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Using Kernel Function Trace

Ver. 0.1.1 -- 2007-04-26

Most material provided by Sony

This document describes how to use Kernel Function Trace with the Linux kernel. It assumes you have already applied the KFT patch to your kernel, or that it was otherwise previously integrated with your kernel source code.

Table Of Contents


Kernel Function Trace (KFT) is a kernel function tracing system, which examines every function entry and exit in the Linux kernel. The KFT system provides for capturing a subset of these events along with timing and other details. KFT is different from other kernel tracing systems in that it is designed to be able to filter the events by the duration of the function calls. Thus, KFT is good for finding out where time is spent in functions and sub-routines in the kernel. When used in unfiltered mode, KFT is very useful to collect information about the flow of control in the kernel, which can help with debugging or optimizing kernel code.

The main mode of operation with KFT is by running a "dynamic" trace. That is, you start the kernel as usual, then, using the /proc/kft interface, configure a trace, start it, and retrieve the trace data immediately.

However, another special mode of operation is available for performing bootup time tracing. In this mode, the configuration for a trace is compiled statically into the kernel. This is sometimes referred to as "static" mode. This mode is useful for getting a trace of the kernel during system bootup, before user space is running and before any services are available to configure and start a trace. This mode is particularly helpful to find problems with kernel bootup time.

In either case, you specify a KFT configuration for the trace run. The configuration tells how to automatically start and stop the trace, whether to include interrupts as part of the trace, and whether to filter the event data by various criteria (for minimum function duration, only certain listed functions, etc.)

When a trace is complete, the event data collected during the trace is retrieved by reading from /proc/kft_data.

Finally, KFT provides tools to process and analyze the data in a KFT trace.

Quick Overview

Quick overview for using KFT in dynamic mode:

Quick overview for using KFT during bootup:

Detailed instructions

Configuring the kernel for using KFT

Configure your kernel to support KFT by editing the kernel configuration (.config) file.

For example, if you are using 'make menuconfig', set the following option under the "Kernel Hacking" menu.

Kernel Hacking --->
[*] Kernel Function Trace

Save this configuration. This will set the option CONFIG_KFT=y in your kernel .config file.

If you wish to perform a trace during kernel bootup time, also configure for KFT static mode.

For example, if you are using 'make menuconfig', set the following option under the "Kernel Hacking" menu.

Kernel Hacking --->
[*] Kernel Function Trace
[*] Static function tracing configuration

Save this configuration. This will set the following options in your kernel .config file:


Editing the static trace run configuration (optional)

If you are performing a "static" trace, edit the file kernel/kftstatic.conf to set the configuration for the trace run you wish to perform at system boot. (see the next section "Configuring the trace run" for details on the trace configuration syntax and options.) Note that even if you perform or bootup time trace, you can still perform dynamic traces any time while the system is running.

Compiling the kernel

Build the kernel, and install it to boot on your target machine.

Make sure to save the file from this build, since it will be used later when processing the trace data.

If you get an error compiling the kernel, see the next section on trouble-shooting configuration problems.

Configuring the trace run

To configure your trace, you write a trace configuration file. This file specifies when to start and stop the trace, and what events to save as part of the trace data.

Here is a sample configuration file, commonly used during bootup:

   trigger start entry start_kernel
   trigger stop entry to_userspace
   filter mintime 500

This trace says to:

The function "start_kernel" is the first C function executed by the kernel on startup. The function "to_userspace" is a function called immediately before execution is transferred to the first user space program (usually /sbin/init). This trace configuration says to start tracing immediately when the kernel starts executing, and stop tracing right before the first user space program runs. It will only save in the trace buffer a record of functions which took longer than 500 microseconds to execute.


Triggers, in the configuration, are used to start and stop the data collection of the trace system. Triggers can be based on a function entry or exit event, or on the passage of time. The stop trigger is used to control the amount of data collected. The trace will automatically stop if the buffer runs out of space for trace data.

Time values are expressed in decimal microseconds. The start time is relative to booting, or to the initialization of the clock used for tracing (usually, whatever clock is being used by the internal kernel function sched_clock(). A stop time is relative to the start time.)

Here are some examples:


Filters control what data is collected during the trace. Since every kernel function entry and exit is a possible candidate for trace event recording, KFT can potentially generate a LOT of data. To control how much data is recorded, it is customary to set filters used during the trace.

You can filter by function duration, by interrupt context, or limit the trace to specific functions. Times in a filter statement are expressed in microseconds. Functions in a filter function list can be expressed by name in a static configuration, but must be expressed by addressed in a dynamic configuration.

Here are some examples:

Configuration scenarios

For other commands you can include in the trace configuration, see Appendix A

You may get an error linking the kernel if you reference certain functions in the kftstatic.conf that are not visible globally. If you see a linker error like the following: "undefined reference to `foo_func'", then you can resolve this by making 'foo_func' visible. Usually, this means finding the declaration of 'foo_func', and removing the 'static' keyword from its declaration.

Initiating a KFT run

If you are running in static mode, upon booting the kernel, the trace should be initiated and run automatically, depending on the trigger and filter settings in kernel/kftstatic.conf).

If you are running in dynamic mode, then you initiate a run by writing a KFT configuration to /proc/kft, then "priming" the run.

Traces go through a state machine (a series of event transitions) in order to actually start collecting data. This is to allow trace collection to be separated from trace setup and preparation. The trace configuration specifies a start trigger, which will initiate the collection of data. When the configuration is written to /proc/kft, it is not ready to run yet. Making the trace ready to run is called "priming" it.

Therefore, the normal sequence of events for a trace run is:

  1. The user writes the configuration file, usually using an editor and creating the file in the local filesystem. Helper scripts can be used to auto-generate simple configurations for common tasks.
    • There is a helper script scripts/sym2addr, which
      • converts function names in the configuration file to addresses. This can be copied to the target, along with the current file, to make preparing the configuration file easier.
  2. The user writes the configuration to KFT (via /proc/kft)
    • e.g. cat /tmp/trace.config >/proc/kft

  3. If needed, the user prepares for trace by setting up programs to run.
  4. The user primes the trace
    • e.g. echo "prime" >/proc/kft

  5. A kernel event occurs which starts the trace (the start trigger fires)
  6. Trace data is collected
  7. A kernel event or buffer exhaustion stops the trace (that is, the stop trigger
    • fires, or the buffer runs out)

It is possible to force the start or end of a trace using the /proc/kft interface. This overrides steps 5 or 7, which are normally performed by triggers in the trace configuration.

You can get the status of the current trace by reading /proc/kft.

To see the status of the currently configured trace:

Reading the trace data

When the trace is running, the trace data is accumulated in a buffer inside the kernel. Once the trace data is collected, you can retrieve if from the kernel by copying the data from /proc/kft_data. Usually, you will want to save the data to a file for later analysis.

Here is an example:

Processing the data

Copy the kft.log file from the target to your host development system (on which the kernel source resides), for example, into the /tmp directory on your host machine.

The raw kft.log file will only have numeric function addresses. To translate these addresses to symbols, use the addr2sym program, along with the file which was produced when you built the kernel.

Change directory to your kernel source top-level directory and run scripts/addr2sym to translate addresses to symbols:


$ scripts/addr2sym /tmp/kft.log -m > /tmp/kft.lst

Here is an example fragment of output from addr2sym on a TI OMAP Innovator. Entry and Delta value are times in microseconds. The Entry time is the time time since machine boot, and the Delta time is the time between the function entry and exit.

 Entry      Delta      PID            Function                    Called At
--------   --------   -----   -------------------------   --------------------------
   23662       1333       0                    con_init   console_init+0x78
   25375     209045       0             calibrate_delay   start_kernel+0xf0
  234425     106067       0                    mem_init   start_kernel+0x130
  234432     105278       0       free_all_bootmem_node   mem_init+0xc8
  234435     105270       0       free_all_bootmem_core   free_all_bootmem_node+0x28
  340498       4005       0       kmem_cache_sizes_init   start_kernel+0x134

In the above, calibrate_delay took about 209 milliseconds.

mem_init took 106 msecs, the majority of which (105 msecs) was in free_all_bootmem_core (which is called by free_all_bootmem_node, which is called by mem_init).

If you just look at the function duration, it may appear that lots of time is being spent in certain functions, when in reality those functions are "thin", and the real time-consuming function is one of its children. Thus, rather than look just at the function Delta (or duration), you should look at the function entry times. If there is a big leap in the function entry times, that means a lot of time was consumed in the function right before the leap.

In the example above, there is a leap from 234435 to 340498 (about 100 milliseconds) between the Entry times for free_all_bootmem_core and kmem_cache_sizes_init. No other functions Entries (lasting more than 500 microseconds, based on the KFT configuration used) were recorded during this time, so this means tha

CPU-yielding functions like schedule_timeout, switch_to, kernel_thread, etc. can have large Delta values due intervening scheduling activity, but these can often be quickly filtered out by following the "leaps in the entry times in the Entry column" above.

Analyzing the data with kd

You can use the program "kd" to further process the data. It is very helpful at this point to have resolved the names of the functions in the log file, but it is not strictly necessary. The kd program function reads a KFT log file and determines the time spent locally in a function versus the time spent in sub-routines. It sorts the functions by the total time spent in the function, and can display various extra pieces of information about each function (number of times called, average call time, etc.)

Also kd can be used to re-generate a function call trace from the trace log. This can be very helpful to see the sequence of execution (including interrupts, context switches and returns) of the code that was traced.

Use "./kd -h" for more usage help.

As of this writing, KFT and kd do not correctly account for scheduling jumps. The time reported by KFT for function duration is just wall time from entry to exit.

For examples of what kd can show, try the following commands on the sample kft output file:

[show all functions sorted by time] $ ./kd kftsample.lst | less

[show only 10 top time-consuming functions] $ ./kd -n 10 kftsample.lst

[show only functions lasting longer than 100 milliseconds] $ ./kd -t 100000 kftsample.lst

[show each function's most time-consuming child, and the number of times it was called. (You may want to make your terminal wider for this output.)] $ ./kd -f Fcatlmn kftsample.lst

[show call traces] $ ./kd -c kftsample.lst

[show call traces with timing data, and functions interlaced] $ ./kd -c -l -i kftsample.lst

Note that the call trace mode may not produce accurate results if weird filtering was used in the trace config (routines that are part of the call tree may be missing, which will confuse kd).

KFT utilities

KFT includes the following helper scripts which are located in the kernel scripts directory:

The use of most these are described elsewhere in this document. But this list is here for the sake of completeness.

[ should provide usage for each command? ]

Tips for using KFT

Online Resources

Here's a presentation about KFT usage:


Appendix A - KFT configuration language

This appendix describes the language for specifying a KFT trace run. Is it used for both static mode (kftstatic.conf), and dynamic mode (written to /proc/kft).

A note on function names

NOTE that for parameters referencing functions, you can use the function name in kftstatic.conf (that is, when you using a static configuration). However, you have to use the function address when setting the configuration via the /proc/kft interface. The reason for this is that kernel symbols are always available at compile-time, but may not be available in the kernel at runtime, depending on your kernel configuration.

To convert a function name to an address, you can look up the address for the symbol in the file for the current kernel. There is a helper program provided called sym2addr which you can use to convert the function names in a configuration file into addresses. To do this manually, use:

e.g. grep do_fork c001d804 T do_fork

In this case, you would put 0xc001d804 in place of the function name in the configuration file. (Note the leading '0x'.)

To use the helper function {sym2addr, do the following: {{{sym2addr trace_do_fork.conf >trace_do_fork.conf2 cat trace_do_fork.conf2 >/proc/kft }}}

configuration block

The configuration for a single run is inside a block that starts with 'begin' and ends with 'end'. Inside the block are triggers, filters, and miscellaneous entries. By convention, each configuration entry is placed on it's own line. When writing the configuration to /proc/kft, then the keyword "new" should appear before the block 'begin' keyword.



syntax: trigger start|stop entry|exit|time <arg>

Start time is relative to booting. Stop time is relative to trace start time.



syntax: filter noints|onlyints|maxtime|mintime|funclist <args> fend

The funclist specifies a list of functions which will be traced. When a funclist is specified, only those functions are traced, and all other functions are ignored.

When specifying a configuration via /proc/kft, the 'fend' keyword must be used to indicated the end of the function list. When the configuration is specified via kftstatic.conf, no 'fend' keyword should be used.



syntax: watch stack|worst-stack <threshold>

A watch is used to have KFT monitor the trace for a particular condition, and act on the condition (usually preserve extra data to help debug that condition). The only supported watches currently are for monitoring the stack depth.

For a "stack" watch, while the trace is running the current position of the stack pointer is checked upon entry to every function. If the stack position is lower than the specified threshold, the current call stack of functions is preserved in the log (no matter whether the functions match other KFT filtering criteria or not), and the function durations are marked with a -2 value, to highlight them in the log. This operation (saving the call stack) is performed every time the stack position underflows the threshold. In this mode, an arbitrary number of call stacks can be recorded in the log (up to the limit of the log size).

For a "worst-stack" watch, the same monitoring is performed as with a "stack" watch. However, every time the condition is met, the threshold (worst stack left) is set to the new low stack value. In this mode, a call stack is preserved for each new low-water condition. The last such set of marked functions in the log will record the most stack-consuming call stack seen during the trace. Note also that the lowest recorded stack position is available in the KFT status information (from /proc/kft).


logentries <num-entries>


# Other options that may be supported in the future:
# overwrite
# Overwrite old data in the trace buffer.  This converts the trace buffer to 
# a circular buffer, and does not stop the trace when the buffer becomes full.
# In overwrite mode, the end of the trace is available if the buffer is
# not large enough to hold the entire trace.  In NOT overwrite mode (regular
# mode) the beginning of the trace is available if the buffer is not large
# enough to hold the entire trace.

# untimed
# Do not time function duration.  Normally, the log contains only function
# entry events, with the start time and duration of the function.  In
# untimed mode, the log contains entry AND exit events, with the start
# time for each event.  Calculation of function duration must be done by 
# a log post-processing tool.

# prime
# Immediately prime the trace for execution.  "Priming" a trace means making
# it ready to run.  A trace loaded without the "prime" command will not be
# enabled until the user issues a separate "prime" command through the
# /proc interface.

# prime entry ??
# primt exit ??
# prime time ??

Configuration Samples

Here are some configuration samples:

Record all functions longer that 500 microseconds, during bootup. Don't include functions executed inside interrupts.

   trigger start entry start_kernel
   trigger stop exit to_userspace
   filter mintime 500
   filter maxtime 0
   filter noints

Record all functions longer that 500 microseconds, for 5 seconds after the next fork don't worry about interrupts

Assuming 'do_fork' is at address 0xc001d804

   trigger start entry 0xc001d804
   trigger stop time 5000000
   filter mintime 500
   filter maxtime 0
   filter noints

# record short routines called by do_fork # use a small log new begin


# record interrupts for 5 milliseconds, starting 5 seconds after booting new begin


# record all calls to schedule after 10 seconds # Assuming schedule is at address # kftstatic.conf version: begin

end # /proc/kft version, assuming schedule is at c02cb754 new begin


Appendix B - Sample results

Here is an excerpt from a KFI log trace (processed with addr2sym). It shows all functions which lasted longer than 500 microseconds, from when the kernel entered start_kernel() to when it entered to_userspace().

kft log output (excerpt)

Kernel Instrumentation Run ID 0

Logging started at 6785045 usec by entry to function start_kernel
Logging stopped at 8423650 usec by entry to function to_userspace

        500 usecs minimum execution time

Filter Counters:

Execution time filter count = 896348
Total entries filtered = 896348
Entries not found = 24

Number of entries after filters = 1757

 Entry      Delta      PID            Function                    Called At
--------   --------   -----   -------------------------   -------------------------
       1          0       0                start_kernel   L6+0x0
      14       8687       0                  setup_arch   start_kernel+0x35
      39        891       0                setup_memory   setup_arch+0x2a8
      53        872       0   register_bootmem_low_pages   setup_memory+0x8f
      54        871       0                free_bootmem   register_bootmem_low_pages+0x95
      54        871       0           free_bootmem_core   free_bootmem+0x34
     930       7432       0                 paging_init   setup_arch+0x2af
     935       7427       0             zone_sizes_init   paging_init+0x4e
     935       7427       0              free_area_init   zone_sizes_init+0x83
     935       7427       0         free_area_init_node   free_area_init+0x4b
     935       3759       0        __alloc_bootmem_node   free_area_init_node+0xc5
     935       3759       0        __alloc_bootmem_core   __alloc_bootmem_node+0x43
    4694       3668       0         free_area_init_core   free_area_init_node+0x75
    4817       3535       0            memmap_init_zone   free_area_init_core+0x2bd
    8807     266911       0                   time_init   start_kernel+0xb6
    8807     261404       0               get_cmos_time   time_init+0x1c
  270211       5507       0                select_timer   time_init+0x41
  270211       5507       0                    init_tsc   select_timer+0x45
  270211       5507       0               calibrate_tsc   init_tsc+0x6c
  275718       1638       0                console_init   start_kernel+0xbb
  275718       1638       0                    con_init   console_init+0x59
  275954        733       0          vgacon_save_screen   con_init+0x288
  277376       6730       0                    mem_init   start_kernel+0xf8
  277376       1691       0            free_all_bootmem   mem_init+0x52
  277376       1691       0       free_all_bootmem_core   free_all_bootmem+0x24
  284118      25027       0             calibrate_delay   start_kernel+0x10f
  293860        770       0                     __delay   calibrate_delay+0x62
  293860        770       0                   delay_tsc   __delay+0x26
  294951       1534       0                     __delay   calibrate_delay+0x62
  294951       1534       0                   delay_tsc   __delay+0x26
  297134       1149       0                     __delay   calibrate_delay+0xbe
  297134       1149       0                   delay_tsc   __delay+0x26
 1638605          0     145              filemap_nopage   do_no_page+0xef
 1638605          0     145                 __lock_page   filemap_nopage+0x286
 1638605          0     145                 io_schedule   __lock_page+0x95
 1638605          0     145                    schedule   io_schedule+0x24
 1638605          0       5                    schedule   worker_thread+0x217
 1638605          0       1                to_userspace   init+0xa6

The log is attached here: kfiboot-9.lst A Delta value of 0 usually means the exit from the routine was not seen.

kft log analysis with 'kd'

Below is a kd dump of the data from the above log.

For the purpose of finding areas of big time in the kernel, the functions with high "Local" time are important. For example, delay_tsc() is called 156 times, resulting in 619 milliseconds of duration. Other time-consuming routines were: isapnp_isolate(), get_cmos_time(), default_idle().

The top line showing schedule() called 192 times and lasting over 5 seconds, is accounted wrong due to the switch in execution control inside the schedule routine. (The count of 192 calls is correct, but the duration is wrong.)

{{{$ ~/work/kft/kft/kd -n 30 kftboot-9.lst Function Count Time Average Local

schedule 192 5173790 26946 5173790 do_basic_setup 1 1159270 1159270 14 do_initcalls 1 1159256 1159256 627 delay 156 619322 3970 0 delay_tsc 156 619322 3970 619322 const_udelay 146 608427 4167 0 probe_hwif 8 553972 69246 126 do_probe 31 553025 17839 68 ide_delay_50ms 103 552588 5364 0 isapnp_init 1 383138 383138 18 isapnp_isolate 1 383120 383120 311629 ide_init 1 339778 339778 22 probe_for_hwifs 1 339756 339756 103 ide_scan_pcibus 1 339653 339653 13 init_setup_piix 2 339640 169820 0 ide_scan_pcidev 2 339640 169820 0 piix_init_one 2 339640 169820 0 ide_setup_pci_device 2 339640 169820 242 probe_hwif_init 4 339398 84849 40 time_init 1 266911 266911 0 get_cmos_time 1 261404 261404 261404 ide_generic_init 1 214614 214614 0 ideprobe_init 1 214614 214614 0 wait_for_completion 6 194573 32428 0 default_idle 183 192589 1052 192589 io_schedule 18 171313 9517 0 wait_on_buffer 14 150369 10740 141 i8042_init 1 137210 137210 295 i8042_port_register 2 135318 67659 301 serio_register_port 2 135017 67508 0 }}}

kft nested call trace with 'kd -c'

Below is a kd -c trace of the data from a log taken from a PPC440g platform, from a (dynamic) trace of the function do_fork().

Here is the configuration file that was used:

UsingKernelFunctionTrace (last edited 2008-05-07 23:43:57 by 43)