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RFC-0077: zx_clock_update accuracy improvement

RFC-0077: zx_clock_update accuracy improvement
StatusAccepted
Areas
  • Kernel
Description

Changes to zx_clock_update that let clock maintainers opt in to supplying more information and achieving higher accuracy.

Issues
Gerrit change
Authors
Reviewers
Date submitted (year-month-day)2021-03-04
Date reviewed (year-month-day)2021-03-18

Summary

The zx_clock_update syscall is used to set the time in a kernel clock object but the current API design limits the accuracy that may be achieved. This RFC describes changes to zx_clock_update that let clock maintainers opt in to supplying more information and achieving higher accuracy.

Motivation

Kernel clock objects are updated using the zx_clock_update syscall. Clock maintainers may request a step change in a clock by setting ZX_CLOCK_UPDATE_OPTION_VALUE_VALID and placing the new time in zx_clock_update_args_v1_t.value.

This API design is simple to use but limits the accuracy that may be achieved when setting a new clock value: a userspace process may be preempted between calculating zx_clock_update_args_v1_t.value and calling zx_clock_update and every 1ms delay between these two events will lead to a 1ms error in the clock. This error has been problematic for UTC integration and has led to many test flakes, particularly on emulators where the error can be hundreds of milliseconds. Note that zx_clock_update also supports changing a clock's rate without setting a new value and these rate-only updates are much less susceptible to error.

This RFC defines a new option for zx_clock_update, enabling a more accurate clock for UTC and for other future users of kernel clocks.

Design

Overview

A clock is a one dimensional affine transformation of the clock monotonic reference timeline, defining how the "reference" time (i.e. the device's monotonic clock) should be translated to the "synthetic" time output by the clock. When a clock maintainer requests a change to the clock they are effectively supplying a new line segment in this transform as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1 - A clock as a transform from reference to synthetic time
This figure presents the relationship between reference time on the x-axis and synthetic time on the y-axis as a line with multiple segments, some adjacent and some disjoint.

In the existing design a clock maintainer supplies the gradient of this line segment using zx_clock_update_args_v1_t.rate_adjust and the y-coordinate at the start of the segment using zx_clock_update_args_v1_t.value. The kernel sets the x-coordinate at the start of the segment to the monotonic time when it handles the syscall.

This definition of the segment start, with two coordinates set by different entities, is the root cause of the clock error as illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2 - Delays between calculation and handling lead to clock error
This figure illustrates both an intended and an actual correlation between reference time on the x-axis and synthetic time on the y-axis, with the difference being a clock error.

We propose a change to the zx_clock_update arguments that lets a clock maintainer fully specify its intended line, while the kernel determines the reference time at which the change is applied, i.e. the start position on this line.

API Changes

We introduce a new zx_clock_update_args_v2_t struct containing all the fields currently in zx_clock_update_args_v1_t plus an additional reference_value field. We also add a new ZX_CLOCK_UPDATE_OPTION_REFERENCE_VALUE_VALID option.

For naming consistency we rename the value field in zx_clock_update_args_v1_t to synthetic_value in zx_clock_update_args_v2_t and rename ZX_CLOCK_UPDATE_OPTION_VALUE_VALID to ZX_CLOCK_UPDATE_OPTION_SYNTHETIC_VALUE_VALID.

For convenience we also define a ZX_CLOCK_UPDATE_OPTION_BOTH_VALUES_VALID that may be used to set both ZX_CLOCK_UPDATE_OPTION_REFERENCE_VALUE_VALID and ZX_CLOCK_UPDATE_OPTION_SYNTHETIC_VALUE_VALID.

Behavior Changes

For readability throughout this section and the next, we abbreviate ZX_CLOCK_UPDATE_OPTION_X_VALID to simply X_VALID.

When REFERENCE_VALUE_VALID, SYNTHETIC_VALUE_VALID, and RATE_ADJUST_VALID are all set, zx_clock_update starts a new line segment at the current reference time, intersecting a point ( reference=zx_clock_update_args_v2_t.reference_value, synthetic=zx_clock_update_args_v2_t.synthetic_value) with a gradient determined by zx_clock_update_args_v2_t.rate_adjust as illustrated in Figure 3.

Figure 3 - Updating both the value and rate of a clock
This figure illustrates updating a clock by specifying a reference time, a synthetic time, and a gradient.

When REFERENCE_VALUE_VALID and SYNTHETIC_VALUE_VALID are set but RATE_ADJUST_VALID is not set, zx_clock_update starts a new line segment at the current reference time, intersecting a point (reference=zx_clock_update_args_v2_t.reference_value, synthetic=zx_clock_update_args_v2_t.synthetic_value) with a gradient determined by the prior clock rate as illustrated in Figure 4.

Figure 4 - Updating only the clock value
This figure illustrates updating a clock by specifying a reference time and synthetic time.

When REFERENCE_VALUE_VALID and RATE_ADJUST_VALID are set but SYNTHETIC_VALUE_VALID is not set, zx_clock_update starts a new line segment at the current reference time, intersecting a point on the prior line segment at reference=zx_clock_update_args_v2_t.reference_value with a gradient determined by zx_clock_update_args_v2_t.rate_adjust as illustrated in Figure 5.

Figure 5 - Updating only the clock rate
This figure illustrates updating a clock by specifying a reference time and an updated rate.

When REFERENCE_VALUE_VALID is set but neither RATE_ADJUST_VALID nor SYNTHETIC_VALUE_VALID are set, zx_clock_update returns an ZX_ERR_INVALID_ARGS error.

When REFERENCE_VALUE_VALID is not set, zx_clock_update follows its existing behavior, starting a new line segment at the current reference time, changing the synthetic time to zx_clock_update_args_v2_t.synthetic_value if SYNTHETIC_VALUE_VALID is set and changing the gradient based on zx_clock_update_args_v2_t.rate_adjust if RATE_ADJUST_VALID is set.

Continuous and Monotonic Clocks

A clock may have the ZX_CLOCK_OPT_MONOTONIC and/or ZX_CLOCK_OPT_CONTINUOUS options set at creation, limiting the updates that can be applied.

A ZX_CLOCK_OPT_CONTINUOUS clock will not accept any step changes in time. From Figures 4, 5, and 6 it can be seen that REFERENCE_VALUE_VALID always introduces a discontinuity in the synthetic value and therefore setting REFERENCE_VALUE_VALID for a ZX_CLOCK_OPT_CONTINUOUS clock will always lead to a ZX_ERR_INVALID_ARGS error.

A clock with ZX_CLOCK_OPT_MONOTONIC but not ZX_CLOCK_OPT_CONTINUOUS will accept step changes in time if and only if they cause an increase in the synthetic value. Some clock updates could lead to a race condition where the request might either be accepted or rejected depending on when it reaches the kernel. For example, before this RFC a request to set a monotonic clock 5ms in the future would be rejected if the calling process was preempted for more than 5ms between calculating zx_clock_update_args and calling zx_clock_update.

This non-determinism is undesirable and therefore the following zx_clock_update requests will fail with an ZX_ERR_INVALID_ARGS error when made on a ZX_CLOCK_OPT_MONOTONIC clock:

  1. SYNTHETIC_VALUE_VALID is set but REFERENCE_VALUE_VALID is not set;
  2. RATE_ADJUST_VALID is set and REFERENCE_VALUE_VALID is set.

Note this means it is not possible to change both the rate and the offset of a ZX_CLOCK_OPT_MONOTONIC clock in the same zx_clock_update call.

Implementation

This change will be implemented in four stages:

  1. Define zx_clock_update_args_v2_t, ZX_CLOCK_UPDATE_OPTION_REFERENCE_VALUE_VALID, and ZX_CLOCK_UPDATE_OPTION_BOTH_VALUES_VALID;
  2. Update clock.cc and the associated unit tests to accept zx_clock_update_args_v2_t;
  3. Update language-specific wrappers such as Rust's fuchsia-zircon to use zx_clock_update_args_v2_t and expose the new functionality.
  4. Update Timekeeper to supply a reference value when setting the UTC clock and reduce the allowable test error windows.

Performance

This change has minimal impact on performance since the zx_clock_update syscall is not heavily used and the changes are modest.

zx_clock_update_args will increase by 8 bytes and the kernel will perform a few more integer arithmetic instructions when handling zx_clock_update if ZX_CLOCK_UPDATE_OPTION_REFERENCE_VALUE_VALID is set.

Security considerations

This change does not alter the relationship between clock maintainers and clock users and therefore does not impact security.

Privacy considerations

This change does not alter the relationship between clock maintainers and clock users and therefore does not impact privacy.

Testing

Unit tests in kernel-clocks.cc will be expanded to cover this new behavior. Timekeeper will be updated to set UTC using an explicit monotonic time so the existing UTC unit and integration tests will provide additional test coverage.

Documentation

The zx_clock_update reference documentation will be updated to describe this new behavior.

Drawbacks, alternatives, and unknowns

A simpler alternative would be to retain the existing zx_clock_update_args_v1_t struct but introduce an additional ZX_CLOCK_UPDATE_OPTION_ZERO_VALUE_VALID option that changes its interpretation. When ZX_CLOCK_UPDATE_OPTION_ZERO_VALUE_VALID was set, the kernel would interpret zx_clock_update_args_v1_t.value as the synthetic time corresponding to monotonic=0 and ensure that the new line segment passes through a point (monotonic=0, synthetic=zx_clock_update_args_v1_t.value) as illustrated in Figure 6.

Figure 6 - Alternative solution based on synthetic offset
This figure shows reference time on the x-axis and synthetic time on the y-axis and illustrates setting using a position on x=0 and a gradient.

This has the effect of fully specifying the new line with a smaller change in the API. However, it is less intuitive for clock maintainers and requires more complex calculations to use correctly. Over the life of Fuchsia we believe this alternative would create more bugs.

Prior art and references

kernel_objects/clock provides an overview of the operation of userspace clocks.

UTC synchronization algorithms summarizes the current UTC synchronization design.

"Zircon Syscalls Struct Evolution" is a Google-internal document from May 2019 that discussed the evolution of syscall structs and may be helpful to readers with access.