Monthly Archives: September 2013

Writing a reverse proxy/loadbalancer from the ground up in C, pause to regroup: fixed it!

30 September 2013

It took a bit of work, but the bug is fixed: rsp now handles correctly the case when it can’t write as much as it wants to the client side. I think this is enough for it to properly work as a front-end for this website, so it’s installed and running here. If you’re reading this (and I’ve not had to switch it off in the meantime) then the pages you’re reading were served over rsp. Which is very pleasing :-)

The code needs a bit of refactoring before I can present it, and the same bug still exists on the communicating-to-backends side (which is one of the reasons it needs refactoring — this is something I should have been able to fix in one place only) so I’ll do that over the coming days, and then do another post.

Writing a reverse proxy/loadbalancer from the ground up in C, pause to regroup: non-blocking output

28 September 2013

Before moving on to the next step in my from-scratch reverse proxy, I thought it would be nice to install it on the machine where this blog runs, and proxy all access to the blog through it. It would be useful dogfooding and might show any non-obvious errors in the code. And it did.

I found that while short pages were served up perfectly well, longer pages were corrupted and interrupted halfway through. Using curl gave various weird errors, eg. curl: (56) Problem (3) in the Chunked-Encoded data, which is a general error saying that it’s receiving chunked data and the chunking is invalid.

Doubly strangely, these problems didn’t happen when I ran the proxy on the machine where I’m developing it and got it to proxy the blog; only when I ran it on the same machine as the blog. They’re different versions of Ubuntu, the blog server being slightly older, but not drastically so — and none of the stuff I’m using is that new, so it seemed unlikely to be a bug in the blog server’s OS. And anyway, select isn’t broken.

After a ton of debugging with printfs here there and everywhere, I tracked it down. You’ll remember that our code to transfer data from the backend to the client looks like this:

void handle_backend_socket_event(struct epoll_event_handler* self, uint32_t events)
{
    struct backend_socket_event_data* closure = (struct backend_socket_event_data*) self->closure;

    char buffer[BUFFER_SIZE];
    int bytes_read;

    if (events & EPOLLIN) {
        bytes_read = read(self->fd, buffer, BUFFER_SIZE);
        if (bytes_read == -1 && (errno == EAGAIN || errno == EWOULDBLOCK)) {
            return;
        }

        if (bytes_read == 0 || bytes_read == -1) {
            close_client_socket(closure->client_handler);
            close_backend_socket(self);
            return;
        }

        write(closure->client_handler->fd, buffer, bytes_read);
    }

    if ((events & EPOLLERR) | (events & EPOLLHUP) | (events & EPOLLRDHUP)) {
        close_client_socket(closure->client_handler);
        close_backend_socket(self);
        return;
    }

}

If you look closely, there’s a system call there where I’m not checking the return value — always risky. It’s this:

        write(closure->client_handler->fd, buffer, bytes_read);

The write function returns the number of bytes it managed to write, or an error code. The debugging code revealed that sometimes it was returning -1, and errno was set to EAGAIN, meaning that the operation would have blocked on a non-blocking socket.

This makes a lot of sense. Sending stuff out over the network is a fairly complex process. There are kernel buffers of stuff to send, and as we’re using TCP, which is connection-based, I imagine there’s a possibility that the client being slow or transmission of data over the Internet might be causing things to back up. Possibly sometimes it was returning a non-error code, too, but was still not able to write all of the bytes I asked it to write, so stuff was getting skipped.

So that means that even for this simple example of an epoll-based proxy to work properly, we need to do some kind of buffering in the server to handle cases where we’re getting stuff from the backend faster than we can send it to the client. And possibly vice versa. It’s possible to get epoll events on an FD when it’s ready to accept output, so that’s probably the way to go — but it will need a bit of restructuring. So the next step will be to implement that, rather than the multiple-backend handling stuff I was planning.

This is excellent. Now I know a little more about why writing something like nginx is hard, and have a vague idea of why I sometimes see stuff in its logs along the lines of an upstream response is buffered to a temporary file. Which is entirely why I started writing this stuff in the first place :-)

Here’s a run-through of the code I had to write to fix the bug.

Writing a reverse proxy/loadbalancer from the ground up in C, part 3: Lua-based configuration

11 September 2013

This is the third step along my road to building a simple C-based reverse proxy/loadbalancer so that I can understand how nginx/OpenResty works — more background here. Here’s a link to the first part, where I showed the basic networking code required to write a proxy that could handle one incoming connection at a time and connect it with a single backend, and to the second part, where I added the code to handle multiple connections by using epoll.

This post is much shorter than the last one. I wanted to make the minimum changes to introduce some Lua-based scripting — specifically, I wanted to keep the same proxy with the same behaviour, and just move the stuff that was being configured via command-line parameters into a Lua script, so that just the name of that script would be specified on the command line. It was really easy :-) — but obviously I may have got it wrong, so as ever, any comments and corrections would be much appreciated.
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Writing a reverse proxy/loadbalancer from the ground up in C, part 2: handling multiple connections with epoll

7 September 2013

This is the second step along my road to building a simple C-based reverse proxy/loadbalancer so that I can understand how nginx/OpenResty works — more background here. Here’s a link to the first part, where I showed the basic networking code required to write a proxy that could handle one incoming connection at a time and connect it with a single backend.

This (rather long) post describes a version that uses Linux’s epoll API to handle multiple simultaneous connections — but it still just sends all of them down to the same backend server. I’ve tested it using the Apache ab server benchmarking tool, and over a million requests, 100 running concurrently, it adds about 0.1ms to the average request time as compared to a direct connection to the web server, which is pretty good going at this early stage. It also doesn’t appear to leak memory, which is doubly good going for someone who’s not coded in C since the late 90s. I’m pretty sure it’s not totally stupid code, though obviously comments and corrections would be much appreciated!

[UPDATE: there’s definitely one bug in this version — it doesn’t gracefully handle cases when the we can’t send data to the client as fast as we’re receiving it from the backend. More info here.]
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