[Pharo-dev] ExternalAddress uniqueness (was Re: Call for help for stability and rewrite of FreeType)

Ben Coman btc at openinworld.com
Sun Nov 5 22:23:35 EST 2017

My current employment work hours and roster have severely curtailed the
time I have hacking Pharo, so I've not dug enough to be sure of my
observations a few months ago, and this is from memory, but I was starting
to develop a suspicion about the uniqueness of ExternalAddress(s).

A while ago, in order to fix some stability issues on Windows, a guard was
added somewhere that slowed down some operations.  Looking into this and
experimenting with removing the guard I seem to remember VM crashes due to
a double-free() of an address, due to there being two ExternalAddresses
holding the same external address.

My intuition is that that somewhere an ExternalAddress(a1) pointing at a
particular external resource address "xa1" was being copied, so we end up
with ExternalAddress(a2) also pointing at "xa1", with and object b1 holding
a1 and object b2 holding a2.  During finalization of b1, ExternalAddress a1
free()d xa1, and a1 was flagged to avoid double-free()ing.  But that didn't
help when b2 was finalized, since a2 had no indication that xa1 had been

That is...
b2 := b1 copy.
b1 finalize a1 --> free(xa1)
b2 finalize a2 --> free(xa1) --> General Protection Fault

It was hard to follow this through and I didn't succeed in tracking down
where such a copy might have been made, but the idea simmering in my mind
since then is to propose that...

    ExternalAddresses be unique in the image and behave like Symbols,
    such that trying to copy one returns the identical object.

The idea being that when b2 is finalized, a1 would notice that xa1 had
already been free()d and raise a Smalltalk exception rather than a general
protection fault.
b2 := b1 copy.
b1 finalize a1 --> free(xa1)
b2 finalize a1 --> Smalltalk exception

I write now in response to Stef since I vaguely remember it being Freetype
related.  But I also remember the issue being FFI related and Freetype is a
plugin not FFI.  So I'm not sure my memory is clear and perhaps I have the
"wrong end of the stick" but anyway, rather than hold back longer because
of that, perhaps this can stimulate some discussion and at least I learn
something to clarify my understanding here.

cheers -ben

On Sat, Oct 28, 2017 at 4:48 PM, Stephane Ducasse <stepharo.self at gmail.com>
> Hi all
> I'm and I guess many of you are fedup about the instability that the
> FreeType plugin produces.
> So we need help because clement and esteban are fully booked.
> We have three options:
> - drop Freetype alltogether
> - rewrite the plugin
> - create a binding using raffaillac sketch
> Now we need help. Who is willing to help us?
> Should we try to set up a bounty?
> Stef
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