神刀安全网

Unsafe abstractions

The unsafe keyword is a crucial part of Rust’s design. For those not familiar with it, the unsafe keyword is basically a way to bypass Rust’s type checker; it essentially allows you to write something more like C code, but using Rust syntax.

The existence of the unsafe keyword sometimes comes as a surprise at first. After all, isn’t the point of Rust that Rust programs should not crash? Why would we make it so easy then to bypass Rust’s type system? It can seem like a kind of flaw in the design.

In my view, though, unsafe is anything but a flaw: in fact, it’s a critical piece of how Rust works. The unsafe keyword basically serves as a kind of escape valve – it means that we can keep the type system relatively simple, while still letting you pull whatever dirty tricks you want to pull in your code. The only thing we ask is that you package up those dirty tricks with some kind of abstraction boundary.

This post introduces the unsafe keyword and the idea of unsafety boundaries. It is in fact a lead-in for another post I hope to publish soon that discusses a potential design of the so-called Rust memory model , which is basically a set of rules that help to clarify just what is and is not legal in unsafe code.

Unsafe code as a plugin

I think a good analogy for thinking about how unsafe works in Rust is to think about how an interpreted language like Ruby (or Python) uses C modules. Consider something like the JSON module in Ruby. The JSON bundle includes a pure Ruby implementation ( JSON::Pure ), but it also includes a re-implementation of the same API in C ( JSON::Ext ). By default, when you use the JSON bundle, you are actually running C code – but your Ruby code can’t tell the difference. From the outside, that C code looks like any other Ruby module – but internally, of course, it can play some dirty tricks and make optimizations that wouldn’t be possible in Ruby. (See this excellent blog post on Helix for more details, as well as some suggestions on how you can write Ruby plugins in Rust instead.)

Well, in Rust, the same scenario can arise, although the scale is different. For example, it’s perfectly possible to write an efficient and usable hashtable in pure Rust. But if you use a bit of unsafe code, you can make it go faster still. If this a data structure that will be used by a lot of people or is crucial to your application, this may be worth the effort (so e.g. we use unsafe code in the standard library’s implementation). But, either way, normal Rust code should not be able to tell the difference: the unsafe code is encapsulated at the API boundary.

Of course, just because it’s possible to use unsafe code to make things run faster doesn’t mean you will do it frequently. Just like the majority of Ruby code is in Ruby, the majority of Rust code is written in pure safe Rust; this is particularly true since safe Rust code is very efficient, so dropping down to unsafe Rust for performance is rarely worth the trouble.

In fact, probably the single most common use of unsafe code in Rust is for FFI. Whenever you call a C function from Rust, that is an unsafe action: this is because there is no way the compiler can vouch for the correctness of that C code.

Extending the language with unsafe code

To me, the most interesting reason to write unsafe code in Rust (or a C module in Ruby) is so that you can extend the capabilities of the language. Probably the most commonly used example of all is the Vec type in the standard library, which uses unsafe code so it can handle uninitialized memory; Rc and Arc , which enable shared ownership, are other good examples. But there are also much fancier examples, such as how Crossbeam and deque use unsafe code to implement non-blocking data structures, or Jobsteal andRayon use unsafe code to implement thread pools.

In this post, we’re going to focus on one simple case: the split_at_mut method found in the standard library. This method is defined over mutable slices like &mut [T] . It takes as argument a slice and an index ( mid ), and it divides that slice into two pieces at the given index. Hence it returns two subslices: ranges from 0..mid , and one that ranges from mid.. .

You might imagine that split_at_mut would be defined like this:

impl [T] {     pub fn split_at_mut(&mut self, mid: usize) -> (&mut [T], &mut [T]) {         (&mut self[0..mid], &mut self[mid..])     } } 

If it compiled, this definition would do the right thing, but in fact if you try to build it you will find it gets a compilation error. It fails for two reasons:

  1. In general, the compiler does not try to reason precisely about indices. That is, whenever it sees an index like foo[i] , it just ignores the index altogether and treats the entire array as a unit ( foo[_] , effectively). This means that it cannot tell that &mut self[0..mid] is disjoint from &mut self[mid..] . The reason for this is that reasoning about indices would require a much more complex type system.
  2. In fact, the [] operator is not builtin to the language when applied to a range anyhow. It is implemented in the standard library . Therefore, even if the compiler knew that 0..mid and mid.. did not overlap, it wouldn’t necessarily know that &mut self[0..mid] and &mut self[mid..] return disjoint slices.

Now, it’s plausible that we could extend the type system to make this example compile, and maybe we’ll do that someday. But for the time being we’ve preferred to implement cases like split_at_mut using unsafe code. This lets us keep the type system simple, while still enabling us to write APIs like split_at_mut .

Abstraction boundaries

Looking at unsafe code as analogous to a plugin helps to clarify the idea of an abstraction boundary . When you write a Ruby plugin, you expect that when users from Ruby call into your function, they will supply you with normal Ruby objects and pointers. Internally, you can play whatever tricks you want: for example, you might use a C array instead of a Ruby vector. But once you return values back out to the surrounding Ruby code, you have to repackage up those results as standard Ruby objects.

It works the same way with unsafe code in Rust. At the public boundaries of your API, your code should act as if it were any other safe function. This means you can assume that your users will give you valid instances of Rust types as inputs. It also means that any values you return or otherwise output must meet all the requirements that the Rust type system expects. Within the unsafe boundary, however, you are free to bend the rules (of course, just how free you are is the topic of debate; I intend to discuss it in a follow-up post).

Let’s look at the split_at_mut method we saw in the previous section. For our purposes here, we only care about the public interface of the function, which is its signature:

impl [T] {     pub fn split_at_mut(&mut self, mid: usize) -> (&mut [T], &mut [T]) {         // body of the fn omitted so that we can focus on the         // public inferface; safe code shouldn't have to care what         // goes in here anyway     } } 

So what can we derive from this signature? To start, split_at_mut can assume that all of its inputs are valid (for safe code, the compiler’s type system naturally ensures that this is true; unsafe callers would have to ensure it themselves). Part of writing the rules for unsafe code will require enumerating more precisely what this means, but at a high-level it’s stuff like this:

  • The self argument is of type &mut [T] . This implies that we will receive a reference that points at some number N of T elements. Because this is a mutable reference, we know that the memory it refers to cannot be accessed via any other alias (until the mutable reference expires). We also know the memory is initialized and the values are suitable for the type T (whatever it is).
  • The mid argument is of type usize . All we know is that it is some unsigned integer.

There is one interesting thing missing from this list, however. Nothing in the API assures us that mid is actually a legal index into self . This implies that whatever unsafe code we write will have to check that.

Next, when split_at_mut returns, it must ensure that its return value meets the requirements of the signature. This basically means it must return two valid &mut [T] slices (i.e., pointing at valid memory, with a length that is not too long). Crucially, since those slices are both valid at the same time, this implies that the two slices must be disjoint (that is, pointing at different regions of memory).

Possible implementations

So let’s look at a few different implementation strategies for split_at_mut and evaluate whether they might be valid or not. We already saw that a pure safe implementation doesn’t work. So what if we implemented it using raw pointers like this:

impl [T] {     pub fn split_at_mut(&mut self, mid: usize) -> (&mut [T], &mut [T]) {         use std::slice::from_raw_parts_mut;          // The unsafe block gives us access to raw pointer         // operations. By using an unsafe block, we are claiming         // that none of the actions below will trigger         // undefined behavior.         unsafe {             // get a raw pointer to the first element             let p: *mut T = &mut self[0];              // get a pointer to the element `mid`             let q: *mut T = p.offset(mid as isize);              // number of elements after `mid`             let remainder = self.len() - mid;              // assemble a slice from 0..mid             let left: &mut [T] = from_raw_parts_mut(p, mid);              // assemble a slice from mid..             let right: &mut [T] = from_raw_parts_mut(q, remainder);              (left, right)         }     } } 

This is a mostly valid implementation, and in fact fairly close to what the standard library actually does . However, this code is making a critical assumption that is not guaranteed by the input: it is assuming that mid is in range . Nowhere does it check that mid <= len , which means that the q pointer might be out of range, and also means that the computation of remainder might overflow and hence (in release builds, at least by default) wrap around. So this implementation is incorrect , because it requires more guarantees than what the caller is required to provide.

We could make it correct by adding an assertion that mid is a valid index (note that the assert macro in Rust always executes, even in optimized code):

impl [T] {     pub fn split_at_mut(&mut self, mid: usize) -> (&mut [T], &mut [T]) {         use std::slice::from_raw_parts_mut;          // check that `mid` is in range:         assert!(mid <= self.len());          // as before, with fewer comments:         unsafe {             let p: *mut T = &mut self[0];             let q: *mut T = p.offset(mid as isize);             let remainder = self.len() - mid;             let left: &mut [T] = from_raw_parts_mut(p, mid);             let right: &mut [T] = from_raw_parts_mut(q, remainder);             (left, right)         }     } } 

OK, at this point we have basically reproduced the implementation in the standard library (it uses some slightly different helpers, but it’s the same idea).

Extending the abstraction boundary

Of course, it might happen that we actually wanted to assume mid that is in bound, rather than checking it. We couldn’t do this for the actual split_at_mut , of course, since it’s part of the standard library. But you could imagine wanting a private helper for safe code that made this assumption, so as to avoid the runtime cost of a bounds check. In that case, split_at_mut is relying on the caller to guarantee that mid is in bounds. This means that split_at_mut is no longer safe to call, because it has additional requirements for its arguments that must be satisfied in order to guarantee memory safety.

Rust allows you express the idea of a fn that is not safe to call by moving the unsafe keyword out of the fn body and into the public signature. Moving the keyword makes a big difference as to the meaning of the function: the unsafety is no longer just an implementation detail of the function, it’s now part of the function’s interface . So we could make a variant of split_at_mut called split_at_mut_unchecked that avoids the bounds check:

impl [T] {     // Here the **fn** is declared as unsafe; calling such a function is     // now considered an unsafe action for the caller, because they     // must guarantee that `mid <= self.len()`.     unsafe pub fn split_at_mut_unchecked(&mut self, mid: usize) -> (&mut [T], &mut [T]) {         use std::slice::from_raw_parts_mut;         let p: *mut T = &mut self[0];         let q: *mut T = p.offset(mid as isize);         let remainder = self.len() - mid;         let left: &mut [T] = from_raw_parts_mut(p, mid);         let right: &mut [T] = from_raw_parts_mut(q, remainder);         (left, right)     } } 

When a fn is declared as unsafe like this, calling that fn becomes an unsafe action: what this means in practice is that the caller must read the documentation of the function and ensure that what conditions the function requires are met. In this case, it means that the caller must ensure that mid <= self.len() .

If you think about abstraction boundaries, declaring a fn as unsafe means that it does not form an abstraction boundary with safe code. Rather, it becomes part of the unsafe abstraction of the fn that calls it.

Using split_at_mut_unchecked , we could now re-implemented split_at_mut to just layer on top the bounds check:

impl [T] {     pub fn split_at_mut(&mut self, mid: usize) -> (&mut [T], &mut [T]) {         assert!(mid <= self.len());          // By placing the `unsafe` block in the function, we are         // claiming that we know the extra safety conditions         // on `split_at_mut_unchecked` are satisfied, and hence calling         // this function is a safe thing to do.         unsafe {             self.split_at_mut_unchecked(mid)         }     }      // **NB:** Requires that `mid <= self.len()`.     pub unsafe fn split_at_mut_unchecked(&mut self, mid: usize) -> (&mut [T], &mut [T]) {         ... // as above     } } 

Unsafe boundaries and privacy

Although there is nothing in the language that explicitly connects the privacy rules with unsafe abstraction boundaries, they are naturally interconnected. This is because privacy allows you to control the set of code that can modify your fields, and this is a basic building block to being able to construct an unsafe abstraction.

Earlier we mentioned that the Vec type in the standard library is implemented using unsafe code. This would not be possible without privacy. If you look at the definition of Vec , it looks something like this:

pub struct Vec<T> {     pointer: *mut T,     capacity: usize,     length: usize, } 

Here the field pointer is a pointer to the start of some memory. capacity is the amount of memory that has been allocated and length is the amount of memory that has been initialized.

The vector code is all very careful to maintain the invariant that it is always safe the first length elements of the the memory that pointer refers to. You can imagine that if the length field were public, this would be impossible: anybody from the outside could go and change the length to whatever they want!

For this reason, unsafety boundaries tend to fall into one of two categories:

  • a single functions, like split_at_mut
    • this could include unsafe callees like split_at_mut_unchecked
  • a type, typically contained in its own module, like Vec
    • this type will naturally have private helper functions as well
    • and it may contain unsafe helper types too, as described in the next section

Types with unsafe interfaces

We saw earlier that it can be useful to define unsafe functions like split_at_mut_unchecked , which can then serve as the building block for a safe abstraction. The same is true of types. In fact, if you look at the actual definition of Vec from the standard library, you will see that it looks just a bit different from what we saw above:

pub struct Vec<T> {     buf: RawVec<T>,     len: usize, } 

What is this RawVec ? Well, that turns out to be an unsafe helper type that encapsulates the idea of a pointer and a capacity:

pub struct RawVec<T> {     // Unique is actually another unsafe helper type     // that indicates a uniquely owned raw pointer:     ptr: Unique<T>,     cap: usize, } 

What makes RawVec an unsafe helper type? Unlike with functions, the idea of an unsafe type is a rather fuzzy notion. I would define such a type as a type that doesn’t really let you do anything useful with using unsafe code. Safe code can construct RawVec , for example, and even resize the backing buffer, but if you want to actually access the data in that buffer, you can only do so by calling the ptr method , which returns a *mut T . This is a raw pointer, so dereferencing it is unsafe; which means that, to be useful, RawVec has to be incorporated into another unsafe abstraction (like Vec ) which tracks initialization.

Conclusion

Unsafe abstractions are a pretty powerful tool. They let you play just about any dirty performance trick you can think of – or access any system capbility – while still keeping the overall language safe and relatively simple. We use unsafety to implement a number of the core abstractions in the standard library, including core data structures like Vec and Rc . But because all of these abstractions encapsulate the unsafe code behind their API, users of those modules don’t carry the risk.

How low can you go?

One thing I have not discussed in this post is a lot of specifics about exactly what is legal within unsafe code and not. Clearly, the point of unsafe code is to bend the rules, but how far can you bend them before they break? At the moment, we don’t have a lot of published guidelines on this topic. This is something we aim to address . In fact there has even been a first RFC introduced on the topic, though I think we can expect a fair amount of iteration before we arrive at the final and complete answer.

As I wrote on the RFC thread , my take is that we should be shooting for rules that are human friendly as much as possible. In particular, I think that most people will not read our rules and fewer still will try to understand them. So we should ensure that the unsafe code that people write in ignorance of the rules is, by and large, correct. (This implies also that the majority of the code that exists ought to be correct.)

Interestingly, there is something of a tension here: the more unsafe code we allow, the less the compiler can optimize. This is because it can make assumptions about aliasing and what unsafe code will do which would allow it to, for example, reorder your statements or coallesce (what appear to be) duplicate reads. Of course, that means that to write unsafe code correctly, you have to be aware of those restrictions.

In my next post, I will describe how I think that we can leverage unsafe abstractions to actually get the best of both worlds. The basic idea is to aggressively optimized safe code, but be more conservative within an unsafe abstraction (but allow people to opt back in with additional annotations).

转载本站任何文章请注明:转载至神刀安全网,谢谢神刀安全网 » Unsafe abstractions

分享到:更多 ()

评论 抢沙发

  • 昵称 (必填)
  • 邮箱 (必填)
  • 网址