path: root/Documentation/unshare.txt
diff options
authorJANAK DESAI <>2006-02-07 12:58:56 -0800
committerLinus Torvalds <>2006-02-07 16:12:34 -0800
commit0d4c3e7a8c65892c7d6a748fdbb4499e988880db (patch)
treecd0f2375fd4d1cc682c0959474ee1c14e10194e0 /Documentation/unshare.txt
parente0a602963485a2f109ae1521c0c55507304c63ed (diff)
[PATCH] unshare system call -v5: Documentation file
Documents the new feature, why it is needed, it's cost, design, implementation, and test plan. Signed-off-by: Janak Desai <> Cc: Al Viro <> Cc: Christoph Hellwig <> Cc: Andi Kleen <> Cc: Paul Mackerras <> Acked-by: Michael Kerrisk <> Signed-off-by: Andrew Morton <> Signed-off-by: Linus Torvalds <>
Diffstat (limited to 'Documentation/unshare.txt')
1 files changed, 295 insertions, 0 deletions
diff --git a/Documentation/unshare.txt b/Documentation/unshare.txt
new file mode 100644
index 000000000000..90a5e9e5bef1
--- /dev/null
+++ b/Documentation/unshare.txt
@@ -0,0 +1,295 @@
+unshare system call:
+This document describes the new system call, unshare. The document
+provides an overview of the feature, why it is needed, how it can
+be used, its interface specification, design, implementation and
+how it can be tested.
+Change Log:
+version 0.1 Initial document, Janak Desai (, Jan 11, 2006
+ 1) Overview
+ 2) Benefits
+ 3) Cost
+ 4) Requirements
+ 5) Functional Specification
+ 6) High Level Design
+ 7) Low Level Design
+ 8) Test Specification
+ 9) Future Work
+1) Overview
+Most legacy operating system kernels support an abstraction of threads
+as multiple execution contexts within a process. These kernels provide
+special resources and mechanisms to maintain these "threads". The Linux
+kernel, in a clever and simple manner, does not make distinction
+between processes and "threads". The kernel allows processes to share
+resources and thus they can achieve legacy "threads" behavior without
+requiring additional data structures and mechanisms in the kernel. The
+power of implementing threads in this manner comes not only from
+its simplicity but also from allowing application programmers to work
+outside the confinement of all-or-nothing shared resources of legacy
+threads. On Linux, at the time of thread creation using the clone system
+call, applications can selectively choose which resources to share
+between threads.
+unshare system call adds a primitive to the Linux thread model that
+allows threads to selectively 'unshare' any resources that were being
+shared at the time of their creation. unshare was conceptualized by
+Al Viro in the August of 2000, on the Linux-Kernel mailing list, as part
+of the discussion on POSIX threads on Linux. unshare augments the
+usefulness of Linux threads for applications that would like to control
+shared resources without creating a new process. unshare is a natural
+addition to the set of available primitives on Linux that implement
+the concept of process/thread as a virtual machine.
+2) Benefits
+unshare would be useful to large application frameworks such as PAM
+where creating a new process to control sharing/unsharing of process
+resources is not possible. Since namespaces are shared by default
+when creating a new process using fork or clone, unshare can benefit
+even non-threaded applications if they have a need to disassociate
+from default shared namespace. The following lists two use-cases
+where unshare can be used.
+2.1 Per-security context namespaces
+unshare can be used to implement polyinstantiated directories using
+the kernel's per-process namespace mechanism. Polyinstantiated directories,
+such as per-user and/or per-security context instance of /tmp, /var/tmp or
+per-security context instance of a user's home directory, isolate user
+processes when working with these directories. Using unshare, a PAM
+module can easily setup a private namespace for a user at login.
+Polyinstantiated directories are required for Common Criteria certification
+with Labeled System Protection Profile, however, with the availability
+of shared-tree feature in the Linux kernel, even regular Linux systems
+can benefit from setting up private namespaces at login and
+polyinstantiating /tmp, /var/tmp and other directories deemed
+appropriate by system administrators.
+2.2 unsharing of virtual memory and/or open files
+Consider a client/server application where the server is processing
+client requests by creating processes that share resources such as
+virtual memory and open files. Without unshare, the server has to
+decide what needs to be shared at the time of creating the process
+which services the request. unshare allows the server an ability to
+disassociate parts of the context during the servicing of the
+request. For large and complex middleware application frameworks, this
+ability to unshare after the process was created can be very
+3) Cost
+In order to not duplicate code and to handle the fact that unshare
+works on an active task (as opposed to clone/fork working on a newly
+allocated inactive task) unshare had to make minor reorganizational
+changes to copy_* functions utilized by clone/fork system call.
+There is a cost associated with altering existing, well tested and
+stable code to implement a new feature that may not get exercised
+extensively in the beginning. However, with proper design and code
+review of the changes and creation of an unshare test for the LTP
+the benefits of this new feature can exceed its cost.
+4) Requirements
+unshare reverses sharing that was done using clone(2) system call,
+so unshare should have a similar interface as clone(2). That is,
+since flags in clone(int flags, void *stack) specifies what should
+be shared, similar flags in unshare(int flags) should specify
+what should be unshared. Unfortunately, this may appear to invert
+the meaning of the flags from the way they are used in clone(2).
+However, there was no easy solution that was less confusing and that
+allowed incremental context unsharing in future without an ABI change.
+unshare interface should accommodate possible future addition of
+new context flags without requiring a rebuild of old applications.
+If and when new context flags are added, unshare design should allow
+incremental unsharing of those resources on an as needed basis.
+5) Functional Specification
+ unshare - disassociate parts of the process execution context
+ #include <sched.h>
+ int unshare(int flags);
+ unshare allows a process to disassociate parts of its execution
+ context that are currently being shared with other processes. Part
+ of execution context, such as the namespace, is shared by default
+ when a new process is created using fork(2), while other parts,
+ such as the virtual memory, open file descriptors, etc, may be
+ shared by explicit request to share them when creating a process
+ using clone(2).
+ The main use of unshare is to allow a process to control its
+ shared execution context without creating a new process.
+ The flags argument specifies one or bitwise-or'ed of several of
+ the following constants.
+ If CLONE_FS is set, file system information of the caller
+ is disassociated from the shared file system information.
+ If CLONE_FILES is set, the file descriptor table of the
+ caller is disassociated from the shared file descriptor
+ table.
+ If CLONE_NEWNS is set, the namespace of the caller is
+ disassociated from the shared namespace.
+ If CLONE_VM is set, the virtual memory of the caller is
+ disassociated from the shared virtual memory.
+ On success, zero returned. On failure, -1 is returned and errno is
+ EPERM CLONE_NEWNS was specified by a non-root process (process
+ without CAP_SYS_ADMIN).
+ ENOMEM Cannot allocate sufficient memory to copy parts of caller's
+ context that need to be unshared.
+ EINVAL Invalid flag was specified as an argument.
+ The unshare() call is Linux-specific and should not be used
+ in programs intended to be portable.
+ clone(2), fork(2)
+6) High Level Design
+Depending on the flags argument, the unshare system call allocates
+appropriate process context structures, populates it with values from
+the current shared version, associates newly duplicated structures
+with the current task structure and releases corresponding shared
+versions. Helper functions of clone (copy_*) could not be used
+directly by unshare because of the following two reasons.
+ 1) clone operates on a newly allocated not-yet-active task
+ structure, where as unshare operates on the current active
+ task. Therefore unshare has to take appropriate task_lock()
+ before associating newly duplicated context structures
+ 2) unshare has to allocate and duplicate all context structures
+ that are being unshared, before associating them with the
+ current task and releasing older shared structures. Failure
+ do so will create race conditions and/or oops when trying
+ to backout due to an error. Consider the case of unsharing
+ both virtual memory and namespace. After successfully unsharing
+ vm, if the system call encounters an error while allocating
+ new namespace structure, the error return code will have to
+ reverse the unsharing of vm. As part of the reversal the
+ system call will have to go back to older, shared, vm
+ structure, which may not exist anymore.
+Therefore code from copy_* functions that allocated and duplicated
+current context structure was moved into new dup_* functions. Now,
+copy_* functions call dup_* functions to allocate and duplicate
+appropriate context structures and then associate them with the
+task structure that is being constructed. unshare system call on
+the other hand performs the following:
+ 1) Check flags to force missing, but implied, flags
+ 2) For each context structure, call the corresponding unshare
+ helper function to allocate and duplicate a new context
+ structure, if the appropriate bit is set in the flags argument.
+ 3) If there is no error in allocation and duplication and there
+ are new context structures then lock the current task structure,
+ associate new context structures with the current task structure,
+ and release the lock on the current task structure.
+ 4) Appropriately release older, shared, context structures.
+7) Low Level Design
+Implementation of unshare can be grouped in the following 4 different
+ a) Reorganization of existing copy_* functions
+ b) unshare system call service function
+ c) unshare helper functions for each different process context
+ d) Registration of system call number for different architectures
+ 7.1) Reorganization of copy_* functions
+ Each copy function such as copy_mm, copy_namespace, copy_files,
+ etc, had roughly two components. The first component allocated
+ and duplicated the appropriate structure and the second component
+ linked it to the task structure passed in as an argument to the copy
+ function. The first component was split into its own function.
+ These dup_* functions allocated and duplicated the appropriate
+ context structure. The reorganized copy_* functions invoked
+ their corresponding dup_* functions and then linked the newly
+ duplicated structures to the task structure with which the
+ copy function was called.
+ 7.2) unshare system call service function
+ * Check flags
+ Force implied flags. If CLONE_THREAD is set force CLONE_VM.
+ set and signals are also being shared, force CLONE_THREAD. If
+ CLONE_NEWNS is set, force CLONE_FS.
+ * For each context flag, invoke the corresponding unshare_*
+ helper routine with flags passed into the system call and a
+ reference to pointer pointing the new unshared structure
+ * If any new structures are created by unshare_* helper
+ functions, take the task_lock() on the current task,
+ modify appropriate context pointers, and release the
+ task lock.
+ * For all newly unshared structures, release the corresponding
+ older, shared, structures.
+ 7.3) unshare_* helper functions
+ For unshare_* helpers corresponding to CLONE_SYSVSEM, CLONE_SIGHAND,
+ and CLONE_THREAD, return -EINVAL since they are not implemented yet.
+ For others, check the flag value to see if the unsharing is
+ required for that structure. If it is, invoke the corresponding
+ dup_* function to allocate and duplicate the structure and return
+ a pointer to it.
+ 7.4) Appropriately modify architecture specific code to register the
+ the new system call.
+8) Test Specification
+The test for unshare should test the following:
+ 1) Valid flags: Test to check that clone flags for signal and
+ signal handlers, for which unsharing is not implemented
+ yet, return -EINVAL.
+ 2) Missing/implied flags: Test to make sure that if unsharing
+ namespace without specifying unsharing of filesystem, correctly
+ unshares both namespace and filesystem information.
+ 3) For each of the four (namespace, filesystem, files and vm)
+ supported unsharing, verify that the system call correctly
+ unshares the appropriate structure. Verify that unsharing
+ them individually as well as in combination with each
+ other works as expected.
+ 4) Concurrent execution: Use shared memory segments and futex on
+ an address in the shm segment to synchronize execution of
+ about 10 threads. Have a couple of threads execute execve,
+ a couple _exit and the rest unshare with different combination
+ of flags. Verify that unsharing is performed as expected and
+ that there are no oops or hangs.
+9) Future Work
+The current implementation of unshare does not allow unsharing of
+signals and signal handlers. Signals are complex to begin with and
+to unshare signals and/or signal handlers of a currently running
+process is even more complex. If in the future there is a specific
+need to allow unsharing of signals and/or signal handlers, it can
+be incrementally added to unshare without affecting legacy
+applications using unshare.