RFC-0101: Dynamic components with numbered handles

RFC-0101: Dynamic components with numbered handles
  • Component Framework

Provides a way to pass numbered handles to dynamic components.

Gerrit change
Date submitted (year-month-day)2021-05-18
Date reviewed (year-month-day)2021-06-02


This document proposes adding a new parameter to fuchsia.sys2.Realm/CreateChild. This parameter will contain a set of numbered handles. The created component's runner will receive these handles when it is asked to run the component. The provided handles will only be available to components that run in collections with a new type of durability: single-run. Components in a collection with a durability of single-run are started when created and destroyed when stopped. This scopes the provided handles to a single run of the component.


Starnix is a Component Framework v2 runner that runs Linux binaries on Fuchsia. Starnix implements the Linux system interface to run these binaries without modification.

Starnix provides a ffx plugin that allows users to run Linux components from the host command line. Starnix wants to connect the stdin/stdout/stderr of the Linux component to a triple of socket handles. This component does not interact with the system by exposing FIDL protocols. Instead, it interacts with the user via the provided sockets.



There are two dimensions of lifecycle transitions in the component framework. The first has to do with existence (Created and Destroyed). The second relates to the component's execution (Started and Stopped). In other operating systems, which only have processes and not components, these dimensions are equivalent: creating a process is the same as starting it, and a process is destroyed when it stops running.

The distinction between Created and Started is relevant when providing arguments to components. Ordinarily a single component instance can be started and stopped multiple times, so the component manager must store the arguments to provide them each time the component runs. If the arguments are handles this can be problematic since not all handles can be duplicated. Any non-duplicable handles are thus "consumed" by a single run of the component.

Protocol updates

As mentioned in Background, creating a component is distinct from starting it. Thus the handles provided to CreateChild must be either:

  1. Available each time the component is started.
  2. Scoped to a single run of the component.

Since not all handles can be duplicated (stored in the component manager for subsequent runs), (1) would only be possible if new handles were fetched from their source for each run. See routing handles for why an approach that fetches handles at startup was not chosen. Fortunately (2) is a viable solution for the motivating use case.

A new table, ChildArgs is created and added as a parameter to Realm/CreateChild:

protocol Realm {
  /// If args contains numbered_handles, the collection must have a durability
  /// of type `single-run`.
  CreateChild(CollectionRef collection, ChildDecl decl, ChildArgs args)
      -> () error fuchsia.component.Error;

resource table ChildArgs {
  /// The numbered handles for the component instance.
  /// Only PA_FD and PA_USER* handles are valid arguments, and inclusion of any other
  /// handles will result in an error.
  1: vector<fuchsia.process.HandleInfo>:N numbered_handles;

In addition, the fuchsia.component.runner.ComponentStartInfo table will be updated to contain the numbered handles:

resource table ComponentStartInfo {
  6: vector<fuchsia.process.HandleInfo>:N numbered_handles;

The runner will provide those handles to the component, or close them and return an error if the runner does not support providing numbered handles to components.

Collection durability

Components that are created via the Realm protocol live in collections. Collections have a durability annotation that indicates what the lifecycle semantics of components within the collection are.

A new collection durability value, single-run, will be added to indicate that components in the collection are started immediately when they are created, and destroyed when they are stopped. ChildArgs.numbered_handles can only be used with collections that are marked single-run. This scopes the arguments in ChildArgs to a single run of the component.

collections: [
         name: "playground",
         durability: "single-run",


Component manager will be updated to store the ChildArgs until they are passed to the runner, and to handle single-run collection semantics.

Backwards Compatibility

The change is backwards compatible with regards to runners: runners are not required to use the numbered handles that are provided. If a runner does not support numbered handles it is expected to close the handles.

The change is not backwards compatible for Realm clients.

The change is backwards compatible with regards to CML: the only change is an added durability enum.


No performance impact is expected as the handles are provided directly to the component manager.

Security considerations

This change introduces a way for parents to pass arbitrary numbered handles to children. The exchange of these handles is mediated by both the component manager and the runner. Only components that are run in a collection marked single-run can receive handles in this fashion.


The existing tests for CreateChild will be exapnded to cover the new arguments.

Drawbacks, alternatives, and unknowns


There are a couple drawbacks with the proposed solution compared to the alternatives listed below:

  • It is a new way of starting a component: the component's lifecycle is not influenced by capability binding.
  • The provided handles are opaque to the component framework's static CML analysis.
  • Since the components receiving the handles are destroyed when stopped, their persistent storage is also wiped out. Thus components that use persistent storage are not a good candidate for this feature.

Routing numbered handles as capabilities

Routing numbered handles could be done explicitly by the component framework.

There are several different ways that this could be done, but they all have the following "shape."

Introduce a protocol that would be implemented by the source of the numbered handle(s):

protocol HandleProvider {
    Get(string handle_name) -> (fuchsia.process.HandleInfo handle);

This protocol is then turned into a capability:

capabilities: [
        handle_provider: "stdin",
        path: "/svc/fuchsia.component.HandleProvider",
expose: [
        handle_provider: "stdin",
        from: "self",

This could then be routed, via CML, to the destination just like other capabilities are.


  • Could be evolved to support more type information about the handles.
  • Makes the routing of the handles explicitly visible to the component framework.


The component would not be able to start until the handles have been fetched. Even if the performance impact could be amortized by caching handles in component manager, the motivating use case would not benefit from this because the handles would be different for each run of the component. In the proposed design, the host code could "fire and forget" the request to start a component and continue executing as if the call was successful. In this alternative, the host code would need to sit and spin, waiting for the associated handle request to come back.

The handle provider is not always reachable via static routing. In the motivating use case the handle provider is on the host machine, connected to the Fuchsia device via Overnet. This could be solved by routing "as far as possible" and then have the "edge" component fetch the handles via an ad hoc mechanism before returning them to the component framework. This is an additional burden on developers that want to use the feature.

A handle provider has no way of distinguishing between handle requests from a given capability route. Specifically, consider the motivating use case:

  1. The user starts two Linux components from the host, in different terminals.
  2. The components are instantiated in a collection.
  3. The handle provider receives two requests for the same handle.

At this point, there is no way for the handle provider to know which component is associated with which handle request. This could be solved by introducing additional mechanisms for client identification, but it is considerably more complex than the proposed design.

This solution is a larger commitment and more complex than the proposed design. That said, the proposed design does not prevent or conflict with explicit routing of numbered handles in the future.


This alternative proposes adding the numbered handles as an argument to the StartChild call on Realm. This is similar to the proposed design but has the drawback of introducing a race between a component binding to a capability offered by the component (which would start the component) and the StartChild call being made. Specifically, the component would only receive the numbered handles if the StartChild call won the race since it's not clear how the handles would be delivered if the component was already started.

Starter protocol

Passing numbered handles could be done by a Starter protocol. The starter protocol can be used to start a component, is implemented by the component manager on behalf of a component, and can be routed like any other protocol (i.e., the component can be started by a component that is not its parent).

This protocol can be routed like any other protocol, so a client can use it to start components that are located in arbitrary locations in the component hierarchy.

A starter protocol contains a method that accepts numbered handles as arguments:

protocol StarterWithArgs {
    /// Start the component that is bound to this protocol.
    /// If the component is already running, the call returns an error.
    Start(StartArgs start_args) -> () error fuchsia.component.Error;

This proposal is very similar to StartChild. A protocol exposed in this fashion has the benefit of being easier to audit and allowlist, but also introduces a race between calling Start and binding to any other capability exposed by the component. In addition, the ordering concerns are worsened by the fact that the client isn't always the parent, and thus can't necessarily restart the component to provide the arguments. This could be solved by adding a stop method to the protocol.

Clients would also need to coordinate child management between the starter protocol and the realm protocol, instead of managing the child exclusively through the realm protocol.