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Request for comments: reserving a value for O_SEARCH and O_EXEC


[I'm resending this to linux-api instead of linux-kernel on the advice
of Joseph Myers on libc-alpha. Please see the link to the libc-alpha
thread at the bottom of this message for discussion that has already
taken place.]

At present, one of the few interface-level conformance issues for
Linux against POSIX 2008 is lack of O_SEARCH and O_EXEC. I am trying
to get full, conforming support for them both into musl libc (for
which I am the maintainer) and glibc (see the libc-alpha post[1]).
At this point, I believe it is possible to do so with no changes at
the kernel level, using O_PATH and a moderate amount of
userspace-level emulation where O_PATH semantics are lacking. What
we're missing, however, is a reserved O_ACCMODE value for O_SEARCH and
O_EXEC (it can be the same for both). Using O_PATH directly is not an
option because the semantics for O_PATH|O_NOFOLLOW differ from the

- Linux O_PATH|O_NOFOLLOW opens a file descriptor referring to the
  symlink inode itself.

- POSIX O_NOFOLLOW with O_SEARCH or O_EXEC forces failure if the
  pathname refers to a symlink.

Both are important functionality to support - the former for features
and the latter for security. We can't just fstat and reject symbolic
links in userspace when O_PATH gets one or we would break access to
the Linux-specific O_PATH functionality, which is useful. So there
needs to be a way for open (the library function) to detect whether
the caller requested O_PATH or O_SEARCH/O_EXEC.

We could chord O_PATH with another flag such as O_EXCL where the
behavior would otherwise be undefined, but I don't want to conflict
with future such use by the kernel; that would be a compatibility

My preference would be to use the value 3 for O_SEARCH and O_EXEC, so
that the O_ACCMODE mask would not even need to change. But doing this
requires (even moreso than chording) agreement with the kernel
community that this value will not be used for something else in the
future. Looking back, I see that it's been accepted by the kernel for
a long time (at least since 2.6.32) and treated as "no access" (reads
and writes result in EBADF, like O_PATH) but still does not let you
open files you don't have permissions to, or directories. However I'm
not clear if this is a documented (or undocumented, but stable :)
interface that should be left with its current behavior. Taking the
value 3 for O_SEARCH and O_EXEC would mean having open (the library
function) automatically apply O_PATH before passing it to the kernel
and rejecting the resulting fd if it's a symbolic link.

An alternate, less graceful but perhaps more compatible approach,
would be to use O_PATH|3 for O_SEARCH and O_EXEC. Then open could just
look for the low bits of flags (which should be 0 when using O_PATH
for the Linux semantics, no?) and reject symbolic links if they are

Whatever approach we settle on, it would be nice if it has the
property that the kernel could eventually provide the full O_SEARCH
and O_EXEC semantics itself and eliminate the need for userspace
emulation. The current emulations we need are:

- fchmod and fchown (still not supported for O_PATH) fall back to
  calling chmod or chown on the pseudo-symlink in /proc/self/fd.

- fchdir and fstat (not supported prior to 3.5/3.6) fall back to
  calling chdir or stat.

- open checks whether it obtained a symlink and if so closes it and
  reports ELOOP.

- fcntl, depending on the value chosen for O_SEARCH/O_EXEC, may have
  to map the flags from F_GETFL to the right value.

There may be others I'm missing, but emulation generally follows the
same pattern.

Opinions? Please keep me CC'd on replies since I am not on the list.




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