Life with Adeos


Portions of this paper discussing the Adeos API are outdated, and do not reflect the changes introduced with the I-pipe core series. The presentation of the general design and concepts underlying the interrupt and event pipelines is still relevant though.

What is Adeos

Adeos is a resource virtualization layer available as a Linux kernel patch, which general design has been proposed by Karim Yaghmour in a technical paper, back in 2001.

The current incarnation of this proposal makes it a simple, yet efficient real-time system enabler, providing a mean to run a regular GNU/Linux environment and a RTOS, side-by-side on the same hardware.

To this end, Adeos enables multiple entities — called domains — to exist simultaneously on the same machine. These domains do not necessarily see each other, but all of them see Adeos. A domain is most probably a complete OS, but there is no assumption being made regarding the sophistication of what is in a domain. However, all domains are likely to compete for processing external events (e.g. interrupts) or internal ones (e.g. traps, exceptions), according to the system-wide priority they have been given.

Additionally to its straightforward virtualization capabilities, another key advantage of Adeos relies in its ability to export a generic API to client domains, which does not depend on the CPU architecture. Therefore, much if not most of the porting effort for client domains occurs at the Adeos level.

The event pipeline

The fundamental Adeos structure one must keep in mind is the chain of client domains asking for event control. A domain is a kernel-based software component which can ask the Adeos layer to be notified of:

  • Every incoming external interrupt, or auto-generated virtual interrupt;
  • Every system call issued by Linux applications,
  • Other system events triggered by the kernel code (e.g. Linux task switching, signal notification, Linux task exits etc.)

Adeos ensures that events are dispatched in an orderly manner to the various client domains according to their respective priority in the system, so it is possible to provide for timely and predictable delivery of such events. This is achieved by assigning each domain a static priority. This priority value strictly defines the delivery order of events to the domains. All active domains are queued according to their respective priority, forming the pipeline abstraction used by Adeos to make the events flow, from the highest to the lowest priority domain. Incoming events (including interrupts) are pushed to the head of the pipeline (i.e. to the highest priority domain) and progress down to its tail (i.e. to the lowest priority domain). The figure below gives a general view of some Adeos-based system, where multiple domains are sharing events through the pipeline abstraction:

Event pipeline representation

In the figure above, the position of the Linux kernel with respect to the pipelining order might be anywhere; this said, the Linux kernel still has a special role since it stands for the root domain, because all other domains need Linux to install them, usually by mean of loading the kernel modules which embody them.

Optimistic interrupt protection

In order to dispatch interrupts in an prioritized manner, while still allowing domains to create interrupt-free sections, Adeos implements the so-called Optimistic interrupt protection scheme as described by Stodolsky, Chen, and Bershad, in the following paper.

The stage of the pipeline occupied by any given domain can be stalled, which means that the next incoming interrupt will not be delivered to the domain’s handler, and will be prevented from flowing down to the lowest priority domain(s) in the same move. While a stage is stalled, pending interrupts accumulate in the domain’s interrupt log, and eventually get played when the stage is unstalled, by an internal operation called synchronization. Domains use this feature to protect their own critical sections from unwanted preemption by their own interrupt handlers. However, thanks to the virtualization of the interrupt control Adeos brings, a higher priority domain can still receive interrupts, and eventually preempt any lower priority domain. Practically, this means that, albeit an Adeos-enabled Linux kernel regularly stalls its own stage to perform critical operations, a real-time system running ahead of it in the pipeline would still be able to receive interrupts any time, with no incurred delay.

When a domain has finished processing all the pending interrupts it has received, it then calls a special Adeos service which yields the CPU to the next domain down the pipeline, so the latter can process in turn the pending events it has been notified of, and this cycle continues down to the lowest priority domain of the pipeline.

The figure below illustrates how several domains running on mutiple CPUs can share the incoming interrupts through the Adeos pipeline abstraction. Of course, a correct book-keeping of pending interrupts must be done while a stage is stalled: this is achieved by a per-domain, per-CPU interrupt log, as illustrated below:

The optimistic interrupt protection scheme

System-event propagation

Interrupts are not the only kind of events which can flow through the pipeline abstraction; internal events triggered by the Linux kernel itself or its applications can generate what is called system events. Basically, system events are synchronous notifications of trap, exception, or some action performed by the Linux kernel, and which gets notified to any interested parties through the pipeline.

Since those events are synchronous by essence, there is no way to defer their notification through the stall operation, just because you cannot delay their handling. The rationale behind such design decision comes from the fact that a code triggering a system event might just not be able to continue without immediate intervention from the corresponding handler: e.g. the page fault handler must run immediately upon memory addressing exception, delaying it makes no sense. In other words, stall/unstall operations on any given domain only concern interrupts, either real or virtual.

What does Adeos provide to Xenomai?

Conversely, this question could also be: what basic guarantees does Xenomai need to provide real-time services? The answer is simple and straightforward: it must be allowed to handle all incoming interrupts first, before the Linux kernel has had the opportunity to notice them, and it must be able to handle them immediately, regardless of any current attempt from the Linux kernel to lock them out using the CPU interrupt mask. It must also make sure to always enforce the proper priority management for its threads, regardless of their current execution domain.

These guarantees give Xenomai predictable interrupt latencies in the lowest micro-second level range whatever activity Linux is undergoing, which once coupled with Xenomai’s fast co-scheduling technique of Linux tasks (i.e. shadow threading), provide for deterministic scheduling latencies of real-time threads. The figure below illustrates the position of the Adeos layer in the Xenomai architecture:

Position of Adeos in the Xenomai architecture

You will notice that the Adeos interface is directly exposed to the Hardware Abstraction Layer which underlies the Xenomai core. Therefore, most of the requests for Adeos services are issued from the HAL, which implementation can be found in the relevant arch/<archname>/hal directories, the generic bits being available under arch/generic/hal. Having a look at the latter is the best approach to understand howXenomai makes use of Adeos for its own purposes.

Xenomai’s primary and secondary domains

Xenomai allows to run real-time threads either strictly in kernel space, or within the address space of a Linux process. In the rest of this article, we will refer to the latter as the Xenomai threads, not to be confused with regular Linux tasks (even when they belong to the SCHED_FIFO class). All threads managed by Xenomai are known from the real-time nucleus.

Support for real-time threads exclusively running in kernel space is a reminiscence of the mere co-kernel era, before the advent of true real-time support in user-space, when real-time applications would only run embodied into kernel modules; this feature has been kept in Xenomai mainly for the purpose of supporting legacy applications, and won’t be discussed here.

What is more interesting is that Xenomai has a symbiotic approach with respect to Linux; this is, for instance, what makes it different from the RTAI/LXRT implementation. To this end, Xenomai threads are not only able to run over the context of the highest priority domain in the pipeline (i.e. the primary domain) like kernel-based Xenomai threads, but also in the regular Linux space (i.e. the secondary domain), while still being considered as real-time by Xenomai, albeit suffering higher scheduling latencies. In Xenomai’s jargon, the former are said to run in primary execution mode, whilst the latter undergo the secondary execution mode.

In order to provide a complete real-time support to threads running in the secondary domain, Xenomai needs the following to be achieved:

  • Common priority scheme. Scheduling-wise, we need a way to have both the real- time nucleus and the Linux kernel share the same priority scheme with respect to the set of threads they share the control of; in other words, a Xenomai thread should have its priority properly enforced at any time, regardless of its current domain, among all existing Xenomai threads. Xenomai applies what it calls the root thread’s mutable priority technique, by which the Linux kernel automatically inherits the priority of the Xenomai thread controlled by the real-time nucleus which happens to enter the secondary domain. Practically, this means that Xenomai threads currently running in the primary domain won’t necessarily preempt those running in the secondary one, unless their effective priority is actually higher. The above behaviour is to be opposed to what happens with RTAI/LXRT for instance, where threads migrating to the Linux space actually lose their real-time priority in the same move, by inheriting the lowest priority defined by the RTAI scheduler. This said, regular Linux tasks unknown to Xenomai, and which only happen to belong to the SCHED_FIFO class, will always be preempted when competing for the CPU with Xenomai threads from the primary Xenomai domain, albeit they will still compete priority-wise with Xenomai threads running in the secondary domain.
  • Predictability of program execution times. When a Xenomai thread runs over the Linux (i.e. secondary) domain, either executing kernel or application code, its timing should not be perturbated by non real-time Linux interrupt activities, and generally speaking, by any, low priority, asynchronous activity occurring at kernel level. A simple way to prevent most opportunities for the latter to happen is to starve the Linux kernel from interrupts when a Xenomai thread is running in the Linux domain, so that no deferred post-processing could be triggered from top-halves interrupt handlers during this period of time. A simple way to starve the Linux kernel from interrupts is to block them when needed inside an intermediate Adeos domain, sitting between those occupied by the real-time nucleus and the Linux kernel, which is called the interrupt shield in Xenomai’s jargon. This shield is engaged whenever a Xenomai thread is scheduled in by the Linux kernel, and disengaged in all other cases. It should be noted that the shielding support can be enabled/disabled on a per-thread basis, or on a system-wide basis at Xenomai build time; by default, it is disabled for Xenomai threads and not built in.
  • Fine-grained Linux kernel. In order to get the best from the secondary execution mode, we need the Linux kernel to exhibit the shortest possible non-preemptible section, so that rescheduling opportunities are taken as soon as possible after a Xenomai thread running in the secondary domain becomes ready-to-run. Additionally, this ensures that Xenomai threads can migrate from the primary to the secondary domain within a short and time-bounded period of time, since this operation involves reaching a kernel rescheduling point. For this reason, Xenomai benefits from the continuous trend of improvements regarding the overall preemptibility of the Linux kernel, including Ingo Molnar’s PREEMPT_RT extension. Of course, Xenomai threads which only run in the primary domain are not impacted by the level of granularity of the Linux kernel, and always benefit from ultra-low and bounded latencies, since they do not need to synchonize in any way with the undergoing Linux operations, which they actually always preempt unconditionally.
  • Priority inversion management. Both the real-time nucleus and the Linux kernel should handle the case where a high priority thread is kept from running because a low priority one holds a contended resource for a possibly unbounded amount of time. Xenomai provides this support, but only the PREEMPT_RT variant does so for the Linux kernel. For this reason, Xenomai keeps an eye and provides support for the current developments of PREEMPT_RT, albeit the mainline kernel still remains the system of reference for now.

As a consequence of the requirements above, when the Xenomai core is loaded, the underlying Adeos pipeline contains three stages, through which all interrupts are flowing, by order of priority:

  • Xenomai’s primary domain, which is the home of the real-time nucleus;
  • The interrupt shield domain;
  • The Linux domain.

The three stages of the Adeos pipeline

System call interception

Since real-time APIs (i.e. skins) which are stackable over the Xenomai nucleus, can export their own set of services to Xenomai threads in user-space, there must be a way to properly dispatch the corresponding system calls, and the regular Linux kernel system calls altogether, to the proper handlers. To this end, Xenomai intercepts every system call trap/exception issued on behalf of any of the Xenomai or Linux domains by the Xenomai threads. This is made possible by subscribing an event handler using the proper Adeos service (for more on this, see the adeos_catch_event() service, when specifying the ADEOS_SYSCALL_PROLOGUE/IPIPE_EVENT_SYSCALL event). Xenomai uses this capability to:

  • Dispatch the real-time services requests from applications to the proper system call handlers, which are implemented by the various APIs running over the real-time nucleus;
  • Ensure that every system call is performed under the control of the proper domain, either Xenomai or Linux, by migrating the caller seamlessly to the target domain as required. For instance, a Linux system call issued from a Xenomai thread running in the Xenomai domain will cause the automatic migration of the caller to the Linux domain, before the request is relayed to the regular Linux system call handler. Conversely, a Xenomai thread which invokes a possibly blocking Xenomai system call will be moved to the Xenomai domain before the service is eventually performed, so that the caller may sleep under the control of the real-time nucleus.

The combination of both makes Xenomai threads particularly well integrated into the Linux realm. For instance, a common system call path for Xenomai and the regular Linux applications makes the former appear as a natural extension of the latter. As an illustration of this, Xenomai threads both support the full Linux signals semantics and ptracing feature, which in turn enables the GDB support natively for them.

Interrupt propagation

Because it is ahead in the pipeline, the real-time nucleus which lives in the Xenomai domain is first notified of any incoming interrupt of interest, processes it, then marks such interrupt to be passed down the pipeline, eventually to the Linux kernel domain, if needed.

When notified from an incoming interrupt, the real-time nucleus reschedules after the outer interrupt handler has returned (in case interrupts are piling up), and switches in the highest priority runnable thread it controls.

The Xenomai domain yields the CPU to the interrupt shield domain when no real-time activity is pending, which in turn let them through whenever it is disengaged to the Linux kernel, or block them if engaged. Adeos has two basic propagation modes for interrupts through the pipeline:

  • In the implicit mode, any incoming interrupt is automatically marked as pending by Adeos into each and every receiving domain’s log accepting the interrupt source.
  • In the explicit mode, an interrupt must be propagated “manually” if needed by the interrupt handler to the neighbour domain down the pipeline.

This setting is defined on a per-domain, per-interrupt basis. Xenomai always uses the explicit mode for all interrupts it intercepts. This means that each handler must call the explicit propagation service to pass an incoming interrupt down the pipeline. When no handler is defined for a given interrupt by Xenomai, the interrupt is unconditionally propagated down to the Linux kernel: this keeps the system working when the real-time nucleus does not intercept such interrupt.

Tips and tricks

Enabling/Disabling interrupt sources

In addition to being able to stall a domain entirely so that no interrupt could flow through it anymore until it is explicitly unstalled, Adeos allows to selectively disable, and conversely re-enable, the actual source of interrupts, at hardware level.

After having taken over the box, Adeos handles the interrupt disabling requests for all domains, including for the Linux kernel and the real-time nucleus. This means disabling the interrupt source at the hardware PIC level, and locking out any interrupt delivery from this source to the current domain at the pipeline level. Conversely, enabling interrupts means reactivating the interrupt source at the PIC level, and allowing further delivery from this source to the current domain. Therefore, a domain enabling an interrupt source must be the same as the one which disabled it, because such operation is domain-dependent.

Practically, this means that, when used in pair, the rthal_irq_disable() and rthal_irq_enable() services which encapsulate the relevant Adeos calls inside the real-time HAL underlying Xenomai, must be issued from the same Adeos domain. For instance, if a real-time interrupt handler connected to some interrupt source using the rthal_irq_request() service, disables the source using rthal_irq_disable(), then such source will be blocked for the Xenomai domain until rthal_irq_enable() is called for the same interrupt, and from the same domain. Failing to deal with this requirement usually leads to the permanent loss of the affected interrupt channel.

Sharing interrupts between domains

A typical example of mis-using the Adeos pipeline when sharing hardware interrupts between domains is as follows:

void realtime_eth_handler (unsigned irq, void *cookie)
     * This interrupt handler has been installed using
     * rthal_irq_request(), so it will always be invoked on behalf of
     * the Xenomai (primary) domain.

    /* The Xenomai domain won't receive this irq anymore */

    /* This irq has been marked as pending for Linux */

void linux_eth_handler (int irq, void *dev_id, struct pt_regs *regs)
     * This interrupt handler has been installed using
     * rthal_irq_host_request(), so it will always be invoked on
     * behalf of the Linux (secondary) domain, as a shared interrupt
     * handler (Linux-wise).

     * BUG: This won't work as expected: we are only unlocking the
     * interrupt source for the Linux domain which is current here,
     * not for the Xenomai domain!

In the non-working example above, since Xenomai always uses the explicit propagation mode for all interrupts it intercepts, the next ethernet interrupt will be marked as pending in the Xenomai log only, waiting for the Xenomai handler to possibly propagate it manually down to Linux. But since the interrupt is still locked at pipeline level for Xenomai (remember that nobody actually issued the expected rthal_irq_enable() from the Xenomai domain, but only mistakenly from the Linux one), this won’t happen, because the Xenomai handler won’t run until the lock is removed. Therefore, well, chicken­and­egg problem: we are toast.

Fortunately, there is a solution for sharing interrupts properly, between domains which need to keep the interrupt source disabled until the final processing is done (e.g. dealing with level-triggered interrupts is one of those issues): actually, you don’t need to do anything, because Adeos already masks any incoming interrupts at PIC level before feeding the pipeline with it. Therefore, you only need to process the interrupt as you see fit in the relevant domain handler, and make sure to re-enable the interrupt source from the last one using rthal_irq_enable(). Whenever the Linux kernel is one of those recipients, the regular kernel handler will do this re-enabling automatically, so basically, you just need to bother calling rthal_irq_enable() in handlers which don’t propagate the incoming interrupts downstream to the Linux kernel.

Specifically on the x86 architecture, it happens that the timer interrupt is not being masked upon receipt by Adeos, for performances reasons. This said, the timer source is not one you may want to disable in any way, so this is a non­issue.

Interrupt sharing and latency

However, keeping an interrupt source masked while the propagation takes place through the entire pipeline may increase the latency.

Since Adeos guarantees that no stack overflow can occur due to interrupts piling up over any given domain, and because it also stalls the current stage before firing an interrupt handler, there is no need to disable the interrupt source in the Xenomai handler. Instead you may even want to re-enable it, so that further occurrences can be immediately logged, and will get played immediately after the current handler invocation returns.

So, the solution is to re-write the previous example this way, this time properly:

void realtime_eth_handler (unsigned irq, void *cookie)
    /* This irq has been marked as pending for Linux */

void linux_eth_handler (int irq, void *dev_id, struct pt_regs *regs)
    /* process the IRQ normally. */


Adeos is a rather simple piece of code, with very interesting properties when used properly. The backbone of the Adeos scheme is the event pipeline, and as such, it brings all the critical features we need in Xenomai:

  • Predictable interrupt latencies;
  • Precise interrupt virtualization control (per-domain and per-interrupt handler registration, per-domain and per-cpu interrupt masking);
  • Uniform, prioritized and domain-oriented propagation scheme for events;
  • A generic and straightforward API to ease portability of client code.

Xenomai uses these features to seek the best possible integration of the real-time services it brings with the Linux kernel. Xenomai’s primary mode delivers true real-time performances in the lowest micro-second latency range. Additionally, Xenomai bets on future evolutions of Linux, like PREEMPT_RT, to improve the kernel’s overall granularity, so that the secondary mode will still be real-time in the deterministic sense, with bounded albeit higher worst-case latencies. This is the reason why Xenomai is working hard since day one to reach a tight integration level with the Linux kernel. Think symbiotic, seek mutualism.

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