Mill Computing, Inc. Forums The Mill Architecture Mill vs. Spectre: Performance and Security Reply To: Mill vs. Spectre: Performance and Security

Ivan Godard
Keymaster
Post count: 627

Protection granularity will bite you in the butt. There is no one size – er, granularity – fits all. The way we organize programs these days seems to lead to three broad granule ranges on interest in different contexts.

There’s atomic granules, in which the item is indivisibly unitary; you deal with it as a whole, and it’s not meaningful to treat it as a composite with substructure. An int or char, say.

Then there’s collection granules, in which the item is composite and you expect to access substructure and move around the inside, but it has a hull that you are not supposed to wander beyond. Think array, struct, class.

Then there’s arena granules, random assemblages of other items, which are united in that a contained item may refer to another contained explicitly. Think processes and protection spaces.

These different granularities need different implementations, different controls, and different programming practices and language constructs. Which may need different cost models and different points at which you say “don’t do that; if you do you deserve it” and leave it unprotected.

At the atomic granularity most machines, including Mill, encourage but do not enforce granule protection. There’s nothing to prevent you from taking an int apart into pieces; it’s just annoying to do.

At the arena granule level the Mill has turfs, which have been covered in the talks. They give better granule and access control than the processes offered by other machines.

The middle size, collection granularity, is poorly supported except by segmented architectures and capability machines. The problem is that putting every array or malloc result in a separate process or turf is way overkill and will hose machine throughput because the turnover rate is too much to track. And you can’t use an atomic granularity mechanism because these things have substructure. The industry has followed the lowest common approach, and there’s no collection-granularity protection at all in mass market machine.

Surprise! the Mill offers collection-level granularity. A granule can be anything from a byte to all of memory. Tt works with existing code and ordinary languages without reprogramming. You can navigate around the substructure safely and it keeps you from navigating outside. It supports the C/C++ one-past-the-end rule. To support it we lose a couple of bits in the physical address space, and require that the granule be a power-of-two size; if you navigate into padding within the granule, well you deserve it.

We are very unsure how popular this Mill feature will be. Nearly all existing codes violate the language access boundary rules. Run times and OSs too. Think about memmove(…) – would you be surprised to know that it uses C undefined behavior when it decides whether to copy up or down? So the standard Mill runtime will offer a –UNSAFE-MALLOC option that lets you treat the whole process as a single collection-level granule. And you will deserve it.