracer code that Arnaldo pulled
    from the RT patch and made it be a nice example of what can be done
    with this.

    The function that is registered to mcount has the prototype:

    void func(unsigned long ip, unsigned long parent_ip);

    The ip is the address of the function and parent_ip is the address of
    the parent function that called it.

    The x86_64 version has the assembly call the registered function directly
    to save having to do a double function call.

    To enable mcount, a sysctl is added:


    Once mcount is enabled, when a function is registed, it will be called by
    all functions. The tracer in this patch series shows how this is done.
    It adds a directory in the debugfs, called mctracer. With a ctrl file that
    will allow the user have the tracer register its function. Note, the order
    of enabling mcount and registering a function is not important, but both
    must be done to initiate the tracing. That is, you can disable tracing
    by either disabling mcount or by clearing the registered function.

    Only one function may be registered at a time. If another function is
    registered, it will simply override what ever was there previously.

    Here's a simple example of the tracer output:

    CPU 2: hackbench:11867 preempt_schedule+0xc/0x84 <-- avc_has_perm_noaudit+0x45d/0x52c
    CPU 1: hackbench:12052 selinux_file_permission+0x10/0x11c <-- security_file_permission+0x16/0x18
    CPU 3: hackbench:12017 update_curr+0xe/0x8b <-- put_prev_task_fair+0x24/0x4c
    CPU 2: hackbench:11867 avc_audit+0x16/0x9e3 <-- avc_has_perm+0x51/0x63
    CPU 0: hackbench:12019 socket_has_perm+0x16/0x7c <-- selinux_socket_sendmsg+0x27/0x3e
    CPU 1: hackbench:12052 file_has_perm+0x16/0xbb <-- selinux_file_permission+0x104/0x11c

    This is formated like:

    CPU <CPU#>: <task-comm>:<task-pid> <function> <-- <parent-function>


    Note that having mcount compiled in seems to show a little overhead.

    Here's 3 runs of hackbench 50 without the patches:
    Time: 2.137
    Time: 2.283
    Time: 2.245

    Avg: 2.221

    and here's 3 runs with the patches (without tracing on):
    Time: 2.738
    Time: 2.469
    Time: 2.388

    Avg: 2.531

    So it is a 13% overhead when enabled (according to hackbench).

    But full tracing can cause a bit more problems:

    # hackbench 50
    Time: 113.350


    But this is tracing *every* function call!

    The way the mcount hook is done here, other utilities can easily add their
    own functions. Just care needs to be made not to call anything that is not
    marked with notrace, or you will crash the box with recursion. But
    even the simple tracer adds a "disabled" feature so in case it happens
    to call something that is not marked with notrace, it is a safety net
    not to kill the box.

    I was originally going to use the relay system to record the data, but
    that had a chance of calling functions not marked with notrace. But, if
    for example LTTng wanted to use this, it could disable tracing on a CPU
    when doing the calls, and this will protect from recusion.

    One thing that Arnaldo and I discussed last year was using systemtap to
    add hooks into the kernel to start and stop tracing. kprobes is too
    heavy to do on all funtion calls, but it would be perfect to add to
    non hot paths to start the tracer and stop the tracer.

    So when debugging the kernel, instead of recompiling with printks
    or other markers, you could simply use systemtap to place a trace start
    and stop locations and trace the problem areas to see what is happening.

    These are just some of the ideas we have with this. And we are sure others
    could come up with more.

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