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Embedded Linux Experts

Lesson 1: Spin locks

The most basic primitive for locking is spinlock.

static DEFINE_SPINLOCK(xxx_lock);

	unsigned long flags;

	spin_lock_irqsave(&xxx_lock, flags);
	... critical section here ..
	spin_unlock_irqrestore(&xxx_lock, flags);

The above is always safe. It will disable interrupts _locally_, but the
spinlock itself will guarantee the global lock, so it will guarantee that
there is only one thread-of-control within the region(s) protected by that
lock. This works well even under UP also, so the code does _not_ need to
worry about UP vs SMP issues: the spinlocks work correctly under both.

   NOTE! Implications of spin_locks for memory are further described in:

       (5) LOCK operations.
       (6) UNLOCK operations.

The above is usually pretty simple (you usually need and want only one
spinlock for most things - using more than one spinlock can make things a
lot more complex and even slower and is usually worth it only for
sequences that you _know_ need to be split up: avoid it at all cost if you
aren't sure).

This is really the only really hard part about spinlocks: once you start
using spinlocks they tend to expand to areas you might not have noticed
before, because you have to make sure the spinlocks correctly protect the
shared data structures _everywhere_ they are used. The spinlocks are most
easily added to places that are completely independent of other code (for
example, internal driver data structures that nobody else ever touches).

   NOTE! The spin-lock is safe only when you _also_ use the lock itself
   to do locking across CPU's, which implies that EVERYTHING that
   touches a shared variable has to agree about the spinlock they want
   to use.


Lesson 2: reader-writer spinlocks.

If your data accesses have a very natural pattern where you usually tend
to mostly read from the shared variables, the reader-writer locks
(rw_lock) versions of the spinlocks are sometimes useful. They allow multiple
readers to be in the same critical region at once, but if somebody wants
to change the variables it has to get an exclusive write lock.

   NOTE! reader-writer locks require more atomic memory operations than
   simple spinlocks.  Unless the reader critical section is long, you
   are better off just using spinlocks.

The routines look the same as above:

   rwlock_t xxx_lock = __RW_LOCK_UNLOCKED(xxx_lock);

	unsigned long flags;

	read_lock_irqsave(&xxx_lock, flags);
	.. critical section that only reads the info ...
	read_unlock_irqrestore(&xxx_lock, flags);

	write_lock_irqsave(&xxx_lock, flags);
	.. read and write exclusive access to the info ...
	write_unlock_irqrestore(&xxx_lock, flags);

The above kind of lock may be useful for complex data structures like
linked lists, especially searching for entries without changing the list
itself.  The read lock allows many concurrent readers.  Anything that
_changes_ the list will have to get the write lock.

   NOTE! RCU is better for list traversal, but requires careful
   attention to design detail (see Documentation/RCU/listRCU.txt).

Also, you cannot "upgrade" a read-lock to a write-lock, so if you at _any_
time need to do any changes (even if you don't do it every time), you have
to get the write-lock at the very beginning.

   NOTE! We are working hard to remove reader-writer spinlocks in most
   cases, so please don't add a new one without consensus.  (Instead, see
   Documentation/RCU/rcu.txt for complete information.)


Lesson 3: spinlocks revisited.

The single spin-lock primitives above are by no means the only ones. They
are the most safe ones, and the ones that work under all circumstances,
but partly _because_ they are safe they are also fairly slow. They are slower
than they'd need to be, because they do have to disable interrupts
(which is just a single instruction on a x86, but it's an expensive one -
and on other architectures it can be worse).

If you have a case where you have to protect a data structure across
several CPU's and you want to use spinlocks you can potentially use
cheaper versions of the spinlocks. IFF you know that the spinlocks are
never used in interrupt handlers, you can use the non-irq versions:


(and the equivalent read-write versions too, of course). The spinlock will
guarantee the same kind of exclusive access, and it will be much faster. 
This is useful if you know that the data in question is only ever
manipulated from a "process context", ie no interrupts involved. 

The reasons you mustn't use these versions if you have interrupts that
play with the spinlock is that you can get deadlocks:

		<- interrupt comes in:

where an interrupt tries to lock an already locked variable. This is ok if
the other interrupt happens on another CPU, but it is _not_ ok if the
interrupt happens on the same CPU that already holds the lock, because the
lock will obviously never be released (because the interrupt is waiting
for the lock, and the lock-holder is interrupted by the interrupt and will
not continue until the interrupt has been processed). 

(This is also the reason why the irq-versions of the spinlocks only need
to disable the _local_ interrupts - it's ok to use spinlocks in interrupts
on other CPU's, because an interrupt on another CPU doesn't interrupt the
CPU that holds the lock, so the lock-holder can continue and eventually
releases the lock). 

Note that you can be clever with read-write locks and interrupts. For
example, if you know that the interrupt only ever gets a read-lock, then
you can use a non-irq version of read locks everywhere - because they
don't block on each other (and thus there is no dead-lock wrt interrupts. 
But when you do the write-lock, you have to use the irq-safe version. 

For an example of being clever with rw-locks, see the "waitqueue_lock" 
handling in kernel/sched.c - nothing ever _changes_ a wait-queue from
within an interrupt, they only read the queue in order to know whom to
wake up. So read-locks are safe (which is good: they are very common
indeed), while write-locks need to protect themselves against interrupts.



Reference information:

For dynamic initialization, use spin_lock_init() or rwlock_init() as

   spinlock_t xxx_lock;
   rwlock_t xxx_rw_lock;

   static int __init xxx_init(void)


For static initialization, use DEFINE_SPINLOCK() / DEFINE_RWLOCK() or
__SPIN_LOCK_UNLOCKED() / __RW_LOCK_UNLOCKED() as appropriate.