Vectored I/O with mmap() to serve files 2012-10-14

Previously, I’ve improved file serving performance in lwan by dramatially cutting down on the number of system calls performed to serve a file. However, for small files (< 16KiB), the throughput drop from the hello handler (which merely responds “Hello, World!”) was significant, since lwan was still performing system calls to open, obtain the size, and close the file.

I’ve experimented with userland caching before, but it never occurred to me to use mmap(). For the unitiated, this system call offers a way to map a file into memory, by giving a pointer to the process virtual memory space, that, when dereferenced, will perform the necessary disk I/O if the pages were not already present in the kernel buffers. Wikipedia has more details about it. Using mmap() greatly simplifies caching code by relaying it to the kernel, closer to where the low level buffers are.

By using a memory-mapped buffer and writev() (which the hello handler uses through lwan’s abstractions), the file serving performance improved about 60%! Before the optimization, weighttp would be able to make ~170000 requests/s. Now, ~286000 requests/s can be made. (That’s on my laptop, a Core i7 2640m, with 8GiB of RAM and without spinning platters.)

Of course, introducing caching also introduces a lot of complexity. Not only the file serving handler almost doubled its size (from 350 lines to 610 lines), but I’ve had to add a hash table implementation (with around 430 lines) and a directory watcher that uses inotify at around 150 lines of C code. In the order of 840 lines of code to improve performance by about 60%. About 30% more lines of code to improve performance in 60% – not bad, methinks.

On the other hand, the cache mechanism brings shared mutable state. This is protected by mutexes, of course, but I’m not sure if I got it right. One more reason to not use lwan in production.

As a bonus to these things, lwan now offers deflated content for the files in the cache when asked.

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