[erlang-questions] Suspending Erlang Processes

Kenneth Lundin kenneth@REDACTED
Wed Oct 2 09:11:04 CEST 2019

As a follow up on Rickards answer I think it would be interesting if you
can explain why you want different tracers per process?
If we know what problem you want to solve we can most probably come with
better suggestions.

I also recommend that you use tracing via the dbg module which is intended
to be a more user friendly API towards tracing. The trace BIFs might give
some more detailed control but dbg has support for most use cases and makes
it easier to do the right thing, at least that is the intention.

Also worth mentioning is that the tracing mechanisms are really not
intended to use to achieve a certain functionality which is part of the
application, they are intended to be used temporarily for
debugging/profiling purposes. Since there is only one tracer at the time
the use of tracing as part of the "ordinary" implementation of an
application there will be conflicts as soon as any tracing or profiling is
needed and probably the intended functionality of the application will then
be broken.

/Kenneth, Erlang/OTP Ericsson

On Tue, Oct 1, 2019 at 10:07 PM Rickard Green <rickard@REDACTED> wrote:

> On Mon, Sep 30, 2019 at 1:57 PM Duncan Paul Attard <
> duncan.attard.01@REDACTED> wrote:
> >
> > I am tracing an Erlang process, say, `P` by invoking the BIF
> `erlang:trace(Pid_P, true, [set_on_spawn, procs, send, 'receive'])` from
> some process. As per the Erlang docs, the latter process becomes the tracer
> for `P`, which I shall call `Trc_Q`.
> >
> > Suppose now, that process `P` spawns a new process `Q`. Since the flag
> `set_on_spawn` was specified in the call to `erlang:trace/3` above, `Q`
> will automatically be traced by `Trc_P` as well.
> >
> > ---
> >
> > I want to spawn a **new** tracer, `Trc_Q`, and transfer the ownership of
> tracing `Q` to it, so that the resulting configuration will be that of
> process `P` being traced by tracer `Trc_P`, `Q` by `Trc_Q`.
> >
> Unfortunately I do not have any ideas on how to accomplish this.
> > However, Erlang permits **at most** one tracer per process, so I cannot
> achieve said configuration by invoking `erlang:trace(Pid_Q, true, ..)` from
> `Trc_Q`. The only way possible is to do it in two steps:
> >
> > 1. Tracer `Trc_Q` calls `erlang:trace(Pid_Q, false, ..)` to stop `Trc_P`
> from tracing `Q`;
> > 2. `Trc_Q` calls `erlang:trace(Pid_Q, true, ..)` again to start tracing
> `Q`.
> >
> > In the time span between steps **1.** and **2.** above, it might be
> possible that trace events by process `Q` are **lost** because at that
> moment, there is no tracer attached. One way of mitigating this is to
> perform the following:
> >
> > 1. Suspend process `Q` by calling `erlang:suspend_process(Pid_Q)` from
> `Trc_Q` (note that as per Erlang docs, `Trc_Q` remains blocked until `Q` is
> eventually suspended by the VM);
> > 2. `Trc_Q` calls `erlang:trace(Pid_Q, false, ..)` to stop `Trc_P` from
> tracing `Q`;
> > 3. `Trc_Q` calls `erlang:trace(Pid_Q, true, ..)` again to start tracing
> `Q`;
> > 4. Finally, `Trc_Q` calls `erlang:resume_process(Pid_Q)` so that `Q` can
> continue executing.
> >
> > From what I was able to find out, while `Q` is suspended, messages sent
> to it are queued, and when resumed, `Trc_Q` receives the `{trace, Pid_Q,
> receive, Msg}` trace events accordingly without any loss.
> >
> This is not a feature, it is a bug (introduced in erts 10.0, OTP 21.0)
> that will be fixed. The trace message should have been delivered even
> though the receiver was suspended.
> You cannot even rely on this behavior while this bug is present. If you
> (or any process in the system) send the suspended process a non-message
> signal (monitor, demonitor, link, unlink, exit, process_info, ...), the bug
> will be bypassed and the trace message will be delivered.
> > However, I am hesitant to use suspend/resume, since the Erlang docs
> explicitly say that these are to be used for *debugging purposes only*.
> Mission accomplished! :-)
> > Any idea as to why this is the case?
> >
> The language was designed with other communication primitives intended for
> use. Suspend/Resume was explicitly introduced for debugging purposes only,
> and not for usage by ordinary Erlang programs. They will most likely not
> disappear, but debug functionality in general are not treated as carefully
> by us at OTP as other ordinary functionality with regards to compatibility,
> etc. We for example removed the automatic deadlock prevention in
> suspend_process() that existed prior to erts 10.0 due to performance
> reasons.
> Regards,
> Rickard
> --
> Rickard Green, Erlang/OTP, Ericsson AB
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