[gambit-list] How do we make Gambit port-based protocol wrapper Gambit ports (SSL, GZIP, etc. etc. etc. etc.) with great performance and as solid abstractions?

Mikael mikael.rcv at gmail.com
Sat Jan 19 13:08:06 EST 2013

Dear Marc and Gambit community,

Here comes a subject of meditation for the weekend. As to maximize clarity
and discussability I'll split it in two emails. Here we go:

How do we make Gambit port-based protocol wrapper Gambit ports with great
performance and as solid abstractions?

Various forms of byte- and character-stream based protocols, such as
communication protocols like SSL channels, or encodings like GZIP, probably
accounts for in the range ~35% of all Gambit use, so it's central and even
critical stuff.

If all of this can be not just whimsical special-purpose modules but be
implemented in the united format of Gambit ports, *alot* would be won:
Gambit's IO API is really neat and complete in nature: Being able to
deliver also these completely central uses through it would be of enormous
practical value.

Perhaps even everything needed for this is in Gambit already and we pretty
much only need to make a bit of documentation and examples and this way we
can all enjoy easily pluggable modules for the rich diversity of uses that
are in this field.

To stimulate the conversation and add context, below I'll reflect my long
experience of this kind of use and a proposal for qualities that such an
abstraction mechanism needs.

I hope you share the enjoyment and appreciation of this topic, and look
forward to any discussion that ensues.

*Experience of protocol wrapper Gambit ports using open-u8vector-pipe**:
Super easy to implement, and delivers beyond unacceptably badly in the
respect that it's not suitable for real-world use ever.*
Briefly, over the last years I used Gambit for doing SSL over TCP. A
typical, elementary and critical use case for this is HTTPS client/server.

Til now I've essentially made two SSL modules for Gambit, both atop
OpenSSL. Total time invested is somewhere in the range 100 - 150 man hours,
a lot due great complexity of and lack of documentation in how the OpenSSL
library is used in particular in nonblocking mode.

The first one was made based on a bidirectional byte channel Gambit port as
generated by Gambit's |open-u8vector-pipe|.

Put very briefly, my experience with it was that

 * It had a low transfer speed performance and high latency - probably
because of the extra round through Gambit's scheduler needed for every
piece of IO done, as compared with just using a native Gambit port such as
a TCP client port directly -, and,

 * It had all the pains of a leaky abstraction, such as, that when either
party would close the channel, it was not necessarily propagated to this
channel as the |read-subu8vector| would not necessarily return straight
away nor have a return value clearly reflecting that the connection was
closed, so actual freeing of this port could take a while.
     I don't remember the exact details of this at the moment, but the
constant feeling was like, uh oh, OMG what's that object on the heap doing
now really plus the discomfort of knowing it's possible it's not quite
right and of not having a clue - I believe you have similar experiences
from your own encounters with leaky abstractions.

So briefly, my experience of |open-u8vector-pipe| for providing a protocol
wrapper atop Gambit ports was completely unsatisfactory, and provided
motivation for exploring an alternative implementation path later. So..

*Experience of protocol wrapper Gambit ports using custom "io-primitives"
structures with a closure for each IO routine: Delivers great but will
never be universal between projects*
The second one, completed very recently, was built on the concept of that
the Gambit port is wrapped into an "io-primitives" structure that contains
one closure for each IO method: IO of u8vector chunks, and of
ISO-8859-1/ANSI/8-bit encoded characters at the level of character, line
and string, for complete definition see [1].

The benefits here are quite tremendously good: The io-primitives code
itself accesses Gambit's IO routines directly, and thus

 * Latency is ~zero, excellent.   Also, thanks to the same thing,

 * Both the beneficiary code and the io-primitives code follows IO behavior
directly, making the entire abstraction not leak but be solid.
Introspection for instance is piece of cake as execution passes directly
between the layers of port abstraction - that's easy to understand due to
the sequential nature of the execution, it's easy to log meaningfully and
to work with in the interactive debugger.

Now, after having implemented this and had these basically very good
experiences, it became/was completely evident that this is and will remain
a special purpose code, as Gambit's built-in IO API is so good in itself.
And really, these io-primitives could be mapped to Gambit's IO exports,
it's quite the same thing really, so if that can be done in a way that
really delivers it's completely preferable. Thus this proposition:

*Proposed characteristics for Gambit protocol wrapper port functionality*
So, now here are the primary things that come to my mind about what
protocol wrapper support ought to include:

 * Provision of application-layer ports exported through Gambit's IO

 * These ports can export individual Gambit IO routines i.e. can provide a
specific read-char, read-u8, read-subu8vector, read-line behavior, so that
a call e.g. (read-subu8vector u8v start end port) leads directly to
|mycustomimplementation-read-subu8vector|. Part of the point with this is

 * Double-buffering and copying must be kept to a minimum as it brings all
kinds of expense and complexity - a "protocol wrapper" like this, for
example an SSL wrapper, must not be required to work with the beneficiary
code via a buffer, but must be let to deal with buffering as it wants to.
Furthermore I'd say that,

 * Due to the dual nature of a lot of protocols, the API must be in a
hybrid binary-character mode i.e. binary IO (i.e. read/write-subu8vector)
must be combinable with character IO, at least for 8bit-fixedsize-character
i.e. ISO-8859-1 encoding.

   This is not a must though - even if a bit of work, binary mode only
would be fine, and the user can just wrap read-u8 to read-char etc., this
is easy enough to do really.

   And last, I'd guess that

 * There must be a way to implement these ports in such a way that any IO
made of them does not use mutexes at all (i.e. can be run in non-threadsafe
mode), and, can be done with not so many trampolines happening.   The
reason for this is performance:

    The default |read-char| implementation whose design involves both mutex
locking and trampolines on each call, delivers unacceptably low performance
(approximately 200KB/second on laptop CPU core), while a direct
implementation approach would deliver approx 25MB/second on the same core
which is really good.     (Disclaimer: these two numbers are taken off the
top of my head from 5 years ago, though should apply now.)

    Mutexes can be addressed now, and trampolines probably better wait til
the native backend is around, where module-to-module calls don't involve
trampolines anymore anyhow, and I guess these parts of Gambit's runtime can
be run under that backend at that time.

*Rough proposition of API, draft*

(make-custom-port #!key read-subu8vector read-substring read-u8 read-char
peek-char read-line
                        write-subu8vector write-substring write-u8
                        force-output close-input-port close-output-port
                        input-port-timeout-set! output-port-timeout-set!
=> gambit-port

Note the absence of read and write here - those deal with objects and are
not in the scope of this port abstraction mechanism.

It would not be an issue that a particular protocol wrapper port
implementation would only implement some of the involved functionality,
such as only byte and no character IO; if anything is needed it can be
implemented later, the important thing here is for Gambit to provide a
format for this that encompasses all this area of use in a performant and
qualitative way and thus is suitable for cross-module, cross-project use.

With this approach it'd be something like

(let* ((client (open-tcp-client "wikipedia.org:443"))
       (ssl-channel (open-ssl-channel client)))
  (display "POST /someform HTTP/1.1\nHost: wikipedia.org\nContent-Length:
100\n\n" ssl-channel)
  (write-subu8vector postdata 0 (u8vector-length postdata) ssl-channel)
  (force-output ssl-channel 1)
  (let ((hdr (read-line ssl-channel))

*Related implementation/code example*
For an example of an implementation of a set of IO operation closures akin
to what's suggested in this email, see line 61 - 89 of openssl-sack.scm and
row 1621 to 1969 of openssl.scm , both attached.

This suits as an example, as as it exports an API extremely similar to
Gambit's IO, it is essentially built atop Gambit's IO API in itself,
it adds no latency, delivers high performance and performs minimum
buffering and copying while providing some hybrid byte and character IO,
and can be run in a thread-unsafe mode.

*What do you say?*
Now I wish to query you about your take on this:

 * What are your thoughts on this topic?


 * Marc, how usable is Gambit's included IO abstraction for this kind of
use today?

    Spontaneously, would you say this can be done right away just given
people know how to do it (i.e. documentation), or would adaptations of the
IO code be required, if so what kind of adaptations would it be?

    Feel free to reflect at high detail what of this can be done already
now, perhaps all is ready and it's just a question of getting going with it.

With best regards,

[1] io-primitives definition used in the particular wrapper described above:

;      Name                      Arguments & Result
;      read-subu8vector          (u8v start end #!optional (need 1)) Read
u8vector data
;                                => bytes read or #!eof
;      read-substring            (str start end #!optional (need 1)) Read
string data as ISO-8859-1
;                                => bytes read or #!eof
;      read-u8                   () => byte or #!eof                 Read a
;      write-subu8vector         (u8v start end)                     Write
u8vector data
;      display                   (v)                                 Write
string, number or symbol as ISO-8859-1
;      force-output              ()                                  Flush
any write buffer to network
;      close-port                ()                                  Close
;      make-read-line-until-crlf (#!optional return-eof-on-eof?)     Read
line until reaching crlf. Permissive behavior.
;                                => procedure taking no args         The
procedure returned may be used in a single thread only and thus
;                                => string or maybe #!eof, see desc  reuse
the same buffers across invocations.
;                                                                    If
return-eof-on-eof? is set then #!eof is returned in case of EOF.
;                                                                    If
not, string reading is just ended and result is returned.
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