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Nut/OS Events

This paper provides an overview of Nut/OS event handling internals.

Basically Nut/OS thread scheduling can be understood as handling events by moving threads among queues. A thread waiting for an event is blocked by moving it from a global ready-to-run queue to a queue, that is expected to receive this event.

Linked Lists of Threads

During system initialization, the idle thread is created first, which in turn creates the main application thread. Depending on the Nut/OS components used by the application, the system may create additional threads like the DHCP client or the Ethernet receiver thread. Applications can create more threads by calling

  HANDLE NutThreadCreate(u_char * name, void (*fn) (void *), void *arg, size_t stackSize);
The first parameter, the thread's name, does not have any other purpose than providing a symbolic name. The second parameter specifies the name of the routine, which will be started as a thread and the third parameter is passed to this routine. Each thread gets its own stack and the size of this stack is specified by the fourth parameter.

When successful, NutThreadCreate returns a handle, in fact a pointer to the NUTTHREADINFO structure of the new thread.

Thread Structure

Each time, when Nut/OS creates a new thread, a NUTTHREADINFO structure is allocated from heap memory and and added in front of a linked list containing all existing threads. The global pointer nutThreadList points to the first entry.

To keep things simple, the following diagrams will show the relevant structure members only. Furthermore, let's assume, that only three threads have been created, the idle thread, the main application thread and an additional thread created by the application. This will result in the following list of threads.

Events 1

The pointer nutThreadList points to a list, which contains all three threads. This list is linked by the structure element td_next (red colored links). The last NUTTHREADINFO structure is always the one of the idle thread.

We notice, that there are more lists. The global pointer runQueue points to the list of all threads, which are ready to run and linked by td_qnxt (blue colored links). In opposite to nutThreadList, new entries are not simply added to the front. This list is always sorted by the value of td_priority. In Nut/OS, low values mean high priority. The idle thread is running at lowest priority 254. Again to keep the follwing diagrams simple, the priority order is the same as the list of all threads. In reality this is usually not the case.

Waiting for an Event

The runQueue does not always contain all existing threads, but only those which are ready to run. One of its entries must have the state TDS_RUNNING and all remaining entries in this queue are in state TDS_READY. Threads with state TDS_SLEEP will never be part of the runQueue.

If a thread directly or indirectly calls

  int NutEventWait(HANDLE * qhp, u_long ms);
then the related NUTTHREADINFO structure will be removed from this list of ready-to-run threads.

The first parameter of NutEventWait is a pointer to a pointer to a linked list (HANDLE is defined as a void pointer). This parameter is used in a similar way as runQueue, but instead of listing all ready-to-run threads, it contains a list of threads waiting for a specific event. In our example the thread with the highest priority called

  HANDLE eventqueue = 0;
  NutEventWait(&eventQueue, 1000);
and thus had been removed from runQueue and added to eventQueue.

Internally, NutEventWait executes

  NutThreadRemoveQueue(runningThread, &runQueue);
  runningThread->td_state = TDS_SLEEP;
  NutThreadAddPriQueue(runningThread, (NUTTHREADINFO **) qhp);
to remove the currently running thread from the runQueue, change its state from TD_RUNNING to TDS_SLEEP and to add it to the eventQueue.

The second parameter of NutEventWait specifies the maximum time the thread is willing to wait for an event posted to the queue. If this parameter is zero, the thread will wait without time limit. Otherwise it is interpreted as the number of milliseconds to wait and Nut/OS will create a timer in this case.

Like threads, timers are created by allocating a NUTTIMERINFO from heap memory and adding it to a linked list. The global pointer nutTimerList points to the first entry and following entries are linked by the pointer tn_next, which is a member of NUTTIMERINFO.

If a timeout is specified, NutEventWait calls

  HANDLE NutTimerStart(u_long ms, void (*callback) (HANDLE, void *), void *arg, u_char flags);
which creates the NUTTIMERINFO structure and adds it to nutTimerList. We will discuss the situation in case of a time out later in more detail.

Finally, NutEventWait calls

which pushes the CPU registers on the stack, changes the state of the thread in front of the runQueue from TD_READY to TD_RUNNING and loads the CPU registers for the stack of this thread.

In this document I will not describe in detail, how Nut/OS switches from one to another thread. In fact, NutEventWait will not return immediately, because the CPU starts execution of the second thread.

Events 2

Let's assume, that our second thread directly or indirectly calls NutEventWait too on the same eventQueue.

  NutEventWait(&eventQueue, 1000);
Again a timeout value has been given and Nut/OS moves the related NUTTHREADINFO structure from the runQueue to this eventQueue, does the required updates of td_state, creates another timer and finally passes control to the last thread.

Events 3

As described above, the last thread is the idle thread, which will never be removed from the runQueue. It serves as a placeholder during times, when all worker threads are sleeping. It keeps the CPU busy by calling NutThreadYield in an endless loop. As soon as another thread becomes ready to run, the idle thread will lose CPU control. In our case, this may happen as soon as an event is posted to the eventQueue.

Posting an Event

In order to wake up a thread waiting in an event queue, a thread calls

  int NutEventPost(HANDLE volatile *qhp);
This will remove the NUTTHREADINFO structure in front of this priority ordered linked list to the runQueue. As we already know, the runQueue is also ordered by priority. If the thread, which called NutEventPost, has a lower priority than the woken up thread, CPU control is passed to the latter.

Alternatively a thread may call

  int NutEventBroadcast(HANDLE * qhp);
in which moves all threads in the specified queue to the runQueue.

In our given example, only the idle thread is left. When the idle thread is doing nothing except calling NutThreadYield in a loop, who is posting an event while both worker threads are sleeping? Well, there are two special calls, which can be called from within interrupt routines.

  int NutEventPostAsync(HANDLE volatile *qhp);
  int NutEventBroadcastAsync(HANDLE * qhp);
The main difference to NutEventPost and NutEventPostAsync is, that Nut/OS will move the NUTTHREADINFO structures and update the td_state values, but will not switch the CPU control. This is actually done when the idle thread calls NutThreadYield. Nut/OS provides cooperative multithreading, which means, that a thread can rely on not losing CPU control without calling specific system function which may change its state. However, interrupts are preemptive in any case. By delaying the context switch, Nut/OS ensures, that cooperative multithreading is maintained even when interrupts are able to wake up sleeping threads.

So far let's assume, that in our example some kind of smart interrupt routine posts an event to eventQueue by calling

and that our high priority thread is back in the runQueue.

Events 4

If an event is posted to the eventQueue before the timer elapses, then the NUTTIMERINFO will be removed from the nutTimerList by a call to

The second thread is still waiting for an event and we assume, that a time out will occur.

Event Timeout

In detail, NutEventWait calls

  td_timer = NutTimerStart(ms, NutEventTimeout, (void *) qhp, TM_ONESHOT);
when a timeout value other than zero has been specified. Further details of Nut/OS timer handling are not described in this document, but let's look at least to the parameters. The first one contains the number of milliseconds the thread is willing to wait for an event. The second parameter points to a functions, which will be called when the timer elapses. The third parameter will be passed to this function, it points to the event queue. The last parameter puts the timer in oneshot mode. This means, that it is automatically removed from nutTimerList after the timer elapsed.

Obviously the most interesting parameter is the callback routine

  void NutEventTimeout(HANDLE timer, void *arg);
This procedure is part of the Nut/OS event handling module and directly called by the timer interrupt routine when a timer elapses. As explained above, a pointer to the related queue is passed to this routine along with the handle of the timer (actually a pointer to NUTTIMERINFO). In our example, the timer handle is the same, that had been previously stored in td_timer and the arg points to eventQueue.

The NutEventTimeout will walk through this queue, searching for the NUTTHREADINFO structure that contains a td_timer with the same timer handle. If it is not found, the routine doesn't care. It simply means, that an event already removed the thread from the queue. Nothing else can be done, because the Nut/OS timer handling will automatically remove oneshot timers.

If it is found, td_timer will be cleared and the NUTTHREADINFO structure will be moved to the runQueue. Remember, that NutEventTimeout is running in interrupt context. So it will not perform any thread switching. As soon as the running thread calls any such function, a thread switch may occur. In our example, this will not happen, because the currently running thread got a higher priority.

Events 1

Later on, CPU control will be (hopefully) passed to the second thread, which then continous to execute NutEventWait. This routine will check whether it had been called with a timeout value and td_timer had been cleared to zero. In this case it returns -1 to inform the caller, that a time out occured. Otherwise zero will be returned.

Problem Discussion

At the time of this writing, Nut/OS is at version 3.9.2.

Problem 1: Not yet verfied, but it looks like events are sometimes lost when a timeout value has been specified. With most applications this is no real problem, because the timeout will avoid complete blocking of the thread.

Problem 2: Several variables and parameters are marked volatile. However, cooperative multithreading requires a volatile attribute for variables only, if they are modified in interrupt routines.

Harald Kipp
Herne, October 9th, 2004.