Monday, February 19, 2024

Writing a scheduler for Linux in Rust that runs in user-space


I’ve decided to start a series of blog posts to cover some details about scx_rustland, my little Linux scheduler written in Rust that runs in user-space.

This project started for fun over the Christmas break, mostly because I wanted to learn more about sched-ext and I also needed some motivation to keep practicing Rust (that I’m still learning).

In this series of articles I would like to focus at some implementation details to better explains how this scheduler works.

A scheduler is kernel component that needs to:

  • determine the order of executions of all the tasks that want to run (ranking)

  • determine where each task needs to run (target CPU)

  • determine for how long a task can run (time slice)

The main goal of this project is to prove that we can channel these operations into a regular user-space program and still have a system that can perform as good as using a in-kernel scheduler.

Pros and cons of a user-space scheduler

The most noticeable benefits of a user-space scheduler are the following:

  • Availability of a large pool of languages (e.g., Rust), libraries, debugging and profiling tools.

  • Lower down the barrier of CPU scheduling experimentation: implementing and testing a particular scheduling policy can be done inside a regular user-space process, it doesn’t require rebooting into a new kernel, in case of bugs the user-space scheduler will just crash and sched-ext will transparently restore the default Linux scheduler.

Downside of a user-space scheduler:

  • Overhead: even if the scheduler itself is not really a CPU-intensive workload (unless the system is massively overloaded), the communication between kernel and user-space is going to add some overhead, so the goal is to try to reduce this overhead as much as possible

  • Protection: the user-space task that implements the scheduling policy needs some special protection, if it’s blocked (e.g., due to a page fault), tasks can’t be scheduled. So, in order to avoid deadlocks the user-space scheduler should never be blocked indefinitely, waiting for some actions performed by another task (a page fault is a good example of such “forbidden” behavior).

How does it work?

First of all this scheduler has nothing to do with Rust-for-Linux (the kernel subsystem that allows to write kernel modules in Rust).

In fact the Rust part of the scheduler runs 100% in user-space and all the scheduling decisions are also done in user-space.

The connection with the kernel happens thanks to eBPF and sched-ext: together they allow to channel all the scheduling events to a user-space program, which then communicates the tasks to be executed back to the kernel via eBPF as well.

eBPF component

sched-ext is a Linux kernel feature (not upstream yet - hopefully it’ll be upstream soon) that allows to implement a scheduler in eBPF.

Basically all you have to do is to implement some callbacks and put them in a struct sched_ext_ops.

scx_rustland implements the following callbacks in the eBPF component:

 * Scheduling class declaration.
struct sched_ext_ops rustland = {
        .select_cpu             = (void *)rustland_select_cpu,
        .enqueue                = (void *)rustland_enqueue,
        .dispatch               = (void *)rustland_dispatch,
        .running                = (void *)rustland_running,
        .stopping               = (void *)rustland_stopping,
        .update_idle            = (void *)rustland_update_idle,
        .set_cpumask            = (void *)rustland_set_cpumask,
        .cpu_release            = (void *)rustland_cpu_release,
        .init_task              = (void *)rustland_init_task,
        .exit_task              = (void *)rustland_exit_task,
        .init                   = (void *)rustland_init,
        .exit                   = (void *)rustland_exit,
        .flags                  = SCX_OPS_ENQ_LAST | SCX_OPS_KEEP_BUILTIN_IDLE,
        .timeout_ms             = 5000,
        .name                   = "rustland",

The workflow is the following:

  • .select_cpu() implements the logic to assign a target CPU to a task that wants to run, typically you have to decide if you want to keep the task on the same CPU or if it needs to be migrated to a different one (for example if the current CPU is busy); if we can find an idle CPU at this stage there’s no reason to call the scheduler, the task can be immediately dispatched here.
s32 BPF_STRUCT_OPS(rustland_select_cpu, struct task_struct *p, s32 prev_cpu,
                   u64 wake_flags)
        bool is_idle = false;
        s32 cpu;

        cpu = scx_bpf_select_cpu_dfl(p, prev_cpu, wake_flags, &is_idle);
        if (is_idle) {
                 * Using SCX_DSQ_LOCAL ensures that the task will be executed
                 * directly on the CPU returned by this function.
                dispatch_task(p, SCX_DSQ_LOCAL, 0, 0);
                __sync_fetch_and_add(&nr_kernel_dispatches, 1);

        return cpu;

If we can’t find an idle CPU this step will just return the previously used CPU, that can be used as a hint for the user-space scheduler (keeping tasks on the same CPU has multiple benefits, such as reusing hot caches and avoid any kind migration overhead). However this decision is not the final one, the user-space scheduler can decide to move the task to a different CPU if needed.

NOTE: bypassing the user-space scheduler when we can find an idle CPU can strongly improve the responsiveness of certain “low latency” workloads, such as gaming for example.

  • Once a tentative CPU has been determined for the task we enter the .enqueue() callback, usually here you may decide to store the task in a queue, tree, or any other data structure to determine the proper order of execution of the different tasks that require to run.

    In rustland the .enqueue() callback is used to store tasks into a BPF map BPF_MAP_TYPE_QUEUE queued, this represents the first connection with the user-space counter-part. Items in this queue are managed in a producer/consumer way: the BPF part is the producer, user-space is the consumer.

void BPF_STRUCT_OPS(rustland_enqueue, struct task_struct *p, u64 enq_flags)
         * Add tasks to the @queued list, they will be processed by the
         * user-space scheduler.
         * If @queued list is full (user-space scheduler is congested) tasks
         * will be dispatched directly from the kernel (re-using their
         * previously used CPU in this case).
        get_task_info(&task, p, false);
        dbg_msg("enqueue: pid=%d (%s)", p->pid, p->comm);
        if (bpf_map_push_elem(&queued, &task, 0)) {
                dispatch_task(p, SHARED_DSQ, 0, enq_flags);
                __sync_fetch_and_add(&nr_kernel_dispatches, 1);
        __sync_fetch_and_add(&nr_queued, 1);

At this point it’s up to the user-space counter-part to determine the proper order of execution of tasks and where they need to run, the user-space has the option to maintain the CPU assignment determined by the built-in idle selection logic or pick another CPU.

  • Once the order of execution is determined tasks are then stored to another BPF_MAP_TYPE_QUEUE dispatched, again in a producer/consumer way, but this time the producer is the user-space part and the consumer is the BPF part.

  • Then the workflow goes back to the BPF part. The dispatch path operates using multiple per-CPU dispatch queues (DSQ) and a global dispatch queue.

    The per-CPU DSQs are used to dispatch tasks on specific CPUs, while the global DSQ is used to dispatch tasks on the first CPU that becomes available (usually when the user-space doesn’t specify any preference to run the task on a particular CPU).

    When a CPU becomes ready to dispatch tasks, the .dispatch() callback is called, if there are tasks in the dispatched queue they will be bounced to the target CPU’s queue (DSQ), or to the global dispatch queue, based on the user-space scheduler’s decision.

    void BPF_STRUCT_OPS(rustland_dispatch, s32 cpu, struct task_struct *prev)
          * Check if the user-space scheduler needs to run, and in that case try
          * to dispatch it immediately.
          * Consume all tasks from the @dispatched list and immediately try to
          * dispatch them on their target CPU selected by the user-space
          * scheduler (at this point the proper ordering has been already
          * determined by the scheduler).
         bpf_repeat(MAX_ENQUEUED_TASKS) {
                 struct task_struct *p;
                 struct dispatched_task_ctx task;
                  * Pop first task from the dispatched queue, stop if dispatch
                  * queue is empty.
                 if (bpf_map_pop_elem(&dispatched, &task))
                 /* Ignore entry if the task doesn't exist anymore */
                 p = bpf_task_from_pid(;
                 if (!p)
                  * Check whether the user-space scheduler assigned a different
                  * CPU to the task and migrate (if possible).
                  * If no CPU has been specified (task.cpu < 0), then dispatch
                  * the task to the shared DSQ and rely on the built-in idle CPU
                  * selection.
                 dbg_msg("usersched: pid=%d cpu=%d cpumask_cnt=%llu payload=%llu",
               , task.cpu, task.cpumask_cnt, task.payload);
                 if (task.cpu < 0)
                         dispatch_task(p, SHARED_DSQ, 0, 0);
                         dispatch_task(p, cpu_to_dsq(task.cpu), task.cpumask_cnt, 0);
                 __sync_fetch_and_add(&nr_user_dispatches, 1);
         /* Consume all tasks enqueued in the current CPU's DSQ first */
         bpf_repeat(MAX_ENQUEUED_TASKS) {
                 if (!scx_bpf_consume(cpu_to_dsq(cpu)))
         /* Consume all tasks enqueued in the shared DSQ */
         bpf_repeat(MAX_ENQUEUED_TASKS) {
                 if (!scx_bpf_consume(SHARED_DSQ))
  • The .running() and .stopping() callback are called respectively when a task starts its execution on a CPU and it releases the CPU; rustland uses this information to keep track of the CPUs that are idle or busy, sharing this information to the user-space counter-part (via the cpu_mapcpu_map BPF map array).

 * Task @p starts on its selected CPU (update CPU ownership map).
void BPF_STRUCT_OPS(rustland_running, struct task_struct *p)
        s32 cpu = scx_bpf_task_cpu(p);

        dbg_msg("start: pid=%d (%s) cpu=%ld", p->pid, p->comm, cpu);
         * Mark the CPU as busy by setting the pid as owner (ignoring the
         * user-space scheduler).
        if (!is_usersched_task(p))
                set_cpu_owner(cpu, p->pid);

 * Task @p stops running on its associated CPU (update CPU ownership map).
void BPF_STRUCT_OPS(rustland_stopping, struct task_struct *p, bool runnable)
        s32 cpu = scx_bpf_task_cpu(p);

        dbg_msg("stop: pid=%d (%s) cpu=%ld", p->pid, p->comm, cpu);
         * Mark the CPU as idle by setting the owner to 0.
        if (!is_usersched_task(p)) {
                set_cpu_owner(scx_bpf_task_cpu(p), 0);
                 * Kick the user-space scheduler immediately when a task
                 * releases a CPU and speculate on the fact that most of the
                 * time there is another task ready to run.
  • Both the .stopping() and .update_idle() callbacks are used as checkpoints to wake-up the user-space scheduler (being the scheduler a regular user-space task, it needs to implement a logic to schedule itself).
void BPF_STRUCT_OPS(rustland_update_idle, s32 cpu, bool idle)
         * Don't do anything if we exit from and idle state, a CPU owner will
         * be assigned in .running().
        if (!idle)
         * A CPU is now available, notify the user-space scheduler that tasks
         * can be dispatched.
        if (usersched_has_pending_tasks()) {
                 * Wake up the idle CPU, so that it can immediately accept
                 * dispatched tasks.
                scx_bpf_kick_cpu(cpu, 0);

There is also a periodic heartbeat timer that kicks the user-space scheduler to prevent triggering the sched-ext watchdog when the system is almost idle (since in this condition we won’t hit any of the wake-up point).

static int usersched_timer_fn(void *map, int *key, struct bpf_timer *timer)
        int err = 0;

        /* Kick the scheduler */

        /* Re-arm the timer */
        err = bpf_timer_start(timer, NSEC_PER_SEC, 0);
        if (err)
                scx_bpf_error("Failed to arm stats timer");

        return 0;
  • lastly the .set_cpumask() is used to detect when a task changes its affinity; the scheduler will try to honor the affinity looking at the cpumask (we check the validity of the cpumask using a generation number, that is incremented every time the .set_cpumask() callback is executed).
void BPF_STRUCT_OPS(rustland_set_cpumask, struct task_struct *p,
                    const struct cpumask *cpumask)
        struct task_ctx *tctx;

        tctx = lookup_task_ctx(p);
        if (!tctx)

User-space component (Rust)

The user-space part is fully implemented in Rust as a regular user-space program. The address space is shared with the eBPF part, so some variables can be accessed and modified directly, while the communication of tasks happen using the bpf() syscall, accessing the queued and dispatched maps.

NOTE: we could make this part more efficient by using eBPF ring buffers, this would allow direct access to the maps without using a syscall (there’s an ongoing work on this - patches are welcome if you want to contribute).

The user-space part is made of four components:

  • eBPF abstraction layer: this part implements some Rust abstractions to hide the internal eBPF details, so that the scheduler itself can be implemented in a more abstracted and understandable way, focusing only at the details of the implemented scheduling policy.

  • A custom memory allocator RustLandAllocator: as mentioned in the pros and cons section, if the user-space scheduler is blocked on a page fault, no other task can be scheduled, but we may need to schedule some kernel threads to resolve the page fault, hence the deadlock. To prevent this condition, the user-space scheduler locks all the memory, via mlockall(), and it uses a custom memory allocator that operates on a pre-allocated memory area. Quite tricky, but this allows to prevent page faults in the user-space scheduler task.

  • A CPU topology abstraction: simple library to detect the current system CPU topology (this part will be improved in the future and moved to a more generic place, so that other schedulers may benefit from it).

  • The scheduling policy itself, implemented in a totally abstracted way: the scheduler uses a simple vruntime-based policy (similar to CFS) with a little trick to detect interactive tasks and boost their priority a little more (the trick is to look at the number of voluntary context switches to determine if a task is interactive or not: a task that releases the CPU without using its full assigned time slice is likely to be interactive).

    All tasks are stored in a BTreeSet ordered by their weighted vruntime and dispatched on the CPUs selected by the sched-ext built-in idle selection logic (unless their assigned CPU becomes busy and in this case the task will be dispatched on the first CPU that becomes available).

    For the time slice assigned to each task the scheduler uses a variable time slice approach: it starts with a fixed time slice (20ms), that is scaled down based on the amount of tasks waiting to be scheduled (the more the system becomes overloaded, the shorter the assigned time slice becomes; this can help to reduce the average wait time, making the system more responsive when it is overloaded).


That’s all for now, the goal of this post (probably the first one of multiple series) is to give an idea how the scheduler works.

The scheduler is still under development, but some early results are very promising.

NOTE: keep in mind that in this video the scheduler was still in an early stage, since then it has been improved a lot in terms of stability, robustness and performance.

In the next post I will cover more technical details, mentioning some open issues and plans for future development and improvements.

I’m also planning to run more benchmarks with this scheduler (using the Phoronix test suite) and share some results, so stay tuned!