|VFORK(2)||Linux Programmer's Manual||VFORK(2)|
Feature Test Macro Requirements for glibc (see feature_test_macros(7)):
- Since glibc 2.12:
(_XOPEN_SOURCE >= 500) && ! (_POSIX_C_SOURCE >= 200809L) || /* Since glibc 2.19: */ _DEFAULT_SOURCE || /* Glibc versions <= 2.19: */ _BSD_SOURCE
Before glibc 2.12:
- _BSD_SOURCE || _XOPEN_SOURCE >= 500
vfork() is a special case of clone(2). It is used to create new processes without copying the page tables of the parent process. It may be useful in performance-sensitive applications where a child is created which then immediately issues an execve(2).
vfork() differs from fork(2) in that the calling thread is suspended until the child terminates (either normally, by calling _exit(2), or abnormally, after delivery of a fatal signal), or it makes a call to execve(2). Until that point, the child shares all memory with its parent, including the stack. The child must not return from the current function or call exit(3) (which would have the effect of calling exit handlers established by the parent process and flushing the parent's stdio(3) buffers), but may call _exit(2).
As with fork(2), the child process created by vfork() inherits copies of various of the caller's process attributes (e.g., file descriptors, signal dispositions, and current working directory); the vfork() call differs only in the treatment of the virtual address space, as described above.
Signals sent to the parent arrive after the child releases the parent's memory (i.e., after the child terminates or calls execve(2)).
The requirements put on vfork() by the standards are weaker than those put on fork(2), so an implementation where the two are synonymous is compliant. In particular, the programmer cannot rely on the parent remaining blocked until the child either terminates or calls execve(2), and cannot rely on any specific behavior with respect to shared memory.
- Some performance-critical applications require the small performance advantage conferred by vfork().
- vfork() can be implemented on systems that lack a memory-management unit (MMU), but fork(2) can't be implemented on such systems. (POSIX.1-2008 removed vfork() from the standard; the POSIX rationale for the posix_spawn(3) function notes that that function, which provides functionality equivalent to fork(2)+exec(3), is designed to be implementable on systems that lack an MMU.)
- On systems where memory is constrained, vfork() avoids the need to temporarily commit memory (see the description of /proc/sys/vm/overcommit_memory in proc(5)) in order to execute a new program. (This can be especially beneficial where a large parent process wishes to execute a small helper program in a child process.) By contrast, using fork(2) in this scenario requires either committing an amount of memory equal to the size of the parent process (if strict overcommitting is in force) or overcommitting memory with the risk that a process is terminated by the out-of-memory (OOM) killer.
When vfork() is called in a multithreaded process, only the calling thread is suspended until the child terminates or executes a new program. This means that the child is sharing an address space with other running code. This can be dangerous if another thread in the parent process changes credentials (using setuid(2) or similar), since there are now two processes with different privilege levels running in the same address space. As an example of the dangers, suppose that a multithreaded program running as root creates a child using vfork(). After the vfork(), a thread in the parent process drops the process to an unprivileged user in order to run some untrusted code (e.g., perhaps via plug-in opened with dlopen(3)). In this case, attacks are possible where the parent process uses mmap(2) to map in code that will be executed by the privileged child process.
A call to vfork() is equivalent to calling clone(2) with flags specified as:
CLONE_VM | CLONE_VFORK | SIGCHLD