Bottom-Half Interrupt Handlers

RTOS Interrupts

A well-design RTOS depends on the most minimal of interrupt level processing. This is a very different concept that for bare metal programming:

  • With bare metal programming most of the real-time work is usually performed in interrupt handlers. Interrupt handler execution may then extend in time considerably due to this interrupt level processing.

To compensate for this extended interrupt processing time, bare metal programmers also need prioritized interrupts:

  • If an interrupt request for a higher priority interrupt occurs during the extended processing of the lower priority interrupt, then that interrupt handler will itself be interrupted to service the higher priority interrupt requests. In this way bare metal interrupt handling is nested.

With an RTOS, the real-time strategy is very different:

  • Interrupts must run very, very briefly so that they do not interfere with the RTOS real-time scheduling. Normally, the interrupt simply performs whatever minor housekeeping is necessary and then immediately defers processing by waking up some task via some Inter-Process Communication(IPC). The RTOS is then responsible for the real-time behavior, not the interrupt. And,

  • since the interrupts must be very brief, there is little or no gain from nesting of interrupts.

Extending interrupt processing

But what if extended interrupt processing is required? What if there is a significant amount of hardware-related operations that absolutely must be performed as quickly as possible before we can turn processing over to general, real-time tasking?

In NuttX, this is handled through a high priority trampoline called the “High Priority Work Queue”. It is a trampoline because it changes the interrupt processing context for extended interrupt processing before notifying the normal real-time task.

Processing on that ultra-high priority work thread then completes the extended interrupt processing with interrupts enabled, but without interference from any other real-time tasks.

At the completion of the extended processing, the high priority worker thread can then continue processing via some IPC to a normal real-time task.

The portion of interrupt processing that is performed in the interrupt handler with interrupts disabled is referred to as Top Half Interrupt processing; the portion of interrupt processing that is performed on the high priority work queue with interrupts enabled is referred to as Bottom Half Interrupt processing.

High Priority Work Queue

NuttX supports a high priority work queue as well as a low priority work queue with somewhat different properties. The high priority work queue is dedicated to the support of Bottom Half Interrupt processing. Other uses of the high priority work queue may be inappropriate and may harm the real-time performance of your system.

The high priority work queue must have these properties:

  • Highest Priority The high priority work queue must be the highest priority task in your system. No other task should execute at a higher priority; No other task can be permitted to interfere with execution of the high priority work queue.

  • Zero Latency Context Switches Provided that the priority of the high priority work queue is the highest in the system, then there will be no context switch overhead in getting from the Top Half Interrupt processing to the Bottom Half Interrupt processing other that the normal overhead of returning from an interrupt. Upon return from the interrupt, the system will immediately vector to high priority worker thread.

  • Brief Processing Processing on the high priority work queue must still be brief. If there is high priority work in progress when the high priority worker is signaled, then that processing will be queued and delayed until it can be processed. That delay will add jitter to your real-time response. You must not generate a backlog of work for the high priority worker thread!

  • No Waiting Work executing on the high priority work queue must not wait for resources or events on the high priority worker thread. Waiting on the high priority work queue blocks the queue and will, again, damage real-time performance.

Setting Up Bottom Half Interrupt Processing

Bottom half interrupt processing is scheduled by top half interrupt processing by simply calling the function work_queue():

int work_queue(int qid, FAR struct work_s *work, worker_t worker,
               FAR void *arg, clock_t delay);

This same interface is the same for both high- and low-priority. The qid argument distinguishes which work queue will be used. For bottom half interrupt processing, qid must be set to HPWORK.

The work argument is memory that will be used to actually queue the work. It has no meaning to the caller; it is simply a memory allocation by the caller. Otherwise, the work structure is completely managed by the work queue logic. The caller should never modify the contents of the work queue structure directly. If work_queue() is called before the previous work as been performed and removed from the queue, then any pending work will be canceled and lost. The work_available() function can be called to determine if the work represented by the work structure is still in-use.

For the interrupt handling case at hand, the work structure must be pre-allocated or statically allocated since dynamic allocations are not supported from the interrupt handling context.

The worker is the name of the function that will perform the bottom half interrupt work. arg is an arbitrary value that the user provides and will be given to the worker function when it executes. Normally arg produces some context in which the work will be performed. The type of the worker function is given by:

typedef CODE void (*worker_t)(FAR void *arg);

Where arg has the same value as was passed to work_queue().

Processing or work can be delayed in time. The work_queue() delay argument provides that time delay in units of system clock ticks. However, when used to provide bottom half interrupt processing, the delay should always be zero.