Features of Real-Time Kernels

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Features of Real-Time Kernels

 In this section, we discuss the features necessary for designing an operating system that supports real-time processes. Before we begin, though, let's consider what is typically not needed for a real-time system. We begin by examining several features provided in many of the operating systems discussed so far in this text, including Linux, UNIX, and the various versions of Windows.

 These systems typically provide support for the following:

• A variety of peripheral devices such as graphical displays, CD, and DVD drives

• Protection and security mechanisms

• Multiple users Supporting these features often results in a sophisticated—and large—kernel. For example, Windows XP has over forty million lines of source code.

In contrast, a typical real-time operating system usually has a very simple design, often written in thousands rather than millions of lines of source code. We would not expect these simple systems to include the features listed above. But why don't real-time systems provide these features, which are crucial to standard desktop and server systems? There are several reasons, but three are most prominent. First, because most real-time systems serve a single purpose, they simply do not require many of the features found in a desktop PC.

Features of Real-Time Kernels

 Consider a digital wristwatch: It obviously has no need to support a disk drive or DVD, let alone virtual memory. Furthermore, a typical real-time system does not include the notion of a user: The system simply supports a small number of tasks, which often await input from hardware devices (sensors, vision identification, and so forth). Second, the features supported by standard desktop operating systems are impossible to provide without fast processors and large amounts of memory.

 Both of these are unavailable in real-time systems due to space constraints, as explained earlier. In addition, many real-time systems lack sufficient space to support peripheral disk drives or graphical displays, although some systems may support file systems using nonvolatile memory (NVRAM). Third, supporting features common in standard desktop computing environments would greatly increase the cost of real-time systems, which could make such systems economically impractical. Additional considerations apply when considering virtual memory in a real-time system. Providing virtual memory features as described in Chapter 9 require the system include a memory management unit (MMU) for translating logical to physical addresses. However, MMUs typically increase the cost and power consumption of the system.

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In addition, the time required to translate logical addresses to physical addresses—especially in the case of a translation look-aside buffer (TLB) miss—may be prohibitive in a hard real-time environment. In the following we examine several appraoches for translating addresses in real-time systems. Figure 19.2 illustrates three different strategies for managing address translation available to designers of real-time operating systems. In this scenario, the CPU generates logical address L that must be mapped to physical address P.

 The first approach is to bypass logical addresses and have the CPU generate physical addresses directly. This technique—known as real-addressing mode—does not employ virtual memory techniques and is effectively stating that P equals L. One problem with real-addressing mode is the absence of memory protection between processes.

Real-addressing mode may also require that programmers specify the physical location where their programs are loaded into memory. However, the benefit of this approach is that the system is quite fast, as no time is spent on address translation. Real-addressing mode is quite common in embedded systems with hard real-time constraints. In fact, some real-time operating systems running on microprocessors containing an MMU actually disable the MMU to gain the performance benefit of referencing physical addresses directly.

A second strategy for translating addresses is to use an approach similar to the dynamic relocation register shown in Figure 8.4. In this scenario, a relocation register R is set to the memory location where a program is loaded. The physical address P is generated by adding the contents of the relocation register R to L. Some real-time systems configure the MMU to perform this way.

The obvious benefit of this strategy is that the MMU can easily translate logical addresses to physical addresses using P = L + R. However, this system still suffers from a lack of memory protection between processes. The last approach is for the real-time system to provide full virtual memory functionality as described in Chapter 9. In this instance, address translation takes place via page tables and a translation look-aside buffer, or TLB.

In addition to allowing a program to be loaded at any memory location, this strategy also provides memory protection between processes. For systems without attached disk drives, demand paging and swapping may not be possible. However, systems may provide such features using NVRAM flash memory. The LynxOS and OnCore Systems are examples of real-time operating systems providing full support for virtual memory.

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