[TUHS] Another odd comment in V6

Norman Wilson norman at oclsc.org
Wed Feb 22 05:23:48 AEST 2017


  Instead, you have to modify the arguments so that the re-tried call takes up
  where it left off - in the example above, tries to read 5 characters, starting
  5 bytes into the buffer). The hard part is that the return value (of the
  number of characters actually read) has to count the 5 already read! Without
  the proper design of the system call interface, this can be hard - how does
  the system distinguish between the _first_ attempt at a system call (in which
  the 'already done' count is 0), and a _later_ attempt? If the user passes in
  the 'already done' count, it's pretty straightforward - otherwise, not so


Sometime in the latter days of the Research system (somewhere
between when the 9/e and 10/e manuals were published), I had
an inspiration about that, and changed things as follows:

When a system call like read is interrupted by a signal:
-- If no characters have been copied into the user's
buffer yet, return -1 and set errno to EINTR (as would
always have been done in Heritage UNIX).
-- If some data has already been copied out, return the
number of characters copied.

So no data would be lost.  Programs that wanted to keep
reading into the same buffer (presumably until a certain
terminator character is encountered or the buffer is full
or EOF) would have to loop, but a program that didn't loop
in that case was broken anyway: it probably wouldn't work
right were its input coming from a pipe or a network connection.

I don't remember any programs breaking when I made that change,
but since it's approaching 30 years since I did it, I don't
know whether I can trust my memory.  Others on this list may
have clearer memories.

All this was a reaction to the messy (both in semantics and
in implementation) compromise that had come from BSD, to
have separate `restart the system call' and `interrupt the
system call' states.  I could see why they did it, but was
never satisfied with the result.  If only I'd had my inspiration
some years earlier, when there was a chance of it getting out
into the real world and influencing POSIX and so on.  Oh, well.

Norman Wilson
Toronto ON

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