Multi-threading Support in stratisd


mulhern, Stratis Team

Introducing Support for Multi-threading in stratisd

stratisd is an entirely single-threaded application; it is a daemon with a single event loop that consults a list of possible event sources in a prescribed order, handling the events on each event source before proceeding to the next. The event sources are udev, device-mapper, and D-Bus events which are handled in that order. stratisd can also be terminated cleanly by an interrupt signal, which it checks for on every loop iteration.

Because stratisd is single threaded, every action taken by stratisd must be completed before another action is performed. For example, if a client issues a D-Bus message to create a filesystem, that command will be processed, the engine will create a filesystem, and a response will be transmitted on the D-Bus before any other action can be taken. If another D-Bus message is received before the first is completed, that D-Bus message will then be processed. The engine will continue to process D-Bus messages until none are left, preventing it from handling any other categories of signals or events while any D-Bus messages remain.

For this reason, stratisd itself can not parallelize long-running operations. It is well known that, for example, filesystem creation can be time consuming, as it is necessary to write the filesystem metadata when creating the filesystem. Ideally, stratisd would be able to run such time consuming operations in parallel, initiating one operation and then proceeding to initiate another before the first operation completes.

Additionally, as in the example above, if stratisd is continually receiving D-Bus messages, it will not proceed to deal with a device-mapper event, even if the device-mapper event is urgent and not in any conflict with the D-Bus messages, for example, if it is associated with a different pool than any D-Bus messages.

For these reasons, the next release introduces multi-threading capabilities into stratisd. These capabilities do not solve all the problems that multi-threading is intended to solve, but lay the essential foundation for multi-threaded event handling.

We have chosen to implement multi-threading using the Rust tokio crate. The alternative is to use operating system threads explicitly via the Rust standard library thread module. We have chosen tokio in order to get the benefits of code reuse from the tokio runtime, and because we expect that this choice will allow stratisd to operate efficiently while consuming fewer operating system resources.

We have also made use of the newest version of the dbus crate, which includes support for multi-threading via the dbus-tokio crate.


The following words have a precise definition in the context of multi-threading:


stratisd divides its work among a number of tasks which handle different event sources. Some tasks are non-blocking, others are blocking tasks. Non-blocking tasks may yield, and can share a single thread with other non-blocking tasks. The tasks communicate using two unbounded MPSC (Multi-Producer Single-Consumer) channels; a channel for udev events and a channel for D-Bus updates.

Termination Variable

One boolean variable, should_exit, is shared among some of the tasks. It is set to true only if SIGINT is detected. It is observed only by the udev task, which checks its value on every iteration of its loop, and immediately returns if the value is true. For all other tasks, termination is handled by tokio constructs. The udev task requires special handling because it does not yield and because it contains a non-terminating loop.

The dbus tree

The dbus tree is a data structure which contains the state of the D-Bus layers. Access to the dbus tree is controlled by a read/write lock.

The stratisd engine

The stratisd engine is the core of the stratisd daemon. It manages all the essential functionality of stratisd. Access to the engine is controlled by a mutex.

The dbus channel

The dbus channel is an unbounded multi-producer, single-consumer channel. It carries messages instructing the DbusTreeHandler how to update the dbus tree. The DbusTreeHandler task is the unique consumer of the messages. The DbusConnectionHandler, which processes D-Bus messages sent by the client, and the DbusUdevhandler, which handles udev events, may both place messages on the dbus channel.

The udev channel

The udev channel is an unbounded multi-producer, single-consumer channel. It carries messages about udev events to the DbusUdevHandler. There is only one producer for this channel, the udev event handling task, which monitors udev events and places those events on the channel.

signal handling task

The signal handling task is a non-blocking task which waits for SIGINT. If it receives the signal it sets should_exit to true and finishes.

device-mapper event task

The device-mapper event task loops forever waiting for a device-mapper event. On receipt of any event, it locks the stratisd engine, and processes the event. It yields when waiting for a new device-mapper event or when waiting for a lock on the engine.

udev event handling task

The udev event handling task uses a polling mechanism to detect udev events. If a udev event is detected it places a message on the stratisd udev channel. It reads should_exit after every udev event or, if no udev event has occurred, after a designated time interval. If should_exit is true when read it returns immediately.

D-Bus Tasks

The management of the D-Bus layer is handled by several cooperating tasks. The dbus crate supplies one task, which detects D-Bus messages and places them on its own unbounded channel. The stratisd tasks are the DbusTreeHandler task, the DbusConnectionHandler task, and the DbusUdevHandler task.

DbusTreeHandler task

stratisd defines a DbusTreehandler task which updates the dbus tree and may also handle emitting D-Bus signals. It is the unique receiver on the stratisd dbus channel and the only task which obtains a write lock on the dbus tree. It is a non-blocking task.

DbusConnectionHandler task

stratisd defines a DbusConnectionHandler task which spawns a new task for every D-Bus method call. Each spawned task obtains a read lock on the dbus tree before it begins to process the D-Bus method call, and may also lock the engine. If it locks the engine, it blocks on the lock. Each spawned task may place messages on the stratisd dbus channel. Each task is responsible for sending replies to its D-Bus message on the D-Bus. This is the only part of the implementation where new tasks can be spawned during stratisd's regular operation.

DbusUdevHandler task

stratisd defines a DbusUdevHandler task which removes udev event information from the stratisd udev channel, allows the engine to process it, and puts any messages that may be necessary as a result of the engine processing the udev event on the stratisd dbus channel. Currently, a udev event may result in a pool being set up; when that happens an add message must be placed on the dbus channel for every filesystem or block device belonging to the pool, as well as an add message for the pool itself. The DbusUdevHandler locks the engine when processing a udev event, but does not block on the lock.

Properties and Consequences

Unbounded Channels

Both the stratisd udev channel and the dbus channel are "unbounded channels". These "unbounded" channels are actually bounded, but the bound on the number of messages allowed on the channel is the maximum value of the Rust usize type. It is assumed that other machine limits will be encountered before the number of messages on the channel reaches that limit. Because both channels are unbounded, tasks do not block placing a message on the channel, sending always succeeds.

We chose to make the dbus channel unbounded, as there exist two situations where a large number of messages may be placed on the channel. When a pool is constructed, the number of messages placed on the channel is proportional to the number of devices in the pool. On startup, when stratisd sets up a pool from its constituent devices, the number of messages is proportional to the number of devices and to the number of filesystems that the pool supports. We prefer to use an unbounded channel rather than to bound the number of filesystems by the channel size.

Generally speaking, we expect the number of messages on the channel, except on the occasion of pool creation or setup, to be no greater than 1; no other action currently implemented requires more than one message to be sent to the DbusTreeHandler. Messages will be rapidly consumed by the DbusTreeHandler, as it is the only task that takes a write lock on the dbus tree, and a task waiting for a write lock takes precedence over one waiting for a read lock.

The choice of unbounded channels also eliminates one possible source of deadlock.

Bounded Number of Blocking Threads

We have accepted, at this time, the tokio default for the number of blocking threads, which is 512. Because the DbusConnectionHandler's generated tasks are blocking, this places an upper bound on the number of distinct D-Bus messages that can be handled concurrently. Note that it is quite possible for 512 D-Bus messages to be handled by just one thread, as each task may be run in sequence on a single thread if the tasks complete rapidly.

We do not believe that this restriction will prove important in practice. The dbus crate's message channel is unbounded, so D-Bus messages can not be dropped although they may be handled very slowly if there is a backlog. Depending on the client's configuration, this may cause the client to hang indefinitely waiting for a response or the client may receive a message indicating that no response was transmitted in the allotted time. However, this situation can only arise if many messages require long-running actions to be taken and if these messages are sent in parallel.

In any case, the improvement with respect to a single-threaded approach is obvious. In the existing single threaded design, stratisd would be unable to handle any other events until all the D-Bus messages had been handled. With the multi-threaded design, udev and device-mapper events can be handled when they arrive, interspersed with the handling of the D-Bus messages.

One Task per D-Bus Message Model

In the single-threaded design, every D-Bus message is handled completely before handling of the next D-Bus message is begun. In our multi-threaded design multiple D-Bus message handling tasks may be being processed at the same time if the tokio scheduler allocates two message handling tasks to separate threads.

Each such task must:

  1. Acquire a read lock on the dbus tree.
  2. Query the tree in order to find the necessary information to call the engine method.
  3. Enter a mutex on the stratisd engine.
  4. Operate on the stratisd engine.
  5. Place any required messages on the dbus channel.
  6. Exit the mutex.
  7. Relinquish the read lock.

While processing of each message will be started precisely in the sequence in which the messages arrive, the order in which messages complete may not be the same, because a later task may enter the engine mutex before an earlier task.

The motivation for this design is obvious, although the benefits are not yet realized in this preliminary multi-threading implementation. In future, we expect to relax the requirement that each task have exclusive access to the entire engine and lock only the relevant parts of the engine. With that extension two non-interfering D-Bus commands may be run separately. The same general advantage from this proposed enhancement will also be gained in the matter of, for example, handling device-mapper events while simultaneously handling a D-Bus method.

This change introduces a relaxation of certain properties that held in the single-threaded case.

  1. If a D-Bus method that mutates state and requires an update to the dbus tree is invoked the changes to the dbus tree resulting from that method call are not visible until some time after the call has returned as updates to the dbus tree can only occur after the method has completed. This can be observed by a client, if the client invokes a second method immediately after the first has returned. For example, if the client invokes the CreatePool method and then immediately invokes the GetManagedObjects() method, some pool object paths corresponding to the pool or its devices may not yet be present in the tree. The opposite behavior can also be observed, for example, if the client invokes the DestroyPool method, some object paths belonging to the destroyed pool may still be found by a GetManagedObjects() invocation.

  2. If two D-Bus methods are invoked in separate processes, the same behaviors described in (1) are somewhat easier to observe.

  3. We believe that we have made it impossible to incorrectly update the tree by returning rich result types from the engine methods.

Given two distinct mutating D-Bus methods running in separate threads there is a possibility of a situation rather analogous to a race-condition arising. Two tasks may read the dbus tree, update the internal engine state, and then send update messages on the dbus channel. It is uncertain which task will acquire the engine mutex. This is partially analogous to the classic race-condition where two processes read a single variable, and then both update that variable in an undetermined order.

What makes this analogy only partial is the interposition of the engine, which restricts the updates that may be requested of the DbusTreeHandler by the DbusRequestHandler. The engine methods invoked by the D-Bus layer return a result which sufficiently distinguishes the actions actually taken by the engine so that conflicting updates to the dbus tree can not be requested. Thus the updates are constrained to be correct.

For example, consider that two conflicting commands may be handled at the same time: one command to delete a filesystem and the other to rename the same filesystem. If both commands are being handled in separate threads each will read the same data based on the filesystem object. Then, either one may enter the engine mutex. If the rename task enters the mutex first, it will be the first to place a message on the dbus channel. The DbusTreeHandler will remove the rename message first and then the remove message placed on the dbus channel after the remove request completes. Clearly, this order of processing can not result in an error. With the other order, the remove message will be placed on the dbus channel before the rename occurs. But in this case, the engine method will return a result indicating that no rename could occur, because the filesystem could not be found. Consequently, no rename message will be put on the dbus channel, and so the DbusTreeHandler will receive the remove message only. Thus, no incorrect update is performed on the dbus tree.

Error Behavior

stratisd exits if any task returns an error, using the same mechanism and general procedure that it uses on receipt of SIGINT. Causes of error may include:

A properly handled error within the stratisd engine will not result in the termination of any tasks. In the case of a D-Bus method call, for example, an error result is interpreted by the D-Bus layer, and some representation of that error is then incorporated into the message returned on the D-Bus.

We have taken great care to avoid panics within stratisd. Nonetheless, it is reasonable to discuss possible behavior on any panic which may occur.

If one of the dynamically spawned DbusTreeHandler tasks experiences a panic while executing, stratisd will not be terminated. Only the currently running task will fail to complete. When a new D-Bus message is received, a new task will be spawned and will execute as usual.

However, a panic that occurs during the execution of a task like the udev event handling task, of which there is only one spawned when stratisd is started, will cause stratisd to exit.

Ensuring a Clean and Prompt Exit

On SIGINT, stratisd should exit promptly and cleanly. This is ensured by:

  1. Having a separate signal handling task that waits on SIGINT. The tokio scheduler will ensure that this task is run regularly; thus the signal can not be ignored. Note that in the single-threaded case it is possible for the signal handling code never to be reached.
  2. Causing asynchronous tasks to terminate at their next synchronization point when the signal handling task terminates.
  3. Having the udev event handling loop check the flag set by the signal handling task on every iteration, and terminate if the flag is true.
  4. Each distinct D-Bus method processing task is allowed to run to completion, so that every action that it has begun can be completed.


Using tokio increases the size of the stratisd executable by about 1 MiB, which at stratisd's current size is an increase of approximately 20%.


Preliminary multi-threading support will be included in the next stratisd release, 2.4.0.