Device drivers for network interfaces must allocate a "socket buffer"
("skb") for each incoming packet. A standard idiom in the skb allocation
code is a line like this:
This call tells the socket buffer code to set aside the first two bytes of
the data buffer. The reason why this is done can be seen by looking at the
resulting layout of an IP packet in the buffer:
The network stack makes frequent use of the IP addresses stored in the
packet. By padding the beginning of an ethernet-style packet by two bytes,
a network driver can cause those addresses to be aligned on a four-byte
boundary. On some architectures, at least, that alignment will speed
access to the addresses and make the networking system faster.
Or so it might seem. As Anton Blanchard recently figured out, this padding is not always
helpful. A number of modern architectures (Anton works with PPC64, but
Intel-style architectures qualify too) have no real problem with unaligned
memory accesses, so the two-byte offset on IP packets does not necessarily
Unfortunately, the DMA engines in a number of systems do have
trouble working with unaligned addresses. A padded packet buffer does not
start on an aligned address, with the result that DMA operations to that
buffer can be slower than they should be. As network adapters get faster,
the DMA performance penalty becomes increasingly significant.
Anton's proposal was to change the skb_reserve() calls into calls to a
new skb_align() function, which could, depending on the
architecture, decide whether to insert the padding or not. David Miller pointed out, however, that the magic constant
"2" appears in quite a few places, and simply removing the padding could
create bugs elsewhere in the driver code.
The real solution is likely to be the
addition of a defined constant called
something like NET_IP_ALIGN; this constant would be the amount of
padding needed for packet alignment on the current architecture. Yes,
things probably should have been done that way from the beginning, but life
is like that. In any case, once the constant is in, each individual driver
can be looked over and fixed up as need be. And one small obstacle to top
performance on high-end network adapters will have been removed.
to post comments)