Request for Comments: Native TLS for globals in ZTS

Currently ZTS builds are slower than non-ZTS builds. This RFC is about avoiding some of the major overhead of ZTS builds by using native thread local storage.


Currently the way globals work forces to pass a thread-local-storage pointer across function calls, which involves some overhead. Also, not all functions get the pointer as argument and need to use TSRMLS_FETCH(), which is slow. For instance emalloc() involves a TSRMLS_FETCH(). An other overhead is accessing globals, using multiple pointers in different locations.

Initial patch

The first proposed patch makes each global a native TLS variable so that accessing them is as simple as global_name→member. This removes the requirement of passing the tls pointer across function calls, so that the two major overheads of ZTS builds are avoided.

Results for bench.php:

non-ZTS 3.7s
ZTS unpatched 5.2s
ZTS patched 4.0s
ZTS patched and static globals3.8s
PIC IA-32X86_64
non-ZTS 4.7s 3.7s
ZTS 6.4s 4.7s
ZTS patched, static globals, dynamic TLS4.8s 3.8s

So the patch made ZTS builds mostly as fast as non-ZTS builds.

Unfortunately the TLS model used in these tests was the static model, which is restrictive, and in particular does not allow to use it in shared libraries which will be loaded dynamically. (c.f TLS internals bellow).

For the PHP module to be able to be loaded at runtime in Apache or an other server with this patch enabled, it has to be built with the dynamic TLS model (on gcc, -ftls-model=global-dynamic), which also requires to build position independent code. While the last makes a big difference on IA-32, this is the default on x86_64 and the results on bench.php on an unpatched PHP are the same as IA-32/PIC builds.

Native TLS can be enabled with --with-tsrm-__thread-tls or --with-tsrm-full__thread-tls. The last declares globals statically instead of making them pointers.

Second patch

The second patch is based on some research I made on various TLS implementations.

In fact mostly all implementations I tested (Linux, FreeBSD, Solaris) allocate a surplus of TLS memory especially to allow to dlopen() libraries using static TLS. This memory being allocated in addition to any TLS memory needed by libraries loaded before program startup, it is guaranteed that this memory is always available and is reserved for this case.

Based on that, and as long as it can be tested at configure time, it seems reasonable to expect that we will always have space for at least a single TLS pointer. Unfortunately Windows was the only implementation I tested that do not allowed that at all and the following will not work on it.

So the second patch uses only one TLS variable, tsrm_ls_cache, which is used to cache tsrm_ls, so that it is not required to pass it across function calls.

Here are the results after having applied only this change:

ZTS 5.2s
ZTS-patched, native TLS enabled 4.6s

After that I made some more changes so that accessing a global requires less instructions. Actually this mimics the way static TLS works internally, each global is accessed using the following code:

__thread void *tsrm_ls_cache;
(tsrm_ls_cache + global_offset)->member

This needs less instructions compared to the current way of accessing globals:

void ***tsrm_ls;
(*tsrm_ls)[global_id - 1]->element

This change is also enabled when not using native TLS, but tsrm_ls needs to be a void** instead of a void*:

void **tsrm_ls;
(*tsrm_ls + global_offset)->member


Results IA-32/non-PICX86_64/PIC
non-ZTS 3.7s 3.7s
ZTS 5.2s 4.7s
ZTS-patched, native TLS disabled 5.0s 4.4s
ZTS-patched, native TLS enabled 4.2s 4.0s

Native TLS can be enabled with --with-tsrm-native-tls.

So we have two patches:

  • The first one will work only with position independent code, and is the faster on targets where this is the default or when comparing only to PIC builds. At least Debian builds PHP –with-pic, and I guess this is the case on other distributions too.
  • The second one does not requires to build PIC code, can not fully take profit of TLS, but is the faster at least on IA-32.


Dynamically loaded DLLs can use TLS starting with Windows Vista and Server 2008. But there is a restriction: TLS variables can't be exported, which means that they can't be accessed outside of the DLL. CLI and ISAPI SAPIs works with TLS enabled, but they must be built like this is done on other platforms, with all code embeded in the executable/library (instead of a separate php5ts.dll linked by SAPIs). The same apply for extension, they must be built statically in PHP.

TLS internals

On most systems there are two major models of TLS: A static model, the faster, and a dynamic model (and some sub-models). The following briefly explains how it works and what I found in various implementations.

Static model

Each block is allocated at a fixed (loader-defined) offset from an address specific to each thread. As this address can be accessed very quickly, this allows very quick access to each TLS block. For instance, on Linux/IA-32, this thread-specific-address is the Thread Control Block, whose address is stored in offset 0 of the %gs segment register.

The way the static model works requires that the memory needed by each TLS variable to be allocated before program startup. This means that the static model can not be used in shared libraries loaded at runtime.


Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, Windows.

Linux, Solaris and FreeBSD implementations allocate a fixed amount of surplus memory especially to allow dynamically loaded libraries to use the static model. Linux allocates 1664 bytes, FreeBSD 64 and Solaris 512. This amount of memory is always allocated in addition of the memory allocated for TLS before program startup, and is always available (this memory can be used only by dlopen()ed modules using static TLS). These behaviors are undocumented (except by comments in Linux and FreeBSD loaders/linkers code). This has been tested with a test program and verified by reading the relevant code on Linux and FreeBSD.

On GCC this model can be selected by using -ftls-model=initial-exec. On SunStudio: -xthreadvar=no%dynamic. For both, this model is the default one when building non-PIC code.

Dynamic model

Each TLS block is allocated dynamically when a shared library is loaded. Some data is then stored in the global offset table so that the program knows where to find each TLS block. This model allows to load libraries at runtime but is slower: It involves a function call (internally) and requires to build position independent code. However the implementation used on Linux seems to be very efficient and that only the fact that the code has been built as position independent makes a real difference when comparing to the static model.


Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, Windows Vista/Server 2008.

Windows Vista and Server 2008 can use TLS in DLLs loaded using LoadLibrary(), but TLS symbols cannot be exported, which means that only the DLL where a TLS variable is declared can refer to this variable.

On GCC this model can be selected by using -ftls-model=general-dynamic. On SunStudio: -xthreadvar=dynamic. For both, this is the default when building PIC code.

Code changes

Declaring globals

The current way of declaring a global is a follows:

extern ts_rsrc_id my_global_id; /* declare global in headers */
ts_rsrc_id my_global_id; /* declare global */
ts_allocate_id(&my_global_id, sizeof(type), ctor, dtor); /* allocate global at process startup */

The new way is:

TSRMG_DH(type, my_global_id); /* declare global in headers */
TSRMG_D(type, my_global_id); /* declare global */
TSRMG_ALLOCATE(my_global_id, sizeof(type), ctor, dtor); /* allocate global at process startup */

All this is already done by the patch for code in the Zend Engine and in /php-src.


There is no changes needed for extensions as long as they use the extension-specific macros for declaring globals (as this is done by default for extensions created with ext_skel).


Declaring tsrm_ls explicitly must be avoided.

TSRM does some sort of JIT initialization of thread data, relying on the fact that TSRMLS_FETCH() calls ts_resource_ex, which will do the initialization if needed. However with the patch TSRMLS_FETCH() does nothing at all, and ts_resource_ex must be called explicitly at least one time in each thread. The TSRMLS_INIT() macro has been created for this purpose, and must be called at least one time in each thread.

#ifdef ZTS

As the patch avoids passing tsrm_ls across function calls, #ifdef ZTS is not anymore relevant to check that. The new PASS_TSRMLS macro is now defined when tsrm_ls needs to be passed across function calls. For instance this is needed by ZEND_ATTRIBUTE_FORMAT and some other places.

rfc/tls.txt · Last modified: 2011/04/06 12:59 (external edit)