Author izbyshev
Recipients gregory.p.smith, izbyshev, nanjekyejoannah, pablogsal, pitrou, serhiy.storchaka, vstinner
Date 2018-12-20.15:50:46
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Victor and Joannah, thanks for working on adding vfork() support to subprocess. Regarding speedups in the real world, I can share a personal anecdote. Back at the time when AOSP was built with make (I think it was AOSP 5) I've observed ~2x slowdown (or something close to that) if fork() is used instead of vfork() in make. This is the slowdown of the *whole* build (not just process creation time), and it's dramatic given the amount of pure computation (compilation of C++/Java code) involved in building AOSP. The underlying reason was that make merged all AOSP subproject makefiles into a single gigantic one, so make consumed more than 1 GB of RAM, and each shell invocation in recipes resulted in copying a large page table.

That said, I'm not sure that the chosen approach of adding posix_spawn() "fast paths" for particular combinations of arguments is an optimal way to expose vfork() benefits to most users. For example, close_fds is True by default in subprocess, and I don't think there is a reliable way to use posix_spawn() in this case. So users would need to use "magic" combinations of arguments to subprocess.Popen to benefit from vfork(). Another example is "cwd" parameter: there is no standard posix_spawn file action to change the working directory in the child, so such a seemingly trivial operation would trigger the "slow" fork-exec path.

Another approach would be to use vfork-exec instead fork-exec in _posixsubprocess. I know that previous discussions were resolved against vfork(), but I'm still not convinced and suggest to reevaluate those decisions again. Some arguments:

1. While POSIX contain scare-wording forbidding to do pretty anything in a vfork-spawned child, real systems where posix_spawn() is not a system call call vfork() and then execute all specified actions in the child. Cases where vfork() is avoided seem to be a quality-of-implementation issue, not a fundamental issue (for example, until recently glibc used fork() in some cases because of heap memory allocations, but they could be avoided). In practice, there is no problem with calling at least async-signal-safe functions in vfork-children, and there is no technical reason why there would be any problem.

2. _posixsubprocess is already very careful and calls only async-signal-safe functions in almost all cases (an obvious exception is preexec_fn, which is discouraged anyway).

3. Our use case for vfork() is restricted, so some concerns don't apply to us. For example, the setuid() problem outlined in Rich Felker's post ( doesn't seem to apply. The problem with signal handlers from the same post should be possible to avoid except for preexec_fn, but we'd have to fallback to fork() in this case anyway due to memory allocation.

4. In the standard example of fork() unsafety in multithreaded processes (state of memory-based locks is copied to the child, and there could be nobody to unlock them), vfork() is *safer* than fork() because it still shares memory with the parent, and all threads other than the parent one are running. In particular, it should be perfectly safe to use any memory allocator that protects its state with something like futexes and atomics in a vfork-child even if other threads of the parent are using it concurrently.

5. Other language runtimes are already using vfork(). Java has been doing it for ages, and Victor referenced Go.

Some possible counter-arguments:

1. We seem to be reimplementing posix_spawn(). In fact, due to (2) above, we can fully reuse the existing fork-exec code, with additional tweaks that doesn't seem hard at this point.

2. My points above are based on Linux, but I don't know much about other Unix-likes, so in theory additional complications could exist. I can't, however, imagine any fundamental complication.

In the end, I think that migrating subprocess to vfork-exec would have more impact for users than adding "fast paths" and have consistent performance regardless of subprocess.Popen arguments (with few exceptions). Please consider it. Thanks!
Date User Action Args
2018-12-20 15:50:51izbyshevsetrecipients: + izbyshev, gregory.p.smith, pitrou, vstinner, serhiy.storchaka, pablogsal, nanjekyejoannah
2018-12-20 15:50:50izbyshevsetmessageid: <>
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2018-12-20 15:50:47izbyshevcreate