Deeper Into Software

I don’t feel like blogging about zink today, so here’s more about everyone’s favorite software implementation of Vulkan.

The existing LLVMpipe architecture works like this from a top-down view:

  • mesa / st - this is the GL/Gallium state tracker
  • llvmpipe - this is the Gallium driver
  • gallivm - this is the LLVM program compiler
  • llvm - this is where the fragment shader runs

In short, everything is for the purpose of compiling LLVM programs which will draw/compute the desired result.

Lavapipe makes a slight change:

  • lavapipe - this is the Vulkan state tracker
  • llvmpipe - this is the Gallium driver
  • gallivm - this is the LLVM program compiler
  • llvm - this is where the fragment shader runs

It’s that simple.

Thus, any time a new feature is added to Lavapipe, what’s actually being done is plumbing that Vulkan feature through some number of layers to change how LLVM is executed. Some features, like samplerAnisotropy, require significant work at the gallivm layer just to toggle a boolean flag at the lavapipe level.

Other changes, like KHR_timeline_semaphores are entirely contained in Lavapipe.

What Are Timeline Semaphores?

Vulkan has a number of mechanisms for synchronization including fences, events, and binary semaphores, all of which serve a specific purpose. For more conrete on all of them, please read the blog of an actual expert.

The best and most awesome (don’t @ me, it’s not debatable) of these synchronization methods, however is the timeline semaphore.

A timeline semaphore is an object that can be used to signal and wait on specific integer-assigned points in command execution, also known as timelines. Each queue submission can be accompanied by an array of timeline semaphores to wait on and an array to signal; command buffers in a given submission will wait before executing, then signal after they’re done. This enables parallel code design where one thread can assemble command buffers and submit them, and the GPU can be made to pause at certain points for buffers/images referenced to become populated by another thread before continuing with execution.

Typically, semaphores are managed through signals which pass through the kernel and hardware, meaning that “waiting” on a timeline is really just waiting on an ioctl (DRM_IOCTL_SYNCOBJ_TIMELINE_WAIT) to signal that the specified timeline id has occurred, which requires no additional host-side synchronization. Things get a bit trickier in software, however, as the kernel is not involved, so everything must be managed in the driver.

Lavapipe And Timelines

This was a todo item sitting on the list for a while because it was tricky to handle. The most visible problems here were:

  • connecting timeline identifiers with queue submissions; timelines only need to be monotonic, not sequential, meaning that using something like a sliding array wouldn’t be very efficient
  • the actual synchronization when threads are involved

After some thought and deliberation about my life choices up to this point, I decided to tackle this implementation. The methodology I selected was to add a monotonic counter to the internal command buffer submission and then create a series of per-object timeline “links” which would serve to match the counter to the timeline identifier. This would enable each timeline semaphore to maintain a singly-linked list of links each time they were submitted, and the list could then be pruned at any given time—referenced against the internal counter—to update the “current” timeline id and then evaluate whether a specified wait condition had passed. In the case where the condition had not passed, the timeline link could also store a handle to the fence from the llvmpipe queue submission that could be waited on directly.

Did it work?

Almost on the first try, actually.

But then I ran into a wall in CI while running piglit tests through zink.

It turns out that the CTS tests are considerably less aggressive than the piglit ones for things like this: specifically, there don’t appear to be any cases where a single timeline has 16 threads all trying to wait on it at different values, iterating thousands of times over the course of a couple seconds.


But that’s now taken care of, and conformance never felt so good.

The road to Vulkan 1.2 continues!

Written on July 30, 2021