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SubjectRe: Kernel vs user memory
On Thu, Mar 18, 2010 at 20:10, Siddhartha Chhabra
<> wrote:
> When the kernel tries to access user space pages, for example, for copying
> on a copy on write, in order to do so, does it need to get the page mapped
> to its address space, that is, will a page fault happen for the kernel when
> it first tries to access the user space page that it needs to copy ?
> I read a paper that provides security to the OS based on the assumption that
> every time, the OS tries to access the user space, it will page fault and by
> intercepting this page fault, they can check whether the kernel should be
> accessing the page or not ? But based on the discussion below, I guess, the
> kernel is free to access all the pages in memory (or atleast the first 700MB
> on a 32-bit system) without causing a page fault in the kernel space ?
> Am I right on this? I greatly appreciate you taking time to answer this
> question

It depends.

If the kernel's doing a copy_from_user or copy_to_user family of calls
(ie, the calls used in system call handlers when accessing user space
buffers referenced in the arguments), this will trigger a page fault
exactly like the userspace process would, and the PF handler will then
deal with any copy on write or whatever may be needed. Of course, if a
userspace access wouldn't trigger a PF, the kernel access won't

For the actual copy-on-write process itself, it would be a Bad Thing
to trigger a recursive page fault, so instead the kernel will directly
access the page via the direct mapped section of the address space -
this will never cause a PF (on x86, this may require creating a
temporary mapping for memory at a high physical address, but this
still won't be a PF as it will be set up before the first access).
Additionally, memory mapped IO involves direct DMA to/from pages that
are simultaneously in use by userspace - this won't cause a PF in
kernel mode either. Same with swap.

In short, some kernel accesses to user space do go through normal
channels which may or may not PF; other accesses will never PF. So
it's a bad idea to rely on all kernel accesses triggering a page

Hope this helps,


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