A night with threads and gdb


     How I began to wonder whether 5.2.1 works
        or thread support is really broken

It all started on Saturday 2004/3/27: the spring sun was shining hot and I was struggling in the effort to get apache working decently on a 5.2.1p3/i386 (more on this later). While portupgrading mod_php4, the system suddenly stopped working properly: no more "make install", no more "install", even "ls -l" would dump core!!! I wondered what could have caused this and thought that any changes to installed ports should not affect the stability of binaries from the base system; I tried moving /usr/local/lib out of the way and "ls -l" would work again. Logic or intuition lead me to blame nss_ldap, so I disabled it and everything would work fine again. To make it clear: with nss_ldap enabled, everything that accessed the user database would crash: so "ls -l", "id" and so on (but not, e.g., "ls" without "-l"). I recompiled ls and libc with -ggdb3 and found out that the problem was in nsdispatch.c, and precisely in the last line of the following function:

        vector_free((void **)&_nsmap, &_nsmapsize, sizeof(*_nsmap),
        vector_free((void **)&_nsmod, &_nsmodsize, sizeof(*_nsmod),

Once again Google turned out to be man's best friend, by providing me
the following link:


Apart from the psychological help derived from knowing I'm not alone,
this suggested to patch that file to look like:

        if (__isthreaded) (void)_pthread_rwlock_wrlock(&nss_lock);
        vector_free((void **)&_nsmap, &_nsmapsize, sizeof(*_nsmap),
        vector_free((void **)&_nsmod, &_nsmodsize, sizeof(*_nsmod),
        if (__isthreaded) (void)_pthread_rwlock_unlock(&nss_lock);

I did, and did similarly for other pthread calls in that file, declaring
__isthreaded as:

extern int __isthreaded;

That was one step ahead: now "ls -l /bin" would crash no more, but "ls
-l /home" would still be problematic. Obviously
the difference between the two is that in /bin everything is owned by
system accounts, while listing /home would imply
searching for users in the ldap database.
I guessed the problem was that upgrading php had upgraded openldap too,
so I looked at freshport and found out that
the main difference was in the makefile, where "-with-threads" had been
replaced with "-with-threads=posix".
I decided to try the three alternatives:
a) -without-threads would not do, as it would cause slapd to crash when
ldapsearching with a filter (i.e. "ldapsearch -b
'dc=mydomain'" works fine, but "ldapsearch -b 'dc=mydomain'
(objectClass=posixAccount)" not);
b) -with-threads=posix would exhibit the above mentioned problem with ls;
c) -with-threads would work best.

Now I could even "ls -l /home" and see the correct usernames. However, I
could not login or su anymore. (This forced me
to go and ask for the keys to the server room and wait until Sunday).
I ended up finding out (again by 'gdb su') that now using nss_ldap
hampers the ability of a process to read from stdin.
I can even provide this demonstrative program:

#include <stdio.h>
int main(int argc,char**argv)
  char ch;
  while (1)

If I want it to work, I'll either need to comment the call to getpwent()
or "ldap" in /etc/nsswitch.conf.
ktracing su showed "resource temporarily unavailable" when it tried to
read from descriptor 0.
Also, telnetting to localhost:pop3 had qpopper say "I/O error".

Afternoon was over, darkness was coming and the machine had to be up
again before morning, so I decided to leave
nss_ldap and migrate the user accounts to the system password files.
This will not do in the long run, since it
prevents web management, but has allow several mail domains to be up
again before any message was lost!
However, I was forced to increase the username length limit (MAXLOGNAME
to 65 in /usr/src/sys/sys/param and
UT_NAMESIZE=64 in utmp.h). This is a deviation from a standard system
which I'd like to avoid, but it is needed until
the day I can get nss_ldap back up.

(Long base system recompile).

Now I had pop3 back up, time to think about smtp.

I tried recompiling /usr/ports/mail/sendmail-ldap but it hangs on
t-event test, after the message:

This test may hang. If there is no output within twelve seconds, abort it
and recompile with -DSM_CONF_SETITIMER=0

I tried make -DSM_CONF_SETITIMER=0, but it makes no difference.
This test calls sleep(1) and program flow never gets out of it; if I use
gdb and interrupt it, I see it's in poll(); if
I single step into that function with gdb, it works fine, instead. Looks
a lot like PR kern/56339, which is rather old
(freebsd 4.8), but still open. I'm not sure however if it's really the
same problem.

Being already a little suspicious on ldap I tried
/usr/ports/mail/sendmail instead and it doesn't exhibit this problem.
It fails however on the test about shminit, but the suggested workaround
does its job. I'm not so sure it should be
needed, anyway.

So, I also converted my sendmail maps to files and abandoned ldap
completely for now.

Later on I realized that sendmail wasn't using authentication, so I
deinstalled sendmail and installed sendmail-sasl, instead: no problem at
all this time (!!!).

In the end, after a 40 km ride, a sleepless night, 20 consecutive hours
of work and a couple pizzas, I finally managed
to get my system up again, albeit with some more handicaps than before.

As for apache, I hoped removing LDAP from PHP would help, but
unfortunately nothing has changed:

_ apache 1.3 will core dump on startup if php module mnogosearch is used
(and I need it);
_ apache 2.0 with default prefork MPM will start, but will chew up all
cpu time after a while; using "httpd -DSSL -X"
shows that the server dies when nocc is used to forward a mail; no need
to say that it's a problem with threads, the
exact message being

Fatal error 'Unable to read from thread kernel pipe' at line 1100 in
file /usr/src/lib/libc_r/uthread/uthread_kern.c (errno = 0)

I guess that when started up without -X, one process dies and the
manager httpd will not cope correctly (and start
eating up every cycle).

_ when using perchild MPM (and recompiling mod_php in a thread-safe
manner) httpd doesn't die in the above case, but is
very unstable anyway;
_ worker MPM seems to be the best, but, although no process dies, often
apache will stop responding all the same;
furthermore SSL is painfully slow, the difference with plain http being
more than tenfold.

I have also verified that this same behaviour shows up on another 5.2.1

From all the above, there are only to possible conclusion I can draw: either there is something really obvious that I'm so blindly missing or the beast is very broken down to the bones!

This is at the same time my SOS to the world and an offer to provide the
community with any small help I can give in
improving this software's stability. If anyone has any hints, please
tell me, and if anyone wants core dumps, ktraces or
any other test result just ask!

Please, HELP!!!


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