Chapter 7 Speculative Tracing

Table of Contents

7.1 Speculation Interfaces
7.2 Creating a Speculation
7.3 Using a Speculation
7.4 Committing a Speculation
7.5 Discarding a Speculation
7.6 Speculation Example
7.7 Speculation Options and Tuning

This chapter discusses the DTrace facility for speculative tracing, the ability to tentatively trace data and then later decide whether to commit the data to a tracing buffer or discard it. In DTrace, the primary mechanism for filtering out uninteresting events is the predicate mechanism, discussed in Section 2.1, “D Program Structure”. Predicates are useful when you know at the time that a probe fires whether or not the probe event is of interest. For example, if you are only interested in activity associated with a certain process or a certain file descriptor, you know when the probe fires if it is associated with the process or file descriptor of interest. However, in other situations, you might not know whether a given probe event is of interest until some time after the probe fires.

For example, if a system call is occasionally failing with a common error code (for example, EIO or EINVAL), you might want to examine the code path leading to the error condition. To capture the code path, you could enable every probe — but only if the failing call can be isolated in such a way that a meaningful predicate can be constructed. If the failures are sporadic or non-deterministic, you would be forced to trace all events that might be interesting, and later post-process the data to filter out the ones that were not associated with the failing code path. In this case, even though the number of interesting events may be reasonably small, the number of events that must be traced is very large, making post-processing difficult.

You can use the speculative tracing facility in these situations to tentatively trace data at one or more probe locations, and then decide to commit the data to the principal buffer at another probe location. As a result, your trace data contains only the output of interest, no post-processing is required, and the DTrace overhead is minimized.