Steve Jenson's blog

More Varnish Thoughts from the Author

More Varnish Thoughts from the Author

Poul-Henning Kamp, the lead author of Varnish, was kind enough to respond to my blog post.

Hi Steve,

I read your comments about Varnish and thought I'd better explain myself, feel free to post this if you want.

The reason why we don't multiplex threads in Varnish is that it has not become a priority for us yet, and I am not convinced that we will ever see it become a priority at the cost it bears.

A common misconception is that varnish parks a thread waiting for the client to send the next request. We do not, that would be horribly stupid. Sessions are multiplexed when idle.

The Varnish worker thread takes over when the request is completely read and leaves the session again when the answer is delivered to the network stack (and no further input is pending).

For a cache hit, this takes less than 10 microseconds, and we are still shaving that number.

The problem about multiplexing is that it is horribly expensive, both in system calls, cache pressure and complexity.

If we had a system call that was called "write these bytes, but don't block longer than N seconds", multiplexing could be sensibly implemented.

But with POSIX mostly being a historical society, it will cost you around 7 system calls, some surprisingly expensive, to even find out if multiplexing is necessary in the first place.

In comparison, today Varnish delivers a cache-hit in 7 system calls *total* of which a few are technically only there for debugging.

The next good reason is that we have no really fiddled with the sendbuffer sizes yet, but obviously, if you sendbuffer can swallow the read, the thread does not wait.

And if that fails, a thread blocked in a write(2) system call is quite cheap to have around.

It uses a little RAM, but it's not that much, and we can probably tune it down quite a bit.

The scheduler does not bother more with the thread than it has to, and when it does, the VM hardware system is not kickstarted every time we cross the user/kernel barrier.

Without getting into spectroscoping comparisons between apples and oranges, a thread just lounging around, waiting for the network stack to do its thing, is much, much cheaper than a thread which does a lot of system calls and fd-table walking, only to perform a few and small(-ish) writes every time the network stack wakes up.

And the final reason why it may never become necessary to multiplex threads, is that servers are cheap.

But if we get to the point where we need multiplexing, we will do it.

But I like the old design principles from the X11 project: we will not do it, until we have a server that doesn't work without it.

But if you are in the business of delivering ISOs to 56k modems then yes, Varnish is probably not for you.


# — 09 December, 2008