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Subject[tip: sched/core] Documentation: Add usecases, design and interface for core scheduling
The following commit has been merged into the sched/core branch of tip:

Commit-ID: 0159bb020ca9a43b17aa9149f1199643c1d49426
Author: Joel Fernandes (Google) <>
AuthorDate: Wed, 02 Jun 2021 21:31:36 -04:00
Committer: Peter Zijlstra <>
CommitterDate: Thu, 10 Jun 2021 09:57:09 +02:00

Documentation: Add usecases, design and interface for core scheduling

Now that core scheduling is merged, update the documentation.

Co-developed-by: Chris Hyser <>
Signed-off-by: Chris Hyser <>
Co-developed-by: Josh Don <>
Signed-off-by: Josh Don <>
Signed-off-by: Joel Fernandes (Google) <>
Signed-off-by: Peter Zijlstra (Intel) <>
Documentation/admin-guide/hw-vuln/core-scheduling.rst | 223 +++++++++-
Documentation/admin-guide/hw-vuln/index.rst | 1 +-
2 files changed, 224 insertions(+)
create mode 100644 Documentation/admin-guide/hw-vuln/core-scheduling.rst

diff --git a/Documentation/admin-guide/hw-vuln/core-scheduling.rst b/Documentation/admin-guide/hw-vuln/core-scheduling.rst
new file mode 100644
index 0000000..7b410ae
--- /dev/null
+++ b/Documentation/admin-guide/hw-vuln/core-scheduling.rst
@@ -0,0 +1,223 @@
+.. SPDX-License-Identifier: GPL-2.0
+Core Scheduling
+Core scheduling support allows userspace to define groups of tasks that can
+share a core. These groups can be specified either for security usecases (one
+group of tasks don't trust another), or for performance usecases (some
+workloads may benefit from running on the same core as they don't need the same
+hardware resources of the shared core, or may prefer different cores if they
+do share hardware resource needs). This document only describes the security
+Security usecase
+A cross-HT attack involves the attacker and victim running on different Hyper
+Threads of the same core. MDS and L1TF are examples of such attacks. The only
+full mitigation of cross-HT attacks is to disable Hyper Threading (HT). Core
+scheduling is a scheduler feature that can mitigate some (not all) cross-HT
+attacks. It allows HT to be turned on safely by ensuring that only tasks in a
+user-designated trusted group can share a core. This increase in core sharing
+can also improve performance, however it is not guaranteed that performance
+will always improve, though that is seen to be the case with a number of real
+world workloads. In theory, core scheduling aims to perform at least as good as
+when Hyper Threading is disabled. In practice, this is mostly the case though
+not always: as synchronizing scheduling decisions across 2 or more CPUs in a
+core involves additional overhead - especially when the system is lightly
+loaded. When ``total_threads <= N_CPUS/2``, the extra overhead may cause core
+scheduling to perform more poorly compared to SMT-disabled, where N_CPUS is the
+total number of CPUs. Please measure the performance of your workloads always.
+Core scheduling support is enabled via the ``CONFIG_SCHED_CORE`` config option.
+Using this feature, userspace defines groups of tasks that can be co-scheduled
+on the same core. The core scheduler uses this information to make sure that
+tasks that are not in the same group never run simultaneously on a core, while
+doing its best to satisfy the system's scheduling requirements.
+Core scheduling can be enabled via the ``PR_SCHED_CORE`` prctl interface.
+This interface provides support for the creation of core scheduling groups, as
+well as admission and removal of tasks from created groups::
+ #include <sys/prctl.h>
+ int prctl(int option, unsigned long arg2, unsigned long arg3,
+ unsigned long arg4, unsigned long arg5);
+ Command for operation, must be one off:
+ - ``PR_SCHED_CORE_GET`` -- get core_sched cookie of ``pid``.
+ - ``PR_SCHED_CORE_CREATE`` -- create a new unique cookie for ``pid``.
+ - ``PR_SCHED_CORE_SHARE_TO`` -- push core_sched cookie to ``pid``.
+ - ``PR_SCHED_CORE_SHARE_FROM`` -- pull core_sched cookie from ``pid``.
+ ``pid`` of the task for which the operation applies.
+ ``pid_type`` for which the operation applies. It is of type ``enum pid_type``.
+ For example, if arg4 is ``PIDTYPE_TGID``, then the operation of this command
+ will be performed for all tasks in the task group of ``pid``.
+ userspace pointer to an unsigned long for storing the cookie returned by
+ ``PR_SCHED_CORE_GET`` command. Should be 0 for all other commands.
+In order for a process to push a cookie to, or pull a cookie from a process, it
+is required to have the ptrace access mode: `PTRACE_MODE_READ_REALCREDS` to the
+Building hierarchies of tasks
+The simplest way to build hierarchies of threads/processes which share a
+cookie and thus a core is to rely on the fact that the core-sched cookie is
+inherited across forks/clones and execs, thus setting a cookie for the
+'initial' script/executable/daemon will place every spawned child in the
+same core-sched group.
+Cookie Transferral
+Transferring a cookie between the current and other tasks is possible using
+PR_SCHED_CORE_SHARE_FROM and PR_SCHED_CORE_SHARE_TO to inherit a cookie from a
+specified task or a share a cookie with a task. In combination this allows a
+simple helper program to pull a cookie from a task in an existing core
+scheduling group and share it with already running tasks.
+Each task that is tagged is assigned a cookie internally in the kernel. As
+mentioned in `Usage`_, tasks with the same cookie value are assumed to trust
+each other and share a core.
+The basic idea is that, every schedule event tries to select tasks for all the
+siblings of a core such that all the selected tasks running on a core are
+trusted (same cookie) at any point in time. Kernel threads are assumed trusted.
+The idle task is considered special, as it trusts everything and everything
+trusts it.
+During a schedule() event on any sibling of a core, the highest priority task on
+the sibling's core is picked and assigned to the sibling calling schedule(), if
+the sibling has the task enqueued. For rest of the siblings in the core,
+highest priority task with the same cookie is selected if there is one runnable
+in their individual run queues. If a task with same cookie is not available,
+the idle task is selected. Idle task is globally trusted.
+Once a task has been selected for all the siblings in the core, an IPI is sent to
+siblings for whom a new task was selected. Siblings on receiving the IPI will
+switch to the new task immediately. If an idle task is selected for a sibling,
+then the sibling is considered to be in a `forced idle` state. I.e., it may
+have tasks on its on runqueue to run, however it will still have to run idle.
+More on this in the next section.
+Forced-idling of hyperthreads
+The scheduler tries its best to find tasks that trust each other such that all
+tasks selected to be scheduled are of the highest priority in a core. However,
+it is possible that some runqueues had tasks that were incompatible with the
+highest priority ones in the core. Favoring security over fairness, one or more
+siblings could be forced to select a lower priority task if the highest
+priority task is not trusted with respect to the core wide highest priority
+task. If a sibling does not have a trusted task to run, it will be forced idle
+by the scheduler (idle thread is scheduled to run).
+When the highest priority task is selected to run, a reschedule-IPI is sent to
+the sibling to force it into idle. This results in 4 cases which need to be
+considered depending on whether a VM or a regular usermode process was running
+on either HT::
+ HT1 (attack) HT2 (victim)
+ A idle -> user space user space -> idle
+ B idle -> user space guest -> idle
+ C idle -> guest user space -> idle
+ D idle -> guest guest -> idle
+Note that for better performance, we do not wait for the destination CPU
+(victim) to enter idle mode. This is because the sending of the IPI would bring
+the destination CPU immediately into kernel mode from user space, or VMEXIT
+in the case of guests. At best, this would only leak some scheduler metadata
+which may not be worth protecting. It is also possible that the IPI is received
+too late on some architectures, but this has not been observed in the case of
+Trust model
+Core scheduling maintains trust relationships amongst groups of tasks by
+assigning them a tag that is the same cookie value.
+When a system with core scheduling boots, all tasks are considered to trust
+each other. This is because the core scheduler does not have information about
+trust relationships until userspace uses the above mentioned interfaces, to
+communicate them. In other words, all tasks have a default cookie value of 0.
+and are considered system-wide trusted. The forced-idling of siblings running
+cookie-0 tasks is also avoided.
+Once userspace uses the above mentioned interfaces to group sets of tasks, tasks
+within such groups are considered to trust each other, but do not trust those
+outside. Tasks outside the group also don't trust tasks within.
+Limitations of core-scheduling
+Core scheduling tries to guarantee that only trusted tasks run concurrently on a
+core. But there could be small window of time during which untrusted tasks run
+concurrently or kernel could be running concurrently with a task not trusted by
+IPI processing delays
+Core scheduling selects only trusted tasks to run together. IPI is used to notify
+the siblings to switch to the new task. But there could be hardware delays in
+receiving of the IPI on some arch (on x86, this has not been observed). This may
+cause an attacker task to start running on a CPU before its siblings receive the
+IPI. Even though cache is flushed on entry to user mode, victim tasks on siblings
+may populate data in the cache and micro architectural buffers after the attacker
+starts to run and this is a possibility for data leak.
+Open cross-HT issues that core scheduling does not solve
+1. For MDS
+Core scheduling cannot protect against MDS attacks between an HT running in
+user mode and another running in kernel mode. Even though both HTs run tasks
+which trust each other, kernel memory is still considered untrusted. Such
+attacks are possible for any combination of sibling CPU modes (host or guest mode).
+2. For L1TF
+Core scheduling cannot protect against an L1TF guest attacker exploiting a
+guest or host victim. This is because the guest attacker can craft invalid
+PTEs which are not inverted due to a vulnerable guest kernel. The only
+solution is to disable EPT (Extended Page Tables).
+For both MDS and L1TF, if the guest vCPU is configured to not trust each
+other (by tagging separately), then the guest to guest attacks would go away.
+Or it could be a system admin policy which considers guest to guest attacks as
+a guest problem.
+Another approach to resolve these would be to make every untrusted task on the
+system to not trust every other untrusted task. While this could reduce
+parallelism of the untrusted tasks, it would still solve the above issues while
+allowing system processes (trusted tasks) to share a core.
+3. Protecting the kernel (IRQ, syscall, VMEXIT)
+Unfortunately, core scheduling does not protect kernel contexts running on
+sibling hyperthreads from one another. Prototypes of mitigations have been posted
+to LKML to solve this, but it is debatable whether such windows are practically
+exploitable, and whether the performance overhead of the prototypes are worth
+it (not to mention, the added code complexity).
+Other Use cases
+The main use case for Core scheduling is mitigating the cross-HT vulnerabilities
+with SMT enabled. There are other use cases where this feature could be used:
+- Isolating tasks that needs a whole core: Examples include realtime tasks, tasks
+ that uses SIMD instructions etc.
+- Gang scheduling: Requirements for a group of tasks that needs to be scheduled
+ together could also be realized using core scheduling. One example is vCPUs of
+ a VM.
diff --git a/Documentation/admin-guide/hw-vuln/index.rst b/Documentation/admin-guide/hw-vuln/index.rst
index ca4dbdd..f12cda5 100644
--- a/Documentation/admin-guide/hw-vuln/index.rst
+++ b/Documentation/admin-guide/hw-vuln/index.rst
@@ -15,3 +15,4 @@ are configurable at compile, boot or run time.
+ core-scheduling.rst
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