Today I’d like to talk more about the tricks we’ve used in our codebase. I’d like to speak about compact regions. There will not be much code and numbers, just general thoughts. In our contests application we have some additional restrictions:

there are several sites (places usually schools) where people can pass the contest, and for each of them access can be allowed only for a restricted set of networks.

So we needed a built-in IP filtering app, such that for a given contest can check whether a given user has a permission to access it. After a competition has finished, its user may have access to his results from any IP. And there can be concurrent restricted and unrestricted contests running at the same time.

There are a few additional constraints:

We need the last constraint as an additional protection from DDOS attacks: we don’t do any work if IP is not allowed and do not consume system resources. Actually at first the idea was to use IP filtering internally, but the feature was so helpful for organizers that they decided to use that for the main events.

Leaving technical details aside, we may think that for each user we can map his login to a contest id and id of a site without access to a database. So basically we need to write a function:

check :: ContestId -> SchoolId -> IP4 -> Bool

That will check if a user has an access. Note missing IO or any other context here.

The simplest solution is to have a

HashMap (ContestId, SchoolId) [Net4Addr]


HashMap ContestId (HashMap SchoolId) [Net4Addr].

The latter one allows faster-path for the case if the contest is not filtered.

Is there any problem with this solution? There is. The hashmap structure is a very “branchy” tree, and if it’s quite big GC will have hard time evaluating it. It may not be a big problem: if a tree changes rarely, it goes to the older generation and will affect major GC only. And in one project I had an experience with keeping a large (from half to several Gb tries in memory) hashmap. However, it may still negatively affect the performance of a service and we want to have a better story, especially if it’s cheap.

What do other languages do in this case? There are several ways: straightforward use of some in-memory db or an external cache like redis, both solutions provide much more functionality than needed for our use-case. Another solution is to use off-heap data structures. In this case the data-structure does not affect GC. This solution is possible in Haskell as well, and it does solve the problem. But such a solution may be complicated, and we lose the ability to use first-class language features.

We want something better. And there is a solution: compact regions. Interested reader may check

A compact region is a region that contains a Haskell structure inside, but which is stored in contiguous blocks of memory and this structure doesn’t have any references outside of the region. Because of this it can be seen as a single object for the garbage collector. And it doesn’t affect the GC. Programmer may still access stored value and use any Haskell features when working with it.

The simplest solution may be as simple as:

  :: IO (HashMap ContestId (HashMap SchoolId (Vector Net4Addr)))
  -> IO (Handle, UpdateHandle)
mkCheck mkCache = do
  ref <- newIORef =<< compact mkCache                          {- 1 -}
  let hdl = Handle { lookupSchool = \cid key ->
        runExceptT $ do
          storage <- liftIO $ getCompact $ readIORef ref       {- 2 -}
          c_storage <- HM.lookup cid storage ?! NoRestriction  {- 3 -}
          V.toList <$> HM.lookup key c_storage ?! Missing      {- 4 -}
   pure (hdl
    , UpdateHandle $ mkCache >>= compact >>= writeIORef ref)   {- 5 -}

Here we create a cache with an update function. We take a cache population function as a parameter. Then we create a cache {- 1 -} and create a compact region out of that. We store the region in IORef basic mutable variable with atomic CAS updates. When we read the value {-2-} we get it our of IORef and get it from the compact and can work with it as with any other Haskell value (steps {-3,4-}). On the line {-5-} we return an update function that builds a new value of the cache when is called.

So basically the only lines that were added to the naive algorithm are 1,2,5, the rest of the algorithm remains unchanged.

Note. There may be other architectural choices how to provide an access to the API and to it’s updates, but I doubt they are very solution dependent, so I’d like to avoid API discussion.

So now let’s discuss this solution. During first tests on data that we have gathered from previous contests, the initial hashmap had a size of 177696b (reported by ghc-datasize). That is a tiny number, but the numbers were for single contests, and we know it will grow. After compacting it was 98304b only (reported by compactSize function). Isn’t it quite nice, especially when we have that for free? The rest of the algorithm remains unchanged: the only difference is a call to compact function during the update and getCompact at the beginning of the lookup.

Are there any other costs? Yes, they are: during an update we update the whole structure even when we could do it only partially. There are more elaborated solutions that can avoid this problem. But we decided to run the next event using the current one: we just set update function to run once per 10 minutes. And everything went fine, except that 10 minutes was two high value to wait when you add changes.

After examining the feedback and results of the contest we have decided to decrease update time to one minute and make cache structure more complex:

After all those changes, it was not feasible to build a new structure each minute, especially because it’s known that most of the time structure does not change. Compact regions provide a way to add a structure to a region:

compactAdd :: Compact b -> a -> IO (Compact a)

this function takes a compact region with a reference to a value of type b, adds a value of type a, and returns a reference to value a in the region. So if we want to update a region we can write:

compactAdd b (update (getCompact b))

If a structure update keeps old parts of the structure untouched as much as possible, then we will store only updated parts. And for most of the persistent immutable structures (e.g. HashMap), we have that already.

But if we go this way we will never free old parts of the structures that are no longer used and introduce a memory leak. To avoid that problem we need to add some strategy when to rebuild the structure from scratch. So we will call compactAdd often and sometimes call compact. I’ve decided to keep the following policy:

“rebuild the structure if the size of the value is not more than twice as big as it was when the initial version was built”.

c <- compact =<< makeCache
ref <- newIORef c
old_size <- newIORef =<< compact c {-1-}
let update = do
      prev_compact <- readIORef ref
      current_size <- compactSize prev_compact
      prev_size <- readIORef old_size
      let inplace = prev_size * 2 > current_size {-2-}
      ... new_cache
      if inplace
      then compactAdd prev_compact new_cache >>= writeIORef ref {-3-}
      else do
        z <- compact new_cache  {-4-}
        new_size <- compactSize z  {-5-}
        writeIORef old_size new_size 
        setGauge metric_size $ realToFrac new_size  {-6-}
        writeIORef ref z

On the line {-1-} we store initial size in addition to the reference to cache itself.

On the line {-2-} we apply our strategy and decide if we want to update inplace or build a new compact region.

On the line {-3-} we store update to the structure in the current region.

On the lines {-4,5-} we rebuild a new cache and on the line {-6-} we store the size to the metrics, so we can check if everything goes well or not.

But it’s not everything we need to check how updates take place. Assume you have a HashMap. You update a value for a given key with the id function. You’ll get an equal value but from the low-level perspective you’ll get a new structure, and it matters when you’ll store that value to compact. So we track if there were updates and if not we explicitly return the same structure and do not update reference at all.

With all the changes, the structure works quite nice. At some point I’d like to put that into a library. Unfortunately I’m not sure if I know how to generalize it from the project-specific parts.

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