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Memory grants

Memory grants is a inter-procedure communication mechanism to allow processes to transfer large amounts of data. An alternative name of this IPC mechanism is safecopies, as the low-kernel kernel system calls related to using memory grants all contain “safe” in their name.


User-mode processes cannot escape their virtual address space, i.e. they cannot read or write the memory of other processes ; they have to use kernel-provided IPC functionality to exchange data with them. Traditional POSIX solutions to this problem are pipe, sockets, shared memory, signals and others.

The Minix micro-kernel provides fixed-size 64 bytes message passing, but transferring large amounts of data with those messages would be very inefficient. One POSIX IPC could have been implemented in the micro-kernel, however the needs and goals of Minix makes them unsuited for the task, as such an IPC has to satisfy all following criteria at the same time :

  • provide byte-granularity bounds checking,
  • be uni- or bi-directional,
  • support authorization per process,
  • be easy, fast, secure and safe to set up,
  • be simple and small to implement in the micro-kernel,
  • be transferable yet be able to restrict access to a subset of the original authorization,
  • be efficient.

Implementation of memory grants

Memory grants were created to address the need of IPC provided by the micro-kernel for large amounts of data. This mechanism allows processes to grant access to a well defined region of their memory to another process.

There are three types of memory grants. All share common attributes :

  • permitted access mode may be set to read, write or read-write,
  • the memory region is a continuous range with byte granularity,
  • grants are created by a endpoint for a endpoint (but may be transferred, see below).

By convention, the granter is the process that created and owns the grant ; the grantee is the process to which the memory grant was granted.

Granters maintain their array of grants in their memory space, the micro-kernel is informed of this array by the SYS_SETGRANT kernel system call. Grantees can, depending on which operations are allowed, read and/or write (copy or set bytes) to the specified memory region of the granter through the relevant kernel system calls.

Those kernel calls are wrapped by higher-level functions in the libsys library (the cpf_* family of functions). Protocol abstraction libraries can provide higher-level semantics to memory grants : an example is directory listing inside a file server, where fsdriver collects directories entries through a callback function and sends them to VFS through a memory grant.

Memory grants are identified by a memory grant credential (an integer of type cp_grant_id_t). Those credentials are transmitted to grantees by message passing.

Memory grant types

There are three types of memory grants, depending on whether the grant was transferred from a process to another or not.

Direct grants

Direct grants are the simplest type of grants. They specify that a memory region of the granter is accessible by the grantee. They are direct in the sense that they haven't been transferred : the granter is the owner of the memory region, there is no middleman between the two.

Indirect grants

Indirect grants are grants that have been transferred by a grantee : the grantee delegates its grant to another process. The grantee becomes a granter and then pass a newly created memory grant credential to the new grantee. The memory grant thus forms a linked list of indirect grants, with a direct grant at the start.

Indirect grant can themselves be transferred to another grantee by creating a new indirect grant.

Magic grants

TODO: explain magic grants

External documentation

developersguide/memorygrants.1429985816.txt.gz · Last modified: 2016/01/25 14:52 (external edit)