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Title: waitpid/waitid race caused by change to Popen.send_signal in Python 3.9
Type: crash Stage:
Components: Versions: Python 3.9
Status: open Resolution:
Dependencies: Superseder:
Assigned To: Nosy List: gregory.p.smith, oconnor663, vstinner
Priority: normal Keywords:

Created on 2020-12-03 17:05 by oconnor663, last changed 2022-04-11 14:59 by admin.

Messages (5)
msg382429 - (view) Author: Jack O'Connor (oconnor663) * Date: 2020-12-03 17:05
In Python 3.9, Popen.send_signal() was changed to call Popen.poll() internally before signaling. (Tracking bug: This is a best-effort check for the famous kill/wait race condition. However, because this can now reap an already-exited child process as a side effect, it can cause previously working programs to crash. Here's a simple example:

import os
import subprocess
import time

child = subprocess.Popen(["true"])
os.waitpid(, 0)

The program above exits cleanly in Python 3.8 but crashes with ChildProcessError in Python 3.9. It's a race against child process exit, so in practice (without the sleep) it's a heisenbug.

There's a deeper race here that's harder to demonstrate in an example, but parallel to the original wait/kill issue: If the child PID happens to be reused by another parent thread in this same process, the call to waitpid might *succeed* and reap the unrelated child process. That would export the crash to that thread, and possibly create more kill/wait races.

In short, the question of when exactly a child process is reaped is important for correct signaling on Unix, and changing that behavior can break programs in confusing ways. This change affected the Duct library, and I might not've caught it if not for a lucky failing doctest:

I haven't searched for more instances of this bug in the wild, but one way to find them would be to look for code that calls both os.waitpid/waitid and also Popen.send_signal/kill/terminate. Duct found itself in this position because it was using waitid(WNOWAIT) on Unix only, to solve this same race condition, and also using Popen.kill on both Unix and Windows.
msg382475 - (view) Author: STINNER Victor (vstinner) * (Python committer) Date: 2020-12-04 11:08
The script fails with "ChildProcessError: [Errno 10] No child processes" on line:

> os.waitpid(, 0)

The line before, you call child.kill() which sends SIGKILL signal to the process. So it's likely that the process will complete (killed by SIGKILL) soon.

I don't think that it's a good idea to attempt reading the process status directly (by calling os.waitpid), since subprocess already tracks the process status.

There is the public child.poll() API which calls os.waitpid(, 0) in a safe way for you. Why not using this API?

IMO this issue is not a bug.

Note: Python 3.8 behaves differently, but it doesn't mean that calling directly os.waitpid() was a good idea in Python 3.8 and older ;-)
msg382498 - (view) Author: Jack O'Connor (oconnor663) * Date: 2020-12-04 16:11
Right, the example above is contrived to demonstrate the race and the crash.

In real life code, the good reason I know of to write code like this is to use os.waidid(WNOWAIT) to solve the wait/kill race properly. This is what Duct has been doing, and Nathaniel Smith also described this strategy in The idea is that a waiting thread follows these steps:

1. waitid() with WNOWAIT set, without locking the child
2. after waitid returns, indicating the child has exited, lock the child
3. waitid() without WNOWAIT, or just waitpid(), to reap the zombie child
4. stash the exit status and unlock

Meanwhile a killing thread follows these steps:

1. lock the child
2. check the stashed exit status, and unlock and exit early if it's set
3. otherwise, signal the child and unlock

This strategy solves the race. The killing thread is free to signal while the waiting thread is blocked in step 1. If the killing thread happens to race in between when waitid() returns and when the waiting thread acquires the child lock, the child is a zombie and the kill signal has no effect. This is safe even if other threads (or e.g. the OOM killer) can randomly kill our child: *they* might have to worry about PID reuse, but their signals can never cause *us* to kill an unrelated process. What breaks this scheme is if some thread calls waitpid() and reaps the child outside of the lock, but normally that'd be a pretty unreasonable thing to do, especially since it can only be done by other threads in the parent process. (There's also some complexity around whether multiple threads are allowed to call waitid(WNOWAIT) on the same PID at the same time. I've just had one thread call it, and had other blocking waiters block on a second lock, but maybe that's overcautious.)

So anyway, if you use the strategy above -- precisely because you care about the PID reuse race and want to solve it properly -- and you also happen to use Popen.kill(), then changing Popen.send_signal to reap the child can break you.

I don't think this is a bug per se, but it's a behavior change, which matters to a small set of (abnormally) correct programs. But then again, if Duct is the only project that hits this in practice, maybe I'm making a mountain out of a molehill :)
msg382506 - (view) Author: STINNER Victor (vstinner) * (Python committer) Date: 2020-12-04 16:46
If you care about race conditions in send_signal(), I suggest you to write a PR to use the newly added os.pidfd_open() in subprocess:
msg382524 - (view) Author: Gregory P. Smith (gregory.p.smith) * (Python committer) Date: 2020-12-04 20:16
I agree with Victor.  When code launches a process with subprocess APIs, it is expected that the subprocess module manages the process.

Calling os.waitpid directly instead of using subprocess's APIs breaks that expectation.

Also, WNOWAIT and waitid() (not waitpid()) are not available on all platforms.  Nor is pidfd_open().  Code using any of those for such a PR needs to be conditional on their runtime availability.
Date User Action Args
2022-04-11 14:59:38adminsetgithub: 86724
2020-12-04 20:16:42gregory.p.smithsetmessages: + msg382524
2020-12-04 16:46:33vstinnersetmessages: + msg382506
2020-12-04 16:11:53oconnor663setmessages: + msg382498
2020-12-04 11:08:55vstinnersetnosy: + gregory.p.smith, vstinner
messages: + msg382475
2020-12-03 17:05:29oconnor663create