man pages section 3: Extended Library Functions, Volume 1

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Updated: July 2014



cpc, smpl - hardware performance counters and hardware sampling


Modern microprocessors contain hardware performance counters that allow the measurement of many different hardware events related to CPU behavior, including instruction and data cache misses as well as various internal states of the processor. The counters can be configured to count user events, system events, or both. Data from the performance counters can be used to analyze and tune the behavior of software on a particular type of processor.

Most processors are able to generate an interrupt on counter overflow, allowing the counters to be used for various forms of profiling.

Hardware sampling gives us precise information about the instruction that triggers a certain number of a given hardware event such as L1 Cache Miss and Instruction Retired. For example, sampling can be programmed such that at every nth L1 Cache Miss event, the hardware stores architectural state of the instruction executed after the instruction that caused the event. The architectural state may include Instruction Pointer, Data Linear Address, and etc., depending on the processor.

cpc has been extended to support the hardware sampling also known as SMPL in addition to the hardware performance counters (CPC).

This manual page describes a set of APIs that allow Solaris applications to use CPC and SMPL. Applications can measure their own behavior, the behavior of other applications, or the behavior of the whole system.

Shared Counters or Private Counters

There are two principal models for using these CPC and SMPL. Some users of these statistics want to observe system-wide behavior. Other users want to view the performance counters as part of the register set exported by each LWP. On a machine performing more than one activity, these two models are in conflict because the counters represent a critical hardware resource that cannot simultaneously be both shared and private.

Configuration Interfaces

The following configuration interfaces are provided:


Check the version the application was compiled with against the version of the library.


Return a printable string to describe the performance counters of the processor.


Return a printable string to describe the hardware sampling implementation of the processor.


Return the number of performance counters for CPC on the processor.


Return the number of performance counters for SMPL on the processor.


Return a reference to documentation that should be consulted to understand how to use and interpret data from the performance counters.


Return the supported maximum number of SMPL record entries per a SMPL request.

Performance Counter Access

Performance counters can be present in hardware but not accessible because either some of the necessary system software components are not available or not installed, or the counters might be in use by other processes. The cpc_open(3CPC) function determines the accessibility of the CPC and SMPL and must be invoked before any attempt to program the counters.

Finding Events

Each different type of processor has its own set of events available for measurement. The cpc_walk_events_all(3CPC), cpc_walk_events_all_common (3CPC) , cpc_walk_events_pic(3CPC), cpc_walk_events_pic_common (3CPC ) functions allow an application to determine the names of events supported by the underlying processor. A collection of generic, platform independent event names are defined by generic_events(3CPC). Each generic event maps to an underlying hardware event specific to the underlying processor and any optional attributes. The cpc_walk_generic_events_all(3CPC) and cpc_walk_generic_events_pic(3CPC) functions allow an application to determine the generic events supported on the underlying platform.

Using Attributes

Some processors have advanced performance counter capabilities that are configured with attributes. The cpc_walk_attrs(3CPC) and cpc_walk_attrs_common (3CPC) functions can be used to determine the names of attributes supported by the underlying processor. The documentation referenced by cpc_cpuref(3CPC) should be consulted to understand the meaning of a processor's performance counter attributes.

For a SMPL request, the special attribute smpl_nrecs needs to be specified to set the number of SMPL records associated with the requesting SMPL event.

Performance Counter Context

Each processor on the system possesses its own set of performance counter registers. For a single process, it is often desirable to maintain the illusion that the counters are an intrinsic part of that process (whichever processors it runs on), since this allows the events to be directly attributed to the process without having to make passive all other activity on the system.

To achieve this behavior, the library associates performance counter context for CPC and SMPL with each LWP in the process. The context consists of a small amount of kernel memory to hold the counter values when the LWP is not running, and some simple kernel functions to save and restore those counter values from and to the hardware registers when the LWP performs a normal context switch. A process can only observe and manipulate its own copy of the performance counter control, data registers, and sampling hardware resources.

Performance Counters In Other Processes

Though applications can be modified to instrument themselves as demonstrated above, it is frequently useful to be able to examine the behavior of an existing application without changing the source code. A separate library, libpctx, provides a simple set of interfaces that use the facilities of proc (4) to control a target process, and together with functions in libcpc, allow truss-like tools to be constructed to measure the performance counters in other applications. An example of one such application is cputrack(1) .

The functions in libpctx are independent of those in libcpc. These functions manage a process using an event-loop paradigm — that is, the execution of certain system calls by the controlled process cause the library to stop the controlled process and execute callback functions in the context of the controlling process. These handlers can perform various operations on the target process using APIs in libpctx and libcpc that consume pctx_t handles.

See also

cputrack(1) , cpustat(1M) , cpc_bind_curlwp(3CPC), cpc_buf_create(3CPC), cpc_enable(3CPC), cpc_npic(3CPC), cpc_open(3CPC), cpc_set_create(3CPC), cpc_seterrhndlr(3CPC), generic_events(3CPC), libcpc(3LIB), pctx_capture(3CPC), pctx_set_events(3CPC), proc (4)