checkpoint/restart ABI

Jeremy Fitzhardinge jeremy at
Tue Aug 12 09:32:57 PDT 2008

Dave Hansen wrote:
>> I'm more interested in seeing a description of how you're doing to 
>> handle things like:
>>     * multiple processes
>>     * pipes
>>     * UNIX domain sockets
>>     * INET sockets (both inter and intra machine)
>>     * unlinked open files
>>     * checkpointing file content
>>     * closed files (ie, files which aren't currently open, but will be
>>       soon, esp tmp files)
>>     * shared memory
>>     * (Peter, what have I forgotten?)
>> Having gone through this before, I don't think an all-kernel solution 
>> can work except for the most simple cases.
> So, there's a lot of stuff there.  The networking stuff is way out of my
> league, so I'll cc Daniel and make him answer. :)

Inter-machine networking stuff is hard because its outside the 
checkpointed set, so the checkpoint is observable.  Migration is easier, 
in principle, because you might be able to shift the connection endpoint 
without bringing it down.  Dealing with networking within your 
checkpointed set is just fiddly, particularly remembering and restoring 
all the details of things like urgent messages, on-the-fly file 
descriptors, packet boundaries, etc.

> Unlinked files, for instance, are actually available in /proc.  You can
> freeze the app, write a helper that opens /proc/1234/fd, then copies its
> contents to a linked file (ooooh, with splice!)  Anyway, if we can do it
> in userspace, we can surely do it in the kernel.

Sure, there's no inherent problem.  But do you imagine including the 
file contents within your checkpoint image, or would they be saved 

> I'm not sure what you mean by "closed files".  Either the app has a fd,
> it doesn't, or it is in sys_open() somewhere.  We have to get the app
> into a quiescent state before we can checkpoint, so we basically just
> say that we won't checkpoint things that are *in* the kernel.

It's common for an app to write a tmp file, close it, and then open it a 
bit later expecting to find the content it just wrote.  If you 
checkpoint-kill it in the interim, reboot (clearing out /tmp) and then 
resume, then it will lose its tmp file.  There's no explicit connection 
between the process and its potential working set of files.  We had to 
deal with it by setting a bunch of policy files to tell the 
checkpoint/restart system what filename patterns it had to look out 
for.  But if you just checkpoint the whole filesystem state along with 
the process(es), then perhaps it isn't an issue.

> Is there anything specific you are thinking of that particularly worries
> you?  I could write pages on the list you have there.

No, that's the problem; it all worries me.  It's a big problem space.

>> Which, come to think of it, is an important point.  What are the 
>> expected use-cases for this feature?  Do you really mean 
>> checkpoint/restart?  Do you expect to be able to checkpoint a process, 
>> leave it running, then "rewind" by restoring the image?  Or does 
>> checkpoint always atomically kill the source process(es)?  Are you 
>> expecting to be able to resume on another machine?
> Yes.
> We all want different things, and there are a lot of people interested
> in this stuff.  So, I think all of what you've mentioned above are
> goals, at least long term.  Some, *really* long term.

So, in other words: whoever wants to work on it gets to define (their) 
goals.  Fair enough.

> I don't want to get into a full virtualization vs. containers debate,
> but we also want it for all the same reasons that you migrate Xen
> partitions.

No, I don't have any real opinion about containers vs virtualization.  I 
think they're quite distinct solutions for distinct problems.

But I was involved in the design and implementation of a 
checkpoint-restart system (along with Peter Chubb), and have the scars 
to prove it.  We implemented it for IRIX; we called it Hibernator, and 
licensed it to SGI for a while (I don't remember what name they marketed 
it under).  The list of problems that Peter and I mentioned are ones we 
had to solve (or, in some cases, failed to solve) to get a workable system.


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