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From: Alan Stern <>
To: Dave Chinner <>
Cc: Eric Biggers <>,,,
	"Paul E . McKenney" <>,, Akira Yokosawa <>,
	Andrea Parri <>,
	Boqun Feng <>,
	Daniel Lustig <>,
	"Darrick J . Wong" <>,
	David Howells <>,
	Jade Alglave <>,
	Luc Maranget <>,
	Nicholas Piggin <>,
	Peter Zijlstra <>,
	Will Deacon <>
Subject: Re: [PATCH] tools/memory-model: document the "one-time init" pattern
Date: Mon, 20 Jul 2020 10:52:11 -0400
Message-ID: <> (raw)
In-Reply-To: <20200720013320.GP5369@dread.disaster.area>

On Mon, Jul 20, 2020 at 11:33:20AM +1000, Dave Chinner wrote:
> On Sat, Jul 18, 2020 at 10:08:11AM -0400, Alan Stern wrote:
> > > This is one of the reasons that the LKMM documetnation is so damn
> > > difficult to read and understand: just understanding the vocabulary
> > > it uses requires a huge learning curve, and it's not defined
> > > anywhere. Understanding the syntax of examples requires a huge
> > > learning curve, because it's not defined anywhere. 
> > 
> > Have you seen tools/memory-model/Documentation/explanation.txt?
> <raises eyebrow>
> Well, yes. Several times. I look at it almost daily, but that
> doesn't mean it's approachable, easy to read or even -that I
> understand what large parts of it say-. IOWs, that's one of the 
> problematic documents that I've been saying have a huge learning
> curve.

Can you be more specific?  For example, exactly where does it start to 
become unapproachable or difficult to read?

Don't forget that this document was meant to help mitigate the LKMM's 
learning curve.  If it isn't successful, I want to improve it.

> So, if I say "the LKMM documentation", I mean -all- of the
> documentation, not just some tiny subset of it. I've read it all,
> I've even installed herd7 so I can run the litmus tests to see if
> that helps me understand the documentation better.
> That only increased the WTF factor because the documentation of that
> stuff is far, far more impenetrable than the LKMM documentation.  If
> the LKMM learnign curve is near vertical, then the stuff in the
> herd7 tools is an -overhang-. And I most certainly can't climb
> that....

I can't argue with that.  Really understanding herd7 does require a 
pretty extensive background in the field.

> /me idly wonders if you recognise that your comment is, yet again, a
> classic demonstration of the behaviour the "curse of knowledge"
> cognitive bias describes.

Not at all.  I think you are confusing several different things.

For one, at a purely literal level my comment could not possibly be 
taken as a demonstration of "curse of knowledge" behavior, because it 
was a simple question: Have you seen explanation.txt?  Nothing obscure 
or outré about that.

For another, you appear to be confusing the LKMM with the kernel's API, 
and reference documents with programming guides (or recipes).  I'm sure 
that you aren't doing this deliberately and are well aware of these 
distinctions, but that's the impression your email leaves.

> > That
> > file was specifically written for non-experts to help them overcome the
> > learning curve.  It tries to define the vocabulary as terms are
> > introduced and to avoid using obscure syntax.
> It tries to teach people about what a memory model is at the same
> time it tries to define the LKMM. What it doesn't do at all is
> teach people how to write safe code.

Of course it doesn't.  It was never meant to.  You can see this right in 
the filename "explanation.txt"; its purpose is to explain the LKMM.  
Nobody ever claimed it teaches how to write safe code or how to use the 
kernel's concurrent-programming API.  Those things belong in a separate 
document, such as recipes.txt.

>  People want to write safe code,
> not become "memory model experts".

Speak for yourself.  I personally want both, and no doubt there are 
others who feel the same way.

> Memory models are -your expertise- but they aren't mine. My
> expertise is filesystems: I don't care about the nitty gritty
> details of memory models, I just want to be able to write lockless
> algorithms correctly. Which, I might point out, I've been doing for
> well over a decade...

That's perfectly fine; I understand completely.  But your criticism is 
misplaced: It should be applied to recipes.txt, not to explanation.txt.

And remember: It was _you_ who claimed: "just understanding the 
vocabulary [the LKMM] uses requires a huge learning curve, and it's not 
defined anywhere".  explanation.txt shows that this statement is at 
least partly wrong.  Besides, given that you don't care about the nitty 
gritty details of memory models in any case, why are you complaining 
that understanding the LKMM is so hard?

My impression is that you really want to complain about the inadequate 
quality of recipes.txt as a programmers' guide.  Fine, but don't extend 
that to a blanket condemnation of all the LKMM documentation.

> > If you think it needs improvement and can give some specific
> > details about where it falls short, I would like to hear them.
> Haven't you understood anything I've been saying? That developers
> don't care about how the theory behind the memory model  or how it
> works - we just want to be able to write safe code.

Again, speak for yourself.

>  And to do that
> quickly and efficiently. The "make the documentation more complex"
> response is the wrong direction. Please *dumb it down* to the most
> basic, simplest, common concurrency patterns that programmers use
> and then write APIs to do those things that *hide the memory model
> for the programmer*.
> Adding documentation about all the possible things you could do,
> all the optimisations you could make, all the intricate, subtle
> variations you can use, etc is not helpful. It might be interesting
> to you, but I just want -somethign that works- and not have to
> understand the LKMM to get stuff done.

In principle, both can be included in the same document.  Say, with the 
more in-depth discussions relegated to specially marked-off sections 
that readers are invited to skip if they aren't interested.

> Example: I know how smp_load_acquire() works. I know that I can
> expect the same behavioural semantics from smp_cond_load_acquire().
> But I don't care how the implementation of smp_cond_load_acquire()
> is optimised to minimise ordering barriers as it spins. That sort of
> optimisation is your job, not mine - I just want a function that
> will spin safely until a specific value is seen and then return with
> acquire semantics on the successful load.....
> Can you see the difference between "understanding the LKMM
> documenation" vs "using a well defined API that provides commonly
> used functionality" to write correct, optimal code that needs to
> spin waiting for some other context to update a variable?

Certainly I can.  Can't _you_ see the difference between a document that 
helps people "understand the LKMM" and one that demonstrates "using a 
well defined API that provides commonly used functionality"?

> That's the problem the LKMM documentation fails to address. It is
> written to explain the theory behind the LKMM rather than provide
> developers with pointers to the templates and APIs that implement
> the lockless co-ordination functionality they want to use....

That's the difference between a reference document and a programmers' 
guide.  Grousing that one isn't the other is futile.

On the other hand, pointing out specific areas of improvement for a 
document that was meant to be a programmers' guide can be very helpful. 
You may not be inclined to spend any time editing recipes.txt, but 
perhaps you could point out a few of the specific areas most in need of 

Alan Stern

  reply index

Thread overview: 39+ messages / expand[flat|nested]  mbox.gz  Atom feed  top
2020-07-17  4:44 Eric Biggers
2020-07-17  5:49 ` Sedat Dilek
2020-07-17 12:35 ` Matthew Wilcox
2020-07-17 14:26 ` Alan Stern
2020-07-17 17:47 ` Matthew Wilcox
2020-07-17 17:51   ` Alan Stern
2020-07-18  1:02     ` Eric Biggers
2020-07-27 12:51       ` Matthew Wilcox
2020-07-17 21:05   ` Darrick J. Wong
2020-07-18  0:44   ` Darrick J. Wong
2020-07-18  1:38   ` Eric Biggers
2020-07-18  2:13     ` Matthew Wilcox
2020-07-18  5:28       ` Eric Biggers
2020-07-18 14:35         ` Alan Stern
2020-07-20  2:07         ` Dave Chinner
2020-07-20  9:00           ` Peter Zijlstra
2020-07-27 15:17         ` Alan Stern
2020-07-27 15:28           ` Matthew Wilcox
2020-07-27 16:01             ` Paul E. McKenney
2020-07-27 16:31             ` Alan Stern
2020-07-27 16:59               ` Matthew Wilcox
2020-07-27 19:13                 ` Alan Stern
2020-07-17 20:53 ` Darrick J. Wong
2020-07-18  0:58   ` Eric Biggers
2020-07-18  1:25     ` Alan Stern
2020-07-18  1:40       ` Matthew Wilcox
2020-07-18  2:00       ` Dave Chinner
2020-07-18 14:21         ` Alan Stern
2020-07-18  2:00       ` Eric Biggers
2020-07-18  1:42 ` Dave Chinner
2020-07-18 14:08   ` Alan Stern
2020-07-20  1:33     ` Dave Chinner
2020-07-20 14:52       ` Alan Stern [this message]
2020-07-20 15:37         ` Darrick J. Wong
2020-07-20 15:39         ` Matthew Wilcox
2020-07-20 16:04           ` Paul E. McKenney
2020-07-20 16:48             ` peterz
2020-07-20 22:06               ` Paul E. McKenney
2020-07-20 16:12           ` Alan Stern

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