Chapter 2. Tapset Development Guidelines

This chapter describes the upstream guidelines on proper tapset documentation. It also contains information on how to properly document your tapsets, to ensure that they are properly defined in this guide.

2.1. Writing Good Tapsets

The first step to writing good tapsets is to create a simple model of your subject area. For example, a model of the process subsystem might include the following:
Key Data

  • process ID
  • parent process ID
  • process group ID

State Transitions

  • forked
  • exec'd
  • running
  • stopped
  • terminated

Note

Both lists are examples, and are not meant to represent a complete list.
Use your subsystem expertise to find probe points (function entries and exits) that expose the elements of the model, then define probe aliases for those points. Be aware that some state transitions can occur in more than one place. In those cases, an alias can place a probe in multiple locations.
For example, process execs can occur in either the do_execve() or the compat_do_execve() functions. The following alias inserts probes at the beginning of those functions:
probe kprocess.exec = kernel.function("do_execve"),
kernel.function("compat_do_execve") 
{probe body}
Try to place probes on stable interfaces (i.e., functions that are unlikely to change at the interface level) whenever possible. This will make the tapset less likely to break due to kernel changes. Where kernel version or architecture dependencies are unavoidable, use preprocessor conditionals (see the stap(1) man page for details).
Fill in the probe bodies with the key data available at the probe points. Function entry probes can access the entry parameters specified to the function, while exit probes can access the entry parameters and the return value. Convert the data into meaningful forms where appropriate (e.g., bytes to kilobytes, state values to strings, etc).
You may need to use auxiliary functions to access or convert some of the data. Auxiliary functions often use embedded C to do things that cannot be done in the SystemTap language, like access structure fields in some contexts, follow linked lists, etc. You can use auxiliary functions defined in other tapsets or write your own.
In the following example, copy_process() returns a pointer to the task_struct for the new process. Note that the process ID of the new process is retrieved by calling task_pid() and passing it the task_struct pointer. In this case, the auxiliary function is an embedded C function defined in task.stp.
probe kprocess.create = kernel.function("copy_process").return 
{
   task = $return
   new_pid = task_pid(task)
}
It is not advisable to write probes for every function. Most SystemTap users will not need or understand them. Keep your tapsets simple and high-level.