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14. RPC2 Internals

14.1 Background

This chapter describes the internal structure of RPC2. It describes the most relevant data structures and routines used in RPC2. This chapter will not be of interest to the average user of RPC2. It is intended for system programmers who are interested in knowing the internal workings of RPC2. It is not a substitute for source code, but is an annotated guide for the RPC2 source code. As previously mentioned, the RPC2 package is used in conjunction with the LWP Package and its components, the IOMGR package and the TM package. This document refers to these packages only in relation to RPC2. Discussion of side effects is deferred until Chapters XXX and XXX .

RPC2 consists of two relatively independent components: a Unix-based run time library written in C, and a stub generator RP2Gen. The RPC2 runtime consists of the base RPC2 code and a set of routines for each of the side effects described. The run-time system is self-contained and usable in the absence of RP2Gen. In this chapter we will describe some of the routines that make up the run time library.

The LWP package supports multiple nonpreemptive threads of control within a single Unix process. When a remote procedure is called, the calling LWP is suspended until the response is received. While the LWP is suspended, the RPC2 runtime system internally yields control and other LWPs can make concurrent RPC requests. Hence multiple RPCs can be in progress simultaneously. This becomes particularly important when long running side effects occur.

14.2 The LWP package

Basic Routines

The LWP routines that are most relevant to RPC2 are the following.

@begin(itemize) LWP_Init - initializes the LWP package, and turns the calling process into the initial thread with the specified priority.

LWP_CreateProcess - creates a new LWP thread. This call causes the scheduler to be invoked.

LWP_DispatchProcess - the calling thread yields to the LWP scheduler.

LWP_NoYieldSignal - signals an event but does not yield to the scheduler. @end(itemize)

Both the RPC2 and the LWP package are entirely outside the Unix Kernel, and depend only on the 4.3 BSD interface. At present RPC2 runs on the DARPA IP/UDP protocol via Unix sockets.

IOMGR Routines

Routines in the IOMGR package allows LWPs to wait on various Unix events. When the package is initialized, an IOMGR thread is created. This thread runs at the lowest priority. In order for the IOMGR package to function correctly, all other threads must run at a higher priority.

A common mistake in user code is to assume that yielding by a user LWP (via LWP_DispatchProcess LEFTPAREN ) RIGHTPAREN will allow the IOMGR LWP to run; this will be true only if the user LWP runs at the lowest priority. In all other cases, the routine LWP_Poll () must be called prior to the LWP_DispatchProcess. The call to LWP_Poll () executes the same code that would have been executed by the IOMGR LWP, had it been given a chance to run. The LWP_DispathProcess () allows LWPs waiting on IOMGR events to run, if the LWP_Poll () detects such events.

The IOMGR call that is most relevant to the RPC2 package is the IOMGR_Select . The IOMGR_Select allows a light-weight process to wait on the same set of events that the Unix select waits on. The parameters are the same. The IOMGR_Select puts the caller to sleep until no user processes are active. At this time the IOMGR thread, which runs at the lowest priority, wakes up, coaleses all the LWPs blocked by a select performs a single select and wakes up all processes affected by the result.

TM Routines

The Timer package is used to create and maintain timers for different events associated with RPC2 calls (for instance timeouts). This package contains a number of routines that assist in manipulating lists of timers. The timers are assigned a timeout value by the user and inserted in a list that is maintained by the package. There are routines to check for expired timers, to update timers etc. The TM package routines that are relevant to RPC2 are the following.

@begin(itemize) TM_Insert - initializes a timer element and inserts it into a timer list.

TM_Rescan - updates the timer elements in the specified list and looks for expired elements.

TM_GetExpired - returns an expired timer from a list.

TM_GetEarliest - returns the earliest timer on a list. @end(itemize)

The RPC2 package

Chapter XXX of this manual contains two examples of RPC2 subsystems. We consider the example in Section XXX . For this example, RP2Gen generates the server and client stubs shown below.

Client Stub for Example
ref id="Example-rtime
" name="XXX"

Server Stub for Example
ref id="Example-rtime
" name="XXX"

Initialization and Thread Creation

RPC2 provides logical connections for the client to communicate with the server. The client and server communicate via internet sockets. Both at the client and at the server end, the sockets are monitored by a LWP called the SocketListener thread. The SocketListener thread which is created during initialization is an integral part of the RPC2 package. In addition to monitoring the socket, it receives and decodes the packet and then notifies the appropriate LWP which is awaiting a packet. Given that multiple LWPs can be waiting for packets, the job of the SocketListener thread is to demultiplex incoming packets among multiple waiting LWPs.

Besides the SocketListener thread, there is an IOMGR thread. Both these threads are created during initialization of the RPC2 package, via the RPC2_Init primitive. Besides these internal threads, clients and servers may have any number of other threads limited only by the amount of memory. A server may be organized in many ways: one thread per subsystem, a pool of threads servicing any of a number of subsystems, and so on.

The interplay between threads is as follows. The client makes an RPC and goes to sleep, thereby handing control to the SocketListener thread. This thread then blocks on an IOMGR_Select transferring control to the IOMGR thread, which then blocks on a UNIX select. On receiving a response, the IOMGR thread unblocks from the select, wakes up the SocketListener thread, which receives and decodes the response and then hands control back to the client thread.

At the server, the server thread blocks waiting for a request, hence transferring control to the SocketListener. As with the client, the SocketListener calls IOMGR_Select and blocks, thereby handing control to the IOMGR thread. When a request arrives, the IOMGR thread unblocks from the select, hands control to the SocketListener which after receiving and decoding the packet transfers control back to the server thread.

The IOMGR thread has the lowest priority. All other threads are usually at (the same) higher priority level.


@begin(itemize) By calling LWP_Init , this routine converts the calling process into the initial thread thereby creating the client thread at the client end and the server thread at the server end.

Creates and sets up an Internet socket through which requests are sent and responses received.

Creates the SocketListener thread using the LWP_CreateProcess primitive.

Initializes the IOMGR package, thereby creating the IOMGR thread.

By calling TM_Init initializes the rpc2_TimerQueue @foot(RPC2_xxx are the routines that are externally visible and can be used by the user. rpc2_xxx are routines that are internal to the package.) list which is then used to maintain all the timers for the RPC calls.

Initializes the random number generator used for generating sequence numbers for packets.

Sets the retry parameters according to the algorithm described in Chapter XXX . @end(itemize)

Data Structures used in RPC2

A number of data structures are used in RPC2, the most important of which are the Connection Entry (CEntry) the RPC2_PacketBuffer, and the SocketListener Entry (SLEntry). We consider each one of these in turn.

@paragraph(CEntry) RPC2 provides logical connections for the client to communicate with the server. Associated with each logical connection are two data structures of type CEntry; one at the client end and the other at the server end. All information relevant to the connection is entered into these data structures. This includes information about the security of the connection, the state and identity of the connection itself, the remote site that it is connected to, the sequence number of the next packet expected on the connection and so on. The CEntry is allocated using the rpc2_AllocConn call.

@paragraph(RPC2_PacketBuffer) The RPC2_PacketBuffer shown in rpc2.h, defines the structure of the request-response packets exchanged during the RPC calls. The RPC2_PacketBuffer consists of a Prefix, Header and Body. The Prefix is of fixed length and contains information about the PacketBuffer. It is used internally by the runtime system, and is not transmitted.

The Header is also of fixed length, and contains a number of fields some of which are described below. The fields pertaining to the connection are the RemoteHandle and LocalHandle. The RemoteHandle and the LocalHandle refer to the connection ids on the peer host and the local host respectively. The LocalHandle field corresponds to the local connection id on which the packet is sent. In this case, the LocalHandle in the request packet corresponds the clients local connection id. In the response packet this field corresponds to the servers local connection id.

Other fields pertain to the packet itself including the length of the packet, the sequence number, the type of packet (determined by the Opcode), the length of the packet. These fields are encrypted on secure connections. The packet length field is used by the peer host to efficiently allocate packet buffers. The Body is of arbitrary size, and is used to transmit the input and output parameters of the RPC.

The packet buffer is allocated by calling RPC2_AllocBuffer and is freed by RPC2_FreeBuffer .

@paragraph(SLEntry) SLEntries are data structures used for communication between the user LWPs and the SocketListener. There are three types of SLEntry data structures; REPLY, REQ, OTHER. Each of these are described below.

@begin(itemize) REQ: The SLEntry of type REQ is used by the server in the RPC2_GetRequest call (which is described later). In the RPC2_GetRequest the server thread allocates a SLEntry, associates a filter and timeout with it, activates it and goes to sleep until the SLEntry is modified. The SLEntry is modified by the SocketListener when a packet arrives or a timeout occurs. A return code associated with the SLEntry is used to indicate if the timeout occurred or a request arrived.

OTHER: The SLEntry of type OTHER is associated with a specific connection. It is created and destroyed by the user LWP. Typically it is used by a client making a request on a particular connection. The client allocates a SLEntry of this type. A timeout equal to the retry parameter is associated with the SLEntry. The client then activates it and goes to sleep until the SLEntry is modified. As with the REQ type SLEntry this modification is done by the SocketListener when either a packet arrives, a BUSY is received or a timeout occurs. The SLEntry is then deactivated with the appropriate return code. If there is an overall timeout associated with the call (as specified by the user in the RPC2_MakeRPC call), before the client goes to sleep, it allocates, sets this timeout value and activates another SLEntry of type OTHER.

REPLY: The SLEntry of type REPLY is associated with a specific connection, is created by the user (server) LWP in the RPC2_SendResponse call, and is deactivated by the SocketListener in the rpc2_ExpireEvents call. @end(itemize)

The type of SLEntry is specified in the field Type of the SLEntry structure.

The SLEntries are allocated using the rpc2_AllocSle call. They are activated and deactivated using the rpc2_ ActivateSle and rpc2_DeactivateSle calls respectively. They are freed using the rpc2_FreeSle call.

@paragraph(Creating Data Structures) To avoid the cost of mallocing a structure each time it is required, lists are maintained for each of the three mentioned data structures. These lists are called FreeLists (SLFreeList for SLEntries, ConnFreeList for CEntry, rpc2_PBList for PacketBuffers), and contain the addresses of entries which were created previously, but are no longer in use. These lists are first checked for a free entry before mallocing space. When an entry is no longer required it is returned to the respective FreeList.


In order for the client to communicate with the server, it is first necessary to establish a logical connection between them. These connections are established using the RPC2_Bind primitive.

RPC2_Bind @foot(Here we only consider the unauthenticated and unencrypted security level RPC2_OPENKIMONO.)

@begin(itemize) Creates a new connection and binds to a server on a remote host. The identification of the server is specified by a hostname, port number and subsystem. This along with the required security level is mapped into a unique integer which we will refer to as the Local Handle . The Local Handle can also be thought of as the connection identifier, and is used by the client for future references to this connection.

Creates a data structure of type CEntry by calling rpc2_AllocConn . The Local Handle is entered into CEntry field UniqueCID .

Allocates and packs into a packet buffer, the information required by the server to set up the connection.

Allocates and activates a SLEntry data structure of type OTHER. @end(itemize)

Next, the RPC2_Bind packet is sent to the server. The details of the calls required to send a packet will be discussed later while describing the RPC2_MakeRPC call. After sending the packet, the client thread goes to sleep.

The server responds to this call by creating a corresponding connection entry. When the SocketListener thread detects a packet, it receives it and processes it. Processing involves sanity checking and decoding the packet. This packet is decoded as a Bind request. The SocketListener thread allocates a CEntry data structure, and a unique connection identifier (using the rpc2_ AllocConn call). Information relevant to this connection such as the clients id, subsytem id etc is entered into CEntry by calling rpc2_MakeConn . The server then allocates a Packet Buffer, enters the connection identifier in the Local Handle field of the Packet Header, and sends the response to the client. The connection identifier is used by the client in subsequent requests to the server on this connection. All calls associated with the server will be discussed later.

At the client end, the SocketListener thread detects a packet, receives and processes it. Processing involves sanity checking and decoding the packet. This packet is decoded as the response to the Bind packet, and the connection identifier sent by the server is entered into the CEntrys field PeerHandle. Now the connection has been set up.

Clien-Related RPC Calls

A client wishing to make a remote procedure call on this connection makes a local procedure call to the client stub and specifies the connection (or Local Handle) on which it wishes to make a call. The client stub allocates a packet buffer, marshalls the arguments into a packet and calls the RPC2_ MakeRPC primitive .


@begin(itemize) Obtains the connection entry associated with the corresponding Local Handle. Initializes the request packet buffer by filling in the appropriate header information using rpc2_InitPacket .

Allocates a SLEntry of type OTHER.

@Begin(Multiple) Sends the request packet by calling the rpc2_SendReliably primitive.

rpc2_SendReliably @End(Multiple) @begin(itemize) Transmits the request packet using the sendto system call, and activates the SLEntry. The SLEntry is activated using rpc2_ActivateSle where the timeout value is set to the retransmission timeout @g(b)1. The entry is placed in the timer list managed by the TM package.

The client thread then blocks until either a response is received or a retransmission timeout occurs. When the client thread unblocks, it first checks to see if the overall timeout of the call has expired (i.e the timeout specified in RPC2_MakeRPC ). If this occurs, then this timer is deactivated and removed from the list and the call returns to RPC2_MakeRPC . If the call has not timed out, the return code on the SLEntry is used to find out the outcome of the call. There are four possibilities: @begin(itemize) A negative acknowledgement (NAK) is received in which case control is transferred back to the RPC2_MakeRPC call .

A response is received in which case control is transferred back to the RPC2_MakeRPC call .

A BUSY response is received. A BUSY is sent to a client by the server in response to clients retries. This is to indicate to the client that the server is still alive and connected to the network. In this case the SLEntry is again activated with the retransmission timeout set to @g(b)0.

A retransmission timeout occurs. The client calls rpc2_CancelRetry to check if a side effect has heard from the server during the interval. If this is the case, then the client behaves as if it received a BUSY at the time of the last server response in the side effect. In other words, suppose while the thread was blocked the client received a packet from the server as part of the execution of a side effect. Let that time be t . Suppose the time is now n . Then the SLEntry is reactivated with the retransmission timeout set to @g(b)0-( n - t ). If the client has not heard from a side effect in the interval, then the SLEntry is again reactivated with the retransmission timeout set to the next value of @g(b), until N retries have been attempted. After N retransmissions, the server is assumed dead and the call transfers control back to RPC2_MakeRPC .

@end(itemize) @end(itemize) @end(itemize) On returning to the Make_RPC call, the return code indicates: @begin(itemize) If an overall timeout occurred (i.e. the return value of rpc2_SendReliably is RPC2_TIMEOUT), RPC2_MakeRPC frees the corresponding SLEntry and returns control to the client stub with the outcome of the RPC call (i.e. the return code) specified as RPC2_TIMEOUT.

If an overall timeout did not occur (i.e. the return value of rpc2_SendReliably is RPC2_SUCCESS), then the response to the RPC call could be one of three. The ReturnCode field in the SLEntry indicates which of the three cases occured. @begin(itemize) The response was received, indicated by return code ARRIVED. Control is transferred to the client stub with the return code of the RPC call set to RPC2_SUCCESS.

A negative acknowledgment, indicated by return code NAKED. Control is transferred to the client stub with the return code of the RPC call set to RPC2_NAKED.

No response because of either the server being dead or the network being down, indicated by return code TIMEOUT. Control is transferred to the client stub with the return code of the RPC call set to RPC2_DEAD.

@end(itemize) In all cases the SLEntry is freed and control is transferred back to the client stub. The arguments of the call are unmarshalled and returned to the calling program.


Server Related RPC Calls

The server program is given in Section 2.1.2. After initialization, in order for the client to bind to a server, the server must first export the subsytem. This is done using the RPC2_Export primitive. The server now ready to receive requests, makes a call to RPC2_GetRequest .


@begin(itemize) First, checks to see if there are any HeldRequests . When a request arrives, and there are no threads available to service it, it is added to a HoldList . We refer to these requests as HeldRequests. If there are no HeldRequests, it looks for new requests. This is done by making a call to GetNewRequest , which allocates and activates a SLEntry of type REQ, and blocks until either a timeout (specified in RPC2_GetRequest) occurs or a request arrives.

If the request is a Bind request, the SocketListener thread after allocating a CEntry using the Make_Conn call hands control to the server thread. The server then checks to see that it is a bind request. It then allocates a PacketBuffer and transmits the Bind packet (called the Init2 packet) to the client. This is done by calling the SendOKInit2 primitive.

If a request arrives, on an already existing connection, control is transferred back to the main server program which then transfers control to the server stub. The request is then executed, a PacketBuffer is allocated and the response is sent to the client using the RPC2_SendResponse call.



@begin(itemize) Takes as input the Local Handle from which it obtains the corresponding CEntry using the rpc2_GetConn call.

Records the relevant information into the response Packet Header and transmits the response packet using rpc2_XmitPacket .

Allocates and saves a packet for retry which is sent to the client if a duplicate request is received. @end(itemize)

@subsection (TM related RPC2 calls) In this section we describe some of the frequently used RPC2 primitives that deal with the calls in the TM package.


@begin(itemize) Sets the fields of the timer element TM_Elem (Section 12.2); sets the TotalTime field with the timeout value, sets the BackPointer field with the address of the SLEntry. If there isnt a timeout associated with the SLEntry, the TotalTime field is set to -1.

Checks to see if the timeout of the new TM_Elem is less than any of those already in the list (the timeout field of the TM_Elem is compared with the TimeLeft fields of all the other TM_Elems in the list). If so, the SocketListener thread is made to wait on this TM_Elem.

Inserts the timer element into the timer list rpc2_TimerQueue.



@begin(itemize) @begin(multiple) Enters the specified return code to ReturnCode field of the SLEntry. The ReturnCode can be one of of the following.

- TIMEOUT : if the TimeLeft field of the TM_Elem is less than or equal to 0.

- ARRIVED : if the response has arrived.

- KEPTALIVE : if a BUSY response is received.

- NAKED : if a negative acknowledgement is received.

If TM_Elem is timed (i.e TotalTime field is not equal to -1), it removes it from Timer list. @end(multiple) @end(itemize) Note that all SLEntries are deactivated by the SocketListener.


This routine is called by the SocketListener. @begin(itemize)

Using TM_Rescan , it updates the TimeLeft fields on all the timers in the rpc2_TimerQueue. It then checks for expired timers and deactivates the SLEntries with the expired timers.



An integral part of the RPC2 code is the SocketListener. As previously mentioned, the SocketListener thread monitors the IP Socket through which packets are sent and received. A SocketListener thread is created at the client and the server when RPC2 is initialized. Although the functionality of the SocketListener at the client and at the server are similar, some differences do exist. We first discuss the section of the code that is common to both.

@begin(itemize) On creation, the SocketListener thread yields to the main thread (the client thread for the client and server thread for the server). It gains control when the main thread goes to sleep.

It first polls the IP socket (polling select) to see if any packets are in the socket. This is done using the MorePackets primitive.

If there are no packets waiting in the socket, by calling rpc2_ExpireEvents it checks the Timer list to see if there are any expired events. Expired events refer to timeouts that might have occurred since it was last checked.

It then finds the earliest event on the Timer list, and blocks on an IOMGR_Select until either a packet arrives or the event times out. This is done by calling PacketCame .

@begin(multiple) If a packet is present in the socket, the SocketListener processes the packet by calling rpc2_ProcessPacket . The rpc2_ProcessPacket routine calls on a number of primitives and is described below.

rpc2_ProcessPacket @end(multiple) @begin(itemize) The PullPacket primitive allocates a Packet Buffer for the incoming packet. The packet is then received using the rpc2_RecvPacket call which in turn uses the recvfrom system call.

PoisonPacket is called to sanity check the packet. This entails checking the version of RPC2 used, and the packet header.

The RemoteHandle field of the packet is used to determine if the packet is a new bind request. If not, the CEntry is obtained using the rpc2_GetConn call. Once the CEntry is obtained the packet is decoded by calling DecodePacket .

@end(itemize) @end(itemize)


Here is where the differences arise between the client and the server. We first consider the server and then the client.

@begin(itemize) @begin(multiple) For a server, the packet could be a request for a new connection, a new request, or a retransmission . A retransmission could occur because the response packet was lost or the server is busy. In the first case, the response is retransmitted. If the server is busy, a BUSY packet is sent out. The reason for having the BUSY mechanism is the following.

When the server is heavily loaded, or a long side effect (such as a large file transfer) is occurring, responses to clients requests may take an arbitrary time. In the meantime however the client might timeout and retransmit. After a number of retransmissions, if no response is received, the connection is declared to be dead. To prevent this from happening, the server sends out a BUSY if it sees a retransmission, thereby informing the client that it is still alive. When the client receives a BUSY it backs off from retransmitting for time @g(b)0. Another advantage of the BUSY is that it prevents clients from flooding the server with retransmissions, and hence decreases unnecessary load on the server.

If the packet is a bind request, a CEntry is created. The SocketListener thread then checks if any server threads are available. If so it deactivates the corresponding SLEntry. If not it puts the request in the HeldRequest queue. Similarly for the new request, it checks for available server threads and depending on the availability it either deactivates a SLEntry or puts the request on a HoldList.

At this point the SocketListener thread does not yield control. It polls to see if any packets are waiting in the socket. If so, it processes them, if not it checks on expired events and blocks on the IOMGR_Select and then yields to the server thread. The rationale for the server thread not yielding control immediately after deactivating the SLEntry is as follows. If retransmissions are present, it is generally better to send out the BUSY responses as soon as possible. Hence the SocketListener thread decodes all the packets waiting in the socket and responds to the retransmissions before yielding control.

@end(multiple) For a client, the packet could be a response to a bind request, a response to a request or a BUSY from the server or a NAK. For each of these, the SLEntry waiting on the event is found and deactivated by calling rpc2_DeactivateSle . As in the case of the server, at this point the SocketListener does not yield control. It polls the socket to see if any packets are waiting in the socket. If a packet is waiting it processes the packet, otherwise it checks on expired events, blocks on an IOMGR_Select and then yields control to the client thread. @end(itemize)

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