Implementing Real-Time Operating Systems

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Implementing Real-Time Operating Systems

Keeping in mind the many possible variations, we now identify the features necessary for implementing a real-time operating system. This list is by no means absolute; some systems provide more features than we list below, while other systems provide fewer.

• Preemptive, priority-based scheduling

 • Preemptive kernel

• Minimized latency

One notable feature we omit from this list is networking support. However, deciding whether to support networking protocols such as TCP/IP is simple: If the real-time system must be connected to a network, the operating system must provide networking capabilities.

For example, a system that gathers real-time data and transmits it to a server must obviously include networking features. Alternatively, a self-contained embedded system requiring no interaction with other computer systems has no obvious networking requirement. In the remainder of this section, we examine the basic requirements listed above and identify how they can be implemented in a real-time operating system.

Priority-Based Scheduling

 The most important feature of a real-time operating system is to respond immediately to a real-time process as soon as that process requires the CPU. As a result, the scheduler for a real-time operating system must support a priority-based algorithm with preemption. Recall that priority-based scheduling algorithms assign each process a priority based on its importance; more important tasks are assigned higher priorities than those deemed less important.

If the scheduler also supports preemption, a process currently running on the CPU will be preempted if a higher-priority process becomes available to run. Preemptive, priority-based scheduling algorithms are discussed in detail in Chapter 5, where we also present examples of the soft real-time scheduling features of the Solaris, Windows XP, and Linux operating systems. Each of these systems assigns real-time processes the highest scheduling priority.

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For 19.4 Implementing Real-Time Operating Systems 701 example, Windows XP has 32 different priority levels; the highest levels— priority values 16 to 31—are reserved for real-time processes. Solaris and Linux have similar prioritization schemes. Note, however, that providing a preemptive, priority-based scheduler only guarantees soft real-time functionality. Hard real-time systems must further guarantee that real-time tasks will be serviced in accord with their deadline requirements, and making such guarantees may require additional scheduling features. In Section 19.5, we cover scheduling algorithms appropriate for hard real-time systems.

Preemptive Kernels

Nonpreemptive kernels disallow preemption of a process running in kernel mode; a kernel-mode process will run until it exits kernel mode, blocks, or voluntarily yields control of the CPU. In contrast, a preemptive kernel allows the preemption of a task running in kernel mode.

Implementing Real-Time Operating Systems

 Designing preemptive kernels can be quite difficult; and traditional user-oriented applications such as spreadsheets, word processors, and web browsers typically do not require such quick response times. As a result, some commercial desktop operating systems—such as Windows XP—are nonpreemptive. However, to meet the timing requirements of real-time systems—in particular, hard real-time systems—preemptive kernels are mandatory. Otherwise, a real-time task might have to wait an arbitrarily long period of time while another task was active in the kernel. There are various strategies for making a kernel preemptible. One approach is to insert preemption points in long-duration system calls.

A preemption point checks to see whether a high-priority process needs to be run. If so, a context switch takes place. Then, when the high-priority process terminates, the interrupted process continues with the system call. Preemption points can be placed only at safe locations in the kernel—that is, only where kernel data structures are not being modified. A second strategy for making a kernel preemptible is through the use of synchronization mechanisms, which we discussed in Chapter 6. With this method, the kernel can always be preemptible, because any kernel data being updated are protected from modification by the high-priority process.

Minimizing Latency

 Consider the event-driven nature of a real-time system: The system is typically waiting for an event in real time to occur. Events may arise either in software —as when a timer expires—or in hardware—as when a remote-controlled vehicle detects that it is approaching an obstruction. When an event occurs, the system must respond to and service it as quickly as possible.

We refer to event latency as the amount of time that elapses from when an event occurs to when it is serviced (Figure 19.3). Usually, different events have different latency requirements. For example, the latency requirement for an antilock brake system might be three to five milliseconds, meaning that from the time a wheel first detects that it is sliding, the system controlling the antilock brakes has three to five milliseconds to respond to and control the situation.

Any response that takes longer might result in the automobile's veering out of control. In contrast, an embedded system controlling radar in an airliner might tolerate a latency period of several seconds. Two types of latencies affect the performance of real-time systems:

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1. Interrupt latency

 2. Dispatch latency Interrupt latency refers to the period of time from the arrival of an interrupt at the CPU to the start of the routine that services the interrupt.

Implementing Real-Time Operating Systems

When an interrupt occurs, the operating system must first complete the instruction it is executing and determine the type of interrupt that occurred. It must then save the state of the current process before servicing the interrupt using the specific interrupt service routine (ISR). The total time required to perform these tasks is the interrupt latency (Figure 19.4). Obviously, it is crucial for real-time

operating systems to minimize interrupt latency to ensure that real-time?tasks receive immediate attention. One important factor contributing to interrupt latency is the amount of time interrupts may be disabled while kernel data structures are being updated. Real-time operating systems require that interrupts to be disabled for very short periods of time. However, for hard real-time systems, interrupt latency must not only be minimized, it must in fact be bounded to guarantee the deterministic behavior required of hard real-time kernels. The amount of time required for the scheduling dispatcher to stop one process and start another is known as dispatch latency.

Providing real-time tasks with immediate access to the CPU mandates that real-time operating systems minimize this latency. The most effective technique for keeping dispatch latency low is to provide preemptive kernels. In Figure 19.5, we diagram the makeup of dispatch latency. The conflict phase of dispatch latency has two components:

1. Preemption of any process running in the kernel

2. Release by low-priority processes of resources needed by a high-priority process As an example, in Solaris, the dispatch latency with preemption disabled is over 100 milliseconds. With preemption enabled, it is reduced to less than a millisecond. One issue that can affect dispatch latency arises when a higher-priority process needs to read or modify kernel data that are currently being accessed by a lower-priority process—or a chain of lower-priority processes. As kernel data are typically protected with a lock, the higher-priority process will have to wait for a lower-priority one to finish with the resource.

Implementing Real-Time Operating Systems

 The situation becomes more complicated if the lower-priority process is preempted in favor of another process with a higher priority. As an example, assume we have three processes, L, M, and H, whose priorities follow the order L < M < H. Assume that process H requires resource R, which is currently being accessed by process L. Ordinarily, process H would wait for L to finish using resource R. However, now suppose that process M becomes runnable, thereby preempting process L.

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Indirectly, a process with a lower priority—process M—has affected how long process H must wait for L to relinquish resource R. This problem, known as priority inversion, can be solved by use of the priority-inheritance protocol. According to this protocol, all processes that are accessing resources needed by a higher-priority process inherit the higher priority until they are finished with the resources in question. When they are finished, their priorities revert to their original values. In the example above, a priority-inheritance protocol allows process L to temporarily inherit the priority of process H, thereby preventing process M from preempting its execution. When process L has finished using resource R, it relinquishes its inherited priority from H and assumes its original priority. As resource R is now available, process H—not M—will run next.

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