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Understanding the Linux Kernel, Second Edition by Marco Cesati, Daniel P. Bovet

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Synchronizing Accesses to Kernel Data Structures

A shared data structure can be protected against race conditions by using some of the synchronization primitives shown in the previous section. Of course, system performances may vary considerably, depending on the kind of synchronization primitive selected. Usually, the following rule of thumb is adopted by kernel developers: always keep the concurrency level as high as possible in the system .

In turn, the concurrency level in the system depends on two main factors:

  1. The number of I/O devices that operate concurrently

  2. The number of CPUs that do productive work

To maximize I/O throughput, interrupts should be disabled for very short periods of time. As described in Section 4.2.1, when interrupts are disabled, IRQs issued by I/O devices are temporarily ignored by the PIC and no new activity can start on such devices.

To use CPUs efficiently, synchronization primitives based on spin locks should be avoided whenever possible. When a CPU is executing a tight instruction loop waiting for the spin lock to open, it is wasting precious machine cycles.

Let’s illustrate a couple of cases in which synchronization can be achieved while still maintaining a high concurrency level.

  • A shared data structure consisting of a single integer value can be updated by declaring it as an atomic_t type and by using atomic operations. An atomic operation is faster than spin locks and interrupt disabling, and it slows down only kernel control paths that concurrently ...

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