PCID support on Illumos# Feb 26, 2018
I joined Joyent at the start of the year while Meltdown was breaking news; it was certainly an “interesting” time to start a new job. Luckily by my first week, Alex and Robert had pretty much figured out how the changes should look and made good inroads on the implementation. So I began working with Alex on his KPTI trampoline code (mainly involving breaking it with my old friend KMDB). I also picked up the PCID work which I describe here.
As you can probably tell from Alex’s blog post, Meltdown is unusual for a security issue: aside from the usual operational pains of any security patch, the fix itself involved some pretty significant code changes to the low-level core of the kernel.
There’s also another potential impact, and that’s performance. While the
actual overhead is heavily workload-dependent - and some of the reports
out there seem pretty alarmist - having to switch page tables (i.e.
%cr3) on every kernel entry and exit has a non-trivial
impact on system call cost. Nor can we keep the kernel state in the TLB.
Previously, we would set
PT_GLOBAL on kernel mappings so they’re not
flushed across a
%cr3 reload, but as the CPU would happily use these
TLB entries to speculate into the kernel, we must flush them.
The good news is that there’s a CPU feature on reasonably recent Intel
CPUs called Process Context IDs. This lets you load the lower bits of
%cr3 with a small integer value. This ID is used as a tag in any TLB
lookups or fills. This feature is somewhat similar to ASIDs seen on
other architectures, with one notable difference. The PCID applies to
TLB state implicitly, that is, there’s no way to say “load from memory
using this ID” in
ddi_copyin() and the like.
One way of using PCIDs is to associate an ID with a
struct as: that
is, each time we load a process’s address space into the HAT, we will
use a specific PCID for it, and avoid having to flush the mappings for
the previous processes. This isn’t really a viable option for Illumos,
though: if nothing else we suspect that the additional shootdown flushes
needed (since we’d maintain TLB entries even after switching away from a
struct as) would counteract any performance gain.
Instead we define two fixed PCID values.
PCID_KERNEL, defined as
mainly to keep the boot process simple, is used for the kernel
Thus, all TLB loads while in the kernel will be tagged with this value.
PCID_USER is used when in userspace. Now, when we switch
kernel entry or exit, we can do a non-flushing load. This lets us keep
both the kernel and the userspace mappings around across kernel/user
When we do need to invalidate TLB entries, though, things are now
slightly more complicated. We are by definition in the kernel (and hence
PCID_KERNEL), but we have to account for memory addresses below
USERLIMIT. In this case, we have to flush both
anything that ran in user mode) and
PCID_KERNEL (for any accesses the
kernel may have made such as with
also a little more complicated. As the
%cr3 load there is
non-invalidating, we have to explicitly flush everything if we’re
switching away from a non-
kas HAT, to clear out now-stale user-space
mappings. (Note that this has always been done eagerly on Illumos, even
when switching to a
INVPCID instruction is what enable us to flush
in the kernel. Unfortunately, support for
INVPCID came quite some time
PCID itself. On such systems, we have to emulate, and the only
way Intel gives us to do this is to load the ID into
invalidating the TLB entries. We don’t want to “pollute”
with any extraneous kernel mappings, so this means we need to switch to
the user page tables when loading
PCID_USER. But, remember, KPTI
requires us not to have kernel text (or stack!) mapped into these page
tables. So we have to first make sure we’re in the trampoline text
before doing the invalidations: see
For those interested, Alex posted a draft webrev of the PCID changes.