RFC-0178: Multiple debug exception channels per job

RFC-0178: Multiple debug exception channels per job
  • Kernel

Zircon allows multiple debug exception channels on a job.

Gerrit change
Date submitted (year-month-day)2022-06-08
Date reviewed (year-month-day)2022-07-12


This RFC proposes changing zx_task_create_exception_channel to allow up to 32 debug exception channels to be created on one job.


Debuggers on Fuchsia depend on creating debug exception channels on jobs to monitor process starts, so that they can capture the process of interest and attach to it eagerly. The debug exception channel is usually created on the root job of the system, so that debuggers can monitor all processes.

When a process is starting up, the kernel will walk the job hierarchy looking for a debug job exception channel to notify. This walk starts with the new process's containing job and goes up the hierarchy until a debug job exception channel is found or the root job is reached.

However, there are two drawbacks in today's implementation.

  • For a given job, there can at most one debug exception channel, which means at most one debugger can monitor any given subtree of a job hierarchy.
  • Only the first found debug exception channel will be notified, i.e., the debugger on a child job prevents the debugger on the parent job from observing process starts.


Facilitator: cpu@google.com

Reviewers: brettw@google.com, maniscalco@google.com

Consulted: johngro@google.com

Socialization: The idea was discussed in Fuchsia's Kernel Evolution Working Group.


We propose that Zircon allow multiple debug job exception channels on one job.

There are 5 types of exception channels in Zircon: debug job, job, debug process, process, and thread. Each of them can be created at most once on the corresponding object. This restriction is set to avoid tricky situations when e.g. multiple exception handlers set different values for ZX_PROP_EXCEPTION_STATE.

However, "debug job" is distinctive here because it's a notification-only channel: the only exception type it can receive is ZX_EXCP_PROCESS_STARTING where the ZX_PROP_EXCEPTION_STATE is ignored. Thus it's possible to allow multiple debug exception channels on one job without worrying about inconsistencies.

With multiple debug job exception channels created on one job, a ZX_EXCP_PROCESS_STARTING event will be sent to all channels sequentially, allowing multiple listeners to inspect the process. The restriction that only one debugger can attach to a given process doesn't change, as the "debug process" exception channel is still solely owned and all debuggers except the first one will get a ZX_ERR_ALREADY_BOUND.

In addition, we also propose modifying the event propagation for ZX_EXCP_PROCESS_STARTING events so that one event will propagate all the way to the root even if there's an exception channel created on a child job. Debug job exception channels at lower levels in the job hierarchy will be notified before those at higher levels. At any given level, the earlier created channels will be notified before the later created channels. The process can continue starting only when all exception channels are notified and the exception objects are closed.

Note, it's possible for any exception message receiver to hold up process startup indefinitely by simply not closing the handle to the exception object. However, they cannot outright stop process startup.


There'll be no API or ABI change to the syscalls. The existing behavior of zx_task_create_exception_channel will be changed to allow up to N channels to be created instead of returning ZX_ERR_ALREADY_BOUND after the first one.


The performance could decrease because more listeners could possibly block process starts. However, the debug exception channel is not expected to be used in a production environment or be held by a long-running program. It's intended only for debuggers or similar debugging tools so the impact should be minimal.

As a general rule, the debuggers should close the exception handle immediately after necessary setup is performed.

Security considerations

To avoid DoS attacks against the kernel, we should limit the maximum number of the debug job exception channels created on one job. The limit should be large enough to allow any reasonable number of debuggers to run, for example, 32.


New test cases will be added to //zircon/system/utest/debugger to cover this feature.


The documents describing Exception Handling and zx_task_create_exception_channel will be updated to reflect the change.

Drawbacks, alternatives, and unknowns

Alternative: User-space delegate of process starts on the root job

This method avoids changes to the kernel. Instead, a user-space delegate will hold the root job debug channel and provide a FIDL interface for debuggers to subscribe to process starts. The delegate could be the component manager itself, who serves the fuchsia.kernel.RootJob today, or a standalone program.

The protocol will look like

protocol RootJob {
    /// Hanging get pattern
    GetProcessStartingEvent() -> (resource struct {
        process zx.handle:PROCESS;
        continue zx.handle:EVENTPAIR;  // dropping this eventpair will propagate
                                       // the event to the next listener.
    }) error zx.status;

The problems with this method are

  • It only applies to the root job. The debugger needs two logic for root job and non-root job.
  • An exception channel created on a child job can stop events from propagating to the root.
  • It's confusing to introduce a FIDL API with functions similarly provided by a syscall.

Alternative: debug_agent supports multiple clients

We can also make debug_agent support multiple clients to solve today's problem, i.e., the debug_agent becomes a singleton.

The problems are

  • More work will be involved.
  • debug_agent will become the designated debugger for Fuchsia. Other debuggers have to talk with the debug_agent, which will expose a large and unstable interface.