Event Notification Andsoftwar E Interrupt

Event Notification andSoftwar e Interrupt: Event notification, exception handling, and software interrupts are essential for multitasking systems. Responsive mechanisms are needed to inform threads of the occurrences of timer events, the receipt of messages, the completion of asynchronous I/O operations, and so on. In UNIX systems, signal is the general mechanism for these purposes. Most of this subsection is devoted to the Real-Time POSIX signal as its features exemplify what are good and practical for real-time applications.

Signal and Similar Mechanisms. We saw earlier that in a UNIX system, interrupt handlers and the kernel use signals as a means to inform threads of the occurrences of exceptions (e.g., divide by zero and bad system call) or waited for events (e.g., the expiration of a timer and arrival of a message). A thread may signal another thread to synchronize and communicate. (For example, a predecessor thread may signal a successor thread when it completes.) A thread has a service function, called a signal handler. When the kernel delivers a signal to the thread, the signal handler executes. Thus, the signal mechanism provides asynchrony and immediacy, just as hardware interrupts do.

Non-UNIX systems typically provide these capabilities using more than one mechanism. As an example, inWindows NT [Solo, Hart], events and Asynchronous Procedure Calls (APCs) serve the same purposes as signals in UNIX systems. Events are set by threads for the purpose of notification and synchronization. They are synchronous. In other words, a thread must explicitly wait for an event for the event to have effect, and the thread is suspended while it waits. When a thread sets an event (object) to the signaled state, the thread(s) that is waiting on the event is awakened and scheduled. An NT event is an efficient and powerful notification and synchronization mechanism. Being synchronous, NT event delivery does not have the relatively high overhead of asynchronism. It is many-to-many in the sense that multiple threads can wait on one event and a thread can wait for multiple events. In contrast, each UNIX signal is targeted to an individual thread or process, and each signal is handled independently of other signals.

As its name implies, NT APCs are asynchronous. The kernel and device drivers use kernel-mode APCs to do work in the address spaces of user threads (e.g., to copy data from kernel space to the space of the thread that initiated the I/O). Environment subsystems (i.e., the POSIX subsystem) uses APCs as software interrupts (e.g., to suspend a thread). Indeed, the POSIX subsystem on NT implements the delivery of POSIX signals to user processes using APCs. The former are synchronous and point-to-point. An event is sent to a specified receiving task. The event has no effect on the receiving task if the task does not call the event receive function. In contrast, an asynchronous signal forces the receiving task to respond.

More on Signals. Internal to UNIX operating systems, signals used for different purposes are identified by numbers. In programs and in the literature, they are referred to by their symbolic names. The correspondence between the number and the symbolic name of each signal is given in the header file <signal.h>. Most POSIX signals (i.e., signal numbers) are used by the operating system; what they do is defined by the system. (We have already seen SIGALRM for signaling upon timer expiration. Other examples are SIGTERM for terminating a process, SIGFPE for floating-point exception, and SIGPIPE for writing a pipe with no readers.) There are also signal numbers which are to be used solely for application-defined purposes. A Real-Time POSIX compliant system provides at least eight application-defined signals. An application-defined signal (with one of the numbers reserved for applications) is defined by the function (i.e., the signal handler) which the application sets up for the operating system to call when a signal with that number arrives. [Specifically, the action to be taken upon the occurrence of a signal is specified by the data structure sigaction on the signal. Among the information provided by this data structure is a pointer to the signal handler, a mask sa mask and a flag field sa flag. A process (thread) can ask the operating system to set these members by calling sigaction( ) and providing these and other arguments of the function.

By default, when a signal arrives, it is handled, meaning that the signal handler set up for the signal is executed. A process (thread) may ignore any signal, except those (e.g, SIGKILL) used by the operating system to stop and destroy an errant process. The operating system ignores a signal when the pointer to the associated signal handler has the system-defined constant SIG_IGN as its value.

Just as it is necessary to be able to disable interrupts, it is essential that signals can be blocked selectively from delivery. This is done via signal masks. Some signals may need to be blocked from delivery while a signal handler is executing. One specifies the signals blocked by the handler of a signal by putting their numbers in sa mask in the data structure sigaction of that signal. The operating system does not deliver a signal thus blocked while the signal handler is executing. Each process (thread) also has a signal mask containing numbers of signals the process (thread) wants blocked. A signal thus blocked is delivered by the operating system but remains pending until the process (thread) unblocks the signal by removing its number from the signal mask.

Signal delivery is on per process basis, so if a thread ignores a signal, all threads in the process do also. On the other hand, each thread has its own signal mask. Therefore, threads in a process can choose to block or unblock signals independent of other threads. Some signals (e.g., SIGTERM for terminating a process) are intended for the entire process. Such a signal, if not ignored, is delivered to any thread that is in the process and does not block the signal. The signal is blocked only when all threads in the process blocks it.

Real-Time POSIX Signals. POSIX real-time extensions [IEEE98] change the POSIX signals to make the mechanism more responsive and reliable. To distinguish signals conforming to POSIX real-time extensions from POSIX and traditional UNIX signals, we call the former real-time signals. First, as we mentioned earlier, there are at least eight application-defined real-time signals versus only two provided by POSIX. These signals are numbered from SIGRTMIN to SIGRTMAX. Second, real-time signals can be queued, while traditional UNIX signals cannot. Queueing is a per signal option; one chooses the queueing option for a real-time signal by setting bit SA SIGINFO in the sa flags field of the sigaction structure of the signal. If not queued, a signal that is delivered while being blocked may be lost. Hence, queueing ensures the reliable delivery of signals.

Third, a queued real-time signal can carry data. A traditional signal handler has only one parameter: the number of the signal. In contrast, the signal handler of a real-time signal whose SA SIGINFO bit is set has as an additional parameter a pointer to a data structure that contains the data value to be passed to the signal handler. This capability increases the communication bandwidth of the signal mechanism. As an example, a server can use this mechanism to notify a client of the completion of a requested service and pass the result back to the client at the same time.

Fourth, queued signals are prioritized: The smaller the signal number, the higher the priority. They are delivered in priority order. Fifth, POSIX real-time extensions provide a new and more responsive synchronous signal-wait function called sigwaitinfo.When a signal arrives for a process that is blocked after calling the POSIX synchronous signal-wait function sigsuspend, the signal handler executes before the process returns from the blocked state. In contrast, upon the arrival of the signal, the sigwaitinfo function does not call the signal handler; it merely unblocks the calling process. Figure 12–5(a) gives an example of how this function may be used.
Overhead and Timing Predictability. The down side of the signal mechanism is the slow speed and high overhead of signal delivery. Like a hardware interrupt, a signal also causes a trap out of the user mode, complicated operations by the operating system, and a return to user mode. The time taken by these activities is high in comparison with other communication and synchronization mechanisms. Signal handler are executed ahead of threads of all priorities. (Typically, the kernel executes signal handlers prior to returning control to the user.) Hence, it is important that the execution times of signal handlers be kept small, just as it is important that execution times of interrupt service routines small.