codeblog code is freedom — patching my itch

1/16/2006

kernel.org and sendfile

Filed under: kernel.org,Networking,Security — kees @ 4:50 pm

The “sendfile” system call is a way to send file contents directly out to a network socket. This saves time in userspace (so it doesn’t have to copy buffer contents around), and was one of the reasons I upgraded kernel.org‘s Apache to version 2.x at the end of 2003 (because version 1.x doesn’t have sendfile support). A few weeks ago, one of the other kernel.org admins discovered that files greater than 2G were not being delivered by Apache.

I had a lot of fun tracking down the issue. The “amount to send” argument in the sendfile call is a “size_t”, which is basically an “unsigned long”. Having a 2G limit didn’t make sense, since even with 32 bits, that should be a 4G limit. However, the kernel.org servers are both 64bit, so as it turns out, “size_t” is a full 64 bits. After writing a quick test, I was able to verify that it was, indeed, a 31 bit limit on both 64 bit and 32 bit kernels. Peter Anvin took it from here, and tracked down the origin of the problem: filesystem operations greater than 31 bits in offset were being rejected deep in the kernel. He suggested truncating the request instead of returning a failure.

Seems as though Linus decided to limit the size of filesystem calls to make sure there aren’t security problems (signed vs unsigned overflows) in the various filesystem drivers, while people using the Linux kernel migrate more from 32bit to 64bit systems. Personally, I don’t agree with this, but from a practical stand-point, it hardly makes a difference. Instead of sending all 4G out the pipe and returning to user space, it just returns twice, sending 2G per call.

This should be fixed in 2.6.16. Until then, we could patch Apache to keep it’s offset request under 31 bits, but we’ll probably just tell people to use FTP, since vsftpd doesn’t use sendfile yet.

© 2006, Kees Cook. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.
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2 Comments »

  1. This is a *very* late comment, but I want to correct an error in this post should others arrive via search engines (like me).

    vsftpd does use sendfile() and has been using it for a loooooong time. It can be turned off in the configuration file with ‘use_sendfile=NO’, should that be desired. The same >2GiB problem with vsftpd is precisely how I found this blog post :P.

    Comment by Tristan — 4/9/2007 @ 12:51 pm

  2. Great, thanks for the correction. I should go double-check our vsftpd configuration. :)

    Comment by kees — 4/9/2007 @ 12:59 pm

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