Memory management in PoCL

This explains how PoCL implements buffers in device memory, and how it deals with various other aspects such as SVM and sub-buffers.

On-device memory, SVM, subbuffers

When a buffer is created by clCreateBuffer, by default nothing is allocated in device memory. The actual allocation of on-device memory happens when the buffer is first used, by enqueueing a command. If the device memory doesn’t have enough free space, the enqueue fails.

In OpenCL, buffers are “per context” not “per device”. Buffer can only have one valid content, even though that content might be present on multiple devices. However, if two commands write to the same buffer locations (e.g. on two devices), without properly synchronizing, that is undefined behaviour. There can be multiple readers, but only one writer. PoCL keeps track of buffer content validity across devices by versioning. The buffer (cl_mem) has a “latest content version” number; plus each buffer instance on every device has its version number.

The version is updated in libpocl, at enqueue time, in pocl_create_migration_commands() called by pocl_create_command().

The drivers do not need to care about the version (except setting it to 0 when they first allocate on-device memory for a buffer). The migration code in pocl_create_migration_commands() updates and uses the versions to decide what needs to be migrated, then it creates & enqueues migration events (with dependencies), and the drivers only see those events. IOW decisions are made at enqueue time (and should be fast), and execution then proceeds (in parallel if event dependencies allow) at any time later.

Buffer content is automatically migrated between devices by PoCL as needed (when the on-device buffer’s content version is older than latest version). PoCL will try to find the best possible way to migrate buffer content, but at worst it will fallback to double copying, source-device to host-memory followed by host-memory to destination device. Buffer migration commands are inserted before the enqued command, linked by event dependencies, and put on special hidden queues (this is because they can execute in parallel with other commands, as long as their event dependencies allow it).

SVM memory avoids the code paths that deal with cl_mem and migrations. From PoCL’s memory management POV, SVM can be divided in two types: coarse-grained and fine-grained. The former only shares the Virtual AS, and needs to be mapped/unmapped for host access, while the latter shares also physical memory. PoCL currently only supports fine-grained SVM; the memory architecture allows also coarse-grained, but some special cases like clCreateBuffer(CL_USE_HOST_PTR, svm-pointer) are currently broken with coarse-grained and need to be fixed. The reason is that the the svm pointer given to clCreateBuffer() will be used to set the cl_mem->mem_host_ptr, and the code assumes that mem_host_ptr is a memory which physically exists on the host (in case it’s needed for temporary stuff like buffer migration). This breaks with coarse-grained SVM because it is just a virtual AS pointer, not backed by physical memory, and needs to be svm-mapped before usage. The fix (probably) would be to detect svm pointers handed to clCreateBuffer, and if it’s coarse-grained, figure out what is the actual on-device memory pointer, and use it to fill mem->devices_ptrs[svm-device-index] with proper information, not as mem_host_ptr.

Subbuffers are currently implemented in a way that inside the clEnqueue API calls they are translated into a (parent buffer, offset) pair, so in the internal driver API, the drivers only ever see buffers. This was done for multiple reasons - the Specification is a bit unclear on subbuffers (when should they be synchronized with the parent buffer), and the feature is not important enough ATM to further complicate the driver code.


Device drivers in PoCL need to manage the global memory of devices, by allocating and freeing chunks of it for the OpenCL buffers. In some cases (like CPU driver), this is simple because the memory management can be delegated to an existing solution (like malloc). In other cases, the driver only has access to a region of continuous memory, and it needs to implement its own solution for memory management.

For this, pocl implements a simple memory allocator called bufalloc. With bufalloc it is possible to manage chunks of memory allocated from a region of addresses. The allocator is optimized for speed and to minimize fragmentation assuming largish chunks of memory (the input/output buffers) are allocated and freed at once.

Bufalloc can be used for host-side management of continuous ranges of memories on the device side. Bufalloc can optionally be used to manage memory also in the pthread/basic CPU device implementations for testing and optimization purposes.

For an example of its use for managing memory in the heterogeneous separated memory setup, one should take a look at the TCE device layer code (lib/CL/devices/tce/ For TCE devices it is assumed there are actual separated physical address spaces for both the local and global address spaces. The device layer implementation manages allocations from both of these spaces using two instances of bufalloc memory regions.

When passing buffer pointers to the kernel/work-group launchers, the memory addresses are passed as integer values. The values passed from the host are casted to the actual address-space qualified LLVM IR pointers for calling the kernels with correct types by the work-group function (see Creating the work-group function launchers).

Bufalloc for CPU device is enabled by CMake option USE_POCL_MEMMANAGER. This is only useful for certain uncommon setups, where pocl is expected to allocate a huge number of queue or event objects. For most available OpenCL programs / tests / benchmarks, there is no measurable difference in speed.

Advantages: * allocation of queues/events/command objects can be a lot faster

Disadvantages: * memory allocated for those objects is never free()d; it’s only returned to allocation pool * debugging tools will not detect use-after-free bugs on said objects