I pushed Solution 1 as commit 193e0ee9aa8705dcc0020eaaf6bfb6714db6f9ca on 16 July 2013.

I'm deciding between

  • Solution 1 — using the rts/Globals.c mechanism for FastString.string_table, or
  • Solution 2 — requiring a dynamically-linked ghc to (safely) use plugins that involve FastStrings.

After a few, unfortunately public, iterations, I've chosen push Solution 1.

  • It re-uses an existing mechanism, has a small footprint in the GHC source code, is totally transparent to the plugin author, and robustly handles corner cases.
  • It handles any number of instances of libHSghc in a process, regardless of how they got there.
  • It puts no constraints on the rest of the user's installation — use whatever kind of ghc you like. On the other hand, Solution 2 makes a user choose between (safely) using a plugin that involves FastString.string_table and using statically-linked GHC.

I have one remaining concern: in the eventuality where ghci becomes its own dynamically-linked binary and ghc remains statically-linked, then my patch will be the only remaining use of the rts/Globals.c mechanism. (For the record, that mechanism is vastly simpler than the RTS linker…)

We can cross that bridge if/when we come to it, though.



When the host compiler is a statically linked executable, the host compiler and the set of all plugins each have distinct copies of global variables. Unless someone really goes out of their way, all plugins will share the same copy, so there are at most two copies: one for the plugins and one for the host compiler.

The current workaround is CoreMonad.reinitializeGlobals, which every plugin is supposed to call at the beginning of its install routine. This function overwrites the plugin's global variables with the corresponding values of the host compiler's. It requires a little plumbing to make this work but not much, and the plugin author sees only reinitializeGlobals. The long-term plan is to eventually totally avoid having two separate images of the ghc library and then redefine reinitializeGlobals = return ().

So the plugin author is instructed to write this:

install :: [CommandLineOption] -> [CoreToDo] -> CoreM [CoreToDo]
install opts todos = do

This mechanism is currently used for global variables in the StaticFlags, Linker, and DynFlags modules.

This mechanism is insufficient for the FastString.string_table global variable because reinitializeGlobals only supports copying the host compiler's global variables into the plugin's global variables exactly once (per loaded plugin) at the beginning of the Core simplifier. This seems sufficient for the globals already supported by reinitializeGlobals, but FastString.string_table needs more, since the plugin may mutate the string table and those mutations should be propagated back into the compiler's instance of the variable.

Furthermore, since the FastString interface uses unsafePerformIO, the two images' FastString.string_tables may get out of synch when the evaluation of a thunk mutates one of the tables but not the other. I'm going to call any thunk that allocates a FastString when its forced a "problem thunk". Since we can only easily synchronize the two images' tables when control is passed between the compiler and a plugin, evaluation of a problem thunk by an image that did not create that thunk is problematic.

Conclusion: reinitializeGlobals is insufficient for FastString.string_table and any other global variable that would require non-trivial synchronization between the compiler and the plugins.


I'd like to let plugins correctly use this variable, since that would let them invoke (parts of?) the front-end (eg resolving RdrNames).

All the FastStrings created during compilation are memoized in a hash table. For speedy comparison, each string is associated with a unique, which is allocated linearly whenever a FastString is created that has no corresponding entry in the hash table. This involves two pieces of global state, which are held in the same global variable.

data FastStringTable =
     {-# UNPACK #-} !Int
     (MutableArray# RealWorld [FastString])
{-# NOINLINE string_table #-}
string_table :: IORef FastStringTable

During its use, the FastString table increments the !Int argument. reinitializeGlobals alone is incapable of supporting this appropriately; it was designed to only copy global variables' values from the host compiler to the plugin, never in the opposite direction. Those original global variables were global for convenience of access, not for the need to be mutable. The FastString table breaks the mold.

It's straight-forward to have the two images share the array, but it is difficult to keep the two images' values of Int in synch. The danger is that the two images could allocate the same unique for distinct FastStrings — that'd break a major invariant.

all global variables used in GHC

I performed a bunch of greps in search of global variables in the code base:

# find possible top-level declarations of an IORef, MVar, some sort of pointer, global
$ find .. -type f -exec grep -nHE -e '^[^ ].*:: *IORef' {} /dev/null \;
$ find .. -type f -exec grep -nHE -e '^[^ ].*:: *MVar' {} /dev/null \;
$ find .. -type f -exec grep -nHE -e '^[^ ].*:: *[^ ]*Ptr' {} /dev/null \;
$ find .. -type f -exec grep -nHw -e global {} /dev/null \;

(also for unsafe[^ ]*IO, inlinePerformIO, and unsafeInterleaveM)

Manually combing the results, I found these legitimate hits:

  • these three modules use the GLOBAL_VAR macro and were already supported by reinitializeGlobals: StaticFlags, DynFlags, Linker
  • my focus: FastString.string_table
  • I don't know what these are for: Panic.interruptTargetThread, InteractiveEval.noBreakStablePtr

The FastString.string_table is just a cache — it's very unlikely that anyone would ever desire two distinct copies of it.

For the global variables, I'm not so sure about that: it's feasible to have intentionally distinct copies.

Solutions for FastString.string_table

Solution 1: the Globals.c mechanism

Simon Marlow said:

"I haven't been following this in detail, but I think you're encountering the same problem we had with various top-level IORefs in the base package. The solution we have there is grotesque but it works. Take a look at libraries/base/GHC/Conc/Signal.hs, search for getOrSetGHCConcSignalSignalHandlerStore. There is some corresponding RTS gunk to help with this in rts/Globals.c."

This workaround keeps a table of StgStablePtrs in the RTS for a fixed set of symbols (that's managed by rts/Globals.c). That table is accessed via C functions named with the scheme getOrSet<key>. So we add one such function there (and in includes/rts/Globals.h: getOrSetLibHSghcFastStringTable.

The mechanism is invoked thusly:

{-# NOINLINE string_table #-}
string_table :: IORef FastStringTable
string_table =
 unsafePerformIO $ do
   tab <- IO $ \s1# -> case newArray# hASH_TBL_SIZE_UNBOXED [] s1# of
                           (# s2#, arr# #) ->
                               (# s2#, FastStringTable 0 arr# #)
   ref <- newIORef tab
   sharedCAF ref getOrSetLibHSghcFastStringTable

foreign import ccall unsafe "getOrSetLibHSghcFastStringTable"
  getOrSetLibHSghcFastStringTable :: Ptr a -> IO (Ptr a)

Thus there ever exists only one such CAF per process, regardless of how many copies of libHSghc are loaded, since they all share the first such CAF forced. This is arbitrated by the process's sole image of the RTS. (Things have terribly gone wrong if there is more than one RTS in memory; a l a#5620.)


My only general concern is that I imagine we would like to keep the set of pointers maintained by Globals.c to a minimum?

The slight wrinkle is that the stage=1 compiler must not use the foreign import, since the stage1 compiler links in the stage0 RTS (ie previous version), which does not necessarily export the (new) getOrSetLibHSghcFastStringTable symbol. Since the stage=1 compiler probably isn't going to load any plugins, this is probably not a big concern.

Solution 2: use a dynamically linked compiler

Ian Lynagh asks "Why not just us a dynamically linked compiler?"

If the ghc executable itself dynamically links against libHSghc, then the entire reinitializeGlobals mechanism is unnecessary. In that case, both the host compiler and its plugins link against the same dynamic instance of libHSghc, which contains the sole set of mutable global variables.

The DYNAMIC_GHC_PROGRAMS variable in the GHC build system determines this. As of commit b7126674 (~mid-March 2013), the ghc executable is dynamically linked by default (except on Windows). This snippet from mk/ shows the default behavior as of 163de25813d12764aa5ded1666af7c06fee0d67e (~July 2013).

# Use the dynamic way when building programs in the GHC tree. In
# particular, this means that GHCi will use DLLs rather than loading
# object files directly.
ifeq "$(TargetOS_CPP)" "mingw32"                     # <---- this means Windows
# This doesn't work on Windows yet
else ifeq "$(TargetOS_CPP)" "freebsd"
# FreeBSD cannot do proper resolution for $ORIGIN (due to a bug in
# rtld(1)), so disable it by default (see #7819).
else ifeq "$(PlatformSupportsSharedLibs)" "NO"

NB also that the *-llvm presets in set DYNAMIC_GHC_PROGRAMS = NO as of 163de25813d12764aa5ded1666af7c06fee0d67e.


The rule would be: if you want to use a plugin (that uses any of the compiler's global variables), you must use a dynamically-linked compiler.

I'm concerned that requiring the buiding/installing/use of a dynamically-linked GHC in order to use a particular plugin might be a prohibitively inconvenient for some users.

The repercussions of this rule are not totally apparent to me. Plugins themselves are already dynamically loaded, so the platform already supports dynamic libraries (right?). So I think the only burden on the plugin user is having to ensure that their GHC is dynamically linked. 'From 7.8, the plan is for this to be the default on platforms that support it.' Ian Lynagh.

  • #3658 — this is for GHCi, but it might carry over for ghc; that's an open question
  • #8039 — might be blocking 3658
  • DynamicByDefault#Performance — the dynamically-link compiler may be significantly slower than the statically-linked one. So people may prefer to have a statically-linked ghc, which would then mean they couldn't (safely) use the Core plugins that use the FastString.string_table.

And what about the corner-case where someone statically-links a libHSghc copy into their own plugin DSO? That's sounds possible, but also like they're trying to break things. Solution 1 would handle it.

Last modified 6 years ago Last modified on Jul 16, 2013 7:59:08 PM