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Mach based OS X Interprocess Communication (Obsolete)

Mach based IPC Design

Current status of this design:
The design described here is currently not used on OS X.  Please see the Interprocess Communication design doc for coverage of the current implementation for all platforms.

A reference implementation of Mach based IPC including a kqueue bridge can be found in issue 5308.

In 2015, another consideration was given to using Mach IPC, and the results of that survey are here.

Rationale for not using Mach based IPC:
Chrome handles network communication and IPC messages on the same thread.  Sockets are waited on using kqueues via libevent.
Although there is a constant defined in the kqueue headers on OS X (EVFILTER_MACH in sys/event.h), there is currently no way to block on both a socket and a mach port at once, this means that our only option is to spawn another thread to bridge Mach messages to kqueue.  Our reference implementation does this by opening a pipe between both threads and writing a byte each time a Mach message is received.

Because of this extra step, we now need to pay the price both of receiving a Mach message and communicating via a pipe between threads.  We've timed this approach and found it to be 10uSec slower on Desktops & 20uSecs faster on laptops than a pure pipe based implementation.

If you look at the measurements at the bottom of this document, you can see that most of the messages Chrome sends are very small.  So the performance benefits of Mach messages over pipes are negligible.

Thus our decision at this time is to use the same approach as Linux.  If we run into problems at a later date with a pipe-based implementation we can revert to the Mach-based one.

Mach based IPC:

Summary of departures from current Windows architecture:

This class basically needs to be rewritten to use Mach ports, we require a bidirectional communication mechanism able to transfer arbitrarily sized messages.  This means we need to create two Mach ports (Server->Client & Client->Server).

Establishing Communications:
(From chrome/common/ipc_channel.h)

enum Mode {




IPC::Channel::Channel(const std::wstring& channel_id, Mode mode, Listener* listener);

bool Connect();

When a Channel is created in Server mode it creates a Mach port and registers it with the Bootstrap server using the channel_id prefixed with the string 'chrome_'.  It then sets waiting_connect_ to false.
When a Child process is started, it's passed the channel id and an authorization token via stdin (since that's not visible to other processes on the system).

When a Channel is opened in Client mode, the Channel ID is looked up on the Bootstrap server.  The client then creates a Mach port for incoming messages, it sends a Hello message to the server containing port rights to its incoming port and the authorization token sent over the pipe.
Upon receiving a Hello message, the Server verifies the token, if it's valid, it stores the send port rights and sets waiting_connect_ to false.

Sending Messages:
(From chrome/common/ipc_channel.h)

 bool Send(Message* message);

Mach ports have a fixed queue size, we want to be able to send arbitrary numbers of messages without blocking.
Messages to send over the wire are queued up on the Server side in an std::vector<Message*>, we specify a timeout value when sending a Mach message, if the send times out then we set a delayed task to attempt to resend the message after a delta.
When IPC::Channel::Send() is called, we attempt to send out all the messages in our outgoing queue until we block.

Receiving messages:
Messages can be an size up to 256MB, this presents a problems since we don't want to allocate a 256MB buffer to receive messages into.
We can allocate an input buffer of a reasonable size, and specify the MACH_RCV_LARGE flag when receiving messages, if the message doesn't fit into our buffer then we get a chance to dynamically allocate a new receive buffer and stick our data in there.
We will probably also want to look at large messages and send those over as OOL transfer (OS X Internals 9.5.5) so that they're transferred with copy-on-write semantics.

The initial security token provides security in the face of rogue client processes trying to connect back to a server, we can use the OS X Authorization Services API & AuthorizationMakeExternalForm() to generate the token.
We can make use of Mach's sender security token (OS X Internals to prevent processes not owned by the user from communicating with the server.

Rationale for using Mach ports:

Current Windows implementation:

The IPC::Channel object (chrome/common/ipc_channel.h) sends/receives discrete messages [length/byte array] over a bidirectional named pipe.

Messages are limited to be less than 256MB, but can otherwise be of arbitrary size.

The pipe name is passed as a parameter to new rendering processes.  This is useful for debugging purposes since you can connect an arbitrary rendering process to a browser instance.

Sharing resources between processes:

Windows OS Handles can be shared between processes by calling DuplicateHandle(), this duplicates the handle into the target process and returns an ID valid in that process.  This ID can then be sent as POD over the IPC Channel .  This is very convenient since it means that they can just be wrapped in an arbitrary messagen and send over the wire, but it's a very Windows-specific capability.  There are currently 45 calls to DuplicateHandle() in the code (Not all of these are necessarily used for IPC).

OS X Implementation:

We basically have two options for implementation here worth discussing:

  • Very close to the current Windows implementation.
  • Might be shareable with Linux port.
  • Access control via full file system owner/permissions/ACL semantics

  • Provides no mechanism to transmit mach semaphores and other system resources over the connection.
  • Messy, lives in the file system.
  • OS X may have quirks that prevent us from sharing the implementation with Linux.

Mach ports:
  • Fast:
    • pretty much any other IPC API we might use is already layered on top of this.
    • Does everything it can to remap memory rather than copy data.
    • Facilities to send over mem. buffers by remapping them via copy-on-write (OOL).
  • Secure - bunch of security primitives.
  • Allows us to send unnamed system resources such as semaphores and shared memory regions to another process.

  • OS X Specific.
  • Message based rather than stream based so if we get large messages we potentially need to copy them multiple times.

Performance Considerations

 What follows are the results of some benchmarks we ran contrasting Mach messaging and FIFO's.

 We tested Mach ports using both inline & out of line (OOL) data transfer.  Inline transfer means the payload is transferred as part of the message and copied into the receiving process.  OOL remaps the memory area using copy-on-write semantics.

 The executive summary is that Mach messages are faster than FIFOs on OS X, especially if we transfer messages larger than a certain threshold using OOL.

Technical Detail:

 The tables below contain the results from the following test programs:
  • Mach - spawn two processes and send mach messages containing an inline buffer of the requisite size between them.
  • Mach OOL - Same as MachPerf but sends the data OOL.
  • FIFO - spawn a new process and read/write data over a FIFO.

 Our testing methodology was to send over 2000 messages, times are in uSec and the ones shown represent the 98th percentile of the measured data.  Variance of all values is ~10uSec, possibly higher.


Inline Mach messages take a performance hit for message sizes >5K, below that they are ~1.5X FIFOS on a 4 core Mac desktop and 280%-1000% faster than FIFOs a Laptop.
 The desktop/laptop difference is something we see consistently.

OOL transfer has a constant overhead of ~30uSec which appears to be a clear win over any method that copies data between processes.

The data (times in uSec +/- 10uSec):


Packet Size (bytes)  Mach    Mach OOL   FIFO           % min(Mach,Mach OOL) better than FIFO
100                  29      35         112            386                
200                  10      37         121            1210               
500                  11      36         124            1127               
1024                 9       36         115            1277               
2048                 28      37         131            467                
3072                 11      39         129            1172               
4096                 11      29         128            1163               
5120                 13      31         127            976                
6144                 51      30         134            446                
7168                 46      30         133            443                
8192                 51      32         215            671                
9216                 57      30         218            726                
1048576              1477    29         2873           9906               
5242880              11079   39         10924          28010              
7340032              15144   38         14184          37326              
Packet Size (bytes)  Mach    Mach OOL   FIFO           % min(Mach,Mach OOL) better than FIFO
100                  10      26         29             290                
200                  11      26         30             272                
500                  12      29         30             250                
1024                 11      34         30             272                
2048                 15      36         31             206                
3072                 16      39         32             200                
4096                 14      29         36             257                
5120                 19      25         37             194                
6144                 66      27         34             125                
7168                 53      26         38             146                
8192                 70      26         59             226                
9216                 81      25         66             264                
1048576              1822    33         2623           7948               
5242880              11536   37         13125          35472              
7340032              15693   41         17960          43804

Distribution of IPC Message Sizes In The Current Windows Implementation

The following histogram was added to IPC::Channel::Send(), and measures an hour long browsing session including Gmail, YouTube, Hulu, CNN and other random sites. We see that:
  • 90% of messages are less than 65 bytes
  • 99.9% of messages are less than 2400 bytes
Histogram: IPC.MessageSize recorded 37573 samples, average = 86.4, standard deviation = 329.5
     0 ... 
    12 ---------------------O                                                    (4387 = 11.7%) {0.0%}
    16 ----O                                                                     (990 = 2.6%) {11.7%}
    21 -----------------------------------O                                      (9307 = 24.8%) {14.3%}
    28 O                                                                         (10 = 0.0%) {39.1%}
    37 O                                                                         (8 = 0.0%) {39.1%}
    49 ------------------------------------------------------------------------O (19123 = 50.9%) {39.1%}
    65 --O                                                                       (614 = 1.6%) {90.0%}
    86 O                                                                         (38 = 0.1%) {91.7%}
   113 O                                                                         (113 = 0.3%) {91.8%}
   149 O                                                                         (34 = 0.1%) {92.1%}
   196 O                                                                         (110 = 0.3%) {92.2%}
   258 --O                                                                       (663 = 1.8%) {92.4%}
   340 ---O                                                                      (783 = 2.1%) {94.2%}
   448 --O                                                                       (653 = 1.7%) {96.3%}
   590 --O                                                                       (443 = 1.2%) {98.0%}
   777 -O                                                                        (198 = 0.5%) {99.2%}
  1023 O                                                                         (72 = 0.2%) {99.7%}
  1347 O                                                                         (6 = 0.0%) {99.9%}
  1774 O                                                                         (5 = 0.0%) {99.9%}
  2336 O                                                                         (1 = 0.0%) {100.0%}
  3077 ... 
 12196 O                                                                         (15 = 0.0%) {100.0%}
 16063 ...