minidumps are unsafe on amd64

Robert Watson rwatson at
Fri Jan 25 12:10:48 PST 2008

On Fri, 25 Jan 2008, Scott Long wrote:

> Is this a case where you are manually triggering a dump on a system that is 
> otherwise running fine?  I thought that crashes already disabled interrupts 
> and made an attempt to stop other CPUs.  That's why there is dump-specific 
> code in every storage driver in the first place; it implements polled i/o so 
> that crashdump i/o can take place with interrupts disabled.  If it's a case 
> where interrupts aren't actually getting disabled, then that's one thing. 
> If it's a case where you're trying to fix something that isn't broken, then 
> I'm very cautious about the added complexity that you're proposing.

Unfortunately, we don't really do this today -- we do stop the other CPUs when 
we enter the debugger, but we restart them when we leave, and the dump code 
runs outside of the debugger context.  I ran into this problem when working on 
textdumps, as common storage drivers attempt to acquire locks in their dump 
path.  Instead of writing out DDB output incrementally block-at-a-time, I have 
to buffer it all and then generate it at the normal dump point after leaving 
the debugger.

In terms of generally improving robustness of the debugging environment, I've 
been pondering the following:

- Dump routines run from the KDB context, so that they get the protections
   associated with running in the debugger.  In particular, they need a more
   reliable assumption that the rest of the kernel is halted.  I'm a bit
   surprised we haven't been bitten by this more in the past...

- A more SMP-safe passage into the debugger, especially from panic().  We
   should disable interrupts immediately on panic() to prevent preemption on
   the panicking CPU by an interrupt.  We should write any state to pass into
   the debugger into a per-CPU buffer to be picked up after kdb_trap() has
   popped us into the debugger.  The panic message should be printed by KDB,
   and not using printf(), which is prone to preemption especially on serial

- Dump routines pass through a bounds checking block write call.  Right now
   they directly invoke di->dumper(), and the caller is responsible for not
   asking for blocks outside the swap partition.  A wrapper on the order of
   dump_blockwrite() should do the bounds checking to add robustness
   (obviously, callers should also place their blocks correctly).

I'm almost certainly not the right person to look at making dumper routines 
work in KDB, but I can look at improving the reliability of getting into KDB, 
as well as passing data into it more reliably.  I'm happy to let someone else 
pick this up and run with it, though, as it will be a ways down on my TODO 
list for a bit.

Robert N M Watson
Computer Laboratory
University of Cambridge

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