Interrupts and Interrupt Handling. Part 10.

Last part

This is the tenth part of the chapter about interrupts and interrupt handling in the Linux kernel and in the previous part we saw a little about deferred interrupts and related concepts like softirq, tasklet and workqeue. In this part we will continue to dive into this theme and now it's time to look at real hardware driver.

Let's consider serial driver of the StrongARM** SA-110/21285 Evaluation Board board for example and will look how this driver requests an IRQ line, what happens when an interrupt is triggered and etc. The source code of this driver is placed in the drivers/tty/serial/21285.c source code file. Ok, we have source code, let's start.

Initialization of a kernel module

We will start to consider this driver as we usually did it with all new concepts that we saw in this book. We will start to consider it from the intialization. As you already may know, the Linux kernel provides two macros for initialization and finalization of a driver or a kernel module:

  • module_init;
  • module_exit.

And we can find usage of these macros in our driver source code:


The most part of device drivers can be compiled as a loadable kernel module or in another way they can be statically linked into the Linux kernel. In the first case initialization of a device driver will be produced via the module_init and module_exit macros that are defined in the include/linux/init.h:

#define module_init(initfn)                                     \
        static inline initcall_t __inittest(void)               \
        { return initfn; }                                      \
        int init_module(void) __attribute__((alias(#initfn)));

#define module_exit(exitfn)                                     \
        static inline exitcall_t __exittest(void)               \
        { return exitfn; }                                      \
        void cleanup_module(void) __attribute__((alias(#exitfn)));

and will be called by the initcall functions:

  • early_initcall
  • pure_initcall
  • core_initcall
  • postcore_initcall
  • arch_initcall
  • subsys_initcall
  • fs_initcall
  • rootfs_initcall
  • device_initcall
  • late_initcall

that are called in the do_initcalls from the init/main.c. Otherwise, if a device driver is statically linked into the Linux kernel, implementation of these macros will be following:

#define module_init(x)  __initcall(x);
#define module_exit(x)  __exitcall(x);

In this way implementation of module loading placed in the kernel/module.c source code file and initialization occurs in the do_init_module function. We will not dive into details about loadable modules in this chapter, but will see it in the special chapter that will describe Linux kernel modules. Ok, the module_init macro takes one parameter - the serial21285_init in our case. As we can understand from function's name, this function does stuff related to the driver initialization. Let's look at it:

static int __init serial21285_init(void)
    int ret;

    printk(KERN_INFO "Serial: 21285 driver\n");


    ret = uart_register_driver(&serial21285_reg);
    if (ret == 0)
        uart_add_one_port(&serial21285_reg, &serial21285_port);

    return ret;

As we can see, first of all it prints information about the driver to the kernel buffer and the call of the serial21285_setup_ports function. This function setups the base uart clock of the serial21285_port device:

unsigned int mem_fclk_21285 = 50000000;

static void serial21285_setup_ports(void)
    serial21285_port.uartclk = mem_fclk_21285 / 4;

Here the serial21285 is the structure that describes uart driver:

static struct uart_driver serial21285_reg = {
    .owner            = THIS_MODULE,
    .driver_name    = "ttyFB",
    .dev_name        = "ttyFB",
    .major            = SERIAL_21285_MAJOR,
    .minor            = SERIAL_21285_MINOR,
    .nr                = 1,
    .cons            = SERIAL_21285_CONSOLE,

If the driver registered successfully we attach the driver-defined port serial21285_port structure with the uart_add_one_port function from the drivers/tty/serial/serial_core.c source code file and return from the serial21285_init function:

if (ret == 0)
    uart_add_one_port(&serial21285_reg, &serial21285_port);

return ret;

That's all. Our driver is initialized. When an uart port will be opened with the call of the uart_open function from the drivers/tty/serial/serial_core.c, it will call the uart_startup function to start up the serial port. This function will call the startup function that is part of the uart_ops structure. Each uart driver has the definition of this structure, in our case it is:

static struct uart_ops serial21285_ops = {
    .startup    = serial21285_startup,

serial21285 structure. As we can see the .strartup field references on the serial21285_startup function. Implementation of this function is very interesting for us, because it is related to the interrupts and interrupt handling.

Requesting irq line

Let's look at the implementation of the serial21285 function:

static int serial21285_startup(struct uart_port *port)
    int ret;

    tx_enabled(port) = 1;
    rx_enabled(port) = 1;

    ret = request_irq(IRQ_CONRX, serial21285_rx_chars, 0,
              serial21285_name, port);
    if (ret == 0) {
        ret = request_irq(IRQ_CONTX, serial21285_tx_chars, 0,
                  serial21285_name, port);
        if (ret)
            free_irq(IRQ_CONRX, port);

    return ret;

First of all about TX and RX. A serial bus of a device consists of just two wires: one for sending data and another for receiving. As such, serial devices should have two serial pins: the receiver - RX, and the transmitter - TX. With the call of first two macros: tx_enabled and rx_enabled, we enable these wires. The following part of these function is the greatest interest for us. Note on request_irq functions. This function registers an interrupt handler and enables a given interrupt line. Let's look at the implementation of this function and get into the details. This function defined in the include/linux/interrupt.h header file and looks as:

static inline int __must_check
request_irq(unsigned int irq, irq_handler_t handler, unsigned long flags,
            const char *name, void *dev)
        return request_threaded_irq(irq, handler, NULL, flags, name, dev);

As we can see, the request_irq function takes five parameters:

  • irq - the interrupt number that being requested;
  • handler - the pointer to the interrupt handler;
  • flags - the bitmask options;
  • name - the name of the owner of an interrupt;
  • dev - the pointer used for shared interrupt lines;

Now let's look at the calls of the request_irq functions in our example. As we can see the first parameter is IRQ_CONRX. We know that it is number of the interrupt, but what is it CONRX? This macro defined in the arch/arm/mach-footbridge/include/mach/irqs.h header file. We can find the full list of interrupts that the 21285 board can generate. Note that in the second call of the request_irq function we pass the IRQ_CONTX interrupt number. Both these interrupts will handle RX and TX event in our driver. Implementation of these macros is easy:

#define IRQ_CONRX               _DC21285_IRQ(0)
#define IRQ_CONTX               _DC21285_IRQ(1)
#define _DC21285_IRQ(x)         (16 + (x))

The ISA IRQs on this board are from 0 to 15, so, our interrupts will have first two numbers: 16 and 17. Second parameters for two calls of the request_irq functions are serial21285_rx_chars and serial21285_tx_chars. These functions will be called when an RX or TX interrupt occurred. We will not dive in this part into details of these functions, because this chapter covers the interrupts and interrupts handling but not device and drivers. The next parameter - flags and as we can see, it is zero in both calls of the request_irq function. All acceptable flags are defined as IRQF_* macros in the include/linux/interrupt.h. Some of it:

  • IRQF_SHARED - allows sharing the irq among several devices;
  • IRQF_PERCPU - an interrupt is per cpu;
  • IRQF_NO_THREAD - an interrupt cannot be threaded;
  • IRQF_NOBALANCING - excludes this interrupt from irq balancing;
  • IRQF_IRQPOLL - an interrupt is used for polling;
  • and etc.

In our case we pass 0, so it will be IRQF_TRIGGER_NONE. This flag means that it does not imply any kind of edge or level triggered interrupt behaviour. To the fourth parameter (name), we pass the serial21285_name that defined as:

static const char serial21285_name[] = "Footbridge UART";

and will be displayed in the output of the /proc/interrupts. And in the last parameter we pass the pointer to the our main uart_port structure. Now we know a little about request_irq function and its parameters, let's look at its implemenetation. As we can see above, the request_irq function just makes a call of the request_threaded_irq function inside. The request_threaded_irq function defined in the kernel/irq/manage.c source code file and allocates a given interrupt line. If we will look at this function, it starts from the definition of the irqaction and the irq_desc:

int request_threaded_irq(unsigned int irq, irq_handler_t handler,
                         irq_handler_t thread_fn, unsigned long irqflags,
                         const char *devname, void *dev_id)
        struct irqaction *action;
        struct irq_desc *desc;
        int retval;

We arelady saw the irqaction and the irq_desc structures in this chapter. The first structure represents per interrupt action descriptor and contains pointers to the interrupt handler, name of the device, interrupt number, etc. The second structure represents a descriptor of an interrupt and contains pointer to the irqaction, interrupt flags, etc. Note that the request_threaded_irq function called by the request_irq with the additioanal parameter: irq_handler_t thread_fn. If this parameter is not NULL, the irq thread will be created and the given irq handler will be executed in this thread. In the next step we need to make following checks:

if (((irqflags & IRQF_SHARED) && !dev_id) ||
            (!(irqflags & IRQF_SHARED) && (irqflags & IRQF_COND_SUSPEND)) ||
            ((irqflags & IRQF_NO_SUSPEND) && (irqflags & IRQF_COND_SUSPEND)))
               return -EINVAL;

First of all we check that real dev_id is passed for the shared interrupt and the IRQF_COND_SUSPEND only makes sense for shared interrupts. Otherwise we exit from this function with the -EINVAL error. After this we convert the given irq number to the irq descriptor wit the help of the irq_to_desc function that defined in the kernel/irq/irqdesc.c source code file and exit from this function with the -EINVAL error if it was not successful:

desc = irq_to_desc(irq);
if (!desc)
    return -EINVAL;

The irq_to_desc function checks that given irq number is less than maximum number of IRQs and returns the irq descriptor where the irq number is offset from the irq_desc array:

struct irq_desc *irq_to_desc(unsigned int irq)
        return (irq < NR_IRQS) ? irq_desc + irq : NULL;

As we have converted irq number to the irq descriptor we make the check the status of the descriptor that an interrupt can be requested:

if (!irq_settings_can_request(desc) || WARN_ON(irq_settings_is_per_cpu_devid(desc)))
    return -EINVAL;

and exit with the -EINVAL in othre way. After this we check the given interrupt handler. If it was not passed to the request_irq function, we check the thread_fn. If both handlers are NULL, we return with the -EINVAL. If an interrupt handler was not passed to the request_irq function, but the thread_fn is not null, we set handler to the irq_default_primary_handler:

if (!handler) {
    if (!thread_fn)
        return -EINVAL;
    handler = irq_default_primary_handler;

In the next step we allocate memory for our irqaction with the kzalloc function and return from the function if this operation was not successful:

action = kzalloc(sizeof(struct irqaction), GFP_KERNEL);
if (!action)
    return -ENOMEM;

More about kzalloc will be in the separate chapter about memory management in the Linux kernel. As we allocated space for the irqaction, we start to initialize this structure with the values of interrupt handler, interrupt flags, device name, etc:

action->handler = handler;
action->thread_fn = thread_fn;
action->flags = irqflags;
action->name = devname;
action->dev_id = dev_id;

In the end of the request_threaded_irq function we call the __setup_irq function from the kernel/irq/manage.c and registers a given irqaction. Release memory for the irqaction and return:

retval = __setup_irq(irq, desc, action);

if (retval)

return retval;

Note that the call of the __setup_irq function is placed between the chip_bus_lock and the chip_bus_sync_unlock functions. These functions locl/unlock access to slow bus (like i2c) chips. Now let's look at the implementation of the __setup_irq function. In the beginning of the __setup_irq function we can see a couple of different checks. First of all we check that the given interrupt descriptor is not NULL, irqchip is not NULL and that given interrupt descriptor module owner is not NULL. After this we check is interrupt nest into another interrupt thread or not, and if it is nested we replace the irq_default_primary_handler with the irq_nested_primary_handler.

In the next step we create an irq handler thread with the kthread_create function, if the given interrupt is not nested and the thread_fn is not NULL:

if (new->thread_fn && !nested) {
    struct task_struct *t;
    t = kthread_create(irq_thread, new, "irq/%d-%s", irq, new->name);

And fill the rest of the given interrupt descriptor fields in the end. So, our 16 and 17 interrupt request lines are registered and the serial21285_rx_chars and serial21285_tx_chars functions will be invoked when an interrupt controller will get event releated to these interrupts. Now let's look at what happens when an interrupt occurs.

Prepare to handle an interrupt

In the previous paragraph we saw the requesting of the irq line for the given interrupt descriptor and registration of the irqaction structure for the given interrupt. We already know that when an interrupt event occurs, an interrupt controller notifies the processor about this event and processor tries to find appropriate interrupt gate for this interrupt. If you have read the eighth part of this chapter, you may remember the native_init_IRQ function. This function makes initialization of the local APIC. The following part of this function is the most interesting part for us right now:

for_each_clear_bit_from(i, used_vectors, first_system_vector) {
    set_intr_gate(i, irq_entries_start +
        8 * (i - FIRST_EXTERNAL_VECTOR));

Here we iterate over all the cleared bit of the used_vectors bitmap starting at first_system_vector that is:

int first_system_vector = FIRST_SYSTEM_VECTOR; // 0xef

and set interrupt gates with the i vector number and the irq_entries_start + 8 * (i - FIRST_EXTERNAL_VECTOR) start address. Only one things is unclear here - the irq_entries_start. This symbol defined in the arch/x86/entry/entry_64.S assembly file and provides irq entries. Let's look at it:

    .align 8
    pushq    $(~vector+0x80)
    jmp    common_interrupt
    .align    8

Here we can see the GNU assembler .rept instruction which repeats the sequence of lines that are before .endr - FIRST_SYSTEM_VECTOR - FIRST_EXTERNAL_VECTOR times. As we already know, the FIRST_SYSTEM_VECTOR is 0xef, and the FIRST_EXTERNAL_VECTOR is equal to 0x20. So, it will work:

>>> 0xef - 0x20

times. In the body of the .rept instruction we push entry stubs on the stack (note that we use negative numbers for the interrupt vector numbers, because positive numbers already reserved to identify system calls), increase the vector variable and jump on the common_interrupt label. In the common_interrupt we adjust vector number on the stack and execute interrupt number with the do_IRQ parameter:

    addq    $-0x80, (%rsp)
    interrupt do_IRQ

The macro interrupt defined in the same source code file and saves general purpose registers on the stack, change the userspace gs on the kernel with the SWAPGS assembler instruction if need, increase per-cpu - irq_count variable that shows that we are in interrupt and call the do_IRQ function. This function defined in the arch/x86/kernel/irq.c source code file and handles our device interrupt. Let's look at this function. The do_IRQ function takes one parameter - pt_regs structure that stores values of the userspace registers:

__visible unsigned int __irq_entry do_IRQ(struct pt_regs *regs)
    struct pt_regs *old_regs = set_irq_regs(regs);
    unsigned vector = ~regs->orig_ax;
    unsigned irq;


At the beginning of this function we can see call of the set_irq_regs function that returns saved per-cpu irq register pointer and the calls of the irq_enter and exit_idle functions. The first function irq_enter enters to an interrupt context with the updating __preempt_count variable and the second function - exit_idle checks that current process is idle with pid - 0 and notify the idle_notifier with the IDLE_END.

In the next step we read the irq for the current cpu and call the handle_irq function:

irq = __this_cpu_read(vector_irq[vector]);

if (!handle_irq(irq, regs)) {

The handle_irq function defined in the arch/x86/kernel/irq_64.c source code file, checks the given interrupt descriptor and call the generic_handle_irq_desc:

desc = irq_to_desc(irq);
    if (unlikely(!desc))
        return false;
generic_handle_irq_desc(irq, desc);

Where the generic_handle_irq_desc calls the interrupt handler:

static inline void generic_handle_irq_desc(unsigned int irq, struct irq_desc *desc)
       desc->handle_irq(irq, desc);

But stop... What is it handle_irq and why do we call our interrupt handler from the interrupt descriptor when we know that irqaction points to the actual interrupt handler? Actually the irq_desc->handle_irq is a high-level API for the calling interrupt handler routine. It setups during initialization of the device tree and APIC initialization. The kernel selects correct function and call chain of the irq->action(s) there. In this way, the serial21285_tx_chars or the serial21285_rx_chars function will be executed after an interrupt will occur.

In the end of the do_IRQ function we call the irq_exit function that will exit from the interrupt context, the set_irq_regs with the old userspace registers and return:

return 1;

We already know that when an IRQ finishes its work, deferred interrupts will be executed if they exist.

Exit from interrupt

Ok, the interrupt handler finished its execution and now we must return from the interrupt. When the work of the do_IRQ function will be finsihed, we will return back to the assembler code in the arch/x86/entry/entry_64.S to the ret_from_intr label. First of all we disable interrupts with the DISABLE_INTERRUPTS macro that expands to the cli instruction and decreases value of the irq_count per-cpu variable. Remember, this variable had value - 1, when we were in interrupt context:

decl    PER_CPU_VAR(irq_count)

In the last step we check the previous context (user or kernel), restore it in a correct way and exit from an interrupt with the:


where the INTERRUPT_RETURN macro is:

#define INTERRUPT_RETURN    jmp native_iret



.global native_irq_return_iret

That's all.


It is the end of the tenth part of the Interrupts and Interrupt Handling chapter and as you have read in the beginning of this part - it is the last part of this chapter. This chapter started from the explanation of the theory of interrupts and we have learned what is it interrupt and kinds of interrupts, then we saw exceptions and handling of this kind of interrupts, deferred interrupts and finally we looked on the hardware interrupts and the handling of theirs in this part. Of course, this part and even this chapter does not cover full aspects of interrupts and interrupt handling in the Linux kernel. It is not realistic to do this. At least for me. It was the big part, I don't know how about you, but it was really big for me. This theme is much bigger than this chapter and I am not sure that somewhere there is a book that covers it. We have missed many part and aspects of interrupts and interrupt handling, but I think it will be good point to dive in the kernel code related to the interrupts and interrupts handling.

If you have any questions or suggestions write me a comment or ping me at twitter.

Please note that English is not my first language, And I am really sorry for any inconvenience. If you find any mistakes please send me PR to linux-insides.

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