EC 440 Project 4 – Thread Local Storage solution




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Project Goals
 To understand basic concepts of memory management
 To provide protected memory regions for threads
Collaboration policy
 You are encouraged to discuss this project with your classmates/instructors but are
required to turn in your own solution.
 You must be able to fully explain your solution during oral examination.
It is due on Friday, November 22nd, 18:00:00 EDT (no deadline extensions or late submissions).
Project Description
The goal of this project is to implement a library that provides protected memory regions for
threads, which they can safely use as local storage. As you remember, all threads share the
same memory address space. While it can be beneficial since it allows threads to easily share
information, it can also be a problem when one thread accidentally modifies values that
another thread has stored in a variable. To protect data from being overwritten by other
threads, it would be convenient for each thread to possess a protected storage area that only
this thread can read from and write to. We call this protected storage area thread local
storage. Your task is to implement support for thread local storage, either on top of your
existing user mode thread library or on top of Linux’ pthread implementation. In both cases,
your code will be a library that implements the functions and functionality introduced below.
To provide support for thread local storage (TLS), you are supposed to implement the
following functions in a library:
int tls_create(unsigned int size)
This function creates a local storage area (LSA) for the currently executing thread that can
hold (at least) size bytes. It returns 0 on success or -1 (error) if a thread already has a local
storage which size is larger than 0 bytes. After a LSA has been created, it can be read and
written by the following two functions.
int tls_write(unsigned int offset, unsigned int length, char *buffer)
This function reads length bytes, starting from the memory location pointed to by buffer, and
writes them into the local storage area of the currently executing thread, starting at position
offset. It returns 0 on success and -1 (error) if the function is asked to write more data than the
LSA can hold (i.e., offset + length > size of LSA) or if the current thread has no LSA. Finally,
the function trusts that the buffer from which data is read holds at least length bytes. If not, the
result of the call is undefined.
int tls_read(unsigned int offset, unsigned int length, char *buffer)
This function reads length bytes from the local storage area of the currently executing thread,
starting at position offset, and writes them into the memory location pointed to by buffer. The
function returns 0 on success or -1 (error) if it is asked to read past the end of the LSA (i.e.,
offset + length > size of LSA) or if the current thread has no LSA. Finally, the function trusts
that the buffer into which data is written is large enough to hold at least length bytes. If not, the
result of the call is undefined.
int tls_destroy()
This function frees a previously allocated local storage area of the currently executing thread. It
returns 0 on success and -1(error) when the thread does not have a local storage area.
int tls_clone(pthread_t tid)
This function clones the local storage area of a target thread identified by tid. When a thread
local storage is cloned, the content is not simply copied. Instead, the storage areas of both
threads initially refer to the same memory location. Only when one thread writes to its own LSA
(using the tls_write function), then the TLS library creates a private copy of the region that
is written. Note, though, that the remaining, untouched areas still remain shared. This approach
is called CoW (copy-on-write), and it is done to save memory space and to avoid unnecessary
copy operations. The function returns 0 on success. It is an error when the target thread has no
LSA, or when the currently executing thread already has a LSA. In both cases, the function
returns -1.
Whenever a thread attempts to read from or write to any thread local storage area, including
its own, without using the appropriate tls_read and tls_write functions, then this thread
should be terminated (by calling pthread_exit on its behalf). The remaining threads
continue to run unaffected.
Since we have to implement TLS in user space and cannot modify the operating system, we
introduce the following two simplifications to make our lives easier:
First, whenever a thread calls tls_read or tls_write, you can temporarily unprotect this
thread’s local storage area. That is, when a thread A is executing one of these two functions, it
would be possible for another thread B (that happens to interrupt thread A) to access A’s local
storage (and only that of thread A) without being terminated.
Second, we will see that most memory protection operations do not work with byte granularity
but with page granularity. Thus, we relax the sharing requirement for tls_clone. Assume
that thread B clones the local storage of thread A (which has a size of 2*page-size — where
page-size is typically 4096 bytes and can be determined by calling the library routine
getpagesize()). Now, let’s assume that thread A writes one byte at the beginning of its own
local storage. Originally, we required that only this bytes is copied. For convenience, we relax
this requirement and allow the entire first page (i.e., the entire first 4096 of the local storage)
to be copied. The second page, however, still remains shared between thread A and thread B.
Note that it is possible that more than two threads share the same local storage. That is,
multiple threads can tls_clone the LSA of the same target thread, and all these threads
would then point to the same memory region (pages). When one thread write to its storage,
only this thread gets its own copy. The remaining threads would still share the same region.
Implementation Hints
First, you need a way to create a local storage that cannot be directly accessed by a thread. To
this end, we suggest that you use the library function mmap. mmap has two advantages: First, it
allows one to obtain memory that is aligned with the start of a page, and the function allocates
memory in multiples of the page size. Second, mmap allows you to create pages that have no
read/write permissions, and thus, cannot be accessed arbitrarily.
Now that we have pages that are properly aligned and that cannot be accessed by any
thread, the next question is how we can implement the tls_read and tls_write functions.
For this, the library routine mprotect is very handy, which allows us to “unprotect” memory
regions at the beginning of a read or write operation, and later “reprotect” it when we are
done. Note that mprotect can only assign coarse-grain permissions at the level of individual
pages. This is another reason why it is convenient to create the local storage area as
multiples of memory pages.
It is important to observe that the local storage area of a thread can contain both shared
pages and pages that are private copies. Hence, it is clear that these pages are not always
contiguous in memory. As a result, when you perform read and write operations that span
multiple pages of the local storage, you need to break up these operations into accesses to
the individual pages.
Finally, the question arises what happens when a thread directly accesses a memory page (a
LSA) that is protected. In this case, the operating system sends a signal (SIGSEGV) to the
offending thread. Thus, you could install a signal handler for SIGSEGV, and whenever such a
signal is caught, you simply terminate the currently running thread (by calling
pthread_exit). Unfortunately, this is not correct, because there could be other reasons for
a segmentation fault (a normal programming error). In this case, you do not want to only
terminate the currently running thread, but kill the entire process and dump the core. Thus,
your signal handler must be able to distinguish between a case in which a segmentation fault
is caused by a thread that incorrectly accesses a local storage area, or a regular fault where
no LSA is involved. To this end, we suggest that you look closely at the manual page for
sigaction and try to find how the struct siginfo_t might help you to achieve your
Submission Guidelines
 Your tls library must be written in C and run on Linux. It must compile without any errors
when compiled with -Wall -Werror and run on
 Your makefile should compile your source files into an object tls.o file. If you want to use
lpthread library, compile it with
 gcc -Wall -Werror -c -lpthread -o tls.o tls.c
 In your home directory create a folder project4 and place README, makefile and all of
your source files there. Switch to the project4 directory and execute submit4
 A confirmation mail of your submission is sent to your account on You can
read this mail by executing mail.
 In the README file explain what you did. If you had problems, tell us why and what.
 You are allowed to resubmit your files. The latest submission before the deadline will be
Oral Examination
 Deadline: November 29th 21:00 ET
 You are required to meet with one member of the course staff (excluding Prof. Egele)
during office hours to explain your solution.
 Oral examination will take place between Friday, November 22nd, and Friday, November