Archive for February, 2012

D-Bus optimizations

Monday, February 27th, 2012

In the last month and a half, I have been working, as part of my work at Collabora, on optimizing D-Bus, which even though is a great piece of software, has some performance problems that affect its further adoption (specially on embedded devices).

Fortunately, we didn’t have to start from scratch, since this has been an ongoing project at Collabora, where previous research and upstream discussions had been taking place.

Based on this great work (by Alban Créquy and Ian Molton, BTW), we started our work, looking first at the possible solutions for the biggest problems (context switches, as all traffic in the bus goes through the D-Bus daemon, as well as multiple copies of messages in their trip from one peer, via the kernel, then to the daemon, to end up in the peer the message is targeted to), which were:

  • AF_DBUS work from Alban/Ian: while it improved the performance of the bus by a big margin, the solution wasn’t very well accepted in the upstream kernel mailing list, as it involved having lots of D-Bus-specific code in the kernel (all the routing).
  • Shared memory: this has no proof-of-concept code to look at, but was a (maybe) good idea, as it would mean peers in the bus would use shared memory segments to send messages to each other. But this would mean mostly a rewrite of most of the current D-Bus code, so maybe an option for the future, but not for the short term.
  • Using some sort of multicast IPC that would allow peers in the bus to send messages to each other without having all messages go through the daemon, which, as found out by several performance tests, is the biggest bottleneck in current D-Bus performance. We had a look at different options, one of them being AF_NETLINK, which mostly provides all that is needed, although it has some limitations, the biggest one being that it drops packets when the receiver queue is full, which is not an option for the D-Bus case.
    UDP/IP multicast has been mentioned also in some of the discussions, but this seems to be too much overhead for the D-Bus use, as we would have to use eth0 or similar, as multicast on loopback device doesn’t exist (hence no D-Bus in computers without a network card). Also, losing packets is another caveat of this solution, as well as message order guarantee.

So, the solution we have come up with is to implement multicast on UNIX sockets, and make it support what we need for it in D-Bus, and, of course, make use of that in the D-Bus implementation itself. So, here’s what we have right now (please note that this is still a work in progress):

The way this works is better seen on a diagram, so here it is. First, how the current D-Bus architecture works:

and how this would be changed:

That is, when a peer wants to join a bus, it would connect to the daemon (exactly as it does today), authenticate, and, once the daemon knows the peer is authenticated, it would join the accept‘ed socket to the multicast group (this is important, as we don’t want to have peers join by themselves the multicast group, so it’s the daemon’s job to do that). Once the peer has joined the multicast group, it would use socket filters to determine what traffic it wants to receive, so that it only gets, from the kernel, the messages it really is interested in. The daemon would do the same, just setting its filters so that it only gets traffic to the bus itself (org.freedesktop.DBus well-known name).

In this multicast solution, we might have to prevent unauthorized eavesdropping, even though peers need to authenticate through the daemon to join the multicast group. For this, we have been thinking about using Linux Security Modules. It is still not 100% clear how this would be done, so more information on this soon.

The above-mentioned branches work right now, but as I said before, they are still a work in progress, so they still need several things before we can call this work finalized. For now, we have succeeded in making the daemon not get any traffic at all apart from what it really needs to get, so a big win there already as we are avoiding the expensive context switches, but the socket filters still need a lot of work, apart from other minor and not so minor things.

Right now, we are in the process of getting the kernel part accepted, which is in progress, and to finish the D-Bus branch to be in an upstreamable form. Apart from that, we will provide patches for all the D-Bus bindings we know about (GLib, QtDBus, python, etc).

Comments/suggestions/ideas welcome.