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<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE book [
<!ENTITY % eclent SYSTEM "ecl.ent">
<book xmlns="http://docbook.org/ns/docbook" version="5.0" xml:lang="en">
<chapter xml:id="ext.signals">
 <title>Signals and interrupts</title>

 <section xml:id="ext.signals.intro">
  <title>Problems associated to signals</title>

  <para>POSIX contemplates the notion of "signals", which are events that
  cause a process or a thread to be interrupted. Windows uses the term
  "exception", which includes also a more general kind of errors.</para>

  <para>In both cases the consequence is that a thread or process may be
  interrupted at any time, either by causes which are intrinsic to them
  (synchronous signals), such as floating point exceptions, or extrinsic
  (asynchronous signals), such as the process being aborted by the

  <para>Of course, those interruptions are not always welcome. When the
  interrupt is delivered and a handler is invoked, the thread or even the
  whole program may be in an inconsistent state. For instance the thread may
  have acquired a lock, or it may be in the process of filling the fields of
  a structure. Furthermore, sometimes the signal that a process receives may
  not even be related to it, as in the case when a user presses Cltr-C
  and a SIGINT signal is delivered to an arbitrary thread, or when the
  process receives the Windows exception CTRL_CLOSE_EVENT denoting
  that the terminal window is being closed.</para>

  <para>Understanding this, POSIX restricts severely what functions can be
  called from a signal handler, thereby limiting its usefulness. However,
  Common Lisp users expect to be able to handle floating point exceptions and
  to gracefully manage user interrupts, program exits, etc. In an attempt to
  solve this seemingly impossible problem, &ECL; has taken a pragmatic
  approach that works, it is rather safe, but involves some work on the &ECL;
  maintainers and also on users that want to embed &ECL; as a library.</para>

 <section xml:id="ext.signals.kinds">
  <title>Kinds of signals</title>

  <section xml:id="ext.signals.synchronous">
   <title>Synchronous signals</title>

   <para>The name derives from POSIX and it denotes interrupts that occur due
   to the code that a particular thread executes. They are largely equivalent
   to C++ and Java exceptions, and in Windows they are called "unchecked

   <para>Common Lisp programs may generate mostly three kinds of synchronous
     <para>Floating point exceptions, that result from overflows in
     computations, division by zero, and so on.</para>
     <para>Access violations, such as dereferencing NULL pointers,
     writing into regions of memory that are protected, etc.</para>
     <para>Process interrupts.</para>

   <para>The first family of signals are generated by the floating point
   processing hardware in the computer, and they typically happen when code
   is compiled with low security settings, performing mathematical operations
   without checks.</para>

   <para>The second family of signals may seem rare, but unfortunately they
   still happen quite often. One scenario is wrong code that handles memory
   directly via FFI. Another one is undetected stack overflows, which typically
   result in access to protected memory regions. Finally, a very common cause
   of these kind of exceptions is invoking a function that has been compiled
   with very low security settings with arguments that are not of the expected
   type -- for instance, passing a float when a structure is expected.</para>

   <para>The third family is related to the multiprocessing capabilities in
   Common Lisp systems and more precisely to the <xref
   linkend="ref.mp.interrupt-process"/> function which is used to kill,
   interrupt and inspect arbitrary threads. In POSIX systems &ECL; informs a
   given thread about the need to interrupt its execution by sending a
   particular signal from the set which is available to the user.</para>

   <para>Note that in neither of these cases we should let the signal pass
   unnoticed. Access violations and floating point exceptions may propagate
   through the program causing more harm than expected, and without
   process interrupts we will not be able to stop and cancel different
   threads. The only question that remains, though, is whether such signals can
   be handled by the thread in which they were generated and how.</para>

  <section xml:id="ext.signals.asynchronous">
   <title>Asynchronous signals</title>

   <para>In addition to the set of synchronous signals or "exceptions", we
   have a set of signals that denote "events", things that happen while the
   program is being executed, and "requests". Some typical examples are:</para>
     <para>Request for program termination (SIGKILL, SIGTERM).</para>
     <para>Indication that a child process has finished.</para>
     <para>Request for program interruption (SIGINT), typically as a
     consecuence of pressing a key combination, Ctrl-C.</para>

   <para>The important difference with synchronous signals is that we have no
   thread that causes the interrupt and thus there is no preferred way of
   handling them. Moreover, the operating system will typically dispatch these
   signals to an arbitrary thread, unless we set up mechanisms to prevent
   it. This can have nasty consequences if the incoming signal interrupt a
   system call, or leaves the interrupted thread in an inconsistent

 <section xml:id="ext.signals.implementation">
  <title>Signals and interrupts in &ECL;</title>

  <para>The signal handling facilities in &ECL; are constrained by two
  needs. First of all, we can not ignore the synchronous signals mentioned in
  <xref linkend="ext.signals.synchronous"/>. Second, all other signals should
  cause the least harm to the running threads. Third, when a signal is handled
  synchronously using a signal handler, the handler should do almost nothing
  unless we are completely sure that we are in an interruptible region, that is
  outside system calls, in code that &ECL; knows and controls.</para>

  <para>The way in which this is solved is based on the existence of both
  synchronous and asynchronous signal handling code, as explained in the
  following two sections.</para>

  <section xml:id="ext.signals.asynchronous-handler">
   <title>Handling of asynchronous signals</title>

   <para>In systems in which this is possible, &ECL; creates a signal handling
   thread to detect and process asynchronous signals (See <xref
   linkend="ext.signals.asynchronous"/>). This thread is a trivial one and does
   not process the signals itself: it communicates with, or launches new signal
   handling threads to act accordingly to the denoted events.</para>

   <para>The use of a separate thread has some nice consequences. The first
   one is that those signals will not interrupt any sensitive code. The
   second one is that the signal handling thread will be able to execute
   arbitrary lisp or C code, since it is not being executed in a sensitive
   context. Most important, this style of signal handling is the recommended
   one by the POSIX standards, and it is the one that Windows uses.</para>

   <para>The installation of the signal handling thread is dictated by a boot
   time option, <varname>ECL_OPT_SIGNAL_HANDLING_THREAD</varname>, and it will
   only be possible in systems that support either POSIX or Windows

   <para>Systems which embed &ECL; as an extension language may wish to
   deactivate the signal handling thread using the previously mentioned
   option. If this is the case, then they should take appropriate measures to
   avoid interrupting the code in &ECL; when such signals are delivered.</para>

   <para>Systems which embed &ECL; and do not mind having a separate signal
   handling thread can control the set of asynchronous signals which is handled
   by this thread. This is done again using the appropriate boot options such
   as <varname>ECL_OPT_TRAP_SIGINT</varname>,
   <varname>ECL_OPT_TRAP_SIGTERM</varname>, etc. Note that in order to detect
   and handle those signals, &ECL; must block them from delivery to any other
   thread. This means changing the <function>sigprocmask()</function> in POSIX
   systems or setting up a custom <function>SetConsoleCtrlHandler()</function>
   in Windows.</para>

  <section xml:id="ext.signals.synchronous-handler">
   <title>Handling of synchronous signals</title>

   <para>We have already mentioned that certain synchronous signals and
   exceptions can not be ignored and yet the corresponding signal handlers are
   not able to execute arbitrary code. To solve this seemingly impossible
   contradiction, &ECL; uses a simple solution, which is to mark the sections of
   code which are interruptible, and in which it is safe for the handler to run
   arbitrary code. All other regions would be considered "unsafe" and would be
   protected from signals and exceptions.</para>

   <para>In principle this "marking" of safe areas can be done using POSIX
   functions such as <function>pthread_sigmask()</function> or
   <function>sigprocmask()</function>. However in practice this is slow, as it
   involves at least a function call, resolving thread-local variables, etc,
   etc, and it will not work in Windows.</para>

   <para>Furthermore, sometimes we want signals to be detected but not to be
   immediately processed. For instance, when reading from the terminal we want
   to be able to interrupt the process, but we can not execute the code from
   the handler, since the C function which is used to read from the terminal,
   <function>read()</function>, may have left the input stream in an
   inconsistent, or even locked state.</para>

   <para>The approach in &ECL; is more lightweight: we install our own signal
   handler and use a thread-local variable as a flag that determines whether
   the thread is executing interrupt safe code or not. More precisely, if the
   variable <code>ecl_process_env()->disable_interrupts</code> is set, signals
   and exceptions will be postponed and then the information about the signal
   is queued. Otherwise the appropriate code is executed: for instance invoking
   the debugger, jumping to a condition handler, quitting, etc.</para>

   <para>Systems that embed &ECL; may wish to deactivate completely these
   signal handlers. This is done using the boot options,

   <para>Systems that embed &ECL; and want to allow handling of synchronous
   signals should take care to also trap the associated lisp conditions that
   may arise. This is automatically taken care of by functions such as
   <function>si_safe_eval()</function>, and in all other cases it can be solved
   by enclosing the unsafe code in a <function>CL_CATCH_ALL_BEGIN</function>
   frame (See <xref linkend="ref.embed.cl_catch_all"/>).</para>

 <section xml:id="ext.signals.embedding">
  <title>Considerations when embedding &ECL;</title>

  <para>There are several approaches when handling signals and interrupts in
  a program that uses &ECL;. One is to install your own signal handlers. This
  is perfectly fine, but you should respect the same restrictions as &ECL;.
  Namely, you may not execute arbitrary code from those signal handlers, and
  in particular it will not always be safe to execute Common Lisp code from

  <para>If you want to use your own signal handlers then you should set the
  appropriate options before invoking <function>cl_boot()</function>, as
  explained in <xref linkend="ref.embed.ecl_set_option"/>. Note that in this
  case &ECL; will not always be able to detect floating point exceptions,
  specially if your compiler does not support C99 and the corresponding
  floating point flags.</para>

  <para>The other option is to let &ECL; handle signals itself. This would be
  safer when the dominant part of the code is Common Lisp, but you may need
  to protect the code that embeds &ECL; from being interrupted using either
  the macros <xref linkend="ref.embed.ecl_disable_interrupts"/> and <xref
  linkend="ref.embed.ecl_enable_interrupts"/> or the POSIX functions
  <function>pthread_sigmaks</function> and

 <xi:include xmlns:xi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XInclude" href="ref_signals.xmlf" xpointer="ext.signals.dict"/>

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