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Spunky #4: Kernel Timing

In this article series I illustrate the development of an Ada kernel for Genode named Spunky. The approach is to first successively translate parts from the C++ base-hw kernel and temporarily integrate them with the remaining C++ parts. Once, the whole Kernel made it to Ada, Spunky can be further developed independently to benefit from the characteristics of Ada or even SPARK. This time, I talk about the translation of timeout scheduling and the underlying timer driver.

You can find the code behind this article on my Github branch. If you're interested in the discussion around Spunky, you may have a look at the Github issue. And finally, this is a list of all articles in this series:

Translating kernel timing to Ada

The kernel timing in base-hw consists of two parts. The device-specific timer driver implementation with a generic interface and the generic timer that is the only user of the timer driver. The timer driver defines the timer IRQ, how to set a single one-shot timeout, how to convert between the timer counter and real time, and how to read an (abstract) timer counter value. With this as back end, the generic timer implements the always increasing wall clock time of the kernel and the scheduling of multiple timeouts on a single time source. The kernel itself programs a timeout for the CPU scheduling and each userland thread is allowed to have one timeout at a time as well.

As with other modules, I first tried to simplify translation by adapting the base-hw C++ code. I got rid of inheritance (we want to reduce inheritance anyway in base-hw) and took care that only const methods have a return value. With this state properly tested, I started translation.

While the generic timer already felt like "business as usual" the timer driver was a new experience to me as I never had programmed direct interaction with hardware in Ada before. Quickly, I realized that I needed more lecture on this topic. It took me a while to dive into Ada's concept of representation clauses and pragmas when it comes to device IO. Eventually, however, I managed to make it work.

But, admittedly, I'm still not very satisfied with the code. And the main reason is, that it is complicated to a level where I become unsure about its semantics. Normally, I like the way in which Ada forces me to organize my code in order to not skip the details of a problem out of laziness or false aesthetics. However, this time, I had the feeling that the problem was more simple than its solution. Surely enough, this has something to do with my lack of experience with the language. I might not be aware of certain features or a way of using the ones I know that would simplify my driver code. If you'd like to give me a hint on this, I'd be more than happy to read from you! (

Now, let's get more concrete on what I'm talking about:

Accessing components of atomic registers

I use record types for MMIO registers and declare them atomic so access doesn't get reordered or modified. The record components declare the structure of the register at bit granularity. However, if I want to read such a bit-field directly (e.g. if Reg.Bitfield_1 = 0 then ... end if;), the compiler complains about an "access to non-atomic component of atomic record". If I try to declare the bit-field atomic as well, the compiler wants it to fulfill a specific alignment which conflicts with the register structure.

Therefore, I fall back to declaring a stack variable, read the whole register first and then read the bit-field from the stack. It would be nice to have the compiler do this tedious work for me, given that the it has to be capable of this kind of bit-logic anyway.

Converting between register records and plane integers

Sometimes, I would like to be able to convert between the instance of a register record and a plane integer value of the same architectural representation. For instance, when the register layout is known statically, but the register address must be determined dynamically or when one register address is used with different register layouts. So far, I found no other way than meticulously converting, shifting and masking each bitfield by hand, individually for each type of register record.

Of course, unchecked conversions would be another solution, but AFAIK, I would have to sacrifice type safety while actually there is no need to do without it. Again I wonder whether the compiler couldn't take over this task as it received the exact layout for both, the plane integer and the register record from me.

Redundancy when declaring memory layouts

If I want to configure the memory layout of a record that represents an MMIO register, the size of the record description more than doubles. The record name has to be re-written a second and a third time for the two lines that declare the bit-size and the atomicity of the record. Then a forth time together with all record-component names in order to declare the bit-offset and bit-size of the record components. This bloats up the description of a typical MMIO region with several registers and lots of bit-fields.

It would be a relief, if I could write these most essential parameters of device IO inline with the initial type declarations. I must admit that I cannot see the benefit of having these declarations in separate directives.

Now, please don't take this as a list of complaints - I appreciate programming Ada. It's only what I sensed a burden when first diving into driver development with the language and I wanted to document my impression. Maybe I can even learn how to overcome these problems with the existing language features.

I'm currently sitting at the next kernel driver, the interrupt controller, and I hope that soon, I can add another part to this article series.