mardi 2 décembre 2014

Full stack Python tracing

The project profile-python-ust allows to record function call and return from Python interpreted code using LTTng-UST. As an example, consider this code (calling itself that just print something on the console):

import bidon

def baz():

def bar():

def foo():

if __name__=='__main__':
The trace produced is:

python:call: { cpu_id = 7 }, { co_name = "" }
python:call: { cpu_id = 7 }, { co_name = "foo" }
python:call: { cpu_id = 7 }, { co_name = "bar" }
python:call: { cpu_id = 7 }, { co_name = "baz" }
python:return: { cpu_id = 7 }, { }
python:return: { cpu_id = 7 }, { }
python:return: { cpu_id = 7 }, { }
python:return: { cpu_id = 7 }, { }
However, the tracing hooks into CPython are not called for external C modules. Therefore, we loose track of what is going on. For instance, Cython compiles Python code as a native shared library for greater efficiency. To overcome this limitation, I compiled the Cython foo.pyx code using GCC function instrumentation. Here is the file (The same code gets compiled twice, with and without instrumentation):

from distutils.core import setup
from Cython.Build import cythonize
from distutils.extension import Extension

ext = [
    Extension('foo1', ['foo1.pyx'],
              extra_compile_args = ['-g'],
    Extension('foo2', ['foo2.pyx'],
              extra_compile_args = ['-finstrument-functions', '-g'],

    ext_modules = cythonize(ext),

And then I invoked both modules and, with the lttng-ust-cyg-profile instrumentation, that hooks on the GCC instrumentation. I also enabled kernel tracing, just for fun. Both traces (kernel and user space) are loaded in an Trace Compass experiment.

We see in the screenshot below the users space stack according to time for the foo1 and foo2 executions. In the first execution, we see the entry point of inside and the invocation of Python code from the library, but function calls inside are not visible. In the second execution, both the Python and the GCC instrumentation are available, and the complete callstack is visible. The higlighted time range is about 6us and corresponds to the write() system call related to the print() on the console. We can see the system call duration and the blocking in the control flow view.

Unfortunately, symbols can't be resolved, because base address library loading can't be enabled at this time with Python instrumentation, due to this bug.

This was an example how three sources of events finally create a complete picture of the execution!


A Cython module can call profile hook of the main interpreter. Call cython with the profile option, and compile the resulting code with -DCYTHON_TRACE=1. This can be done in setuptools with:

 cythonize(ext_trace, compiler_directives={'profile': True}),

Thanks to Stefan Behnel for this tip!

mercredi 19 novembre 2014

How Linux changes the CPU Frequency

The ondemand governor adjust the processor frequency making a trade-off between power and performance, and is the implementation of Dynamic Frequency Scaling under Linux. However, it was also causing unexpected delays in my performance benchmarks. The following figure shows the delay density of RPC requests for the CPU frequency governor ondemand and performance. Delay variation is lower when the CPU frequency is fixed.

I wanted to visualize how the frequency changes according to time and scheduling. I used LTTng to record power_cpu_frequency and sched_switch events. I loaded them in Trace Compass, and defined the analysis declaratively using XML (available here). The CPU frequency is shown in shades of red (stronger means higher frequency) and in green whether the CPU is busy or idle. (you guessed correctly, holiday season is coming). We see in the following figure that it takes some time for the frequency to ramp-up.

In fact, changing the CPU frequency is equivalent to distorts the elapsed time of the execution. Timestamps in the trace are in nanoseconds instead of clock cycles, but to compare executions, the base should be clock cycles instead. We could scale the time using the frequency events to approximate the time in processor cycles.

The task kworker, woken-up from a timer softirq, changes the CPU frequency. The kworker thread runs with a varying period, typically between 4ms and 20ms. The algorithm seems to take into account the average CPU usage, because if the CPU does rapid context switch between idle and busy, the frequency never reaches the maximum.

Therefore, a task performing frequent blocking/running cycles may run faster if it shares the CPU with another task, because the average CPU usage will increase and frequency will be set accordingly. We could also estimate the relative power cost of a segment of computation with great precision.

In conclusion, disabling frequency scaling for benchmarks should reduce variability. Here is how to do it on recent Linux kernels:

set_scaling_gov() {
        for i in $(ls -1 /sys/devices/system/cpu/cpu*/cpufreq/scaling_governor); do
                echo ${gov} | sudo tee $i > /dev/null

Here is the view for the whole trace. Happy hacking!

dimanche 19 octobre 2014

LinuxCon 2014, Düsseldorf

Distributed Active Path from Kernel Trace

I presented recent work about the recovery of active path of a distributed program, only using a kernel trace. The result is a time-view of the execution across computers. One of the most interesting result is the Django Poll three-tiers app, including an Apache web server and a PostgreSQL database. Client is simulated by scripting with Mechanize. The screen shot shows the execution for the POST, where a large sync is visible near the end of the sequence, necessary for the update SQL statement. 

Declarative views from user-space trace with Trace Compas

Geneviève Bastien presented how to use LTTng-UST and Trace Compas to create a time view of the state of an MPI computation. The MPI program simulates unbalanced computation, where the green represent work, and red is wait at the barrier. Multiple cycles are shown, and all the views are synchronized, which is handy to analyse the application at multiple level at once. In the following figure, we see below that the wait at the barrier (in red) is actually implemented using a busy loop calling non-blocking poll() system call, shown on top. We observed this behavior with the OpenMPI library, and we think it is intended to reduce the latency at the expense of power and resource efficiency.

Below: MPI imbalance application state (green: compute, red: wait). Above: corresponding kernel trace, including a zoom on the busy wait.

Preemption analysis across host and virtual machines

Execution in virtual machines is subject to higher level of variation in response time. Geneviève Bastien presented the virtual machine analysis, that shows the preemption crossing virtual machines boundaries, the research result of former student Mohamad Gebai. A process in the VM may appear to run while it is not, because the process representing its virtual CPU on the host is be preempted. The host and the VMs are traced at the same time, and traces are synchronized. The global view of the resources allows to pinpoint preemption cause given a task, whenever the other task is local, on the host or inside another virtual machine. The following figure shows qemu processes on the host and traces from within the host. We clearly see a gettimeofday() that is much longer that one would expect (13ms instead of ~200ns), and the reason is that there is another process, in another VM, that was running for that time, and the preemption cause is shown below.

Total view of the system, crossing virtual machine boundaries.


Sten Rosted from RedHat presented the inner working of ftrace. It is a framework to hook into each function in the kernel. The kernel is compiled with gcc -pg option, that adds a call to mcount() at the beginning of each function, but this call is replaced by nops. The space left in each function header is patched at runtime to jump to the instrumentation. This framework is used by kprobe, but the ftrace backend can be used directly instead.


Ben Maurer from Facebook presented efficiency and scalability issues they face in their environment. Performance in accepting connections is critical. He mentioned that getting the next available file descriptor is a linear search that hurts the performance. He also shows a method to decrease the number of scheduling switch of workers by replacing pthread condition wait, and improving load distribution among threads. I liked his quantitative approach, always evaluating both kernel and user-space solutions to the same problem.

Cycle accurate profiling using CoreSight hardware trace

Pawel Moll from ARM presented the CoreSight instruction tracing capabilities. The processor records branch taken and the number of cycles taken by each instructions. He demonstrated a prototype of cycle accurate (i.e. exact cycle count) profiler. The trace decoding is somewhat cumbersome, because the code memory must be reconstructed offline to resolve address symbols, and the complete toolchain requires proper integration, but still an impressive demonstration.

Thanks to NVIDIA!

I also got a JETSON TK1 big.LITTLE board from NVIDIA. I will be able to test heterogenous traces experiments (x86, arm), a very common case for mobile and cloud computing. I will also be able to test the CoreSight tracing. Thanks NVIDIA!

mercredi 8 octobre 2014

Ubuntu login analysis

I'm tracing a lot these days, and in the viewer, I need to scroll a lot to get to the interesting stuff in the control flow view. Today, I checked all these processes for fun. In fact, it's related to landscape triggered on Ubuntu login. To display the message about system usage and updates (which I think is great), landcape calls numerous sub-programs, for a total of about 250ms on my system. It's something one should keep in mind if SSH commands are repeated in a tight loop: the maximum rate is about 4 commands per seconds. Hopefully, Fabric reuses SSH connection! ;-)

Ubuntu login greeting

The active path of the computation of the login greeting

mercredi 6 août 2014

Pinpoint memory usage of Java program with Eclipse Memory Analyzer

My Java program was using a lot of memory. An object was holding a reference on a large temporary data structure, even after it was out of scope. It is indeed difficult to understand what prevent the garbage collection to do its job. Here is how I found out.

  • Download and extract Eclipse Memory Analyzer (MAT).
  • Download the class and insert a call to HeapDump.dumpHeap() after the point your think the memory should be released.
  • Run the instrumented program. The resulting file size may be rather large (seems to be the hole VM memory), so make sure you have enough free space.
  • Open it in MAT. (Notice: I was experiencing a hang bug on Ubuntu 14.04, dismiss the initial report dialog and do not generate HTML reports, it seems to trigger the bug). Click on Dominator Tree.
  • Once you found the offending object, right click on it and select Path to GC Roots > with all references. This will display the references that prevent the GC to free this object.
  • Fix the code and you can start over to verify that the problem is indeed fixed ;-)

The following screenshots shows an example of the tool usage for my problem. The class TmfNetworkEventsMatching matches send to receive network events in a trace. Unmatched packets are kept temporarily in memory. However, the old unmatched packets were never freed. In the Dominator Tree, we see that TmfNetworkEventsMatching is 40 bytes (Shallow Heap), but holds around 1.2MB of objects (Retained Heap). The Path to GC Roots highlights that a reference of TmfNetworkEventMatching is kept inside TmfRequestExecutor. In this case, a missing call to dispose() was preventing the release of resources. Other resources are auto-closable, except for one of them, which needs manual call to dispose(). Thank you MAT!

Dominator Tree

Path to GC Roots

jeudi 29 mai 2014

Performance comparison of CTF trace readers

I'm implementing a kernel trace analysis using the Java CTF reader, and I wanted to know if I would increase the performance by going with the babeltrace reader in C. Here are my findings.

One of the expansive step of trace analysis is the actual trace reading. It consists to read the binary trace and retrieve the timestamps, the event type and the value of each fields. The event is then added to a priority queue for reading multiple streams in order. We compare three trace readers, namely the Babeltrace reader 1.2 (C implementation, dummy output format), the Java CTF reader and the Eclipse TMFEventRequest (which uses the Java CTF reader as back-end). We compare the trace reading in cache cold conditions (drop_caches prior to reading) to when the trace is resident in page cache. I ensure that the lazy loading of fields values are effectively loaded in all cases, but without printing the content. The trace size is 855MB and contains 22 million kernel events from a Django web app benchmark (recorded with lttng), and it takes between 20s and 80s to process the trace. The drive used is an SSD Crucial M500 1TB, and the host is an i7-4770 with 32GB of RAM. The following figure shows the performance results in thousands of events per second.

We observe that babeltrace is roughly 2 times faster than the CTFTraceReader in Java, and about 3.5 times faster than TmfEventRequest. I measured also the CPU usage, and the processing is mostly serial and single threaded in every cases, so babeltrace seems effectively more efficient.

The other important observation is that trace parsing is CPU bound, not I/O bound. Reading a trace from a hard drive is certainly I/O bound, but it's not the case with SSD. The difference between cache cold and cache hot is between 2% and 5% either in Java or in C. It means we could probably speed-up the reading using parallel threads.

In conclusion, both the C and the Java libraries provides acceptable performance level for CTF trace reading. For high-performance processing, the babeltrace library is preferable. The CTFTraceReader provides nonetheless a good performance, and may be a compromise between the rapid development and runtime efficiency. If abstracting the trace source is a requirement, then TMF is what you need, but you now know the cost of this additional flexibility. Yours to choose!

Notice: the TMFEventRequest can be done either with ExecutionType.FOREGROUND or ExecutionType.BACKGROUND. The background parameter introduce delays (sleeps) and reduces the throughput. Use the foreground parameter to reduce processing time and improve UI interactivity, but uses background for low priority processing.