User-Level Sandboxing: a Safe and Efficient Mechanism for Extensibility
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Extensible systems allow services to be configured and deployed for the specific needs of individual applications. This paper describes a safe and efficient method for user-level extensibility that requires only minimal changes to the kernel. A sandboxing technique is described that supports multiple logical protection domains within the same address space at user-level. This approach allows applications to register sandboxed code with the system, that may be executed in the context of any process. Our approach differs from other implementations that require special hardware support, such as segmentation or tagged translation look-aside buffers (TLBs), to either implement multiple protection domains in a single address space, or to support fast switching between address spaces. Likewise, we do not require the entire system to be written in a type-safe language, to provide fine-grained protection domains. Instead, our user-level sandboxing technique requires only paged-based virtual memory support, and the requirement that extension code is written either in a type-safe language, or by a trusted source. Using a fast method of upcalls, we show how our sandboxing technique for implementing logical protection domains provides significant performance improvements over traditional methods of invoking user-level services. Experimental results show our approach to be an efficient method for extensibility, with inter-protection domain communication costs close to those of hardware-based solutions leveraging segmentation.