EmbeddedRelated.com
Blogs
Memfault State of IoT Report

You Don't Need an RTOS (Part 2)

Nathan JonesMay 7, 20246 comments

At least, probably not as often as you think you do. Using a preemptive RTOS can help make a system schedulable (i.e. help all of its tasks meet their deadlines) but it comes at a cost: "concurrently" running tasks can interact in unforeseen ways that cause system failures, that dreaded class of errors known as "race conditions". In part, this is because humans have difficulty thinking about things that happen concurrently. Using the venerable superloop can help avoid this problem entirely and, in some cases, it can actually make a system work that wouldn't work at all using an RTOS! Additionally, a "superloop" style scheduler has the benefit of being simple enough for you to write yourself in a few dozen lines of code.

If you're unfamiliar with terms like "deadlines", "schedulability", or "worst-case response time", then I would argue you are almost definitely using an RTOS prematurely! If you are familiar with those terms, allow me to show you a few ways to improve the superloop that bring its performance nearly on par with an RTOS, with no concern about race conditions.

This is the second in a series of posts lauding the advantages of the simple "superloop" scheduler. Other articles in this series are or will be linked below as they are published.

This article is available in PDF format for easy printing

Contents

Part 2: The "Superduperloop"

In this second article we'll tweak the simple superloop in three critical ways that will improve it's worst-case response time (WCRT) to be nearly as good as a preemptive RTOS ("real-time operating system"). We'll do this by adding task priorities, interrupts, and finite state machines. Additionally, we'll discuss how to incorporate a sleep mode when there's no work to be done and I'll also share with you a different variation on the superloop that can help schedule even the toughest of task sets.

A Quick Recap

In Part 1 of this series, we compared the superloop and RTOS schedulers. The simple superloop that we analyzed looked like this:

volatile int g_systick = 0;
void timerISR(void)
{
    g_systick++;
}
void main(void)
{
    while(1)
    {
        if( /* A is ready */ ) { /* Run Task A */ };
        if( /* B is ready */ ) { /* Run Task B */ };
        if( /* C is ready */ ) { /* Run Task C */ };
    }
}

The WCRT of any task ended up being equal to the sum of the WCETs of every task (equation 1 from Part 1), since the worst thing that could happen is for a task to become ready to run juuuust after the scheduler evaluates its if expression as false and then every other task runs, taking their longest possible execution times when they do. In general, if each task's WCRT is less than its deadline then the system is schedulable; since every task has the same WCRT in this case, we only need to check if that's less than the shortest deadline of any task in the task set. If it is, then the system is schedulable.

Change #1: Adding Task Priorities using if...else if

Our first change is subtle, yet powerful: instead of coding our tasks as a list of separate ifs, we're going to turn the whole thing into a chained if statement using else ifs.
volatile int g_systick = 0;
void timerISR(void)
{
    g_systick++;
}
void main(void)
{
    while(1)
    {
        if     ( /* A is ready */ ) { /* Run Task A */ };
        else if( /* B is ready */ ) { /* Run Task B */ };
        else if( /* C is ready */ ) { /* Run Task C */ };
    }
}

What effect does this have? Since an if statement will only ever execute the first conditional path in the chain that evaluates to true, this code will find and execute the first ready-to-run task, jump to the bottom of the if statement, and then start back again at the top. If the tasks are sorted so that tasks with higher priority are situated higher up in the chain of if clauses (with the highest priority task being at the top of the if statement and the lowest priority task being at the bottom), then this change has the effect of always running the highest priority task that's ready to run. We've created task priorities just by adding some else ifs!

Schedulability of the Superloop with Task Priorities (a.k.a. the "Superduperloop")

How does this improve our WCRTs? Let's again consider the worst-case scenario: a task has become ready to run juuuust after the scheduler evaluates its if expression as false. What's the worst thing that could happen then?

  1. First, a lower priority task runs instead. Only it's not any lower priority task, it the longest lower priority task that we have in our system. Once it's done, the scheduler starts back at the top of the loop.
  2. Next, every higher priority task runs, with the scheduler starting back at the top of the loop after each one. Notice that this means that some higher priority tasks can run multiple times before our task ever gets to run if, by all of the higher priority tasks running, some of the highest priority tasks are released multiple times.
  3. Finally, once no more higher priority tasks are ready to run, the task in question gets to run.

We can express this WCRT in equation (1). Since the higher priority tasks have the ability of running multiple times, we need to use the ceiling function like we did when we evaluated the schedulability of the RTOS in equation (3) in Part 1.

$$WCRT_j = max(WCET_{i \in i>j}) + \sum_{i=0}^{j-1} ( {\left \lceil \frac {WCRT_j - WCET_j} {P_i} \right \rceil \cdot WCET_i} ) + WCET_j \tag{1}$$

The term WCRTj - WCETj in the summation represents the total amount of time that a higher priority task could potentially run before Task j runs. It might help to represent this with another sequence diagram; we'll assume that we're trying to calculate the response time for Task C.

In this situation, Task A and B get released once each during the time it takes the longest lower priority task (D) to run. Additionally, Task A gets released one more time before Task B is finished, so Task A gets to run an additional time. Finally, Task C gets to run.

When we're trying to figure out the maximum amount of time in which the higher priority tasks might get to run, we have to include everything from the start of our WCRT analysis up to the start of Task C. If the cumulative total of all of the blocks is "WCRTj", then that amount of time can be expressed as "WCRTj - WCETj", since it's the total time minus the last block (WCETj) which is what we have in equation (1).

This is a significant improvement over the WCRT from the simple superloop. The response time for the highest priority task is potentially only as long as the execution time of the longest lower priority task, which seems nearly as good as the response time for an RTOS (see equation 3 from Part 1). In fact, it might actually be better than the WCRT for an RTOS because once our task starts running we don't have to worry about higher priority tasks preempting our task! The improvement from a simple superloop is so great that I'll call this scheduler the "Superduperloop", though you might see it described in literature simply as a fixed-priority, non-preemptive scheduler.

Assigning Task Priorities

Just like for the RTOS, assigning task priorities becomes a critical next step to ensuring that our system is schedulable. Unfortunately, this process can be a bit more complicated than simply using DMS (deadline monotonic scheduling). There are three ways to determine an optimal assignment of priority numbers for our "superloop with task priorities" scheduler that each progress from simple (and only applicable in certain situations) to complex (and applicable in all situations).

Case #1: Tasks with longer deadlines universally have longer WCETs

This case is the most restrictive but it has the easiest priority assignment algorithm. It only works if, after you have sorted your task in order of increasing deadline it is universally true that your tasks are also sorted in order of increasing WCET. The task set below is an example of one such task set that meets this criteria.

Task Execution time (us) Period (us) Deadline (us)
A 1 5 5
B 2 10 10
C 4 12 12

If this condition is met then you can use the DMS algorithm to assign task priorities: the tasks with the shortest deadlines have the highest priorities.

In contrast, the task set below does not meet this criteria. Notice how Tasks B and C have longer deadlines but shorter WCETs than Task A.

Task Execution time (us) Period (us) Deadline (us)
A 3 5 5
B 2 10 6
C 1 10 7

Nothing is stopping us from checking if this system is schedulable using DMS, even if the criteria above isn't met, it just means that if the task set isn't schedulable when priorities are assigned this way then it doesn't necessarily mean that the task set isn't schedulable at all.

If the condition above doesn't hold for a task set (as in the last example), I'd recommend trying to make it work before you give up. Can you run certain tasks slightly faster or relax their deadlines just enough to massage your task set into matching the requirement above (more on this in the section Reducing the WCET of Your Tasks)? Doing so will definitely make assigning priorities much simpler! If you can't, you'll need to use one of the two following procedures.

Case #2a: The General Case, Exhaustive search

For all other cases it's feasible (though inefficient) to just exhaustively try all possible combinations of priority assignments to see which one (if any) work for your task set. You'd probably write a program to help you compute that that would look something like the pseudocode below.

FOR EACH combination of priority assignments
    schedulable = TRUE
    FOR EACH task
        IF WCRT of task > Deadline of task    // i.e. task is not schedulable
            schedulable = FALSE
            Break out of inner FOR EACH loop  // i.e. try a new priority assignment
    IF schedulable
        Break out of outer FOR EACH loop      // If this line of code is reached, then
                                              // we found a priority assignment that
                                              // allows every task to be scheduled!

This algorithm has a complexity of $O(n!)$, though, which means it might work fine for task sets with a small number of tasks but it gets less and less feasible if the number of tasks we're trying to schedule gets large. If we can't afford to spend that much time searching for a priority scheme that works (or we simply don't want to be that inefficient), then we'll resort to our last procedure.

Case #2b: The General Case, Audsley's Algorithm

In 1991, Neil Cameron Audsley published a technical report that reduced the problem of searching for this workable set of priority assignments from $O(n!)$ to merely $O(n^2)$. That's a significant improvement! It relied on two key deductions:

  1. For a set of n tasks, any workable priority scheme will have one task, and only one task, at each priority level. It doesn't make sense to say that a system is schedulable "as long as Tasks B and C run at the same priority level" since that amounts to saying "this only works if these two tasks run at the same time".
  2. To determine if a given task is schedulable at a given priority level, we only need to consider the set of tasks that are either (1) at a higher priority than our task or (2) at a lower priority than our task. The exact priority of those higher or lower priority tasks is of no concern, only whether they exist at a higher- or lower-priority than the task we're considering at the moment. (You can see this in our equation for WCRT above. There's no part of that equation that changes the WCRT for Task C if Task B actually has a higher priority than Task A; we'd get the same value for WCRTC regardless.)

Here's how Audsley's Algorithm works:

  1. Start at the lowest priority level for a given set of tasks and see which (if any) tasks can be scheduled assuming every other unassigned task exists at a higher priority level. If none of your tasks can be scheduled at the lowest priority level, you're done! Because your system isn't schedulable. :(
  2. As long as one task can be scheduled at the lowest priority level, assign it that priority. (If more than one could possibly work at that lowest priority level it doesn't really matter which we pick because we'll still find a workable solution if any such solution exists; this will be easier to grasp once I show you some graphics, below.)
  3. Go back to step 1 and repeat with the next higher priority level.

To help you understand this, think about a matrix with our tasks listed across the top and our priority levels listed down the left side, like below.

Priority \ Task A B C D E
0
1
2
3
4

Based just on which tasks are higher or lower in priority for a given task at a given priority level, we can determine, for each box in our matrix, whether that task will be schedulable. Since tasks with the highest priority will invariably have the smallest WCRT, we can expect the matrix (once it were completed) to look like it does below, with all tasks being schedulable at the highest priority level and then, somewhere down the list of priorities, that task not being schedulable anymore.

Priority \ Task A B C D E
0
1
2
3
4

It's pretty clear from this table that Task E has to have the highest priority, otherwise the system doesn't work. Similarly, next come B and C and then tasks A and D can occupy either of the lowest two priority levels. (This also shows you why it doesn't matter that we assign the lowest priority to the first task we find that can be schedulable at that lowest priority level; whether we'd found Task A first or Task D, the other one would have been found on the next iteration of the algorithm and we'd have found essentially the same solution.)

Consider a different set of tasks with a table that looks like it does below.

Priority \ Task A B C D E
0
1
2
3
4

This set of tasks clearly doesn't work, exactly because Tasks B and C are only schedulable if they're run at the same priority level (i.e. at the exact same time).

Audley's algorithm works exactly like that: start in the box at the bottom left (lowest priority, first task in the list of tasks) and work your way along the bottom row, stopping when you find a task that's schedulable. Assign it that priority level and then move up one row. If you make your way to the top, you've found a priority scheme that works! If no tasks are schedulable at a given priority level, though (like in that last example), then there isn't any priority scheme that will work for your task set. The pseudocode for this algorithm might look like that below.

FOR EACH priority level
    schedulable = FALSE
    FOR EACH unassigned task
        IF WCRT of the task < Deadline of the task    // i.e. task is schedulable at this priority level
            Task priority level becomes the current priority level
            schedulable = TRUE
            Break out of the inner FOR EACH loop
    IF NOT schedulable
        Break out of the outer FOR EACH loop         // If this line of code is reached, then NO tasks
                                                     // were schedulable at the given priority level
                                                     // and the task set ISN'T schedulable.
// IF we get here, though, and schedulable equals TRUE, then the algorithm was able to assign a task
// at each priority level and the system IS schedulable!

If the result of this algorithm is that your task set isn't schedulable, don't give up yet! See if you're able to relax your constraints a little (by optimizing tasks to run faster or relaxing their deadlines or periods) to help make your system schedulable (more on this in the section Reducing the WCET of Your Tasks). Additionally, there's some evidence to suggest that restricting your task periods to be even multiples of each smaller period (like was discussed in the last article) can help make your system more schedulable. If neither solution is feasible or helps, you'll need to consider using a preemptive RTOS, a dynamic priority scheme (more on this in a future article), or even adding another processor to make your system work.

Change #2: Adding Interrupts

For our next change, we'll actually allow interrupts for the first time. Yay!

volatile int g_systick = 0;
void timerISR(void)
{
    g_systick++;
}
void uartISR(void) { ... }
void adcISR(void) { ... }
void main(void)
{
    while(1)
    {
        if     ( /* A is ready */ ) { /* Run Task A */ };
        else if( /* B is ready */ ) { /* Run Task B */ };
        else if( /* C is ready */ ) { /* Run Task C */ };
    }
}

The effect of this change almost goes without saying: our system can now respond extremely quickly to events that would otherwise only get processed once the associated task could run. This is an enormous relief to any system we're designing. Think of the original example I presented in Part 1, in which a system was responding to serial commands at 200k characters/sec and also updating a PD controller: in that example, both the readSerial task and the PD task needed to finish executing in less time than it might take a new serial character to arrive, otherwise the system wasn't schedulable. And the readSerial task needed to include any time spent actually executing a command once it had been received! Now we can put the short and time-critical portion of readSerial (that of receiving a character and placing it into a buffer) into it's own interrupt, with the readSerial task only needing to execute as often as we might expect full commands to arrive.

This system isn't without it's downsides, though. Primarily, the improved WCRT that our ISRs enjoy is the result of hardware preemption and I made a big point in Part 1 about how fraught with errors that can be. You'll need to remember the problems that race conditions pose when you write your ISRs, keeping them short and having as few points of interaction with the rest of the system as possible. Ideally, ISRs don't do much more than move data to/from a buffer and/or set a flag to indicate to the main code that they've run. Additionally, by significantly improving the WCRT of certain tasks (the ISRs), we've inadvertently worsened the WCRTs of the lower priority tasks (not unlike an RTOS); more on this in the very next section.

Schedulability of the "Superduperloop" with Interrupts

The WCRT of a task in this system is essentially the same as before, with the exception that any ISR could run at any point throughout a task's WCRT. This means that we'll need to include an additional term with the ceiling function to account for all of that execution time. Also, since we can think of ISRs as being tasks with even higher priorities than the main loop tasks, we're going to re-number things. For a given system, 0 is still the highest priority task, but this now corresponds to an ISR. If the system has N ISRs, then these all have task numbers from 0 to N-1. If this same system has M main loop tasks, then these all have task numbers from N to N+M-1.

   ISRs         Main loop   
  /-----------\ /-------------\
  0 1 2 ... N-1 N N+1 ... N+M-1
/|\                       /|\
|                         |
Highest priority    Lowest priority

The equation below for the WCRT of a task in this system is the same as equation 1 with the addition of the third term, reflecting the total execution time of all ISRs that could run before Task j gets to finish.

$$WCRT_j = max(WCET_{i \in i>j}) + \sum_{i=N}^{j-1} ( {\left \lceil \frac {WCRT_j - WCET_j} {P_i} \right \rceil \cdot WCET_i} ) + \sum_{i=0}^{N-1} ( {\left \lceil \frac {WCRT_j} {P_i} \right \rceil \cdot WCET_i} ) + WCET_j \tag{2}$$

If we modified our example above to include an ISR, it might look like the sequence diagram below.

But that's just the WCRT for each of the main loop tasks in our system. Let's now think about the WCRT for the ISR tasks in our system.

Thankfully, the WCRTs for the ISRs will look very similar to what we've already seen. The only catch is that we'll have to consider whether our processor will allow ISRs to be preempted or not. If they can be, then their WCRTs looks a whole heck of a lot like the WCRT for an RTOS (equation 3 from Part 1). If they can't, their WCRTs look more like the WCRT for our superloop with priorities (equation 1, above), since ISRs will have to wait for the current ISR to finish before being run in priority order.

$$ISRs \; are \; preemptible: \; WCRT_{j, \, j \lt N} = \sum_{i=0}^{j-1} ( {\left \lceil \frac {WCRT_j} {P_i} \right \rceil \cdot WCET_i} ) + WCET_j \tag{3}$$ $$ISRs \; are \; non-preemptible: \; WCRT_{j, \, j \lt N} = max(WCET_{i, \, i \lt N}) + \sum_{i=0}^{j-1} ( {\left \lceil \frac {WCRT_j - WCET_j} {P_i} \right \rceil \cdot WCET_i} ) + WCET_j \tag{4}$$

Reducing the WCET of Your Tasks

Since it's the longest running low-priority task that is currently limiting our WCRTs the most, let's consider how we might reduce it's execution time. In fact, the tips below work equally well for reducing the WCET of any task in your system, which will help make it easier to schedule.

  • Run the CPU at a faster clock speed.
  • Move tasks with shorter deadlines to dedicated co-processors.
  • Move work done by a task onto a hardware peripheral.
  • Look for speed optimizations in your code or toolchain such as loop unrolling, compiling at a higher optimization level, etc.
  • Break up the task into states.

It's to the last item that we direct our attention now, since it's the only one that has an effect on how our "Superduperloop" scheduler is constructed and how we calculate the WCRTs of our tasks (since it doesn't affect the overall WCET for a task, just how long it blocks before exiting).

Change #3: Turning Tasks into Finite State Machines

For some tasks, removing all blocking code is fairly non-trivial. What if your task is waiting for a response from a sensor or a remote server? Those portions of code might take a lengthy time! Consider the example below, modeling a task that reads a value from a sensor on a SPI bus, computes a running average, transmits the updated running average somewhere (e.g. over WiFi, over UART, etc) and then waits for an acknowledgement from that server:

void TaskA(void)
{
    if( lockSPI() )
    {
        readSensor1();    // Sensor 1 is on the SPI bus
        unlockSPI();
        computeRunningAverage();
        txNewRunningAvg();
        while( !ackReceived() );
    }
}

A task like this is ideal for converting into a finite state machine (FSM) since we can put transition points at the places where the task is just waiting for something to happen.

void TaskA(void)
{
    static enum { WAITING_FOR_SPI, WAITING_FOR_ACK } state = WAITING_FOR_SPI;
    switch( state )
    {
        case WAITING_FOR_SPI:
            if( lockSPI() )
            {
                readSensor1();    // Sensor 1 is on the SPI bus
                unlockSPI();
                computeRunningAverage();
                txNewRunningAvg();
                state = WAITING_FOR_ACK;
            }
            break;
        case WAITING_FOR_ACK:
            if( ackReceived() ) state = WAITING_FOR_SPI;
            break;
    }
}

As in the first code example, our FSM's default state checks if it can acquire a lock on the SPI bus and, if it can, it proceeds to read the sensor and transmit the new running average over a different network (such as WiFi or something); otherwise it does nothing. Instead of blocking and waiting for an acknowledgement from the server, though, our task merely transitions to a new state, WAITING_FOR_ACK. It remains here until the acknowledgement is received, at which point the task begins anew in the WAITING_FOR_SPI state. Notice that moving through the FSM (i.e. completing the task) now requires executing the task at least twice (and quite possible more, depending on how long it takes to acquire the lock on the SPI bus or receive the acknowledgement from the server).

Additionally, we can use this technique to break up long chunks of code. Consider the function below, that does some complex math on a long array of numbers.

void TaskA(int * array, size_t len)
{
    for( size_t idx = len; idx > 0; idx-- )
    {
        // Complex math on array[len-idx]
    }
}

If we just wanted to halve the execution time of this task, we could alter the task so that it executed in two steps or states.

void TaskA(int * array, size_t len)
{
    static enum { FIRST, SECOND } state = FIRST;
    switch( state )
    {
        case FIRST:
            for( size_t idx = len; idx > (len/2); idx-- )
            {
                // Complex math on array[len-idx]
            }
            state = SECOND;
            break;
        case SECOND:
            for( size_t idx = (len/2); idx > 0; idx-- )
            {
                // Complex math on array[len-idx]
            }
            state = FIRST;
            break;
    }
}

Notice how the two for loops now iterate over only half of the array at a time.

Breaking up your tasks into states like this can help reduce their WCET, since the WCET only needs to account for the longest execution of path of a single state, not the entire task. A shorter WCET, particularly for the longest low priority task, can have a significant positive impact on the WCRT of the other tasks and, overall, the ability for your task set to be schedulable with the "Superduperloop" scheduler.

One last piece remains, though, related to how the tasks are executed. Previously the tasks were only released by system conditions (e.g. charAvailable() or PD_next_run - g_systick >= PD_period_ms [i.e. the system timer]), but now a task that is constructed as an FSM may need to run multiple times in order to fully transition through all of its states, even though the original condition may only be true briefly. To do this, we'll need to keep track of when a task is in the middle of it's FSM (and therefore still ready to run). There are many ways to do this, but I'll show you one version, below, that keeps track of each task's "ready to run" status in an integer called g_tasks.

enum { A_NUM, B_NUM, C_NUM, NUM_TASKS };
const int A_MASK = (1<<A_NUM);
const int B_MASK = (1<<B_NUM);
const int C_MASK = (1<<C_NUM);
volatile int g_systick = 0, g_tasks = 0;
int TaskA(void);
int TaskB(void);
int TaskC(void);
void timerISR(void)
{
    g_systick++;
    g_tasks |= A_MASK;
}
void uartISR(void)
{
    g_tasks |= B_MASK;
}
void adcISR(void)
{
    g_tasks |= (B_MASK | C_MASK);
}
void main(void)
{
    while(1)
    {
        if     ( g_tasks & A_MASK ) g_tasks = TaskA() ? g_tasks|A_MASK : g_tasks&(~A_MASK);
        else if( g_tasks & B_MASK ) g_tasks = TaskB() ? g_tasks|B_MASK : g_tasks&(~B_MASK);
        else if( g_tasks & C_MASK ) g_tasks = TaskC() ? g_tasks|C_MASK : g_tasks&(~C_MASK);
    }
}

ISRs or other tasks set the appropriate bit in the g_tasks variable to indicate that a task has been released. Checking to see if a task is ready to run then becomes as simple as checking if it's bit in g_tasks is set. Tasks have each been extracted into their own functions (TaskA(), etc) and each function returns a value corresponding to what the value of their flag should be, 1 for "continue running" (i.e. FSM has not yet finished) and 0 for "task is finished" or "task is waiting on another event". In this manner, each task can continue running once its been released by returning a 1 until the FSM is complete (or waiting on another event).

Dealing with Race Conditions

Now that we are modifying variables from both the ISRs and the main loop, though, we have to worry about those dreaded race conditions! Consider the awfulness of the scenario below:

  1. The timerISR runs, releasing Task A.
  2. Task A completes and returns a 0.
  3. g_tasks is read from memory, in preparation for clearing the zeroth bit. Let's say it looks like 0b001; the main code clears the zeroth bit so 0b000 is the value stored in a register somewhere, ready to be written back to the location in memory where g_tasks resides.
  4. Right at that exact moment, the uartISR runs, setting the first bit in g_tasks. The ISR reads the original g_tasks value from memory (0b001) and then stores 0b011 back to memory.
  5. Execution returns to the machine instruction that is updating g_tasks after running Task A, only now the first bit gets cleared since it wasn't set when the main code read the g_tasks variable in step 3!

This means that we have a critical section every time g_tasks is modified by a piece of code that could be preempted by an ISR (which includes ISRs, if ISRs are preemptible!). The three most straightforward ways to protect a critical section and avoid the awfulness of above are:

  1. disable interrupts before the critical section (and re-enable them after),
  2. use atomic instructions (either stdatomic.h or compiler extensions [such as for GCC]) to ensure that a variable isn't overwritten, or
  3. require that a mutex or lock be acquired prior to entering the critical section.

Disabling interrupts is the easiest and simplest but adds to the time that an ISR is blocked, proportional to the number and length of the critical sections. Mutexes are more surgical, allowing ISRs to still run, but are non-trivial to implement and might result in an ISR effectively being ignored (if an ISR interrupts the critical section and attempts to acquire the lock but can't). Atomic instructions avoid any blocking time from disabling interrupts but they do require support from the processor, specifically a set of instructions that will abort any write to a memory location if that memory location was modified after it was previously read. These instructions are referred to generally as "load-linked" and "store-conditional" instructions. Had these instructions been used above, the write in step #5 would have failed, preserving the value of g_tasks that the uartISR wrote. The functions in stdatomic (available in C11/C++11 and onward) or that are provided as compiler extensions create a small loop where the memory location in question is read from (using the "load-linked" instruction), modified, and written back to until the "store-conditional" part succeeds, as can be seen on Compiler Explorer. (Of note is that the Cortex-M0/M0+ lacks this support, so that leaves you with needing to disable/re-enable interrupts on that processor to protect your critical sections, unless you want to dive into the world of lock-free data structures.)

I'll use the atomic functions in stdatomic.h for the remainder of this series to protect the critical sections that we encounter, using either atomic_fetch_or or atomic_fetch_and to update g_tasks.

if( g_tasks & A_MASK ) TaskA() ? atomic_fetch_or(&g_tasks, A_MASK) : atomic_fetch_and(&g_tasks, (~A_MASK));

There's actually another race condition that's been present this whole time which we haven't dealt with yet, too: the reading of g_systick or g_task by one of the tasks. If the number of bits in these globals is more than the width of our processor (meaning that reading g_systick or g_task would take more than one memory operation, one to read first the high byte and then another to read the low byte, for example) then we have to contend with the following:

  1. A task reads the high byte of g_systick. Say g_systick is 0x0000FFFF, so 0x0000 is read.
  2. The timer ISR runs at that exact moment, incrementing g_systick to 0x00010000.
  3. Execution returns to the task which reads the lower byte of g_systick which is now 0x0000! The task gets the value of 0x00000000, which is very incorrect!

This is a type of race condition called a "torn read". To ensure that any value of a global variable we read is a valid one, your options are the same as above (disable interrupts before and re-enable them after reading the variable or use an atomic function such as atomic_load from the stdatomic library); you can also use the following snippet of code, which essentially works by reading g_systick until two subsequent reads have the same value, assuming that it won't have been updated by any ISR if it holds the same value two times in a row.

int systick_val;
do
{
    systick_val = g_systick;
} while ( systick_val != g_systick );

Additionally, there's still one more race condition to consider!! Imagine the following sequence of events, using the task above that read from a sensor and sent out the running average over a different network:

  1. The task executes its first state: reading the sensor, sending it out, and changing it's state variable to WAITING_FOR_ACK. It returns a 0 to the main loop to clear its ready flag, indicating that it shouldn't run again until some event causes it to be released (such as an acknowledgement being received).
  2. Before the task's ready flag gets cleared in the main loop, the acknowledgement is received, setting the task's ready flag (which is still 1 from the event that caused the task to run just now).
  3. The task returns and tells the main loop to clear its ready flag. Now it's waiting for an event that has already occurred!

(Sidenote: Isn't it a pain to have to identify and handle all of the possible race conditions with this small chunk of code and only two shared variables? Can you imagine trying to get all of this correct with a preemptive RTOS, when any task can interrupt any lower-priority task in between any of its machine instructions, many of which can be reordered around each other by either the compiler or the processor itself?!)

Anyway, there are probably multiple solutions to this problem, but the simplest one to me is to clear each task's ready flag before it runs and only allow it to be set afterwards, if the task needs to run again.

if( g_tasks & A_MASK )
{
    atomic_fetch_and(&g_tasks, (~A_Mask));
    if( TaskA() ) atomic_fetch_or(&g_tasks, A_MASK);
}

Any event that releases the task up to the point where atomic_fetch_and successfully writes to g_tasks should get handled when the task runs. Any event that releases the task after the ready flag is cleared may or may not be handled when the task runs, but since the task is only allowed to set its ready flag after its completes (not clear it), then even if that event isn't handled on the current invokation of the task, the task will run at least once more before the system goes to sleep or handles a lower-priority task, ensuring that the event will eventually be handled. (There isn't a way for the scheduler to know if an event arrives out of order [e.g. if an acknowledgement arrived before the sensor data was sent out!], so each task will have to handle that synchronization on their own.)

So the "Superduperloop" should really look like this:

enum { A_NUM, B_NUM, C_NUM, NUM_TASKS };
const int A_MASK = (1<<A_NUM);
const int B_MASK = (1<<B_NUM);
const int C_MASK = (1<<C_NUM);
volatile int g_systick = 0, g_tasks = 0;
int TaskA(void);
int TaskB(void);
int TaskC(void);
void timerISR(void)
{
    g_systick++;
    atomic_fetch_or(&g_tasks, A_MASK);  // Assuming ISRs are preemptible. Otherwise
                                        // "g_tasks |= A_MASK;" is fine.
}
void uartISR(void)
{
    atomic_fetch_or(&g_tasks, B_MASK);  // Assuming ISRs are preemptible
}
void adcISR(void)
{
    atomic_fetch_or(&g_tasks, B_MASK|C_MASK);  // Assuming ISRs are preemptible
}
void main(void)
{
    while(1)
    {
        if( g_tasks & A_MASK )
        {
            atomic_fetch_and(&g_tasks, (~A_Mask));
            if( TaskA() ) atomic_fetch_or(&g_tasks, A_MASK);
        }
        else if( g_tasks & B_MASK )
        {
            atomic_fetch_and(&g_tasks, (~B_Mask));
            if( TaskB() ) atomic_fetch_or(&g_tasks, B_MASK);
        }
        else if( g_tasks & C_MASK )
        {
            atomic_fetch_and(&g_tasks, (~C_Mask));
            if( TaskC() ) atomic_fetch_or(&g_tasks, C_MASK);
        }
    }
}

Tedious, I know, but it's the price we pay for preemption. If you can make your system work without ISRs, then you can avoid all but the last of these critical sections altogether!

Schedulability of the "Superduperloop" with FSMs

Okay, NOW what's the worst thing that could happen to block a task from running? The worst-case scenario is the same as for the superloop with task priorities and interrupts, except that, now, higher-priority tasks have the chance of running all the way until the start of the last FSM state.

For the "superloop with task priorities and interrupts", no higher priority task was allowed to run after the task in question started executing (since the superloop is a cooperative scheduler, not a preemptive scheduler). You can see this from 7 to 9 usec in the sequence diagram, when Task C was allowed to run uninterrupted. For the updated "Superduperloop", since the task in question may return in between each state higher priority tasks are allowed to run all the way until the start of the final state of the task in question (of course, this is exactly what we wanted to happen!). This might look like the sequence diagram below. Notice now how higher priority tasks are allowed to run all the way until 11 usec, at the start of the final state for Task C (assuming that Task C has a total of 3 states).

We can represent this mathematically by changing the numerator in the second term of equation 2 (which described the total length of time that the higher-priority tasks could run) from WCRTj - WCETj to WCRTj - WCETj,Final state, which is the execution time of the last state in Task j's FSM. (If Task j isn't an FSM, then this term devolves back into WCRTj - WCETj.)

$$WCRT_j = max(WCET_{i \in i>j}) + \sum_{i=N}^{j-1} ( {\left \lceil \frac {WCRT_j - WCET_{j,Final state}} {P_i} \right \rceil \cdot WCET_i} ) + \sum_{i=0}^{N-1} ( {\left \lceil \frac {WCRT_j} {P_i} \right \rceil \cdot WCET_i} ) + WCET_j \tag{5}$$

Cool Projects to Check Out: Protothreads and "Coroutines in C"

If you're getting tired of writing long FSMs and don't feel squeamish about strange uses of the C language, then you might be interested in checking out either the Protothreads project or the article "Coroutines in C", which both make writing FSMs easier by wrapping all of the switch...case syntax above into several function-like macros. For example, here's what the task above (that was reading a sensor and sending out an updated value for the running average) would look like in Protothreads:

PT_THREAD(TaskA(struct pt *pt))
{
    PT_BEGIN(pt);
    PT_WAIT_UNTIL( pt, lockSPI() );
    readSensor1();        // Sensor 1 is on the SPI bus
    unlockSPI();
    txNewRunningAvg();    // Compute running average
    PT_WAIT_UNTIL( pt, /* Ack received */ );
    PT_RESTART(pt);
    PT_END(pt);
}

Clean, isn't it? And here's what it would look like after the C preprocessor has had a chance to expand all of those macros:

char TaskA(struct pt *pt)
{
    char PT_YIELD_FLAG = 1;
    switch((pt)->lc)
    {
        case 0:
            do
            {
                (pt)->lc = 7;
        case 7:
                if(!(lockSPI())) { return 0; }
            } while(0);
            readSensor1();
            unlockSPI();
            txNewRunningAvg();
            do
            {
                (pt)->lc = 11;
        case 11:
                if(!(ack())) { return 0; }
            } while(0);
            do
            {
                (pt)->lc = 0;
                return 0;
            } while(0);
    };
    PT_YIELD_FLAG = 0;
    (pt)->lc = 0;
    return 3;
}

The PT_BEGIN and PT_END macros just form the beginning and end of a switch...case statement. The PT_WAIT_ macros insert new case statements and set the internal state variable (which is pt->lc) accordingly so that the next time the task is called it jumps to that same case statement. The PT_RESTART macro starts the FSM back at the top, with the line of code just below PT_BEGIN. Protothreads is a neat project and even includes support for a basic form of semaphores, so we may look at it again in the future!

Bonus change!: Going to Sleep

Okay, so I've been ducking the question for nearly two full articles now: "What happens when there's no work to be done?? When does my application go to sleep??" Truth be told, I've been waiting until we'd been able to discuss the "Superduperloop", since analyzing the schedulability of any of the earlier superloop variations gets weird if the scheduler has the ability to go to sleep at some point. Thankfully, at this point, going to sleep is a simple change and does not affect the schedulability analysis we've done so far of the "Superduperloop".

Our "Superduperloop" should go to sleep only when there's no work to be done. This would occur exactly if none of the if/else if expressions were true and the if statement were to try to execute an else block. So that's where we'll put our code to go to sleep!

if( g_tasks & A_MASK )      { ... }
else if( g_tasks & B_MASK ) { ... }
else if( g_tasks & C_MASK ) { ... }
else /* Go to sleep here */;

The "go to sleep" code needs to be a touch more complicated than just inserting a wfi(); or similar piece of code. The problem we want to avoid is the (admittedly unlikely, but still possible) case when, in between checking the last expression and then going to sleep, an interrupt runs and releases a task. This would result in a task being ready to run but the system going to sleep anyways! To avoid this, we'll use something called a "double-checked lock".

if( g_tasks & A_MASK )      { ... }
else if( g_tasks & B_MASK ) { ... }
else if( g_tasks & C_MASK ) { ... }
else
{
    if( !g_tasks )
    {
        disableInterrupts();
        if( !g_tasks ) wfi();
        enableInterrupts();
    }
}

The double-checked lock first checks if any task is ready to run and then, if none are, disables all interrupts, preventing any ISRs from running (but still letting them pend). (Checking the lock the first time isn't strictly required, but it does save us the trouble of disabling and immediately re-enabling interrupts if there's a task that's ready to run.) The g_tasks variable is checked a second time (just to make sure that no ISR released a task right before interrupts were disabled) and then, as long as no task is ready to run, the system goes to sleep. The code used to put the processor to sleep should return immediately if there are any pending ISRs (to catch the just as unlikely but still possible case that an ISR pended (but didn't run) after interrupts were disable) but otherwise allow the processor to go to sleep. Once asleep, the processor should wake up for any pending ISR, which will get to run immediately once interrupts are re-enabled. Then the scheduler loop will start again from the top.

Alternative Design: The Time-triggered Scheduler

The "Superduperloop" is a very capable scheduler (if I do say so myself!), but even it can't schedule certain task sets that seem like they should be schedulable. Consider the task set, below, for instance.

Task Execution time (us) Period (us) Deadline (us)
A 1 5 5
B 8 10 10

Utilization is the highest it could be, 100%, but shouldn't this still be schedulable? Doesn't the sequence diagram below prove it?

Unfortunately, the answer is "no"! (Or perhaps it's fortunate that the answer is "no"? Otherwise our schedulability analyses would be all wrong!) Remember that the WCET for a task is its worst-case execution time; many times the task will actually run much faster. Consider the possibility that the second iteration of Task A above took only 0.999... usec to run instead of the full 1 usec. The "Superduperloop" would return to the top of the for loop and start looking for the next ready to run task. Suppose that Task A finished early enough that, on this next pass, the timer hadn't incremented yet and Task A wasn't ready to run. Suppose then that, immediately after this, the timer did increment and Task B became ready to run. Then it would be executed, taking its full 8 usec, causing Task A to miss it's deadline! What a bummer! This result, though, does agree with our WCRT analysis from Part 1 of this series.

So what's a designer to do if we have a system that looks schedulable but isn't, based on the math? One option is to manually insert idle times that force the scheduler to stick to a schedule that we know works, like "Run Task A for 1 usec (going to sleep if it finishes early), then Task B for 8 usec (again going to sleep if necessary), and lastly Task A again for 1 usec (going to sleep again as necessary)". This is called a time-triggered scheduler or a scheduler with inserted idle times. Using this type of scheduler, the sequence diagram might look as sparse as below, but the trade-off is that we know when each task will run and that the system can be made to be schedulable. Implementation of this type of scheduler is left as an exercise for the reader.

The biggest problem with this scheduler is that you'll need to specify exactly which task needs to run for the length of the hyperperiod, which is the least common multiple of all of the task periods. This is the period over which each of the task's releases repeat themselves, so defining which task is running over the entire hyperperiod allows the system to be fully defined. It's not particularly feasible to do that if the hyperperiod is large, which is not hard to do even for a small number of tasks if their periods are very unrelated. For example, the hyperperiod of tasks with periods of 5, 11, and 23 usec is 1,265 usec!

"In the blue corner...!"

We might have compared superloops and RTOSes in the last article, but that wasn't a fair fight! Let's give the RTOS a run for it's money by doing a side-by-side with the "Superduperloop".

"Superduperloop" RTOS
// One enum value and bitmask per task, e.g.
enum { A_NUM, B_NUM, NUM_TASKS };
const int A_MASK = (1<<A_NUM);
const int B_MASK = (1<<B_NUM);
// Function prototypes for tasks here, e.g.
int TaskA(void);
int TaskB(void);
volatile int g_systick = 0, g_tasks = 0;
void timerISR(void)
{
    g_systick++;
    // Release a task using, e.g.
    // atomic_fetch_or(&g_tasks, A_MASK);  // Assuming ISRs are preemptible. Otherwise
                                           // "g_tasks |= A_MASK;" is fine.
}
void main(void)
{
    while(1)
    {
        // One if/else if block per task, higher priority tasks located
        // higher up in the chain of if statements.
        //        
        if( g_tasks & A_MASK )
        {
            atomic_fetch_and(&g_tasks, (~A_Mask));
            if( TaskA() ) atomic_fetch_or(&g_tasks, A_MASK);
        }
        else if( g_tasks & B_MASK )
        {
            atomic_fetch_and(&g_tasks, (~B_Mask));
            if( TaskB() ) atomic_fetch_or(&g_tasks, B_MASK);
        }
        else
        {
            if( !g_tasks )
            {
                disableInterrupts();
                if( !g_tasks ) wfi();
                enableInterrupts();
            }
        }
    }
}
        
void main(void)
{
    taskCreate(TaskA, 0);  // Priority 0 (highest)
    taskCreate(TaskB, 1);  // Priority 1
    taskCreate(TaskC, 2);  // Priority 2
    startScheduler();      // No return
}
void TaskA(void)
{
    while(1)
    {
        // Task A
    }
}
void TaskB(void)
{
    while(1)
    {
        // Task B
    }
}
void TaskC(void)
{
    while(1)
    {
        // Task C
    }
}
void onIdle(void)
{
    wfi();
}
        
Tasks:
$ \quad WCRT_{j \ge N} = max(WCET_{i \in i>j}) + \sum_{i=N}^{j-1} ( {\left \lceil \frac {WCRT_j - WCET_{j,Final state}} {P_i} \right \rceil \cdot WCET_i} ) \quad $
$ \quad + \sum_{i=0}^{N-1} ( {\left \lceil \frac {WCRT_j} {P_i} \right \rceil \cdot WCET_i} ) + WCET_j \quad $
Tasks:
$ \quad WCRT_{j \ge N} = \sum_{i=0}^{j-1} ( {\left \lceil \frac {WCRT_j} {P_i} \right \rceil \cdot WCET_i} ) + WCET_j \quad $
ISRs: see equations 3 and 4
ISRs: see equations 3 and 4
Optimal priority assignments:
  • DMS
  • Exhaustive search
  • Audsley's algorithm
Optimal priority assignments: DMS

(If the chain of if statements is hurting your soul at this point, I encourage you to rewrite this little scheduler using a for loop that iterates over a list of prioritized tasks instead! It's a great exercise.)

It's fascinating to me that, despite the WCRT equation for the RTOS having fewer terms, there's nothing to indicate that it is always a smaller value than for the "Superduperloop"! In fact, for some task sets, the "Superduperloop" works when the RTOS doesn't! Let's take a look at that situation, shall we?

The Curious Case of the "Superduperloop" Besting an RTOS!!

Sometimes the fact that a scheduler can't preempt a lower-priority task is actually an advantage, instead of a liability. Consider the task set below.

Task Priority Execution time (us) Period (us) Deadline (us) WCRT (RTOS) WCRT (Superduperloop)
A 0 $2 - \sqrt 2$ 1 1 $2 - \sqrt 2$ 1
B 1 $\sqrt 2 - 1$
10
$\sqrt 2$ 1
$\sqrt 2$
C 2 $\sqrt 2 - 1$ 10 $\sqrt 2$ 2!!
$\sqrt 2$

Using an RTOS, this task set isn't schedulable! Task A preempts Task C at 1 usec owing to its higher priority, causing Task C to miss its deadline. Bummer!

However, it is schedulable using the "Superduperloop"!! Because Task C can't be preempted, it finishes before its deadline, leaving Task A enough time to also finish before it's deadline. Success!

This isn't a fluke, either; it's the result of the two WCRT equations above being different enough that neither is universally larger or smaller than the other. Some task sets will be schedulable using the "Superduperloop" but not the RTOS, some will be schedulable using the RTOS but not the "Superduperloop", and some task sets will be schedulable with either or neither. You'll simply need to check to see which, if either, of the two schedulers will work for your task set. Superloops, it turns out, aren't something you outgrow when you leave school and move on to more advanced embedded system projects; they might very well be the only scheduler that allows your system to work!

Cool Project to Check Out: RIOS

RIOS ("Riverside-Irvine Operating System") is a project to come out of the University of California, Riverside, and University of California, Irvine, aimed at building the smallest, capable cooperative and preemptive schedulers possible for the purposes of teaching students how operating systems work (not unlike what we're trying to do here!). The cooperative version of their scheduler (below) actually looks a lot like the "Superduperloop"!

The biggest exception is probably that tasks in RIOS are all periodic, while the "Superduperloop" is designed to handle event-driven tasks also. They also handle integer rollover slightly differently than we did in the first article, by keeping track of each tasks' elapsed time and resetting that value to 0 every time the task gets run.

The team also managed to write a preemptive RTOS in about two dozen lines of code, which is definitely worth a look. You can read more about RIOS in their original paper or at a university-hosted website.

What's Missing from the "Superduperloop"?

Our cooperative scheduler has met the original goal of having comparable WCRTs to that of an RTOS while (almost) completely avoiding the possibility of race conditions. The last edge that the RTOS has over us is its OS primitives: mutexes, semaphores, message queues, stream buffers, event flags, and thread flags (depending on which RTOS you're using). When tasks do interact, these tools are extremely useful for synchronizing and coordinating those interactions. In particular, our current system of task triggering is pretty limited. It's kind of like each task has a thread flag that's only 1 bit wide: the task can block on just this one trigger and when it finally does run it has to check which, of possibly multiple, events was the one that triggered it.

It's to this problem that we'll turn our attention to next. Adding these synchronization and triggering mechanisms to the "Superduperloop" is not all that hard so we'll take a look at how to do that in the next article. Additionally, we'd be remiss not to consider what other projects (commercial or open-source) are available to us that have already solved these problems. By the end of that third article, I hope you have, not one, but several implementation options for the "Superduperloop" (or similar) that are fully competitive with whatever RTOS you are currently using or were planning to use in the future.

Summary

In this article, we improved on the simple superloop by adding task priorities, interrupts, and FSMs to create a thing I'm calling the Superduperloop (a.k.a. the fixed-priority, non-preemptive scheduler). The "Superduperloop" is a cooperative scheduler that has a WCRT for most tasks that comes close to the WCRT of a preemptive RTOS (or even exceeds it!), making it highly suitable for scheduling many embedded applications. It's simple enough to write in a few dozen lines of code and it eliminates the possibility of race conditions (ISRs notwithstanding), making it

  • simple to understand,
  • robust,
  • incredibly small (RAM- and Flash-wise), 
  • and eminently portable.

It doesn't, unfortunately, have many useful OS primitives such as mutexes, semaphores, message queues, stream buffers, event flags, or thread flags. Most of these are not difficult to add to the "Superduperloop" but also there are some notable commercial and open-source projects that have tackled that problem already. Stay tuned, my friends, when we turn the "Superduperloop" into a fully-fledged cooperative OS in the next two articles in this series!

References



Memfault State of IoT Report
[ - ]
Comment by QLMay 9, 2024

Nice article, Nathan! I completely agree that a non-blocking code has many benefits and advantages. I've been saying the same thing for many years. Your article coincides with my video "To block or NOT to block, that is the question!" and the accompanying post on Embedded.com, which was published just yesterday.

[ - ]
Comment by 0xc0decafeMay 22, 2024

Thanks, Miro! I have to say, you've paid me a tremendous honor by your comment!

Your presentation last year at EOC and the paper you mention in both videos by Dr. David Cummings were instrumental in helping me understanding the differences between blocking and non-blocking code. I wonder if I could ask you a question about that. You share in your video the simplified example of converting the Arduino blink example into a non-blocking FSM; aren't these two examples functionally the same, though? In both cases it's only a timer event that "unblocks" the thread/FSM. It's my understanding that the benefit of using non-blocking code is so that the thread could potentially handle more than one event, e.g. such as either a timer event or an error event (that could return the LED to the OFF state until a reset event is sent, for instance). What are your thoughts on that?

[ - ]
Comment by QLMay 27, 2024

Hi Nathan!

Thank you again for taking on a difficult subject, so full of misconceptions and general confusion. Explaining these things isn't easy, and you have done an excellent job. The discourse you instigated is the most important discussion we can have in embedded software!

Of course, the subject "You Don't Need an RTOS" is deep and multidimensional. However, I believe the central issue can be distilled to blocking (or not) because this determines the programming paradigm (sequential with blocking and event-driven without). Interestingly, embedded developers don't see blocking as an important issue.

For example, one of the most popular discussions on this EmbeddedRelated.com forum, "RTOS vs Bare-Metal" doesn't mention blocking at all. People point out "trust", "control", "real-time", etc. However, not a single post mentioned voluntary blocking as a reason for using a traditional RTOS. Yet, all the other properties, like partitioning the problem into tasks, preemptive priority-based scheduling, and hard real-time (e.g., RMA/RMS method), can be had much more cheaply without a traditional RTOS. Only blocking is what really can't be had any other way, and what really costs resources (private stacks for all tasks and expensive context switch.)

Which brings me to your question about the two Arduino "Blink" implementations: "Basic Blink with delay" and "Blink without delay" that I used in my EOC'2022 presentation. I understand that you're playing "devil's advocate" here because you already devoted two sizable blog posts to explaining the non-blocking approaches. But just for the record, here are the answers:

> Aren't these two examples functionally the same?

Yes, they are functionally the same, meaning they behave the same. But the point is what you can and cannot do with such code. Arduino already answered this question by offering "Blinky without delay()" as a more extensible solution.

> In both cases it's only a timer event that "unblocks" the thread/FSM(?)

The two examples do the same thing when the timer reaches certain values, but the "unblocking" happens only in the "Basic Blink" with delay().

> It's my understanding that the benefit of using non-blocking code is so that the thread could potentially handle more than one event, e.g. such as either a timer event or an error

Yes, this property of code is called "composability." Non-blocking code is "composable," meaning it can be easily combined with other non-blocking code. In contrast, blocking code is not "composable" because is unresponsive to events that it does not explicitly wait for. Typically you cannot combine blocking code with other code (blocking or non-blocking).

Also, adding blocking to code is very easy. Removing blocking, especially if seeded deeply in the control and call structure, is a nightmare (like trying to "unscramble" scrambled eggs.)

[ - ]
Comment by 0xc0decafeMay 28, 2024

Yes! I was thinking about how to write portable drivers one time and I was struck by the fact that if the driver isn't supposed to be coupled to the scheduler, then it has to be non-blocking. Unfortunately, it seems, many manufacturers take the other approach, requiring that a customer use the flavor of RTOS for which they wrote their drivers. Instead of writing non-blocking code and allowing the customer to choose how they want to compose their application, the manufacturers "scramble the eggs" for them.

[ - ]
Comment by dan_corneanuMay 30, 2024

Thank you for addressing this complicate issue of schedulability.

Regarding the issue discussed in this diagram 

screenshot_34451.png

 Could we eliminate the need for inserting idle times by freezing g_systick at each iteration of the scheduler loop? This approach  would ensure that all  expressions, that check if a task is released, are evaluated with the same clock value.

#define TASK_A_P 5
#define TASK_B_P 10

volatile int g_systick = 0;

void timerISR(void)
{
    g_systick++;
}

void main(void)
{
    int task_a_next_systick = 0;
    int task_b_next_systick = 0;

    while (1)
    {
        // We assume this read is atomic
        int g_systick_frozen = g_systick;

        if (g_systick_frozen >= task_a_next_systick)
        {
            task_a();
            task_a_next_systick += TASK_A_P;
        }
        else if (g_systick_frozen >= task_b_next_systick)
        {
            task_b();
            task_b_next_systick += TASK_B_P;
        }
    }
}
[ - ]
Comment by 0xc0decafeMay 31, 2024

Thanks for the question, Dan! You're referring to the "time-triggered" scheduler, right? You're absolutely correct that capturing the systick at the start of the main loop would solve the problem of a lower-priority task running before a higher-priority one, but that's assuming that all of your tasks were periodic. If any of your tasks are event-driven then you still have to account for a lower-priority task becoming ready to run part-way through the main loop, even if you've stored the systick value, and the WCRT is no better than it was before (at least, in the general sense).

It would also make going to sleep slightly more complex; we'd have to account for the situation where no tasks are ready to run at the frozen value of the systick (so we reach the else statement) but the systick was incremented while the scheduler was going through the list of if...else ifs and a task has become ready to run.

To post reply to a comment, click on the 'reply' button attached to each comment. To post a new comment (not a reply to a comment) check out the 'Write a Comment' tab at the top of the comments.

Please login (on the right) if you already have an account on this platform.

Otherwise, please use this form to register (free) an join one of the largest online community for Electrical/Embedded/DSP/FPGA/ML engineers: