"Boost context" for task switching on embedded Linux on ARM

Following on from my recent question about PThreads I have a new question a bout Boost:context

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We have some legacy code(Motorola 68000 C) that we want to use that has coo perative task switching. We want to run it all as a single thread and keep its co-operative organization within that thread. Is "Boost context" a re asonable way to do this? If not, do we have to figure out what registers a nd state we have to save/ restore and hope that we get everything?

Alternatively we could run each task as a thread and enforce round robin be haviour but that seems a bit wasteful.

Reply to
gp.kiwi
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Boost Context requires C++ 11. You may be facing a lot of work even to get your old C code to compile.

How was the tasking accomplished before? OS? [which one?] Or something in the code?

That won't necessarily work.

In cooperative tasking, the current task runs until it explicitly yields the CPU. Often shared data is manipulated without locks because the programmer knows no other task can run and interrupt the operation.

Running such a system under a pre-emptive task switcher is going to fail eventually regardless of the scheduling policy.

George

Reply to
George Neuner

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If the tasks cooperate, round-robin execution can be enforced even if the scheduler is "basically" pre-emptive. One just defines a mutex (with a waiting-task queue), and each task takes the mutex, does its job, releases the mutex, and repeats. If the mutex queue is FIFO, the result is round-robin execution of these cooperating tasks, no?

Of course no task outside this cooperating task group should access the unprotected, shared data.

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Niklas Holsti 
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Reply to
Niklas Holsti

That will work if the system really does queue tasks waiting on the mutex. But some systems simply wake all waiting tasks when a shared resource is freed - which task gets it then is happenstance. If taking the mutex is a free-for-all, there is a chance that some tasks may starve and never get it.

There also is the possibility with cooperative tasking that tasks may sometimes need to run in a particular order by directed yielding. Emulating that under a pre-emptive system requires something like message (token) passing.

The OP did not specify what system is being used.

Using a mutex will solve the shared data coordination problem - the task currently holding the mutex will be preempted for rescheduling, but because all the other tasks are waiting for the mutex, the one holding it will be scheduled to run again. [However, it may not be run immediately if there are other runnable tasks in the system not participating in the mutex.]

Absolutely.

George

Reply to
George Neuner

Oh, sorry ... the OP did specify Linux.

I'd have to double check, but I think Linux does wake all processes pending on an OS semaphore and lets them fight for it.

George

Reply to
George Neuner

Thanks for the replies. I'm using google groups - hope it's readable.

Regarding C++11 - we'll be using GCC 7. The guy who wrote the code was C++ aware and it won't be hard to get it to compile - a lot easier than re-wri ting.

If we make each co-operative task a proper thread then I was thinking we wo uld suspend the thread when it does a task switch and the task switch funct ion would release a mutex to allow other "non co-operative code" to access the data being generated by the co-operative threads. The task switch func tion would resume the next co-operative thread in round robin fashion. The legacy code just saves each task stack pointer in an array and cycles arou nd them.

It seems that Linux provides a switch_to and context_switch function that c an be used for co-operative threading but I've been unable to find any sour ce code (for ARM 9 or ARM anything) to compare with what boost::context doe s.

I was hoping to avoid putting mutexes all through the legacy code.

Reply to
graeme.prentice

After reading your comment about jmp_buf in the other thread I guess we can use setjmp, longjmp to save / restore context. I'm not sure why we're not already using it.

Reply to
graeme.prentice

After investigating now I see what you mean when you say "if the jmpbuf structure is documented". So this is not very easy and not very portable.

Reply to
graeme.prentice

That's encouraging at least.

Just a word of caution: suspending a thread from the outside can cause problems if done at the wrong time. It's acceptible for a thread to suspend itself, but apart from debugging there really are no good reasons for one thread to suspend another.

It's ok for a thread to be in a "suspended" state while waiting for some event that makes it runnable again. Just make sure to distinguish the state from the action.

Sorry, I can't you help you there - I've never used those functions.

It might help to take a look at some of the userspace thread libraries that are available. In particular, the old "cthreads" library [which predates kernel threading in Unix] was designed to be portable - if you can find it, it might give you some good ideas.

George

Reply to
George Neuner

setjmp/longjmp were designed originally to enable abandoning an errant computation by jumping back to state of the program that existed before the computation began. Using it to jump around within a single thread is relatively easy.

Multi-tasking with it is another issue. It's generally pretty easy to set up a new stack, but initializing all the other CPU state for the new "task" can be problematic. It was easier to do with simpler CPUs. It still can be done with a modern CPU, but it is much more difficult to get everything right [the more so for lack of documentation].

George

Reply to
George Neuner

ok, thanks. I'm not sure if the code below will work correctly - it's not as simple as I thought. I suspect I need a supervising thread. Maybe boost::context would be cleaner and simpler.

void task_switch() { release_mutex(); suspend_me_for_a_while(); acquire_mutex();

if ( ++task_id >= max_tasks ) { task_id = 0; } switch ( task_id ) { default: case 0 : resume_thread(0); break; case 1 : resume_thread(1); break; // ... } suspend_me(); }

Reply to
gp.kiwi

It would be better to sleep() [or in pthreads sched_yield()] rather than suspend - a suspended thread can't wake up again unless resumed from outside (e.g., by a supervisor as you mentioned).

However, whether this pattern will work depends on the mutex implementation. For example, pthreads does NOT guarantee the order of threads waiting for a mutex - it depends on the scheduler which waiting thread will get the mutex next. pthreads (Linux thread group) RR scheduling only works AS EXPECTED when all the threads remain runnable (iow, they are simply using up their timeslots and otherwise are not waiting for anything).

I don't know what Boost does.

If you want to force round robin in the face of resource contention, you need to find some way to play the moral equivalent of "pass the token".

George

Reply to
George Neuner

This sounds pretty horrendous and compiler and hardware dependent. You are basically writing a miniature OS in your scheduler. It helps if the compiler docs explicitly say it's supposed to work. Otherwise, if you reverse engineer it for a particular compiler version, all bets are off for the next one.

There are some very lightweight RTOS out there and it's probably saner to just use one instead of a hack like this.

Reply to
Paul Rubin

Simplest robust solution I can think of is to create one semaphore for each of the round-robin threads, initialise all semaphores but one to zero, and initialise the semaphore for the first thread that you want to run, to one (1).

Each thread starts with "taking" its own semaphore, which means that only the chosen "first thread" actually starts running, and the other threads all block on their semaphores. When a thread wants to yield to some other thread, it calls a function that:

- "signals" the semaphore for the thread that should run next (how ever you want to choose that thread), and then

- "takes" the semaphore for the current thread (the one that is yielding), which blocks this thread until someone signals this semaphore.

In this way, you can implement either round-robin execution or "directed" yields to a specific thread, because you control which semaphore is signalled next.

Assuming that the base system is Linux, or some competent RTOS, I would never mess around with jmp_buf or some system-dependent threading libraries.

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Niklas Holsti

Thanks for the suggestion.

Reply to
gp.kiwi

??? This is *userspace* thread switching - not kernel thread or process switching.

Do you not remember using LWT thread libraries - e.g., cthreads - before operating systems had kernel threads. What do you think they did?

Actually, the C standard says it works - at least if you read between the lines. 7.13 guarantees that CPU state[*] sufficient to restore the calling environment of setjmp will be preserved in the jmp_buf structure, and that that state [modulo setjmp's return value] will be restored by calling longjmp.

Although the standard does not address it's use in multitasking, the description of the operation of setjmp/longjmp matches quite well the description of a register state task switcher.

The hard part of using it for multitasking is that compiler vendors often don't document the jmp_buf structure very well because the standard explicitly speaks only to its use within a single thread, and that use does not require modifying the structure data.

Generally, setting up a new stack is pretty easy. The hard part is figuring out how to set the saved instruction pointer so as to properly enter your new "thread" function. [minimum you need to know if/how your CPU autoincrements addresses.]

Once you get past that hurdle, switching "threads" is as simple as

if (setjmp(&mystate) == 0) longjmp(&yourstate,1);

and "scheduling" is just picking the next jmp_buf to restore from an array or list of jmp_bufs that represent your runnable "threads".

[*] 7.13 says explicitly that the jmp_buf does not record the state of FPU status flags.

I am NOT advocating use of setjmp/longjmp to implement multitasking: getting a "thread" to start properly can be tedious and error prone unless the compiler documentation is good. The OP mentioned it as a possible solution to his problem, and I was merely explaining more about it.

However, Boost::context must be doing something extremely similar, and likely it is simply building on top of setjmp/longjmp which already are provided (yes, C++ has them too).

George

Reply to
George Neuner

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C11 says it is undefined -- see below.

I don't remember which version of C the OP intends to use, but the C11 draft (n1570.pdf) contains this text in section 7.13.2.1, for longjmp:

"The longjmp function restores the environment saved by the most recent invocation of the setjmp macro in the same invocation of the program with the corresponding jmp_buf argument. If ... the invocation was from another thread of execution ... the behavior is undefined."

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Reply to
Niklas Holsti

Yes. setjmp/longjmp is not *intended* to be used for multitasking. That has made clear already in C89/90.

However, almost every C program does things that technically are "undefined" or "implementation defined" according to the standard. And things get used for more than they originally were intended.

The point is not whether it's legal, but whether it works. You can multitask in C with setjmp/longjmp if you do it right. Obviously its better to use the standard approved thread API in C11, but users of previous versions did not have that luxury: whatever they did using a thread library or OS thread API was "undefined" wrt C.

Userspace threading in C has been done almost since the beginning: the

1st version of what later became the portable cthreads library popped out in 1981. The portable cthreads API (circa ~1990) was one of the inspirations for pthreads.

cthreads itself was based on setjmp/longjmp.

George

Reply to
George Neuner

True, but not desirable.

You can multitask in C with foo/bar if you implement foo and bar "right". Sure, for a simple thread context setjmp/longjmp can have some of the required properties of foo and bar, but may also have some undesirable properties.

The undefinedness of a cross-thread longjmp can be far more serious than, say, shifting or overflowing a signed integer. A longjmp is intended to *abandon* the current execution point and return to a point

*lower* (earlier) in the call stack. Some C or C++ systems might implement this by unwinding the stack, frame by frame, until the setjmp frame is reached. This will have drastic "undefinedness" if the setjmp refers to another stack...

It is not advisable, today, to try to misuse setjmp/longjmp for thread switching.

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Niklas Holsti 
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Reply to
Niklas Holsti

But none do ... every implementation I have seen leaves the stack data intact and simply resets the CPU register(s).

longjmp is NOT equivalent to throwing an exception, and, in fact, it is dangerous to use it that way in C++. Using longjmp will NOT cause destructors to be called for local objects on the "abandoned" stack. It exists in C++ for only for compatibility with C.

I already said that I don't advocate doing it, and that I merely was explaining it to the OP.

Maybe you prefer to conceal information about things you don't like, but I prefer to educate people and let them make up their own minds.

George

Reply to
George Neuner

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