Thursday, 28 January 2016

Forcing out bugs with stress-ng

stress-ng logo
Over the past few months I've been adding several new stress tests and a lot more stressor options to stress-ng for Ubuntu 16.04 Xenial Xerus.  I try to track new system calls and features landing in the kernel and where appropriate add a stress test to try and force out bugs.

Stress-ng has found various kernel bugs, such as CVE-2015-1333 and LP:#1526811 as well as bugs in user space (for example, daemons crashing) when memory pressure is very high.  Simple abusive tricks, such as aggressively trying to allocate every free page in memory are useful in finding drivers that don't necessary check for memory allocation failures.  For example, today I was caught out when a USB ethernet dongle driver didn't check for a null pointer due to an allocation failure and stress-ng ended up triggering a kernel oops (fortunately, this bug was fixed in a recent kernel).

The underlying philosophy for stress-ng is "use and abuse standard Linux interfaces and see how far we can push them to destruction".  I'm pretty sure there are plenty of creative folk out there who can dream up dastardly ways to make stress-ng even more stressy, so contributions are always warmly accepted!  I have a mirrorred copy of the git repository on github to make it easy for developers to get their hands on the code.

We've been using stress-ng on ARM based SoC kernels to force out bugs and this has been useful in finding areas where non-swap based systems break. You really don't want your kernel oopsing or processes segfaulting when a IoT device has run low on memory.

My original intent for stress-ng was just to make a system run hot and force thermal overruns. However, I soon discovered it is useful to force kernel bugs out by attempting to (pathologically) thrash most of the system calls.  I've also added perf stats to stress-ng to track performance of standard stress scenarios over kernel versions to get an early warning of any potential performance regressions.  So stress-ng is a bit of a mixed bag of stress tests and performance measuring goodness.

When I get some free time I hope to run stress-ng against a GCOV instrumented kernel at see how much test coverage I get on a kernel. I suspect there are a lot of core kernel functionality still not being touched by stress-ng.

I've also tried to make stress-ng portable, so it can build fine on GNU/Hurd and Debian kFreeBSD (with Linux specific tests not built-in of course). It also contains some architecture specific features, such as handling the data and instruction cache as well as the x86 rdrand instruction and cache line locking. If there are any ARM specific features than can be stressed I'd like to know and perhaps implement stressors for them.

Anyhow, I believe stress-ng is almost feature complete for Ubuntu Xenial, however, I expect it to grow in features over time since there is always new functionality landing in the Linux kernel that needs to be thrashed tested.

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