Forum Topic: Inter-process Communication

Talk by Ivan Godard – October 4, 2017, at the
Silicon Valley Linux Users Group

Slides: 2017-10-04-IPC.4 (.pptx)

This was the twelfth topic publicly presented related to the Mill general-purpose CPU architecture. It covers Inter-Process Communication for the Mill CPU architecture family. The talk assumes a familiarity with aspects of CPU architecture in general and C++ programming in particular.

The Mill is a new general-purpose architectural family, with an emphasis on secure and inexpensive communication across protection boundaries. The large (page) granularity of protection on conventional architectures makes such communication difficult compared to communication within a protection boundary, such as a function call. As a result, the large granularity has forced communication protocols on conventional architectures into two models: pass-by-sharing (using shared pages), and pass-by-copy (using the OS kernel for files/message passing). Both have drawbacks: sharing requires difficult-to-get-right synchronization, while copy involves kernel transitions as well as the costs of the copy itself.

The Mill supports both these protocols, for use by legacy code. However, the Mill hardware also supports inter-process communication using the same program protocols as for intra-process communication and function call: pass-by-value, pass-by-copy, pass-by-reference, and pass-by-name, but all without kernel involvement or overhead. The protocols are secure: neither party can see anything of the other except the explicit arguments to the communication. Neither caller nor callee codes need source changes to replace intra-process communication with Mill inter-process argument passing. However, the pass-by-reference protocol may require use of shims to delimit the extent of sharing in some languages. And granularity is no longer an issue: arguments can be of any size down to the byte.

The talk describes the machinery behind the Mill IPC protocols, together with suggestions as to how the hardware facilities may be integrated with representative language runtime systems such as those found in Linux.

Ivan Godard is CTO and a founder of Mill Computing, Inc., developer of the Mill family of general-purpose CPUs. He has written or led the development team for a dozen compilers, an OS, an OODBMS, and much other software. Ivan has been active in the field of computers since the 1960s.