Nailboards for ambiguously referenced segments

author Gareth Rees
date 2014-01-15
index terms pair: nailboard; design
revision //
status complete design
tag design.mps.nailboard


.intro: This is the design of the nailboard module.

.readership: Any MPS developer.

.overview: A nailboard represents a set of addresses to which ambiguous references have been found. It is implemented as a specialized bit table that maps addresses within a range to nails. The mapping has granularity, so that all addresses within a word, say, will map to the same nail.

.purpose: Nailboards are used by the AMC pool class to record ambiguous references to grains within a segment. See design.mps.poolamc.nailboard.


.req.granularity: A nailboard must be able to set nails for addresses down to the grain size of the segment. (Because individual objects may be this small, and we must be able to preserve or reclaim individual objects.)

.req.set: A nailboard must be able to set a nail corresponding to any aligned address in the range covered. (Because ambiguous references may have arbitrary values.)

.req.reset.not: A nailboard is not required to be able to reset a nail. (Because resetting a nail would correspond to proving that there is no ambiguous reference to that address, but that can only be established when the trace is complete.)

.req.range: A nailboard must be able to determine if any nail is set in a continguous range. (Because we must preserve the whole object if there is any ambiguous reference to it.)

.req.range.cost: Determining if any nail is set in a continuous range must be cheap. That is, it must take time that is no more than logarithmic in the size of the range. (Because scanning overhead must be proportional to the number of objects, not to their size.)


.impl.table: The nailboard consists of a header structure and one or more bit tables. Each bit table covers the whole range of addresses, but at a different level of detail.

.impl.table.level0: The level 0 bit table has one bit for each aligned address in the range.

.impl.align: The alignment of the nailboard need not be the same as the pool alignment. This is because nailboards are per-segment, and the pool may know the minimum size of an object in a particular segment.

.impl.table.k: The level k bit table has one bit for each scale bits in the level k−1 bit table (this bit is set if any bit in the corresponding word in the level k−1 table is set).

.impl.scale: Here scale is an arbitrary scale factor that must be a power of 2. It could in future be supplied as a parameter when creating a nailboard, but in the current implementation it is always MPS_WORD_WIDTH.

.impl.table.last: The last bit table is always shorter than one word. This is slightly wasteful in some cases (for example, a nailboard with 64 nails and scale 64 will have two levels, the second level having just one bit), but allows the code to support small nailboards without special cases in the code (consider the case of a nailboard with just one nail).

.impl.size: The size of the level i bit table is the ceiling of

(limitbase) / (align × scalei)

where base and limit are the bounds of the address range being represented in the nailboard and align is the alignment.

.impl.address: The address a may be looked up in the level i bit table at the bit

(abase) / (align × scalei)

and since align and scale are powers of 2, that's

(abase) >> (log2align + i log2scale)

.impl.set: Setting a nail for an address a in a nailboard is on the critical path: it is called for every fix of an ambiguous reference to an address in an AMC pool. When setting a nail, we set the corresponding bit in every level of the nailboard.

.impl.isresrange: Testing a range of addresses to see if any nails are set is also on the critical path: it is called for every object in any AMC segment with a nailboard when the segment is scanned and when it is reclaimed.

.impl.isresrange.strategy: The strategy for testing to see if any nails are set in a range is to handle the cases that are expected to be common first. In particular, we expect that there will only be few nails in a nailboard, so most calls to NailboardIsResRange() will return TRUE.

.impl.isresrange.alignment: When testing a range against a level of a nailboard, the base and limit of the range will typically not align exactly to the bits of that level. Therefore we test against a slightly larger range, as shown in the diagram:

Diagram: Testing a range against a level of a nailboard.

Testing a range against a level of a nailboard.

.impl.isresrange.empty: If all bits in the range [ibase, ilimit) are reset, as shown above, then there are no nails in the range of addresses [base, limit). This provides an early exit with result TRUE.

.impl.isresrange.level0: If the "empty" early exit is not taken, and we are looking at the level 0 bit table, then the range is not empty. This provides an early exit with result FALSE.

.impl.isresrange.inner: If any bit in the range [ibase+1, ilimit−1) is set, as shown below, then there is a nail in the range of addresses [base, limit). This provides an early exit with result FALSE.

Diagram: a nail is set in this range.

A nail is set in this range.

.impl.isresrange.splinter: If none of the three early exits is taken, then we are in a situation like the one shown below, with one or two splinters. In this situation we know that there is a nail, but it is not clear whether the nail is inside the splinter or not. We handle this situation by moving up to the previous level and looking at the range of addresses covered by the splinter.

Diagram: it is not clear if a nail is set in this range.

It is not clear if a nail is set in this range.

.impl.isresrange.splinter.recurse: When looking at a splinter, we might reach the same situation: namely, that the interior of the splinter is empty, but the edge of the splinter is set. We handle this by reducing the size of the splinter and moving up to the previous level. This splinter-of-a-splinter is one-sided: that is, we don't need to look at the right splinter of a left splinter or vice versa, because we know that it is empty.


.future.tune: The implementation makes heavy use of BTIsResRange(), but this function is not well tuned for scanning small arrays (which we expect to be the common case for nailboards). Performance might be improved by special-casing the small levels.

.future.limit: In C and C++, a pointer to "one past the last element of an array object" (the limit of the object in our terminology) is a valid pointer and can be used in pointer arithmetic. See §–9 of [C1999a]. So in theory a programmer could have such a pointer as the only reference keeping an object alive, and still expect to be able to subtract from it to get back to the object. The current nailboard implementation does not support this use case.


[C1999a]International Standard ISO/IEC 9899:1999; "Programming languages — C"; <>

Document History

  • 2014-01-15 GDR Initial draft.