Commit 65731578 authored by Tejun Heo's avatar Tejun Heo
Browse files

cgroup: add documentation about unified hierarchy

Unified hierarchy will be the new version of cgroup interface.  This
patch adds Documentation/cgroups/unified-hierarchy.txt which describes
the design and rationales of unified hierarchy.

v2: Grammatical updates as per Randy Dunlap's review.
Signed-off-by: default avatarTejun Heo <>
Cc: Randy Dunlap <>
parent 842b597e
Cgroup unified hierarchy
April, 2014 Tejun Heo <>
This document describes the changes made by unified hierarchy and
their rationales. It will eventually be merged into the main cgroup
1. Background
2. Basic Operation
2-1. Mounting
2-2. cgroup.subtree_control
2-3. cgroup.controllers
3. Structural Constraints
3-1. Top-down
3-2. No internal tasks
4. Other Changes
4-1. [Un]populated Notification
4-2. Other Core Changes
4-3. Per-Controller Changes
4-3-1. blkio
4-3-2. cpuset
4-3-3. memory
5. Planned Changes
5-1. CAP for resource control
1. Background
cgroup allows an arbitrary number of hierarchies and each hierarchy
can host any number of controllers. While this seems to provide a
high level of flexibility, it isn't quite useful in practice.
For example, as there is only one instance of each controller, utility
type controllers such as freezer which can be useful in all
hierarchies can only be used in one. The issue is exacerbated by the
fact that controllers can't be moved around once hierarchies are
populated. Another issue is that all controllers bound to a hierarchy
are forced to have exactly the same view of the hierarchy. It isn't
possible to vary the granularity depending on the specific controller.
In practice, these issues heavily limit which controllers can be put
on the same hierarchy and most configurations resort to putting each
controller on its own hierarchy. Only closely related ones, such as
the cpu and cpuacct controllers, make sense to put on the same
hierarchy. This often means that userland ends up managing multiple
similar hierarchies repeating the same steps on each hierarchy
whenever a hierarchy management operation is necessary.
Unfortunately, support for multiple hierarchies comes at a steep cost.
Internal implementation in cgroup core proper is dazzlingly
complicated but more importantly the support for multiple hierarchies
restricts how cgroup is used in general and what controllers can do.
There's no limit on how many hierarchies there may be, which means
that a task's cgroup membership can't be described in finite length.
The key may contain any varying number of entries and is unlimited in
length, which makes it highly awkward to handle and leads to addition
of controllers which exist only to identify membership, which in turn
exacerbates the original problem.
Also, as a controller can't have any expectation regarding what shape
of hierarchies other controllers would be on, each controller has to
assume that all other controllers are operating on completely
orthogonal hierarchies. This makes it impossible, or at least very
cumbersome, for controllers to cooperate with each other.
In most use cases, putting controllers on hierarchies which are
completely orthogonal to each other isn't necessary. What usually is
called for is the ability to have differing levels of granularity
depending on the specific controller. In other words, hierarchy may
be collapsed from leaf towards root when viewed from specific
controllers. For example, a given configuration might not care about
how memory is distributed beyond a certain level while still wanting
to control how CPU cycles are distributed.
Unified hierarchy is the next version of cgroup interface. It aims to
address the aforementioned issues by having more structure while
retaining enough flexibility for most use cases. Various other
general and controller-specific interface issues are also addressed in
the process.
2. Basic Operation
2-1. Mounting
Currently, unified hierarchy can be mounted with the following mount
command. Note that this is still under development and scheduled to
change soon.
mount -t cgroup -o __DEVEL__sane_behavior cgroup $MOUNT_POINT
All controllers which are not bound to other hierarchies are
automatically bound to unified hierarchy and show up at the root of
it. Controllers which are enabled only in the root of unified
hierarchy can be bound to other hierarchies at any time. This allows
mixing unified hierarchy with the traditional multiple hierarchies in
a fully backward compatible way.
2-2. cgroup.subtree_control
All cgroups on unified hierarchy have a "cgroup.subtree_control" file
which governs which controllers are enabled on the children of the
cgroup. Let's assume a hierarchy like the following.
root - A - B - C
\ D
root's "cgroup.subtree_control" file determines which controllers are
enabled on A. A's on B. B's on C and D. This coincides with the
fact that controllers on the immediate sub-level are used to
distribute the resources of the parent. In fact, it's natural to
assume that resource control knobs of a child belong to its parent.
Enabling a controller in a "cgroup.subtree_control" file declares that
distribution of the respective resources of the cgroup will be
controlled. Note that this means that controller enable states are
shared among siblings.
When read, the file contains a space-separated list of currently
enabled controllers. A write to the file should contain a
space-separated list of controllers with '+' or '-' prefixed (without
the quotes). Controllers prefixed with '+' are enabled and '-'
disabled. If a controller is listed multiple times, the last entry
wins. The specific operations are executed atomically - either all
succeed or fail.
2-3. cgroup.controllers
Read-only "cgroup.controllers" file contains a space-separated list of
controllers which can be enabled in the cgroup's
"cgroup.subtree_control" file.
In the root cgroup, this lists controllers which are not bound to
other hierarchies and the content changes as controllers are bound to
and unbound from other hierarchies.
In non-root cgroups, the content of this file equals that of the
parent's "cgroup.subtree_control" file as only controllers enabled
from the parent can be used in its children.
3. Structural Constraints
3-1. Top-down
As it doesn't make sense to nest control of an uncontrolled resource,
all non-root "cgroup.subtree_control" files can only contain
controllers which are enabled in the parent's "cgroup.subtree_control"
file. A controller can be enabled only if the parent has the
controller enabled and a controller can't be disabled if one or more
children have it enabled.
3-2. No internal tasks
One long-standing issue that cgroup faces is the competition between
tasks belonging to the parent cgroup and its children cgroups. This
is inherently nasty as two different types of entities compete and
there is no agreed-upon obvious way to handle it. Different
controllers are doing different things.
The cpu controller considers tasks and cgroups as equivalents and maps
nice levels to cgroup weights. This works for some cases but falls
flat when children should be allocated specific ratios of CPU cycles
and the number of internal tasks fluctuates - the ratios constantly
change as the number of competing entities fluctuates. There also are
other issues. The mapping from nice level to weight isn't obvious or
universal, and there are various other knobs which simply aren't
available for tasks.
The blkio controller implicitly creates a hidden leaf node for each
cgroup to host the tasks. The hidden leaf has its own copies of all
the knobs with "leaf_" prefixed. While this allows equivalent control
over internal tasks, it's with serious drawbacks. It always adds an
extra layer of nesting which may not be necessary, makes the interface
messy and significantly complicates the implementation.
The memory controller currently doesn't have a way to control what
happens between internal tasks and child cgroups and the behavior is
not clearly defined. There have been attempts to add ad-hoc behaviors
and knobs to tailor the behavior to specific workloads. Continuing
this direction will lead to problems which will be extremely difficult
to resolve in the long term.
Multiple controllers struggle with internal tasks and came up with
different ways to deal with it; unfortunately, all the approaches in
use now are severely flawed and, furthermore, the widely different
behaviors make cgroup as whole highly inconsistent.
It is clear that this is something which needs to be addressed from
cgroup core proper in a uniform way so that controllers don't need to
worry about it and cgroup as a whole shows a consistent and logical
behavior. To achieve that, unified hierarchy enforces the following
structural constraint:
Except for the root, only cgroups which don't contain any task may
have controllers enabled in their "cgroup.subtree_control" files.
Combined with other properties, this guarantees that, when a
controller is looking at the part of the hierarchy which has it
enabled, tasks are always only on the leaves. This rules out
situations where child cgroups compete against internal tasks of the
There are two things to note. Firstly, the root cgroup is exempt from
the restriction. Root contains tasks and anonymous resource
consumption which can't be associated with any other cgroup and
requires special treatment from most controllers. How resource
consumption in the root cgroup is governed is up to each controller.
Secondly, the restriction doesn't take effect if there is no enabled
controller in the cgroup's "cgroup.subtree_control" file. This is
important as otherwise it wouldn't be possible to create children of a
populated cgroup. To control resource distribution of a cgroup, the
cgroup must create children and transfer all its tasks to the children
before enabling controllers in its "cgroup.subtree_control" file.
4. Other Changes
4-1. [Un]populated Notification
cgroup users often need a way to determine when a cgroup's
subhierarchy becomes empty so that it can be cleaned up. cgroup
currently provides release_agent for it; unfortunately, this mechanism
is riddled with issues.
- It delivers events by forking and execing a userland binary
specified as the release_agent. This is a long deprecated method of
notification delivery. It's extremely heavy, slow and cumbersome to
integrate with larger infrastructure.
- There is single monitoring point at the root. There's no way to
delegate management of a subtree.
- The event isn't recursive. It triggers when a cgroup doesn't have
any tasks or child cgroups. Events for internal nodes trigger only
after all children are removed. This again makes it impossible to
delegate management of a subtree.
- Events are filtered from the kernel side. A "notify_on_release"
file is used to subscribe to or suppress release events. This is
unnecessarily complicated and probably done this way because event
delivery itself was expensive.
Unified hierarchy implements an interface file "cgroup.populated"
which can be used to monitor whether the cgroup's subhierarchy has
tasks in it or not. Its value is 0 if there is no task in the cgroup
and its descendants; otherwise, 1. poll and [id]notify events are
triggered when the value changes.
This is significantly lighter and simpler and trivially allows
delegating management of subhierarchy - subhierarchy monitoring can
block further propagation simply by putting itself or another process
in the subhierarchy and monitor events that it's interested in from
there without interfering with monitoring higher in the tree.
In unified hierarchy, the release_agent mechanism is no longer
supported and the interface files "release_agent" and
"notify_on_release" do not exist.
4-2. Other Core Changes
- None of the mount options is allowed.
- remount is disallowed.
- rename(2) is disallowed.
- The "tasks" file is removed. Everything should at process
granularity. Use the "cgroup.procs" file instead.
- The "cgroup.procs" file is not sorted. pids will be unique unless
they got recycled in-between reads.
- The "cgroup.clone_children" file is removed.
4-3. Per-Controller Changes
4-3-1. blkio
- blk-throttle becomes properly hierarchical.
4-3-2. cpuset
- Tasks are kept in empty cpusets after hotplug and take on the masks
of the nearest non-empty ancestor, instead of being moved to it.
- A task can be moved into an empty cpuset, and again it takes on the
masks of the nearest non-empty ancestor.
4-3-3. memory
- use_hierarchy is on by default and the cgroup file for the flag is
not created.
5. Planned Changes
5-1. CAP for resource control
Unified hierarchy will require one of the capabilities(7), which is
yet to be decided, for all resource control related knobs. Process
organization operations - creation of sub-cgroups and migration of
processes in sub-hierarchies may be delegated by changing the
ownership and/or permissions on the cgroup directory and
"cgroup.procs" interface file; however, all operations which affect
resource control - writes to a "cgroup.subtree_control" file or any
controller-specific knobs - will require an explicit CAP privilege.
This, in part, is to prevent the cgroup interface from being
inadvertently promoted to programmable API used by non-privileged
binaries. cgroup exposes various aspects of the system in ways which
aren't properly abstracted for direct consumption by regular programs.
This is an administration interface much closer to sysctl knobs than
system calls. Even the basic access model, being filesystem path
based, isn't suitable for direct consumption. There's no way to
access "my cgroup" in a race-free way or make multiple operations
atomic against migration to another cgroup.
Another aspect is that, for better or for worse, the cgroup interface
goes through far less scrutiny than regular interfaces for
unprivileged userland. The upside is that cgroup is able to expose
useful features which may not be suitable for general consumption in a
reasonable time frame. It provides a relatively short path between
internal details and userland-visible interface. Of course, this
shortcut comes with high risk. We go through what we go through for
general kernel APIs for good reasons. It may end up leaking internal
details in a way which can exert significant pain by locking the
kernel into a contract that can't be maintained in a reasonable
Also, due to the specific nature, cgroup and its controllers don't
tend to attract attention from a wide scope of developers. cgroup's
short history is already fraught with severely mis-designed
interfaces, unnecessary commitments to and exposing of internal
details, broken and dangerous implementations of various features.
Keeping cgroup as an administration interface is both advantageous for
its role and imperative given its nature. Some of the cgroup features
may make sense for unprivileged access. If deemed justified, those
must be further abstracted and implemented as a different interface,
be it a system call or process-private filesystem, and survive through
the scrutiny that any interface for general consumption is required to
go through.
Requiring CAP is not a complete solution but should serve as a
significant deterrent against spraying cgroup usages in non-privileged
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