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README

LINUX EXAMPLES for PERSISTENT MEMORY PROGRAMMING

This is the top-level README for the linux-examples repository.

PLEASE NOTE:  THIS REPOSITORY IS PROBABLY NOT WHAT YOU WANT!

These examples were created as a way to explore the programming
issues that come up with persistent memory.  Since these examples
were first written, the NVM Library has been developed as a tested
and documented way to support persistent memory.  You want NVML instead
of the files here (this repo is just here for historical interest).

GO HERE: https://github.com/pmem/nvml

OR READ MORE ABOUT PMEM PROGRAMMING HERE: http://pmem.io



This repository contains some exploratory ideas, used to
illustrate the challenges of Persistent Memory programming.

The goal is to build up a collection of simple examples to help people
understand how Persistent Memory is exposed to applications.  These are
NOT PRODUCTION-QUALITY examples.  They are educational snippets of code
to illustrate some basic concepts.  See the REFERENCES section below for
more mature frameworks.

These examples are built on the Linux Persistent Memory API described in:

	LINUX_PMEM_API.txt


PERSISTENT MEMORY

Persistent Memory is an emerging technology providing a new tier between
traditional storage and volatile memory with attributes from both.  The
two main qualities of Persistent Memory are that it appears byte-addressable
to applications (allowing direct load/store access rather than the block-based
access of traditional storage) and that it is persistent.  The term
Persistent Memory (PM), and the related term Storage Class Memory (SCM),
may not have formal definitions that everyone agrees on, but these terms
usually refer to memory that an application can access directly, without
demand-paging blocks in and out of a storage device.  The performance of
PM is typically such that a processor load instruction can reasonably wait
for data from PM (instead of context switching while a page fault is
serviced).  Therefore technologies like hard disks and NAND Flash are not
considered fast enough by themselves.  A PM product built on those
technologies would have some additional hardware built in to maintain the
performance expected by the processor during direct access.

A number of Non-Volatile Memory (NVM) technologies emerging, like Phase
Change Memory, Memristor, Spin-Toque, and others, may bring us into an
era of very large PM capacities with performance more like DRAM than
traditional storage.  This is appealing for applications requiring access
to large data sets, without the huge DRAM footprint and non-deterministic
access times seen when demand-paging is used.  Once you imagine applications
storing information in PM, you quickly realize the need for a way to name
regions of PM so that applications can re-connect to their data on start-up.
Next, the need for a permission model and an administrative model for
managing PM comes up (creating, deleting, backing it up, etc.).  The
industry direction for exposing PM to applications is for PM regions to
be exposed via the native file APIs on an OS, or something very similar
(see the SNIA information in the REFERENCES section below).  That's the
approach taken with the examples found here.  An example of a
Persistent-Memory-Aware file system that provides PM via native Linux file
APIs is PMFS, available at:

	https://github.com/linux-pmfs

So when PM is accessed by memory mapping files, how is that different
from traditional memory mapped files that have been a feature of many
operating systems for decades?  If one writes a program that memory-maps
a normal file using the Linux mmap(2) system call, accesses it with loads
and stores, and makes changes durable using the Linux msync(2) system
call, will that program work without modification on a PM file?  Yes.
But with a traditional file system, access to the memory-mapped file is 
actually paging data in and out of DRAM; mapping a file and changing
a single byte involves a page fault (including a context switch or two),
where a 4k block is read from storage into memory and a subsequent write
of that 4k block to make the change durable.  With PM, it is possible to
change that byte directly from the program, without waiting for page faults
or using any DRAM buffers.  On PM the impact of changing a byte of data
is likely much less than a page (probably more like a cache-line read
so the change can happen in the processor cache, followed by a cache-line
flush to make the change durable).


EXAMPLES

Each example occupies a sub-directory here and the README in each
sub-directory tells you why the example was written.  The README also
described how to run the example and what unit tests are available.  At
this top level, "make all" builds every example, "make clean" clears out
intermediate files for all examples, and "make clobber" removes anything
that is recreatable for all examples.

Since these are for educational use, no attempt has been made to optimize
them for performance, or even make then run on anything but Linux x86_64
(they were all tested on a 64-bit Debian-based distro running the 3.2 kernel
and gcc 4.7.2 initially).  Most of the examples are not MT-safe (unless
making something MT-safe was part of the example).  All the examples are
written in C and depend on nothing but libc and the code in this repo.
This is to keep things simple and illustrate the low-level primitives for
Persistent Memory.  Hopefully over time some higher-level language support
will become commonplace and we'll add additional examples as they become
available.  See the TODO section below for some ideas if you're looking to
contribute.

As mentioned in the previous section, calling msync(2) to make stores
to PM durable will work but since PM is directly-accessible, there may
be more optimal ways available with some PM products.  For the purposes
of these examples, a library, libpmem, has been provided and it includes
this function which can be used instead of msync:

	pmem_persist(addr, len, flags)

See libpmem/README for more details on the methods available and the
assumptions each method makes about the platform.

What you'll find here:

	LICENSE		The BSD license under which this code is available.

	LINUX_PMEM_API.txt	The Linux Persistent Memory API, which is
				primarily the decades-old memory-mapped file
				API (part of POSIX) with a few optional
				things added to it.

	FAQ.txt		Frequently asked questions about Persistent Memory
			and about these examples.

	trivial		A simple, self-contained, trivial example.  If you
			don't know how to use mmap(2)/msync(2) or if you need
			a reminder how they are used, start here.  It is
			only a small step above just typing "man mmap" but
			the example is explained, runnable, and includes
			a trivial test you can play with.

	basic		A very basic example.  It can store a few strings
			to PM and it can read the strings already stored
			there.  This is the simplest example based on libpmem,
			so it is a good place to start to understand how that
			library is used.

			See basic/README for details on how to run & test
			this example, and how to use it with the "icount"
			fault injection test mechanism.

	libpmem		This library provides an optional part of the
			Linux Persistent Memory API.  It is "optional"
			because it is perfectly possible to use PM without
			this library (as shown by the "trivial" example
			described above).  But with this library, PM
			programming is more convenient and some operations
			are optimized.  If you're looking for examples of
			PM programming, reading this code won't help you --
			look at examples like trivial, basic, and binarytree.

	libpmemalloc	A simple PM malloc-like library.  If you're
			looking for some basic ideas to get you going
			managing data structures in PM in a way that keeps
			them consistent across crashes, this might be
			a good place to start.  libpmemalloc/README explains
			how the malloc-like library is used and tested,
			and the file libpmemalloc/design.txt explains the
			simple design that went into making it resilient
			against crashes.  Don't forget to read about much
			more complete PM memory allocation solutions in the
			REFERENCES section below.

	binarytree	Building on the libpmemalloc example, this is a
			small example of a binary tree used to count the
			frequency of variable length strings.

	util		Some common routines for error reporting and
			debug prints.  These have nothing to do with
			Persistent Memory.

	icount		Routines to count instructions and simulate crashes.
			These are used for the fault injection runs where
			we run a test, count the instructions executed by
			the code snippet under test, and then re-run the test
			again and again, simulating a crash between every pair
			of instructions in the code snippet.  See
			icount/README for details or you can see this is
			action by running "make allcounts" in the basic
			sub-directory.


CODING CONVENTIONS

Some of the examples store relative pointers in PM data structures
so that those pointers remain valid even if the PM gets mapped into
a different virtual address on subsequent runs (which is almost always
the case).  There are multiple discussions on how to deal with this in
papers mentioned in REFERENCES below.  For these examples, we take a very
basic approach, making it the programmer's responsibility to keep track
of which pointers are relative and which are absolute.  In the examples,
you often see pointers with a trailing underscore, like this:

	sp->root_

the convention is that the trailing underscore is a reminder to the
programmer that you cannot dereference that pointer without first adding
the "base" of the PM to it.  The libpmemalloc example creates a macro
to do this called PMEM().  Compilers like the Microsoft C++ compiler have a
nifty "based pointer" mechanism so that the compiler largely takes care of
this for the programmer.  But gcc has no such feature, so we're forced to
do it by hand.  At least until languages begin to grow more mature PM
programming features.

Another small convention is that global variables have their first
letter capitalized.  Beyond that, the code is basically K&R-style.


TESTING

For many years, file system implementers have carefully designed their
data structures to recover from unexpected system crashes (power failures,
kernel crashes, hardware failures).  This means designing in enough
persistent information so that recovery after a crash can return the on-disk
format to a consistent state.  The emergence of Persistent Memory brings
all that logic into application space.  A traditional program might allocate
memory like this:

	struct node *np;

	np = malloc(sizeof(*np));
	/* ... fill in *np ... */
	parent->next = np;

With Persistent Memory, using a malloc-style interface as shown above
would lead to a memory leak of the Persistent Memory between the point
when malloc() removes the chunk from the free pool and the point where
a persistent pointer is set to point at the newly-allocated memory.  Many
strategies for handling this issue are available, including logging and
reference counting.  But these algorithms can be difficult to test because
it is difficult to simulate failures at the most vulnerable points in the
algorithms.

Most of the examples include test programs.  To validate that PM-resident
data structures are managed in a way that is resilient to crashes, the
icount code is used.  icount (described more in icount/README) provides a
way to count the instructions executed in a test snippet of code, and then
re-run that code again and again, simulating a crash between every possible
pair of instructions in the test snippet.  Run "make allcounts" in the
basic sub-directory for a demo.  Using the icount mechanism can be very,
very time consuming.

Note the difference between a "make allcounts" run for the basic example
and a "make allcounts" run for the tree example.  In the basic example,
the program just stores to PM and the simulated crashes leave the PM in
random states, showing partial strings and other garbage.  Compare that
to the tree example, which uses libpmemalloc to make sure things stay
consistent across crashes.  In that example, when a tree_insert() is
interrupted by a crash, the string being inserted either makes it completely
into the tree or it doesn't.  And in the case where it doesn't, no Persistent
Memory is leaked.  That's because the tree example is built on the atomic
mechanisms in libpmemalloc, and that's the point of these examples.


CONTACTS

If you'd like to contribute more Persistent Memory programming examples
(and we really hope you will!), please fork this project on github, add
your example, and send a pull request.

For more information, questions or comments, contact:

	andy.rudoff@intel.com


REFERENCES

Some very interesting research has been happening in the area of
Persistent Memory and more is emerging.  While the examples provided
here are meant as introductory and simple, some publications cover
the topic in much more depth and include complete transaction systems,
compiler/language enhancements, etc.  Here are some of the most
important publications in this space (please send links to more and
I'll include them).

- A Persistent Memory aware file system for Linux.  Under development at:

	https://github.com/linux-pmfs

- One of the most impressive bodies of work in this area is Mnemosyne.
  Read the paper:

	Haris Volos, Andres Jaan Tack, Michael M. Swift: Mnemosyne:
	Lightweight Persistent Memory, The 16th ACM Conference on
	Architectural Support for Programming Languages and Operating
	Systems (ASPLOS 2011), March 2011, Newport Beach, California.

  and explore the website, which includes full source and documentation:

 	http://research.cs.wisc.edu/sonar/projects/mnemosyne/

- Another very relevant project is NV-Heaps.  Read the paper:

	J. Coburn, et al.:NV-Heaps: Making Persistent Objects Fast and Safe
	with Next Generation, Non-Volatile Memories, The 16th ACM Conference
	on Architectural Support for Programming Languages and Operating
	Systems (ASPLOS 2011), March 2011, Newport Beach, Ca.

- The June 2013 issue of USENIX ;login: contains an article that discusses
  the NVM Programming Model, including a discussion of Persistent Memory.

  	https://www.usenix.org/publications/login/june-2013-volume-38-number-3

- The NVM Programming Technical Work Group (TWG) in SNIA has over 35
  companies working together on NVM programming models, including
  Persistent Memory.  You can read more about the TWG here:

  	http://www.snia.org/tech_activities/work/twgs

  and see a draft of their specification here:

  	http://www.snia.org/tech_activities/publicreview

- Viking Technology has an excellent FAQ on their NVDIMMs, providing an
  excellent overview of the platform requirements including a description
  of the ADR feature assumed by some of these example programs:

	http://www.vikingtechnology.com/nvdimm-faq

- The basics of NVDIMM at Wikipedia, with lots of additional links:

	http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NVDIMM

TODO

Here are some ideas of examples we'd like to add to this collection next:

- A transaction-based example, using an undo or redo log for consistency
- An example using many files, perhaps with pointers between them
- MT-safe versions of some the examples
- Shared memory examples (multi-process sharing in addition to multi-thread)
- An example of a Persistent cache built on PM
- Bindings for other languages like Java, Python, etc.
- Abstractions that fit into other languages (like Java Persistence API)