[webkit-dev] Need help making window.localStorage span processes

Jeremy Orlow jorlow at chromium.org
Thu Apr 16 11:15:13 PDT 2009

Hi everyone!

I recently joined the Chrome team at Google and have been tasked with
making window.localStorage work within Chromium.  I've spent a good
deal of time trying to understand how Chromium and WebKit interact,
how the current WebKit localStorage implementation works, and thinking
about how to make it all work together.

Unfortunately, I'm having a really hard time coming up with an elegant
solution to the problem.  In WebKit, localStorage works by maintaining
a string to string map for each origin and periodically syncing it to
a SQLite database.  This is great when render windows are all in the
same memory space, but there's no simple and efficient way to make
this work in a multi-process environment.  (Note that even 2 windows
from the same origin are usually in 2 processes within Chromium.)

If you have any ideas or advice, I'd really appreciate it!  Below is a
dump of my ideas so far.



(1) The easiest solution is re-sync the in-memory version of the data
with what's on disk.  We'd pull in the data on the first access, push
the data to disk when finished, and wrap the whole thing in a
transaction to block other processes form accessing localStorage until
we're done.  This is obviously going to be very slow and defeat the
entire purpose of having an in-memory version.  Doing events right and
avoiding deadlocks may also be difficult as well.

(2) A similar idea is to ditch the in-memory version and just work
100% from the database.  In other words, every localStorage operation
would result in one or more SQLite calls.  We'd still need to wrap the
entire thing in transactions, and I think there might still be some
potential issues with events and deadlocks.  It's certainly cleaner
and more efficient from Chromium's perspective, but it'll be much
slower than the current implementation in the single process case.  (I
assume this unacceptable?)

(3) Another idea I had was to add a replayable log to the localStorage
database.  This would allow each process to efficiently "catch up"
with the SQLite localStorage state.  One complication is garbage
collecting the log: we can't delete log entries until every applicable
process has consumed them, but we also can't leave them lying around
forever.  We can't just wait until the window closes because of long
running web apps (think gmail) and we have to handle corner cases like
a process crashing.

All three options seem viable until we add events into the equation.
After that, a replay system seems necessary, and thus we're left with
only the third option I mentioned.  (We can't just compare what's in
the database with what's in memory to generate events since a value
might have changed multiple times and there's no sense of order to the
events occurring.)

It's also worth mentioning that, in order to make the implementation
self-contained (i.e. not have hooks that Chromium or other
multi-process environments must implement), WebKit would need to
monitor the database file for changes.  This can be tricky to do in a
cross platform, scalable (i.e. not poling based) manor.

It's also worth doing a back-of-the-napkin calculation for
performance:  I don't know the actual number of seeks for a SQLite
write, but let's go with a very conservative/optimistic guess and say
3.  A normal user has a 7200rpm hard drive which has an average seek
of 7ms.  Let's say we have n processes all accessing the same origin.
So the number of times a process can modify localStorage per second
before completely saturating the hard disk with seeks is something
like 1000/(3*7*n) or about 50/n.

So, if we have 2 windows open, the app could make the browser IO bound
with just 25 updates per second per window.  And that's with a very
conservative estimated number of seeks, assuming nothing else is
touching the disk, and assuming only one process per window.  For
example, if iframes were in their own process, n would be much greater
for some applications.  Also, if we're not careful about how "garbage
collection" is implemented for replay log entries, even windows doing
read-only access or implementing window.onstorage event handlers could
slow things down.

Unless I'm missing something here, it seems to me that doing
interprocess communicatoin via SQLite database (or any file backing)
just isn't practical.

So what other options are there?

(4) We do the IPC and sharing of data within a shared memory segment,
and just have one process take care of the disk serialization.  In
order to do this, the mappings and the locks would need to be
malloc'ed into this memory space.  We'd also need to have some way for
the memory space to be resized (for example, if the user increases its
quota), which means we'd need 2 shared memory spaces per origin: a
fixed size chunk for control (at very least containing a global lock
and info about the other chunk) and a variable size chunk for the map.

There are of course security implications when using shared memory
(we're punching holes in our walls). How to handle a WebKit process
crashing is also an interesting question; realistically, we need to
treat all the localStorage memory as corrupt if that process had the
orign's lock when it crashed.  One way to handle this is to have the
process work on a copy of the data and then flip a bit at the end to
change which copy is live.  Other options include clearing the
localStorage (the spec allows, but frowns upon this) or reloading the
last version serialized from disk (could cause unpredictable
behavior), but neither of these seem very good.  Also note that
there's no way for this to be 100% self-contained within WebCore, so
there'll have to be some external hooks for things like getting a
shared memory space.

(5) Since all of the solutions (that I've thought of, anyhow) so far
have either been very slow or required hooks into the process that
contains WebKit (a Chromium render process in this case), perhaps this
points to a real need.  Maybe localStorage needs some way to separate
a "front end" (WebCore) and a "back end" implementation?  Of course,
localStorage is not unique; it's one of many parts of HTML 5 which are
not necessarily bound to a single event loop....

As I said, I'm new here, so I'm trying really hard to reign in my my
ideas, but perhaps a more generic front-end/back-end separation for
these interfaces makes sense?  That way multi-process implementations
can optionally implement a proxy between the two halves and single
process implementations can implement those directly as function
calls?  For example, for localStorage you could create a
localStorageArea proxy that would serialize data, send it across the
process boundary, then have a host on the other end that actually
calls localStorageArea, and then repeat the process for the response.
All the processes could then share one localStorageArea per origin.
Obviously I'm overly simplifying it, but I think it could work, and
maybe it can be done in a way that translates to other APIs that
(potentially) need to cross the process boundary.

If you've read all the way to this point, I want you to know I really
appreciate it.  I'm hopeful there is an elegant solution to be had
here.  :-)

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