A Divine TraceMonkey Bug

I spent the better part of the last week or so on a rather annoying TraceMonkey bug. A few weeks ago I mentioned that we extended multiple type-specialized trees to include specialization on global types. Suddenly a rare but dangerous class of bugs appeared.

The Bug

When a trace exits back to the interpreter, it does so through a guard. These guards contain an “exit typemap,” which tells the interpreter how to take types from the native CPU and box them back into generic containers for the interpreter. The bug was that some global variables were being boxed back as the wrong type. For example, the 32-bits in an integer would be stored in a slot interpreted as a 64-bit double, or an object would be tagged as a string. When the interpreter went to unbox these again, it got garbage. That’s bad. The only way this can happen is if the exit typemap contains wrong type information.

Lazily Specialization

Global variables are tracked lazily. The overarching Trace Monitor keeps track of which global variables have been seen on trace. For example, say we have a type-stable tree, Tree 1. It has no global variables, and thus has empty exit and entry typemaps (for globals). Later, the global variable X is encountered. It’s now being tracked, but Tree 1 doesn’t have a type entry for it.

If Tree 1 wants to execute again, it will lazily update its entry typemap. The exit typemaps on the other hand are fixed and cannot be modified. So now Tree 1 looks like this:

Tree 1 Entry: X = Object
Tree 1 Exit: 

When exiting the tree, we merge the exit and outermost entry types together, giving a complete typemap. More on this later. When entering Tree 1, X is unboxed and boxed as an Object, even if it never gets used. This is because Tree 1 could call into a nested tree that does use X.

Problem #1

Let’s say later we build Tree 2. It’s the same loop as Tree 1, but it’s type-unstable. The typemaps look like this:

Tree 2 Entry: X = String
Tree 2 Exit:  X = Object

TraceMonkey’s multitrees kicks in, and now Tree 2‘s exit will go directly to Tree 1‘s entry, since their types link together. When Tree 1 exits, we combine the outermost typemap with the exit typemap. In this case, Tree 2‘s entry is the outermost typemap, but it contains the wrong type! The type of X is an Object, but now it’s being boxed as a String. Crash.

Note: This is different from normal type instability, because type unstable traces represent a path where a type is actually changed. In this scenario, the type is being mistaken, which is deadly.

Failed Solutions

Solving this was complicated by nested trees. Trees can be deeply nested, and each tree along the way could be missing global types, so it seemed like we needed to recover missing global types incrementally up the call stack. That is:

  1. Start with global types from the innermost exit.
  2. Add missing globals from each tree on the call stack, starting at the deepest, and ending at the outermost tree.

Since the outermost tree is the original tree we started with, it is guaranteed to have all missing types, so it was the last resort. Achieving this ended up with three different implementations as the patch progressed, but the idea was: as we enter trees, push them onto a stack. As we exit trees, pop the stack. If we hit a guard (which exits), immediately reconstruct the full global typemap using that stack of trees. By the time we exit back to the interpreter, a global typemap will have been prepared already.

Alas, this wasn’t enough, because…

Problem #2

Say we have two trees on the same loop, Tree 1 and Tree 2. Their typemaps are:

Tree 1 Entry: X = Object
Tree 1 Exit:  X = String
Tree 2 Entry: X = String
Tree 2 Exit:  X = String

In this situation, Tree 1‘s exit is linked to Tree 2‘s entry. Later, a new global appears, Y. We execute Tree 2 with X = String and Y = Object. Then we execute Tree 1 with X = Object and Y = String. Because of lazy specialization, the typemaps now look like this:

Tree 1 Entry: X = Object, Y = String
Tree 1 Exit:  X = String
Tree 2 Entry: X = String, Y = Object
Tree 2 Exit:  X = String

This is problematic, because Tree 1 is still connected to Tree 2, but their typemaps are incompatible! If we run Tree 1, Y will be unboxed as a String and reboxed as an Object, without the underlying type actually changing. The solution to Problem #1 doesn’t fix this.


Linked trees should never have incompatible typemaps. What counts as a linked tree? Any two trees that are connected via a nested call (nested loops), or any two trees that are connected via type instability (multitrees), are “friendly.”

In pseudocode:

  FOREACH Tree IN FriendlyTrees
    IF MissingGlobals(Tree)

Now when a tree exits, it suffices to use only the exit typemap and the typemap of the innermost entry (that is, the tree the exit immediately came from). This neatly solves Problem #1. If any one tree gets a new global, the entire graph of connected trees is updated, solving Problem #2.

This is probably one of the more difficult TraceMonkey bugs I’ve had to reason through. Nested trees always seems to complicate how you reason about tracing, and in this case it ended up not mattering. And though the problems are conceptually disjoint, they also feed into each other: fixing only #1 led to #2 breaking.

3 thoughts on “A Divine TraceMonkey Bug

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