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Task Context Management



Task Stacks


Direction of Stack Growth

The CPU_STACK_GROWS_UP macro is set based upon the answer to the following question: Does the stack grow up (toward higher addresses) or down (toward lower addresses)? If the stack grows upward in memory, then this macro should be set to TRUE. Otherwise, it should be set to FALSE to indicate that the stack grows downward toward smaller addresses.

The following illustrates how the CPU_STACK_GROWS_UP macro is set: .. code:: c


Minimum Task Stack Size

The CPU_STACK_MINIMUM_SIZE macro should be set to the minimum size of each task stack. This size is specified as the number of bytes. This minimum stack size should be large enough to run all RTEMS tests. The minimum stack size is chosen such that a "reasonable" small application should not have any problems. Choosing a minimum stack size that is too small will result in the RTEMS tests "blowing" their stack and not executing properly.

There are many reasons a task could require a stack size larger than the minimum. For example, a task could have a very deep call path or declare large data structures on the stack. Tasks which utilize C++ exceptions tend to require larger stacks as do Ada tasks.

The following illustrates setting the minimum stack size to 4 kilobytes per task. .. code:: c

#define CPU_STACK_MINIMUM_SIZE (1024*4)

Stack Alignment Requirements

The CPU_STACK_ALIGNMENT macro is set to indicate the byte alignment requirement for the stack. This alignment requirement may be stricter than that for the data types alignment specified by CPU_ALIGNMENT. If the CPU_ALIGNMENT is strict enough for the stack, then this should be set to 0.

The following illustrates how the CPU_STACK_ALIGNMENT macro should be set when there are no special requirements: .. code:: c


NOTE: This must be a power of 2 either 0 or greater than CPU_ALIGNMENT. [XXX is this true?]

Task Context

Associated with each task is a context that distinguishes it from other tasks in the system and logically gives it its own scratch pad area for computations. In addition, when an interrupt occurs some processor context information must be saved and restored. This is managed in RTEMS as three items:

  • Basic task level context (e.g. the Context_Control structure)
  • Floating point task context (e.g. Context_Control_fp structure)
  • Interrupt level context (e.g. the Context_Control_interrupt structure)

The integer and floating point context structures and the routines that manipulate them are discussed in detail in this section, while the interrupt level context structure is discussed in the XXX.

Additionally, if the GNU debugger gdb is to be made aware of RTEMS tasks for this CPU, then care should be used in designing the context area. .. code:: c

typedef struct { unsigned32 special_interrupt_register; } CPU_Interrupt_frame;

Basic Context Data Structure

The Context_Control data structure contains the basic integer context of a task. In addition, this context area contains stack and frame pointers, processor status register(s), and any other registers that are normally altered by compiler generated code. In addition, this context must contain the processor interrupt level since the processor interrupt level is maintained on a per-task basis. This is necessary to support the interrupt level portion of the task mode as provided by the Classic RTEMS API.

On some processors, it is cost-effective to save only the callee preserved registers during a task context switch. This means that the ISR code needs to save those registers which do not persist across function calls. It is not mandatory to make this distinctions between the caller/callee saves registers for the purpose of minimizing context saved during task switch and on interrupts. If the cost of saving extra registers is minimal, simplicity is the choice. Save the same context on interrupt entry as for tasks in this case.

The Context_Control data structure should be defined such that the order of elements results in the simplest, most efficient implementation of XXX. A typical implementation starts with a definition such as the following: .. code:: c

typedef struct { unsigned32 some_integer_register; unsigned32 another_integer_register; unsigned32 some_system_register; } Context_Control;

Initializing a Context

The _CPU_Context_Initialize routine initializes the context to a state suitable for starting a task after a context restore operation. Generally, this involves:

  • setting a starting address,
  • preparing the stack,
  • preparing the stack and frame pointers,
  • setting the proper interrupt level in the context, and
  • initializing the floating point context

This routine generally does not set any unnecessary register in the context. The state of the "general data" registers is undefined at task start time. The _CPU_Context_initialize routine is prototyped as follows: .. code:: c

void _CPU_Context_Initialize(

Context_Control *_the_context, void *_stack_base, unsigned32 _size, unsigned32 _isr, void *_entry_point, unsigned32 _is_fp



The is_fp parameter is TRUE if the thread is to be a floating point thread. This is typically only used on CPUs where the FPU may be easily disabled by software such as on the SPARC where the PSR contains an enable FPU bit. The use of an FPU enable bit allows RTEMS to ensure that a non-floating point task is unable to access the FPU. This guarantees that a deferred floating point context switch is safe.

The _stack_base parameter is the base address of the memory area allocated for use as the task stack. It is critical to understand that``_stack_base`` may not be the starting stack pointer for this task. On CPU families where the stack grows from high addresses to lower ones, (i.e. CPU_STACK_GROWS_UP is FALSE) the starting stack point will be near the end of the stack memory area or close to``_stack_base`` + _size. Even on CPU families where the stack grows from low to higher addresses, there may be some required outermost stack frame that must be put at the address _stack_base.

The _size parameter is the requested size in bytes of the stack for this task. It is assumed that the memory area _stack_base is of this size.

XXX explain other parameters and check prototype

Performing a Context Switch

The _CPU_Context_switch performs a normal non-FP context switch from the context of the current executing thread to the context of the heir thread. .. code:: c

void _CPU_Context_switch( Context_Control *run, Context_Control *heir );


This routine begins by saving the current state of the CPU (i.e. the context) in the context area at run. Then the routine should load the CPU context pointed to by heir. Loading the new context will cause a branch to its task code, so the task that invoked``_CPU_Context_switch`` will not run for a while. When, eventually, a context switch is made to load context from *run again, this task will resume and _CPU_Context_switch will return to its caller.

Care should be exercise when writing this routine. All registers assumed to be preserved across subroutine calls must be preserved. These registers may be saved in the task's context area or on its stack. However, the stack pointer and address to resume executing the task at must be included in the context (normally the subroutine return address to the caller of _Thread_Dispatch. The decision of where to store the task's context is based on numerous factors including the capabilities of the CPU architecture itself and simplicity as well as external considerations such as debuggers wishing to examine a task's context. In this case, it is often simpler to save all data in the context area.

Also there may be special considerations when loading the stack pointers or interrupt level of the incoming task. Independent of CPU specific considerations, if some context is saved on the task stack, then the porter must ensure that the stack pointer is adjusted BEFORE to make room for this context information before the information is written. Otherwise, an interrupt could occur writing over the context data. The following is an example of an INCORRECT sequence: .. code:: c

save part of context beyond current top of stack interrupt pushes context -- overwriting written context interrupt returns adjust stack pointer

Restoring a Context

The _CPU_Context_restore routine is generally used only to restart the currently executing thread (i.e. self) in an efficient manner. In many ports, it can simply be a label in _CPU_Context_switch. It may be unnecessary to reload some registers. .. code:: c

void _CPU_Context_restore(

Context_Control *new_context



Restarting the Currently Executing Task

The _CPU_Context_Restart_self is responsible for somehow restarting the currently executing task. If you are lucky when porting RTEMS, then all that is necessary is restoring the context. Otherwise, there will need to be a routine that does something special in this case. Performing a _CPU_Context_Restore on the currently executing task after reinitializing that context should work on most ports. It will not work if restarting self conflicts with the stack frame assumptions of restoring a context.

The following is an implementation of _CPU_Context_Restart_self that can be used when no special handling is required for this case. .. code:: c

#define _CPU_Context_Restart_self( _the_context )
_CPU_Context_restore( (_the_context) )

XXX find a port which does not do it this way and include it here

Floating Point Context

CPU_HAS_FPU Macro Definition

The CPU_HAS_FPU macro is set based on the answer to the question: Does the CPU have hardware floating point? If the CPU has an FPU, then this should be set to TRUE. Otherwise, it should be set to FALSE. The primary implication of setting this macro to TRUE is that it indicates that tasks may have floating point contexts. In the Classic API, this means that the RTEMS_FLOATING_POINT task attribute specified as part of rtems_task_create is supported on this CPU. If CPU_HAS_FPU is set to FALSE, then no tasks or threads may be floating point and the RTEMS_FLOATING_POINT task attribute is ignored. On an API such as POSIX where all threads implicitly have a floating point context, then the setting of this macro determines whether every POSIX thread has a floating point context.

The following example illustrates how the CPU_HARDWARE_FP (XXX macro name is varying) macro is set based on the CPU family dependent macro. .. code:: c

#if ( THIS_CPU_FAMILY_HAS_FPU == 1 ) /* where THIS_CPU_FAMILY */

/* might be M68K */





The macro name THIS_CPU_FAMILY_HAS_FPU should be made CPU specific. It indicates whether or not this CPU model has FP support. For example, the definition of the i386ex and i386sx CPU models would set I386_HAS_FPU to FALSE to indicate that these CPU models are i386's without an i387 and wish to leave floating point support out of RTEMS when built for the i386_nofp processor model. On a CPU with a built-in FPU like the i486, this would be defined as TRUE.

On some processor families, the setting of the THIS_CPU_FAMILY_HAS_FPU macro may be derived from compiler predefinitions. This can be used when the compiler distinguishes the individual CPU models for this CPU family as distinctly as RTEMS requires. Often RTEMS needs to need more about the CPU model than the compiler because of differences at the system level such as caching, interrupt structure.


The CPU_ALL_TASKS_ARE_FP macro is set to TRUE or FALSE based upon the answer to the following question: Are all tasks RTEMS_FLOATING_POINT tasks implicitly? If this macro is set TRUE, then all tasks and threads are assumed to have a floating point context. In the Classic API, this is equivalent to setting the RTEMS_FLOATING_POINT task attribute on all rtems_task_create calls. If the CPU_ALL_TASKS_ARE_FP macro is set to FALSE, then the RTEMS_FLOATING_POINT task attribute in the Classic API is honored.

The rationale for this macro is that if a function that an application developer would not think utilize the FP unit DOES, then one can not easily predict which tasks will use the FP hardware. In this case, this option should be TRUE. So far, the only CPU families for which this macro has been to TRUE are the HP PA-RISC and PowerPC. For the HP PA-RISC, the HP C compiler and gcc both implicitly use the floating point registers to perform integer multiplies. For the PowerPC, this feature macro is set to TRUE because the printf routine saves a floating point register whether or not a floating point number is actually printed. If the newlib implementation of printf were restructured to avoid this, then the PowerPC port would not have to have this option set to TRUE.

The following example illustrates how the CPU_ALL_TASKS_ARE_FP is set on the PowerPC. On this CPU family, this macro is set to TRUE if the CPU model has hardware floating point. .. code:: c


NOTE: If CPU_HARDWARE_FP is FALSE, then this should be FALSE as well.


The CPU_USE_DEFERRED_FP_SWITCH macro is set based upon the answer to the following question: Should the saving of the floating point registers be deferred until a context switch is made to another different floating point task? If the floating point context will not be stored until necessary, then this macro should be set to TRUE. When set to TRUE, the floating point context of a task will remain in the floating point registers and not disturbed until another floating point task is switched to.

If the CPU_USE_DEFERRED_FP_SWITCH is set to FALSE, then the floating point context is saved each time a floating point task is switched out and restored when the next floating point task is restored. The state of the floating point registers between those two operations is not specified.

There are a couple of known cases where the port should not defer saving the floating point context. The first case is when the compiler generates instructions that use the FPU when floating point is not actually used. This occurs on the HP PA-RISC for example when an integer multiply is performed. On the PowerPC, the printf routine includes a save of a floating point register to support printing floating point numbers even if the path that actually prints the floating point number is not invoked. In both of these cases, deferred floating point context switches can not be used. If the floating point context has to be saved as part of interrupt dispatching, then it may also be necessary to disable deferred context switches.

Setting this flag to TRUE results in using a different algorithm for deciding when to save and restore the floating point context. The deferred FP switch algorithm minimizes the number of times the FP context is saved and restored. The FP context is not saved until a context switch is made to another, different FP task. Thus in a system with only one FP task, the FP context will never be saved or restored.

The following illustrates setting the CPU_USE_DEFERRED_FP_SWITCH macro on a processor family such as the M68K or i386 which can use deferred floating point context switches. .. code:: c


Note that currently, when in SMP configuration, deferred floating point context switching is unavailable.

Floating Point Context Data Structure

The Context_Control_fp contains the per task information for the floating point unit. The organization of this structure may be a list of floating point registers along with any floating point control and status registers or it simply consist of an array of a fixed number of bytes. Defining the floating point context area as an array of bytes is done when the floating point context is dumped by a "FP save context" type instruction and the format is either not completely defined by the CPU documentation or the format is not critical for the implementation of the floating point context switch routines. In this case, there is no need to figure out the exact format - only the size. Of course, although this is enough information for RTEMS, it is probably not enough for a debugger such as gdb. But that is another problem. .. code:: c

typedef struct { double some_float_register; } Context_Control_fp;

On some CPUs with hardware floating point support, the Context_Control_fp structure will not be used.

Size of Floating Point Context Macro

The CPU_CONTEXT_FP_SIZE macro is set to the size of the floating point context area. On some CPUs this will not be a "sizeof" because the format of the floating point area is not defined - only the size is. This is usually on CPUs with a "floating point save context" instruction. In general, though it is easier to define the structure as a "sizeof" operation and define the Context_Control_fp structure to be an area of bytes of the required size in this case. .. code:: c

#define CPU_CONTEXT_FP_SIZE sizeof( Context_Control_fp )

Start of Floating Point Context Area Macro

The _CPU_Context_Fp_start macro is used in the XXX routine and allows the initial pointer into a floating point context area (used to save the floating point context) to be at an arbitrary place in the floating point context area. This is necessary because some FP units are designed to have their context saved as a stack which grows into lower addresses. Other FP units can be saved by simply moving registers into offsets from the base of the context area. Finally some FP units provide a "dump context" instruction which could fill in from high to low or low to high based on the whim of the CPU designers. Regardless, the address at which that floating point context area pointer should start within the actual floating point context area varies between ports and this macro provides a clean way of addressing this.

This is a common implementation of the _CPU_Context_Fp_start routine which is suitable for many processors. In particular, RISC processors tend to use this implementation since the floating point context is saved as a sequence of store operations. .. code:: c

#define _CPU_Context_Fp_start( _base, _offset )

( (void *) _Addresses_Add_offset( (_base), (_offset) ) )


In contrast, the m68k treats the floating point context area as a stack which grows downward in memory. Thus the following implementation of _CPU_Context_Fp_start is used in that port:

XXX insert m68k version here

Initializing a Floating Point Context

The _CPU_Context_Initialize_fp routine initializes the floating point context area passed to it to. There are a few standard ways in which to initialize the floating point context. The simplest, and least deterministic behaviorally, is to do nothing. This leaves the FPU in a random state and is generally not a suitable way to implement this routine. The second common implementation is to place a "null FP status word" into some status/control register in the FPU. This mechanism is simple and works on many FPUs. Another common way is to initialize the FPU to a known state during _CPU_Initialize and save the context (using _CPU_Context_save_fp_context) into the special floating point context _CPU_Null_fp_context. Then all that is required to initialize a floating point context is to copy _CPU_Null_fp_context to the destination floating point context passed to it. The following example implementation shows how to accomplish this: .. code:: c

#define _CPU_Context_Initialize_fp( _destination ) {

((Context_Control_fp *) *((void *) _destination)) = \
_CPU_Null_fp_context; \


The _CPU_Null_fp_context is optional. A port need only include this variable when it uses the above mechanism to initialize a floating point context. This is typically done on CPUs where it is difficult to generate an "uninitialized" FP context. If the port requires this variable, then it is declared as follows: .. code:: c

Context_Control_fp _CPU_Null_fp_context;

Saving a Floating Point Context

The _CPU_Context_save_fp_context routine is responsible for saving the FP context at *fp_context_ptr. If the point to load the FP context from is changed then the pointer is modified by this routine.


Sometimes a macro implementation of this is in cpu.h which dereferences the ** and a similarly named routine in this file is passed something like a (Context_Control_fp *). The general rule on making this decision is to avoid writing assembly language. .. code:: c

void _CPU_Context_save_fp(

void **fp_context_ptr



Restoring a Floating Point Context

The _CPU_Context_restore_fp_context is responsible for restoring the FP context at *fp_context_ptr. If the point to load the FP context from is changed then the pointer is modified by this routine.


Sometimes a macro implementation of this is in cpu.h which dereferences the ** and a similarly named routine in this file is passed something like a (Context_Control_fp *). The general rule on making this decision is to avoid writing assembly language. .. code:: c


void _CPU_Context_restore_fp( void **fp_context_ptr );

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