[Python-Dev] RFC: PEP 475, Retry system calls failing with EINTR

Victor Stinner victor.stinner at gmail.com
Sun Aug 31 14:44:35 CEST 2014

HTML version:

PEP: 475
Title: Retry system calls failing with EINTR
Version: $Revision$
Last-Modified: $Date$
Author: Charles-François Natali <cf.natali at gmail.com>, Victor Stinner
<victor.stinner at gmail.com>
Status: Draft
Type: Standards Track
Content-Type: text/x-rst
Created: 29-July-2014
Python-Version: 3.5


Retry system calls failing with the ``EINTR`` error and recompute
timeout if needed.


Interrupted system calls

On POSIX systems, signals are common. Your program must be prepared to
handle them. Examples of signals:

* The most common signal is ``SIGINT``, signal sent when CTRL+c is
  pressed. By default, Python raises a ``KeyboardInterrupt`` exception
  when this signal is received.
* When running subprocesses, the ``SIGCHLD`` signal is sent when a
  child process exits.
* Resizing the terminal sends the ``SIGWINCH`` signal to the
  applications running in the terminal.
* Putting the application in background (ex: press CTRL-z and then
  type the ``bg`` command) sends the ``SIGCONT`` signal.

Writing a signal handler is difficult, only "async-signal safe"
functions can be called.  For example, ``printf()`` and ``malloc()``
are not async-signal safe. When a signal is sent to a process calling
a system call, the system call can fail with the ``EINTR`` error to
give the program an opportunity to handle the signal without the
restriction on signal safe functions. Depending on the platform, on
the system call and the ``SA_RESTART`` flag, the system call may or
may not fail with ``EINTR``.

If the signal handler was set with the ``SA_RESTART`` flag set, the
kernel retries some the system call instead of failing with
``EINTR``. For example, ``read()`` is retried, whereas ``select()`` is
not retried. The Python function ``signal.signal()`` clears the
``SA_RESTART`` flag when setting the signal handler: all system calls
should fail with ``EINTR`` in Python.

The problem is that handling ``EINTR`` should be done for all system
calls. The problem is similar to handling errors in the C language
which does not have exceptions: you must check all function returns to
check for error, and usually duplicate the code checking for errors.
Python does not have this issue, it uses exceptions to notify errors.

Current status

Currently in Python, the code to handle the ``InterruptedError``
exception (``EINTR`` error) is duplicated on case by case. Only a few
Python modules handle this exception, and fixes usually took several
years to cover a whole module. Example of code retrying
``file.read()`` on ``InterruptedError``::

    while True:
            data = file.read(size)
        except InterruptedError:

List of Python modules of the standard library which handle

* ``asyncio``
* ``asyncore``
* ``io``, ``_pyio``
* ``multiprocessing``
* ``selectors``
* ``socket``
* ``socketserver``
* ``subprocess``

Other programming languages like Perl, Java and Go already retry
system calls failing with ``EINTR``.

Use Case 1: Don't Bother With Signals

In most cases, you don't want to be interrupted by signals and you
don't expect to get ``InterruptedError`` exceptions. For example, do
you really want to write such complex code for an "Hello World"


    while True:
            print("Hello World")
        except InterruptedError:

``InterruptedError`` can happen in unexpected places. For example,
``os.close()`` and ``FileIO.close()`` can raises ``InterruptedError``:
see the article `close() and EINTR

The `Python issues related to EINTR`_ section below gives examples of
bugs caused by "EINTR".

The expectation is that Python hides the ``InterruptedError``: retry
system calls failing with the ``EINTR`` error.

Use Case 2: Be notified of signals as soon as possible

Sometimes, you expect some signals and you want to handle them as soon
as possible.  For example, you may want to quit immediatly a program
using the ``CTRL+c`` keyboard shortcut.

Some signals are not interesting and should not interrupt the the
application.  There are two options to only interrupt an application
on some signals:

* Raise an exception in the signal handler, like ``KeyboardInterrupt`` for
* Use a I/O multiplexing function like ``select()`` with the Python
  signal "wakeup" file descriptor: see the function


If a system call fails with ``EINTR``, Python must call signal
handlers: call ``PyErr_CheckSignals()``. If a signal handler raises
an exception, the Python function fails with the exception.
Otherwise, the system call is retried.  If the system call takes a
timeout parameter, the timeout is recomputed.

Modified functions

Example of functions that need to be modified:

* ``os.read()``, ``io.FileIO.read()``, ``io.FileIO.readinto()``
* ``os.write()``, ``io.FileIO.write()``
* ``os.waitpid()``
* ``socket.accept()``
* ``socket.connect()``
* ``socket.recv()``, ``socket.recv_into()``
* ``socket.recv_from()``
* ``socket.send()``
* ``socket.sendto()``
* ``time.sleep()``
* ``select.select()``
* ``select.poll()``
* ``select.epoll.poll()``
* ``select.devpoll.poll()``
* ``select.kqueue.control()``
* ``selectors.SelectSelector.select()`` and other selector classes

Note: The ``selector`` module already retries on ``InterruptedError``, but it
doesn't recompute the timeout yet.

Backward Compatibility

Applications relying on the fact that system calls are interrupted
with ``InterruptedError`` will hang. The authors of this PEP don't
think that such application exist.

If such applications exist, they are not portable and are subject to
race conditions (deadlock if the signal comes before the system call).
These applications must be fixed to handle signals differently, to
have a reliable behaviour on all platforms and all Python versions.
For example, use a signal handler which raises an exception, or use a
wakeup file descriptor.

For applications using event loops, ``signal.set_wakeup_fd()`` is the
recommanded option to handle signals. The signal handler writes signal
numbers into the file descriptor and the event loop is awaken to read
them. The event loop can handle these signals without the restriction
of signal handlers.


Wakeup file descriptor

Since Python 3.3, ``signal.set_wakeup_fd()`` writes the signal number
into the file descriptor, whereas it only wrote a null byte before.
It becomes possible to handle different signals using the wakeup file

Linux has a ``signalfd()`` which provides more information on each
signal.  For example, it's possible to know the pid and uid who sent
the signal.  This function is not exposed in Python yet (see the
`issue 12304 <http://bugs.python.org/issue12304>`_).

On Unix, the ``asyncio`` module uses the wakeup file descriptor to
wake up its event loop.


A C signal handler can be called from any thread, but the Python
signal handler should only be called in the main thread.

Python has a ``PyErr_SetInterrupt()`` function which calls the
``SIGINT`` signal handler to interrupt the Python main thread.

Signals on Windows

Control events

Windows uses "control events":

* ``CTRL_CLOSE_EVENT``: Close event

The `SetConsoleCtrlHandler() function
can be used to install a control handler.

The ``CTRL_C_EVENT`` and ``CTRL_BREAK_EVENT`` events can be sent to a
process using the `GenerateConsoleCtrlEvent() function
This function is exposed in Python as ``os.kill()``.


The following signals are supported on Windows:

* ``SIGBREAK`` (``CTRL_BREAK_EVENT``): signal only available on Windows
* ``SIGFPE``
* ``SIGILL``


The default Python signal handler for ``SIGINT`` sets a Windows event
object: ``sigint_event``.

``time.sleep()`` is implemented with ``WaitForSingleObjectEx()``, it
waits for the ``sigint_event`` object using ``time.sleep()`` parameter
as the timeout.  So the sleep can be interrupted by ``SIGINT``.

``_winapi.WaitForMultipleObjects()`` automatically adds
``sigint_event`` to the list of watched handles, so it can also be

``PyOS_StdioReadline()`` also used ``sigint_event`` when ``fgets()``
failed to check if Ctrl-C or Ctrl-Z was pressed.



* `glibc manual: Primitives Interrupted by Signals
* `Bug #119097 for perl5: print returning EINTR in 5.14

Python issues related to EINTR

The main issue is: `handle EINTR in the stdlib

Open issues:

* `Add a new signal.set_wakeup_socket() function
* `signal.set_wakeup_fd(fd): set the fd to non-blocking mode
* `Use a monotonic clock to compute timeouts
* `sys.stdout.write on OS X is not EINTR safe
* `platform.uname() not EINTR safe
* `asyncore does not handle EINTR in recv, send, connect, accept,
* `socket.create_connection() doesn't handle EINTR properly

Closed issues:

* `Interrupted system calls are not retried
* `Solaris: EINTR exception in select/socket calls in telnetlib
* `subprocess: Popen.communicate() doesn't handle EINTR in some cases
* `multiprocessing.util._eintr_retry doen't recalculate timeouts
* `file readline, readlines & readall methods can lose data on EINTR
* `multiprocessing BaseManager serve_client() does not check EINTR on recv
* `selectors behaviour on EINTR undocumented
* `asyncio: limit EINTR occurrences with SA_RESTART
* `smtplib.py socket.create_connection() also doesn't handle EINTR properly
* `Faulty RESTART/EINTR handling in Parser/myreadline.c
* `test_httpservers intermittent failure, test_post and EINTR
* `os.spawnv(P_WAIT, ...) on Linux doesn't handle EINTR
* `asyncore fails when EINTR happens in pol
* `file.write and file.read don't handle EINTR
* `socket.readline() interface doesn't handle EINTR properly
* `subprocess is not EINTR-safe
* `SocketServer doesn't handle syscall interruption
* `subprocess deadlock when read() is interrupted
* `time.sleep(1): call PyErr_CheckSignals() if the sleep was interrupted
* `siginterrupt with flag=False is reset when signal received
* `need siginterrupt()  on Linux - impossible to do timeouts
* `[Windows] Can not interrupt time.sleep()

Python issues related to signals

Open issues:

* `signal.default_int_handler should set signal number on the raised
  exception <http://bugs.python.org/issue17182>`_
* `expose signalfd(2) in the signal module
* `missing return in win32_kill?
* `Interrupts are lost during readline PyOS_InputHook processing
* `cannot catch KeyboardInterrupt when using curses getkey()
* `Deferred KeyboardInterrupt in interactive mode

Closed issues:

* `sys.interrupt_main()


This document has been placed in the public domain.

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