Efficient Software-Based Fault
By Robert Wahbe, Steven Lucco, Thomas E.
Anderson, and Susan L. Graham
Presented by Pehr Collins
Background: Tannenbaum-Torvalds Debate
Linus Torvalds
Andrew Tannenbaum
Monolithic versus Microkernel
Monolithic OS
Co-locates modules in same address space
Faults in extension code could bring down
whole OS or corrupt data
Not safe!
Many developers choose performance over
Microkernel OS
Core functions handled by microkernel
Additional functionality added by means of
modules in separate address spaces
Faults are isolated
Safe but has a performance cost
Calls between modules required a full
context switch
Three orders of magnitude more expensive
than normal procedure call to same address
Resolving Conflict Between Safety and
• Last week we looked at “Improving IPC by Kernel Design” by J.
– Optimization techniques could decrease context switch performance
penalty to two orders of magnitude for microkernel IPC
– Simultaneous with this paper, but still not enough to tip the balance
• Enter software-based fault isolation
– No more conflict: OS extension code can be both safe and efficient
How to Resolve Conflict? Sandboxing
•Fault domains are contiguous memory segments used for untrusted modules
 Distinguished by unique identifiers
•Protection is handled by software in the same address space for all modules
Isolating the Fault Domain
Distrusted module code in a fault domain is modified to
prevent writing and jumping to outside addresses
This prevents distrusted module from harming other
Two ways to accomplish this
Segment matching which pinpoints fault locations
Sandbox addressing which provides no data on source of faults
Segment Matching
• Most control transfer instructions can be statically verified as
address is known at compile time
• Checks are added to all other potentially unsafe instructions
– Jumps to register address
– Stores to register address
• Illegal addresses prevented via segment matching
– Check if unsafe instruction’s target address has correct segment
– If check fails, trap to system error routine outside distrusted module’s
fault domain
Target Address
Segment ID
Address Bits
Segment Matching
Requires four dedicated registers
Holds addresses in the code segment
Holds addresses in the data segment
Holds the segment shift amount
Holds the segment identifier
These registers are used only by inserted code, never modified by
distrusted module code
Dedicated registers are used to perform the checks on untrusted code
Performance impact of assigning some registers to become dedicated
registers is minimal on a RISC system
Target Address
Segment ID
Address Bits
Address Sandboxing
• Even better performance than segment matching
• Cost: lose the information about the source of the faults
• Before each unsafe instruction insert code that sets the upper
bits of the target address to the correct segment identifier
• Does not catch illegal addresses
• Prevents illegal addresses from affecting any other fault
• But what happens when there is an illegal address?
– It just jumps/writes to a garbage location within the fault domain
Target Address
Segment ID
Address Sandboxing
Requires five dedicated registers
Holds the segment mask
Holds the code segment identifiers
Holds the data segment identifiers
Holds the sandboxed code address
Holds the sandboxed data address
Target Address
Segment ID
Both Techniques Require Dedicated
• Segment Checking: 4 dedicated registers
• Address Sandboxing: 5 dedicated registers
• What happens if all registers are already
allocated by the compiler?
Trust/Performance Tradeoff
• Only distrusted modules
incur performance penalty
• Trusted modules can run at
full speed
• We have covered write and
jump, but what about load?
• Security can be ramped up to
prevent distrusted modules
from reading data outside
their fault domain
– Increases execution time
overhead (by quite a bit)!
Resource Protection
• Fault domains share the same virtual address space
• Problem: if a fault domain made system calls it can close or
delete files needed by other code in the address space
• Could cause crash
• Potential solution: modify the OS to know about fault
•  Not portable
• Their solution: resource arbitration
Resource Arbitration
• Require distrusted modules to access resources through crossfault-domain RPC
• Reserve a fault domain to hold trusted arbitration code
• Arbiter determines safeness of system calls by other fault
• System calls in object code of distrusted modules are
transformed to use the arbiter RPC call
• Trusted modules make system calls as normal and share fault
domain with arbiter
How Do Modules Communicate?
Cross-fault-domain RPC
• Since the whole idea of fault domains is to provide better IPC
performance, this is essential
• Trusted stubs used for fault domains to call outside their domain
• Stubs run unprotected outside caller and callee domains
• Stubs copy cross-domain arguments (marshal) and manage machine state
• Trustworthiness of stub allows caller and callee to communicate via a
shared buffer
• This creates a LRPC as only a single shared copy of the data is necessary
• Stubs are created manually for now
Cross-fault-domain RPC
Jump Table
•Allows the untrusted module to
call into a stub outside its fault
•Each entry in the jump table is a
legal entry point to a stub outside
the untrusted fault domain
•Is read only to untrusted module
•Is written to by trusted modules
to set the entry point addresses
Performance Testing
Prototype running on DEC-MIPS and DECALPHA
1. How much overhead incurred by software
2. How fast is cross-default domain RPC?
3. Performance impact of using software enforced
fault isolation on an application
Encapsulation Overhead
RPC and Fault Isolation Costs
Fault Domain RPC Cost
Fault Isolation Overhead in POSTGRES
Results Analysis
• Savings can be represented by the following formula
• Function of:
Time spent in distrusted code (td)
Percentage of time spent crossing fault domains (tc)
Overhead of encapsulation (h)
Ratio (r) of fault domain crossing time to the crossing time of
competing hardware based RPC
Performance Analysis with Entire Application
Performance Analysis with 50% of Application
• Results are impressive at first glance
• Suggest that software based fault isolation is the way to go in many cases
where crossing time is sufficiently quicker than standard RPC
• However, security, security, security!
• When security for reads is desired, overhead shoots way up
– from 4.3% on average to 21.8%!
• Errors from sandbox addressing difficult to track
– Could generate a garbage address inside the fault domain
• Stubs are manually generated
• Requirement to dedicate 4 or 5 registers could be problematic
– Solution is geared towards RISC architecture
– Authors mention that CISC systems like 8086 would suffer performance
penalties due to dedicated register requirements
Thanks for your attention!
Diagrams on Monolithic/Microkernel from Wikipedia
Photos of Linus Torvalds and Andrew Tannenbaum from Wikipedia
Segment Matching and Sandboxing Addressing figures from Tony Bock’s presentation on the same
paper (Winter 2006)
Quick Recap
Fault Isolation in cooperating modules: what is the
• Existing schemes place each module in own
address space
• This isolates faults
• Major context switch overhead for tightlycoupled modules
Quick Recap
A Solution in Two Parts
1. Load code and data for distrusted module into own fault
2. Modify object code of this module to prevent writing
jumping to addresses outside fault domain
• Portable and language agnostic solutions
• Cost is slight increase in execution time for distrusted
• Yields significant boost in inter-fault domain performance
and hence overall performance
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