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06. Features and Bonus Material

06.0. Unification

Because one of the central objectives for Linux-VServer is to reduce the overall resource usage wherever possible, a truly great idea was born to share files between different contexts without interfering with the usual administrative tasks or reducing the level of security created by the isolation.

Files common to more than one context, which are not very likely going to change, like libraries or binaries, can be hard linked on a shared filesystem, thus reducing the amount of disk space, inode caches, and even memory mappings for shared libraries.

The only drawback is that without additional measures, a malicious context would be able to deliberately or accidentally destroy or modify such shared files, which in turn would harm the other contexts.

One step is to make the shared files immutable by using the Immutable File Attribute (and removing the Linux Capability required to modify this attribute). However an additional attribute is required to allow removal of such immutable shared files, to allow for updates of libraries or executables from inside a context.

Such hard linked, immutable but unlink-able files belonging to more than one context are called unified and the process of finding common files and preparing them in this way is called Unification.

The reason for doing this is reduced resource consumption, not simplified administration. While a typical Linux Server install will consume about 500MB of disk space, 10 unified servers will only need about 700MB and as a bonus use less memory for caching.

See Example [XX]

06.1. Private Namespaces

A recent addition to the Linux-VServer branch was the introduction of Private Namespaces. This uses the already existing Virtual Filesystem Layer of the Linux kernel to create a separate view of the filesystem for the processes belonging to a context.

The major advantage over the shared namespace used by default is that any modifications to the namespace layout (like mounts) do not affect other contexts, not even the Host Context.

Obviously the drawback of that approach is that entering such a Private Namespace isn't as trivial as changing the root directory, but with proper kernel support this will completely replace the chroot() in the future.

06.2. The Linux-VServer Proc-FS

A structured, dynamically generated subtree of the well-known Proc-FS - actually two of them - has been created to allow for inspecting the different values of Security and Network Contexts.



06.3. Token Bucket Extensions

While the basic idea of Linux-VServer is a peaceful coexistence of all contexts, sharing the common resources in a respectful way, it is sometimes useful to control the resource distribution for resource hungry processes.

The basic principle of a Token Bucket is not very new. It is given here as an example for the Hard CPU Limit. The same principle also applies to scheduler priorities, network bandwidth limitation and resource control in general.

The Hard CPU Limit uses this mechanism in the following way: consider a bucket of a certain size S which is filled with a specified amount of tokens R every interval T, until the bucket is "full" - excess tokens are spilled. At each timer tick, a running process consumes exactly one token from the bucket, unless the bucket is empty, in which case the process is put on a hold queue until the bucket has been refilled with a minimum M of tokens. The process is then rescheduled.

A major advantage of a Token Bucket is that a certain amount of tokens can be accumulated in times of quiescence, which later can be used to burst when resources are required.

Where a per-process Token Bucket would allow for a CPU resource limitation of a single process, a Context Token Bucket allows to control the CPU usage of all confined processes.

Another approach, which is also implemented, is to use the current fill level of the bucket to adjust the process priority, thus reducing the priority of processes belonging to excessive contexts.

See Example [XX]

06.4. Context Disk Limits

This Feature requires the use of XID Tagged Files, and allows for independent Disk Limits for different contexts on a shared partition.

The number of inodes and blocks for each filesystem is accounted, if an XID-Hash was added for the Context-Filesystem combo.

Those values, including current usage, maximum and reserved space, will be shown for filesystem queries, creating the illusion that the shared filesystem has a different usage and size, for each context.

06.5. Per-Context Quota

Similar to the Context Disk Limits, Per-Context Quota uses separate quota hashes for different Contexts on a shared filesystem. This is not required to allow for Linux-VServer quota on separate partitions.

06.6. The VRoot Proxy Device

Quota operations (ioctls) require some access to the block device, which for security reasons is not available inside a VPS.

06.7. Stealth

For some applications, for example the preparation of a honey-pot or an especially realistic imitation of a real server for educational purposes, it can make sense to make the context indistinguishable from a real server.

However, since other freely available alternatives like QEMU or UML are much better at this, and require much less effort, this is not a central issue in Linux-VServer development.

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