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Low-Level Data Structure - efficient data structures, and fast data access in the 2.6/3.0 kernel
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Low-Level Data Structure

llds is a btree implementation which attempts to maximize memory efficiency via bypassing the virtual memory layer (vmalloc) and through optimized data structure memory semantics.

The llds general working thesis is: for large memory applications, virtual memory layers can hurt application performance due to increased memory latency when dealing with large data structures. Specifically, data page tables/directories within the kernel and increased DRAM requests can be avoided to boost application memory access.

Applicable use cases: applications on systems that utilize large in-memory data structures. In our testing, "large" was defined as >4GB structures, which did yield significant gains with llds vs equivalent userspace implementations.


$ cmake .
$ make
# make install
# mknod /dev/llds c 834 0

The build environment will need libproc, glibc, and linux headers. For Ubuntu/Debian based distros this is available in the libproc-dev, linux-libc-dev, and build-essential pkgs.

How it Works

llds is a Linux kernel module (2.6, 3.0) which leverages facilities provided by the kernel mm for optimal DRAM memory access. llds uses the red-black tree data structure, which is highly optimized in the kernel and is used to manage processes, epoll file descriptors, file systems, and many other components of the kernel.

Memory management in llds is optimized for traversal latency, not space efficiency, though space savings are probable due to better alignment in most use cases. llds data structures should not consume any more memory than their equivalent user space implementations.

Traversal latency is optimized by exploiting underlying physical RAM mechanics, avoiding CPU cache pollution, NUMA cross-check chatter, and streamlining CPU data prefetching (L1D cache lines). Fragmented memory access is less efficient when interacting with modern DRAM controllers. The efficiency also further suffers on NUMA systems as the number of processors/memory banks increases.


Developers can interact directly with the llds chardev using ioctl(2), however, it is highly recommended that the libforrest API is used to avoid incompatibilities should the ioctl interface change in the future.

libforrest provides the basic key-value store operations: get, set, and delete. In addition, it provides a 64-bit MurmurHash (rev. A) for llds key hashing.

Examples are provided in the libforrest/examples directory.


Benchmarks are inherently fluid. All samples and timings are available at, additionally there is a script provided which utilizes oprofile. Along with the script, there is a user-space implementation of red-black trees and an equivalent llds implementation. The goal of benchmarking is about opining to the results of a particular environment but all the tools and scripts are available to let users test their own mileage.

Benchmark environment: Dell PowerEdge R610, 4x Intel Xeon L5640 (Westmere) w/HT (24 cores), 192GB DDR3 DRAM, Ubuntu 10.04.3 LTS. The keys are 64-bit integers and the values are incremented strings (ie, "0", "1", "2"..."N"). There were no major page faults.

For conciseness, only tests with 2/16/24 threads and 500K/1.5M/2M keys are listed. dmidecode, samples, and full benchmarks are available at

Wall Timings (in seconds)

Threads# of Itemsuserspacelldsllds improvement

Unhalted CPU cycles (10000 cycles @ 133mHz)

Threads# of Itemsuserspacellds

L1 cache hits (200000 per sample)

Threads# of Itemsuserspacelldsllds improvement

L2 cache hits (200000 per sample)

Threads# of Itemsuserspacelldsllds improvement

L3/Last-Level cache hits (200000 per sample)

Threads# of Itemsuserspacelldsllds improvement

L1 Data Prefetch misses (200000 per hardware sample)

Threads# of Itemsuserspacelldsllds improvement


llds is experimental. Though it's been tested in various environments (including integration into a search engine) it is not known to be in use on any production system, yet. With additional eyes (preferably kernel hackers) looking at llds, the hope is that llds will be stable by Q4 '12 (ala Wall, Perl6, and Christmas).

Known Limitations/Issues

  • libforrest has a limit on the value which comes back from kernel space, the default is 4096 bytes, it can be adjusted through the FORREST_MAX_VAL_LEN directive at compile time.
  • Only 64-bit architecture support

Future Work

  • Support for additional data structures (hashes are questionable)
  • Add atomic operations (increment, decrement, CAS, etc.) in libforrest and llds
  • Research about the virtual memory overhead & implementation in the kernel with mitigation techniques
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