A deep dive with Dolphin

or, how systemd broke my file manager.


Systemd broke my file manager and I lost about 4 hours investigating it. But I suffered less than if I was using Windows. Jump to the conclusion to see why.

A bit about my linux background

I'm a long time linux desktop user (since 1998) and other than a few times where I did adventure into linux internals (for learning, programming or for fun), I can't remember the last time I actually had to do it to solve anything.

I did have moments where I had fun tuning my system for no sensible reason, including custom configured kernels with minor personal patches here and there. I also did have my Gentoo years where everything was statically built with custom compiler flags and tweaks for "performance".

As a system administrator, I did maintain some servers (as work and at home). But maybe in the last 10 years my adventures on linux land where basically as a desktop user and the very few times where I needed to deal with services, my muscle memory for init always got me in trouble with systemd. I know almost nothing about systemd and I have to ddg it every time.

Currently I use Manjaro Linux, a distro based on Arch Linux, and I've always been a KDE user. And I know for a fact that KDE and Qt are some incredible and unique pieces of technology.

Unfortunately I'm in a weird position where I'm required to use Windows professionally as I'm a game developer. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

In all my years as a home linux desktop user, I barely had any issues. Until recently.

What is this about

I decided to write this post to myself and to document my steps investigating a problem that have been occurring to me in the last few weeks, which I've been delaying to check. After reading the O(n^2), again, now in WMI post by Bruce Dawson on how he investigated and found the reason of multi-minute delays on his workstation, I thought "why not try the same with my issue and see where this takes me? It could be interesting...". Here is it, and I hope it is.

As I work with windows and my work deal in part with performance optimizations and debugging, Bruce Dawson's blog is a must-read.

The problem

I've been hit for a long delay opening Dolphin (the KDE's file manager) which could take up to one minute to show up. As being something essential as it is, this started to really annoy me and a bit of searching didn't reveal anything obvious but some similarly looking cases. I believe this started since my last distro update which was recent (2019-11).

Taking the dive

Even with similar Dolphin issues reported over different distros forums, I was unable to have any actual hints about my own issue. So I did go search directly into KDE bugzilla for some similarly looking bugs, but only a few had the same symptoms and not much more information. What most had in common was that the responder always asked for a backtrace, obviously.

But before trying that, I did the simpler stuff first. Running dolphin directly from Konsole to see if some log output appears.

➜  ~ dolphin
QObject::connect: No such signal QDBusAbstractInterface::DeviceAdded(QString)
QObject::connect: No such signal QDBusAbstractInterface::DeviceRemoved(QString)
kf5.kio.core: "Could not enter folder tags:/."

this only reveals two signal/slot signature mismatch. This is the Qt way to tell that a callback Dolphin is trying to setup has a bad function signature somewhere, which can cause some functionality to not work correctly.

This also means that Dolphin try to listen when a device is added or removed using QDBus, which is Qt's interface to the dbus system used for inter-process communication.

My first reaction was to ask myself if it could be locked waiting a reply from some storage device? Let's see what strace has to say about it:

➜  ~ strace dolphin
<lots of output>
statx(AT_FDCWD, "/etc/fstab", AT_STATX_SYNC_AS_STAT, STATX_ALL, 0x7ffc3c621890) = -1 ENOSYS (Function not implemented)
newfstatat(AT_FDCWD, "/etc/fstab", {st_mode=S_IFREG|0644, st_size=820, ...}, 0) = 0
access("/run/udev/control", F_OK)       = 0
getpid()                                = 29328
gettid()                                = 29328
getrandom("\x0d\xd4\x7d\xd7\xce\xab\xa3\xb8\x3b\x75\x8a\x49\xa8\xd8\xe9\xb7", 16, GRND_NONBLOCK) = 16
getrandom("\xcf\xfb\xfe\xd6\xf2\x00\x03\x4d\xbe\xa0\xbc\xb9\x4a\x4a\x52\xbb", 16, GRND_NONBLOCK) = 16
getrandom("\xec\x43\xc1\x92\xa2\x3e\xcb\xfd\x5b\x34\x10\x54\xb2\x67\xf7\x25", 16, GRND_NONBLOCK) = 16
setsockopt(14, SOL_SOCKET, SO_ATTACH_FILTER, {len=29, filter=0x7ffc3c620aa0}, 16) = 0
setsockopt(14, SOL_SOCKET, SO_PASSCRED, [1], 4) = 0
bind(14, {sa_family=AF_NETLINK, nl_pid=0, nl_groups=0x000002}, 12) = 0
getsockname(14, {sa_family=AF_NETLINK, nl_pid=29328, nl_groups=0x000002}, [12]) = 0
write(5, "\1\0\0\0\0\0\0\0", 8)         = 8
write(7, "\1\0\0\0\0\0\0\0", 8)         = 8
futex(0x7ffc3c6219d0, FUTEX_WAIT_PRIVATE, 0, NULL) = 0
write(5, "\1\0\0\0\0\0\0\0", 8)         = 8
write(7, "\1\0\0\0\0\0\0\0", 8)         = 8
futex(0x7fb56853f420, FUTEX_WAKE_PRIVATE, 1) = 1
futex(0x7ffc3c6217d0, FUTEX_WAIT_PRIVATE, 0, NULL) = -1 EAGAIN (Resource temporarily unavailable)
write(7, "\1\0\0\0\0\0\0\0", 8)         = 8
futex(0x55e72722f180, FUTEX_WAIT_PRIVATE, 0, NULL) = 0
futex(0x55e72722f130, FUTEX_WAKE_PRIVATE, 1) = 0
write(7, "\1\0\0\0\0\0\0\0", 8)         = 8
futex(0x7fb56853f420, FUTEX_WAKE_PRIVATE, 1) = 1
futex(0x7ffc3c621620, FUTEX_WAIT_PRIVATE, 0, NULL) = 0
write(7, "\1\0\0\0\0\0\0\0", 8)         = 8
futex(0x7fb56853f420, FUTEX_WAKE_PRIVATE, 1) = 1
futex(0x7ffc3c621620, FUTEX_WAIT_PRIVATE, 0, NULL) = -1 EAGAIN (Resource temporarily unavailable)
write(7, "\1\0\0\0\0\0\0\0", 8)         = 8
futex(0x55e72722ac90, FUTEX_WAIT_PRIVATE, 0, NULL^C) = ? ERESTARTSYS (To be restarted if SA_RESTART is set)
<delay, ctrl+c>

This show us that we're waiting for something. Most of the output shows some communication happening between user-space and kernel-space, which could be dbus working. futex is a syscall for user space lock used for shared-memory synchronization, IPC, etc.

Alright, so it is time to grab that backtrace. Lets launch within GDB and see what we can get from it. It may give some further hints at what exactly it is waiting for:

➜  ~ gdb dolphin
GNU gdb (GDB) 8.3.1


Reading symbols from dolphin...
(No debugging symbols found in dolphin)
(gdb) r
Starting program: /usr/bin/dolphin 
[Thread debugging using libthread_db enabled]
Using host libthread_db library "/usr/lib/libthread_db.so.1".
[New Thread 0x7fffefb45700 (LWP 31973)]
[New Thread 0x7fffeed96700 (LWP 31974)]

<wait a bit and hit ctrl+c to get back at gdb>
Thread 1 "dolphin" received signal SIGINT, Interrupt.
0x00007ffff438ac45 in pthread_cond_wait@@GLIBC_2.3.2 () from /usr/lib/libpthread.so.0
(gdb) bt
#0  0x00007ffff438ac45 in pthread_cond_wait@@GLIBC_2.3.2 () from /usr/lib/libpthread.so.0
#1  0x00007ffff5b3e610 in QWaitCondition::wait(QMutex*, QDeadlineTimer) () from /usr/lib/libQt5Core.so.5
#2  0x00007ffff5b3e702 in QWaitCondition::wait(QMutex*, unsigned long) () from /usr/lib/libQt5Core.so.5
#3  0x00007ffff5ffd5cd in ?? () from /usr/lib/libQt5DBus.so.5
#4  0x00007ffff5fadfa3 in ?? () from /usr/lib/libQt5DBus.so.5
#5  0x00007ffff5fae7ce in ?? () from /usr/lib/libQt5DBus.so.5
#6  0x00007ffff5fb9e1e in ?? () from /usr/lib/libQt5DBus.so.5
#7  0x00007ffff5fb9f86 in QDBusInterface::QDBusInterface(QString const&, QString const&, QString const&, QDBusConnection const&, QObject*) () from /usr/lib/libQt5DBus.so.5
#8  0x00007ffff753c8a7 in ?? () from /usr/lib/libKF5Solid.so.5
#9  0x00007ffff74bf918 in ?? () from /usr/lib/libKF5Solid.so.5
#10 0x00007ffff74c23ed in ?? () from /usr/lib/libKF5Solid.so.5
#11 0x00007ffff74c2536 in ?? () from /usr/lib/libKF5Solid.so.5
#12 0x00007ffff74c261b in Solid::DeviceNotifier::instance() () from /usr/lib/libKF5Solid.so.5
#13 0x00007ffff74c0d69 in Solid::Device::Device(QString const&) () from /usr/lib/libKF5Solid.so.5
#14 0x00007ffff7b06e0c in ?? () from /usr/lib/libKF5KIOFileWidgets.so.5
#15 0x00007ffff7b0e2ab in ?? () from /usr/lib/libKF5KIOFileWidgets.so.5
#16 0x00007ffff7b0e3ed in ?? () from /usr/lib/libKF5KIOFileWidgets.so.5
#17 0x00007ffff7b0fe73 in KFilePlacesModel::KFilePlacesModel(QString const&, QObject*) () from /usr/lib/libKF5KIOFileWidgets.so.5
#18 0x00007ffff7ee75dc in ?? () from /usr/lib/libkdeinit5_dolphin.so
#19 0x00007ffff7ee76fc in ?? () from /usr/lib/libkdeinit5_dolphin.so
#20 0x00007ffff7ee10f3 in ?? () from /usr/lib/libkdeinit5_dolphin.so
#21 0x00007ffff7ee89f3 in ?? () from /usr/lib/libkdeinit5_dolphin.so
#22 0x00007ffff7ee8c48 in ?? () from /usr/lib/libkdeinit5_dolphin.so
#23 0x00007ffff7eea934 in ?? () from /usr/lib/libkdeinit5_dolphin.so
#24 0x00007ffff7eeab7e in ?? () from /usr/lib/libkdeinit5_dolphin.so
#25 0x00007ffff7eeaf8f in ?? () from /usr/lib/libkdeinit5_dolphin.so
#26 0x00007ffff7ecba55 in kdemain () from /usr/lib/libkdeinit5_dolphin.so
#27 0x00007ffff7ceb153 in __libc_start_main () from /usr/lib/libc.so.6
#28 0x000055555555505e in _start ()

Oh well, not much useful right? No debug symbols available, but at least we can see a few more interesting things there.

  1. Looks like Dolphin is trying to create a KFilePlacesModel;
  2. Dolphin handed the work over to something called Solid in a libKF5Solid;
  3. which is creating a DeviceNotifier instance;
  4. We're in fact inside a wait condition inside QDBusInterface call;

Still not much useful, but looks like while Dolphin is booting up it will fill the UI FilePlaces with Devices. This is the left side panel in Dolphin, where it will show your favorite places and storage devices. It kind of makes sense, Dolphin needs to query which devices are available to show up, so maybe I have a faulty device that is locking on a dbus query?

With these new information, I checked my storage and any network shares via Konsole, but everything looked fine and working.

My next step would be to try to have more information on the stack trace and if I was lucky it could tell me at least which kind of device I was having problem with.

I looked around my distro for KDE's debug symbols and couldn't find where or if they are available. Luckily linux, KDE, Qt, etc. are open source, it would only need to get to build it myself. :)

Intermission: C and C++ build systems trauma

At this moment I was cold sweating and thinking where this would take me and if it wouldn't be better to turn back and accept that one minute loading was my new reality until... the next update?

I was burnt out because just one week before I was trying to get a GTK vcpkg port up-to-date on linux and failed miserably. Previously GTK was using Makefiles, but they migrated in recent versions to an even worse thing called Meson. Which basically made everything way more complicated than the normal C build system story already is.

Logically, if building GTK was hard then building an entire desktop environment like KDE would be a lot harder right?

Luckily the people at KDE (and Qt) decided to use CMake as their build system and did a nice bootstrap setup. It is not perfect and other than a minor perl hiccup, everything worked like a charm!

If you're curious, check the KDE build instructions.

Seriously, CMake is not perfect but if you don't use it you're making things worse for everyone.

The build itself was long (I believe about ~1h as I didn't time it) to get dolphin and kio ready.

Debug symbols, the solution?

With a freshly build Dolphin with debug symbols ready, what can GDB reveal?

➜  ~ source ~/kde/build/kio/prefix.sh
➜  ~ gdb ~/kde/usr/bin/dolphin
GNU gdb (GDB) 8.3.1


Reading symbols from /home/fungos/kde/usr/bin/dolphin...
(gdb) r
Starting program: /home/fungos/kde/usr/bin/dolphin 
[Thread debugging using libthread_db enabled]
Using host libthread_db library "/usr/lib/libthread_db.so.1".
[New Thread 0x7fffef0c7700 (LWP 2812)]
[New Thread 0x7fffee51e700 (LWP 2813)]

<wait a bit and hit ctrl+c to get back at gdb>
Thread 1 "dolphin" received signal SIGINT, Interrupt.
0x00007ffff4beac45 in pthread_cond_wait@@GLIBC_2.3.2 () from /usr/lib/libpthread.so.0
(gdb) bt
#0  0x00007ffff4beac45 in pthread_cond_wait@@GLIBC_2.3.2 () from /usr/lib/libpthread.so.0
#1  0x00007ffff562b610 in QWaitCondition::wait(QMutex*, QDeadlineTimer) () from /usr/lib/libQt5Core.so.5
#2  0x00007ffff562b702 in QWaitCondition::wait(QMutex*, unsigned long) () from /usr/lib/libQt5Core.so.5
#3  0x00007ffff68f25cd in ?? () from /usr/lib/libQt5DBus.so.5
#4  0x00007ffff68a2fa3 in ?? () from /usr/lib/libQt5DBus.so.5
#5  0x00007ffff68a37ce in ?? () from /usr/lib/libQt5DBus.so.5
#6  0x00007ffff68aee1e in ?? () from /usr/lib/libQt5DBus.so.5
#7  0x00007ffff68aef86 in QDBusInterface::QDBusInterface(QString const&, QString const&, QString const&, QDBusConnection const&, QObject*) () from /usr/lib/libQt5DBus.so.5
#8  0x00007ffff6c81468 in Solid::Backends::UPower::UPowerManager::UPowerManager (this=0x555555946340, parent=0x0) at /home/fungos/kde/src/solid/src/solid/devices/backends/upower/upowermanager.cpp:41
#9  0x00007ffff6c293f1 in Solid::ManagerBasePrivate::loadBackends (this=0x555555944060) at /home/fungos/kde/src/solid/src/solid/devices/managerbase.cpp:90
#10 0x00007ffff6c2d6d2 in Solid::DeviceManagerPrivate::DeviceManagerPrivate (this=0x555555944050) at /home/fungos/kde/src/solid/src/solid/devices/frontend/devicemanager.cpp:38
#11 0x00007ffff6c2ecaf in Solid::DeviceManagerStorage::ensureManagerCreated (this=0x7ffff6cd354c <(anonymous namespace)::Q_QGS_globalDeviceStorage::innerFunction()::holder>)
    at /home/fungos/kde/src/solid/src/solid/devices/frontend/devicemanager.cpp:301
#12 0x00007ffff6c2ec62 in Solid::DeviceManagerStorage::notifier (this=0x7ffff6cd354c <(anonymous namespace)::Q_QGS_globalDeviceStorage::innerFunction()::holder>)
    at /home/fungos/kde/src/solid/src/solid/devices/frontend/devicemanager.cpp:294
#13 0x00007ffff6c2e5da in Solid::DeviceNotifier::instance () at /home/fungos/kde/src/solid/src/solid/devices/frontend/devicemanager.cpp:182
#14 0x00007ffff6c2ae85 in Solid::Device::Device (this=0x555555697cb0, udi=...) at /home/fungos/kde/src/solid/src/solid/devices/frontend/device.cpp:59
#15 0x00007ffff7bece5e in KFilePlacesItem::KFilePlacesItem (this=0x555555697c80, manager=0x5555559dc5d0, address=..., udi=...) at /home/fungos/kde/src/kio/src/filewidgets/kfileplacesitem.cpp:48
#16 0x00007ffff7bf670d in KFilePlacesModel::Private::loadBookmarkList (this=0x5555556cbb00) at /home/fungos/kde/src/kio/src/filewidgets/kfileplacesmodel.cpp:764
#17 0x00007ffff7bf559d in KFilePlacesModel::Private::_k_reloadBookmarks (this=0x5555556cbb00) at /home/fungos/kde/src/kio/src/filewidgets/kfileplacesmodel.cpp:650
#18 0x00007ffff7bf443c in KFilePlacesModel::KFilePlacesModel (this=0x5555559f2070, alternativeApplicationName=..., parent=0x0) at /home/fungos/kde/src/kio/src/filewidgets/kfileplacesmodel.cpp:403
#19 0x00007ffff7ef7564 in DolphinPlacesModelSingleton::DolphinPlacesModelSingleton (this=0x7ffff7fcadb8 <DolphinPlacesModelSingleton::instance()::s_self>) at /home/fungos/kde/src/dolphin/src/dolphinplacesmodelsingleton.cpp:26
#20 0x00007ffff7ef75f5 in DolphinPlacesModelSingleton::instance () at /home/fungos/kde/src/dolphin/src/dolphinplacesmodelsingleton.cpp:33
#21 0x00007ffff7eea8fe in DolphinViewContainer::DolphinViewContainer (this=0x5555559e4540, url=..., parent=0x5555559e8310) at /home/fungos/kde/src/dolphin/src/dolphinviewcontainer.cpp:96
#22 0x00007ffff7ef9a92 in DolphinTabPage::createViewContainer (this=0x55555594c6a0, url=...) at /home/fungos/kde/src/dolphin/src/dolphintabpage.cpp:370
#23 0x00007ffff7ef85e2 in DolphinTabPage::DolphinTabPage (this=0x55555594c6a0, primaryUrl=..., secondaryUrl=..., parent=0x55555566ff60) at /home/fungos/kde/src/dolphin/src/dolphintabpage.cpp:43
#24 0x00007ffff7efb432 in DolphinTabWidget::openNewTab (this=0x55555566ff60, primaryUrl=..., secondaryUrl=..., tabPlacement=DolphinTabWidget::AfterLastTab) at /home/fungos/kde/src/dolphin/src/dolphintabwidget.cpp:171
#25 0x00007ffff7efb3b0 in DolphinTabWidget::openNewActivatedTab (this=0x55555566ff60, primaryUrl=..., secondaryUrl=...) at /home/fungos/kde/src/dolphin/src/dolphintabwidget.cpp:163
#26 0x00007ffff7efb7cc in DolphinTabWidget::openDirectories (this=0x55555566ff60, dirs=..., splitView=false) at /home/fungos/kde/src/dolphin/src/dolphintabwidget.cpp:215
#27 0x00007ffff7ec7c90 in DolphinMainWindow::openDirectories (this=0x555555631210, dirs=..., splitView=false) at /home/fungos/kde/src/dolphin/src/dolphinmainwindow.cpp:221
#28 0x00007ffff7ec4821 in kdemain (argc=1, argv=0x7fffffffdcf8) at /home/fungos/kde/src/dolphin/src/main.cpp:171
#29 0x000055555555517b in main (argc=1, argv=0x7fffffffdcf8) at /home/fungos/kde/build/dolphin/src/dolphin_dummy.cpp:3

Now we have a nice stack. This reveals a lot of stuff we missed in the first try, mostly are uninsteresting details. The real nice thing there is that now we know which device is being queried via dbus, which is...UPower? Wait, what is happening here? WHY Dolphin would try to query some power related device white querying up storage stuff?

Let's take a step back. We never asked ourselves what is this Solid thing. Searching about it leads to Solid page on KDE TechBase wiki. That page explains that Solid is a kind of Hardware Discovery Layer and some features it provides is Listing Devices. In this page there is a tutorial on how your program can use it, but mostly important, there is information about a solid-hardware tool to use on command line.

Lets try it:

➜  ~ solid-hardware list
Object::connect: No such signal QDBusAbstractInterface::DeviceAdded(QString)
Object::connect: No such signal QDBusAbstractInterface::DeviceRemoved(QString)
virtual QStringList Solid::Backends::UPower::UPowerManager::allDevices()  error:  "org.freedesktop.DBus.Error.TimedOut" 
udi = '/org/kde/solid/udev/sys/devices/LNXSYSTM:00/LNXPWRBN:00/input/input5'
<a lot of other devices>

BINGO? Surely it had the exact same delay as Dolphin before any output was shown and then as soon as it unblocked I got the same output messages about unknown signals and a new interesting error about UPower dbus timeout error.

Checking again the stack trace we see that Solid device manager frontend will request to loadBackends() in ManagerBasePrivate, which in turn process all kind of backends indiscriminately as it is agnostic about its clients intentions.

Now we know that:

  1. Dolphin needs to query storage devices using Solid;
  2. Solid loads all kind of backends independenty of Dolphin real needs;
  3. When a backend loads it will query dbus in some or another way;
  4. UPower debus service is timing out;
  5. Solid blocks and in turn Dolphin waits until the timeout fire to continue working;

So what is UPower? It seems to be an(other) abstraction layer to deal with hardware power management and it seems to be in part responsable to manage suspending and waking up things.

So why does it timeout? man upower gives a few options, lets try some commands and see what we get:

➜  ~ upower -e

(upower:10725): UPower-WARNING **: 21:04:33.690: Cannot connect to upowerd: Error calling StartServiceByName for org.freedesktop.UPower: Timeout was reached

➜  ~ upower --monitor

(upower:6427): UPower-WARNING **: 22:22:36.230: Cannot connect to upowerd: Error calling StartServiceByName for org.freedesktop.UPower: Failed to activate service 'org.freedesktop.UPower': timed out (service_start_timeout=25000ms)

Sure. So upowerd daemon is unreachable for some reason. If we ask systemd to start it:

➜  ~ sudo systemctl start upower
Job for upower.service failed because the control process exited with error code.
See "systemctl status upower.service" and "journalctl -xe" for details.

journalctl doesn't say much useful, only that we got an exit code 217. And this link to Support.

But if we launch upowerd service ourselves, it works:

➜  ~ sudo /usr/lib/upowerd --verbose
[sudo] password for fungos: 
TI:21:05:00     Acquired inhibitor lock (7)
TI:21:05:00     Starting upowerd version 0.99.11

And magically Dolphin becomes alive again and we can confirm with solid-hardware list.

Great, at least we have a workaround! And we know that the problem is actually systemd. Now we have two questions to answer:

  1. Why systemd is unable to start it?
  2. How to correctly fix this?

Going to support link from systemd journal output and searching for upower brings us to this question. Which is basically the issue I was having.


A systemd change that makes use of a kernel feature unsupported on my kernel 4.9.202 broke my file manager.

Manjaro delivered a systemd upgrade without enforcing a minimal kernel version. In Manjaro defense, they clearly stated this on their changelog, but we shouldn't expect people to read it.

This made me realize that I really need to update my kernel as it is 2 years old already. And, that I have a lot less issues with linux than with Windows on my daily work, take that Microsoft.

Now an upgrade to 5.4 is required, see you soon...

Epilogue (...5 minutes later)

... and it is done. After all this I'm up and running on 5.4 and most importantly, Dolphin is alive.