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From: Tejun Heo <tj-DgEjT+Ai2ygdnm+yROfE0A <at> public.gmane.org>
Subject: [RFD] cgroup: about multiple hierarchies
Newsgroups: gmane.linux.kernel.cgroups
Date: Tuesday 21st February 2012 21:19:38 UTC (over 5 years ago)
Hello, guys.

I've been thinking about multiple hierarchy support in cgroup for a
while, especially after Frederic's pending task counter patchset.
This is a write up of what I've been thinking.  I don't know what to
do yet and simply continuing the current situation definitely is an
option, so please read on and throw in your 20 Won (or whatever amount
in whatever currency you want).

* The problems.

The support for multiple process hierarchies always struck me as
rather strange.  If you forget about the current cgroup controllers
and their implementations, the *only* reason to support multiple
hierarchies is if you want to apply resource limits based on different
orthogonal categorizations.

Documentation/cgroups.txt seems to be written with this consideration
on mind.  It's giving an example of applying limits accoring to two
orthogonal categorizations - user groups (profressors, students...)
and applications (WWW, NFS...).  While it may sound like a valid use
case, I'm very skeptical how useful or common mixing such orthogonal
categorizations in a single setup would be.

If support for multiple hierarchies comes for free, at least in terms
of features, maybe it can be better but of course it isn't so.  Any
given cgroup subsystem (or controller) can only be applied to a single
hierarchy, which makes sense for a lot of things - what would two
different limits on the same resource from different hierarchies mean?
But, there also are things which can be used and useful in all
hierarchies - e.g. cgroup freezer and task counter.

While the current cgroup implementation and conventions can probably
allow admins and engineers to tailor cgroup configuration for a
specific setup, it is very difficult to use in generic and automated
way.  I mean, who owns the freezer or task counter?  If they're
mounted on their own hierarchies, how should they be structured?
Should the different hierarchies be structured such that they are
projections of one unified hierarchy so that those generic mechanisms
can be applied uniformly?  If so, why do we need multiple hierarchies
at all?

A related limitation is that as different subsystems don't know which
hierarchies they'll end up on, they can't cooperate.  Wouldn't it make
more sense if task counter is a separate thing watching the resources
and triggers different actions as conifgured - be it failing forks or

And yet another oddity is how cgroup handles nested cgroups - some
care about nesting but others just treat both internal and leaf nodes
equally.  They don't care about the topology at all.  This, too, can
be fine if you approach things subsys by subsys and use them in
different ways but if you try to combine them in generic way you get
sucked into the lala land of whatevers.

The following is a "best practices" document on using cgroups.


To me, it seems to demonstrate the rather ugly situation that the
current cgroup is providing.  Everyone should tip-toe around cgroup
hierarchies and nobody has full knowledge or control over them.
e.g. base system management (e.g. systemd) can't use freezer or task
counter as someone else might want to use it for different hierarchy

It seems to me that cgroup interface is too complicated and inflexible
at the same time to be useful in generic manner.  Sure, it can be
useful for setups individually crafted by engineers and admins to
match specific sites or applications but as soon as you try to do
something automatic and generic with it, there just are too many
different scenarios and limitations to consider.

* So, what to do?

Heh, I don't know.  IIRC, last year at LinuxCon Japan, I heard
Christoph saying that the biggest problem w/ cgroup was that it was
building completely separate hierarchies out of the traditional
process hierarchies.  After thinking about this stuff for a while, I
fully agree with him.  I think this whole thing should have been a
layer over the process tree like sessions or program groups.

Unfortunately, that ship sailed long ago and we gotta make do with
what we have on our collective hands.  Here are some paths that we can

1. We're screwed anyway.  Just don't worry about it and continue down
   on this path.  Can't get much worse, right?

   This approach has the apparent advantage of not having to do
   anything and is probably most likely to be taken.  This isn't ideal
   but hey nothing is. :P

2. Make it more flexible (and likely more complex, unfortunately).
   Allow the utility type subsystems to be used in multiple
   hierarchies.  The easiest and probably dirtiest way to achieve that
   would be embedding them into cgroup core.

   Thinking about doing this depresses me and it's not like I have a
   cheerful personality to begin with. :(

3. Head towards single hierarchy with the pie-in-the-sky goal of
   merging things into process hierarchy in some distant future.

   The first step would be herding people to use a unified hierarchy
   (ie. all subsystems mounted on a single cgroup tree) which is
   controlled by single entity in userland (be it systemd or cgroupd,
   cgroup-kit or whatever); however, even if we exclude supporting
   orthogonal categorizations, there are good number of non-trivial
   hurdles to clear before this can be realized.

   Most importantly, we would need to clean up how nesting is handled
   across different subsystems.  Handling internal and leaf nodes as
   equals simply can't work.  Membership should be recursive, and for
   subsystems which can't support proper nesting, the right thing to
   do would be somehow ensuring that only single node in the path from
   root to leaf is active for the controller.  We may even have to
   introduce an alternative of operation to support this (yuck).

   This path would require the most amount of work and we would be
   excluding a feature - support for multiple orthogonal
   categorizations - which has been available till now, probably
   through deprecation process spanning years; however, this at least
   gives us hope that we may reach sanity in the end, how distant that
   end may be.  Oh, hope. :)

So, I mean, I don't know.  What do other people think?  Is this a
unnecessary worry?  Are people generally happy with the way things
are?  Lennart, Kay, what do you guys think?


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