Magenta Handles


Handles are kernel constructs that allows user-mode programs to reference a kernel object. A handle can be thought as a session or connection to a particular kernel object.

It is often the case that multiple processes concurrently access the same object via different handles. However, a single handle can only be either bound to a single process or be bound to kernel.

When it is bound to kernel we say its ‘in-transit’.

In user-mode a handle is simply a specific number returned by some syscall. Only handles that are not in-transit are visible to user-mode.

The integer that represents a handle is only meaningful for that process. The same number in another process might not map to any handle or it might map to a handle pointing to a completely different kernel object.

For kernel-mode, a handle is a C++ object that contains three logical fields:

  • A reference to a kernel object
  • The rights to the kernel object
  • The process it is bound to (or if its bound to kernel)

The ‘rights’ specify what operations on the kernel object are allowed. It is possible for a single process to have two different handles to the same kernel object with different rights.

Using Handles

There are many syscalls that create a new kernel object and which return a handle to it. To name a few:

  • mx_event_create
  • mx_process_create
  • mx_thread_create

These calls create both the kernel object and the first handle pointing to it. The handle is bound to the process that issued the syscall and the rights are the default rights for that type of kernel object.

There is only one syscall that can make a copy of a handle, which points to the same kernel object and is bound to the same process that issued the syscall:

  • mx_handle_duplicate

There is one syscall that creates an equivalent handle (possibly with fewer rights), invalidating the original handle:

  • mx_handle_replace

There is one syscall that just destroys a handle:

  • mx_handle_close

There is only one syscall that takes a handle bound to calling process and binds it into kernel (puts the handle in-transit):

  • mx_channel_write

There is only one syscall that takes an in-transit handle and binds it to the calling process:

  • mx_channel_read

The pair of channel syscalls above are used to transfer a handle from one process to another. The gist is that it is possible to connect two processes with a channel. To transfer a handle the source process calls mx_channel_write and then the destination process calls mx_channel_read on the same channel.

Finally, there is a single syscall that gives a new process its bootstrapping handle, that is, the handle that it can use to request other handles:

  • mx_process_start

It is natural that the bootstrapping handle points to one end of a channel.

Garbage Collection

If a handle is valid, the kernel object it points to is guaranteed to be valid. This is ensured because kernel objects are ref-counted and each handle holds a reference to its kernel object.

The opposite does not hold. When a handle is destroyed it does not mean its object is destroyed. There could be other handles pointing to the object or the kernel itself could be holding a reference to the kernel object.

When there is but one handle referencing a kernel object and the handle is being closed, the kernel object is either destroyed then or the kernel marks the object for garbage collection; the object will be destroyed when the current set of operations on it are completed.

Special Cases

  • When a handle is in-transit and the channel it was written to is destroyed, the handle is closed.
  • Debugging sessions (and debuggers) might have special syscalls to get access to handles.

See Also

Kernel Objects, Rights