Firefox Programming Software Engineering

Duplicated abstraction layers in Firefox

Just about every operating system provides a mechanism for directly allocating and deallocating memory at the page level (ie. not malloc/free or new/delete).  The functions to do this vary from OS to OS:

  • Windows: VirtualAlloc/FreeAlloc.
  • Posix (e.g. Mac and Linux): mmap/munmap.
  • Mac also has: vm_allocate/vm_deallocate.

So it’s very natural to add an abstraction layer: your own functions (let’s call them Map and Unmap) that use conditional compilation to choose the appropriate OS-specific call.

An abstraction layer like this appears in lots of software projects.  Firefox happens to incorporate code from a lot of other projects, and so what happens is you end up with lots of duplicate abstraction layers.  For example, in the JS engine alone we have five Map/Unmap abstraction layers.

  1. In js/src/jsgcchunk.cpp, used to allocate chunks for the GC heap.
  2. in js/src/vm/Stack.cpp, used to allocate some stack space.
  3. In js/src/nanojit/avmplus.cpp, used to allocate space for code generated by the trace JIT.
  4. In js/src/assembler/jit/ExecutableAllocator*.cpp, used to allocate space for code generated by the method JIT.
  5. In js/src/ctypes/libffi/src/dlmalloc.c, used to allocate chunks of memory that are handed out in pieces by the heap allocator defined in that file.

The duplication of 3, 4 and 5 are understandable — they all involve large chunks of code that were imported from other projects.  (Furthermore, you can see that ctypes/ has its own heap allocator, thus duplicating jemalloc’s functionality.)  The duplication between 1 and 2 is less forgiveable;  neither of those cases were imported and so they should share an abstraction layer.

How many other Map/Unmap abstraction layers are there in the rest of Firefox?  The JS engine may be more guilty of this than other parts of the code.  Is there a sane way to avoid this duplication in a world where we import code from other projects?

3 replies on “Duplicated abstraction layers in Firefox”

There’s NSPR arenas…. Not using mmap, but the idea is to heap-allocate page-size chunks.

Boris: so that’s not a map/unmap abstraction of the style I’m talking about because it’s not papering over mmap/VirtualAlloc/vm_allocate.

It is one of multiple arena-style allocators though.. JS and nanojit have ones too.

I think some of it is inevitable as long as we reuse third-party code. Some of it is that the language and runtime environment doesn’t provide enough abstraction for certain things, so they get reinvented for each project, and there’s no common implementation that we’re all using.

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