Monthly Archives: April 2013

Kernel C Extras in a Linux Driver

This third article, in the series on Linux device drivers deals with the kernel’s message logging,
and kernel-specific GCC extensions.

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Enthused by how Pugs impressed professor Gopi, in the last class, Shweta decided to do something similar. And there was already an opportunity – finding out where has the output of printk gone. So, as soon as she entered the lab, she got hold of the best located system, logged into it, and took charge. Knowing her professor pretty well, she knew that there would be a hint for the finding, from the class itself. So, she flashed back what all the professor taught, and suddenly remembered the error output demonstration from “insmod vfat.ko” – dmesg | tail. She immediately tried that and for sure found out the printk output, there. But how did it come here? A tap on her shoulder brought her out of the thought. “Shall we go for a coffee?”, proposed Pugs. “But I need to …”. “I know what you are thinking about.”, interrupted Pugs. “Let’s go, yaar. I’ll explain you all about dmesg”.

Kernel’s message logging

On the coffee table, Pugs began:

As far as parameters are concerned, printf & printk are same, except that when programming for the kernel we don’t bother about the float formats of %f, %lf & their likes. However unlike printf, printk is not destined to dump its output on some console. In fact, it cannot do so, as it is something which is in the background, and executes like a library, only when triggered either from the hardware space or the user space. So, then where does printk print? All the printk calls, just put their contents into the (log) ring buffer of the kernel. Then, the syslog daemon running in the user space picks them for final processing & redirection to various devices, as configured in its configuration file /etc/syslog.conf.

You must have observed the out of place macro KERN_INFO, in the printk calls, in the previous article. That actually is a constant string, which gets concatenated with the format string after it, making it a single string. Note that there is no comma (,) between them – they are no two separate arguments. There are eight such macros defined in <linux/kernel.h> under the kernel source, namely:

#define KERN_EMERG	"<0>" /* system is unusable			*/
#define KERN_ALERT	"<1>" /* action must be taken immediately	*/
#define KERN_CRIT	"<2>" /* critical conditions			*/
#define KERN_ERR	"<3>" /* error conditions			*/
#define KERN_WARNING	"<4>" /* warning conditions			*/
#define KERN_NOTICE	"<5>" /* normal but significant condition	*/
#define KERN_INFO	"<6>" /* informational				*/
#define KERN_DEBUG	"<7>" /* debug-level messages			*/

Depending on these log levels (i.e. the first 3 characters in the format string), the syslog daemon in the user space redirects the corresponding messages to their configured locations – a typical one being the log file /var/log/messages for all the log levels. Hence, all the printk outputs are by default in that file. Though, they can be configured differently to say serial port (/dev/ttyS0) or say all consoles, like what happens typically for KERN_EMERG. Now, /var/log/messages is buffered & contain messages not only from the kernel but also from various daemons running in the user space. Moreover, the /var/log/messages most often is not readable by a normal user, and hence a user-space utility ‘dmesg‘ is provided to directly parse the kernel ring buffer and dump it on the standard output. Figure 6 shows the snippets from the two.

Figure 6: Kernel's message logging

Figure 6: Kernel’s message logging

Kernel-specific GCC extensions

With all these Shweta got frustrated, as she wanted to find all these by her own, and then do a impression in the next class – but all flop. Pissed off, she said, “So as you have explained all about printing in kernel, why don’t you tell about the weird C in the driver as well – the special keywords __init, __exit, etc.”

These are not any special keywords. Kernel C is not any weird C but just the standard C with some additional extensions from the C compiler gcc. Macros __init and __exit are just two of these extensions. However, these do not have any relevance in case we are using them for dynamically loadable driver, but only when the same code gets built into the kernel. All the functions marked with __init get placed inside the init section of the kernel image and all functions marked with __exit are placed inside the exit section of the kernel image, automatically by gcc, during kernel compilation. What is the benefit? All functions with __init are supposed to be executed only once during boot-up, till the next boot-up. So, once they are executed during boot-up, kernel frees up RAM by removing them by freeing up the init section. Similarly, all functions in exit section are supposed to be called during system shutdown. Now, if system is shutting down anyway, why do you need to do any cleanups. Hence, the exit section is not even built into the kernel – another cool optimization.

This is a beautiful example of how kernel & gcc goes hand-in-hand to achieve lot of optimizations and many other tricks – we could see others, as we go along. And that is why Linux kernel can be compiled only using gcc-based compilers – a close knit bond.

Kernel function’s return guidelines

While returning from coffee, Pugs started all praises for the OSS & its community. Do you know why different individuals are able to come together and contribute excellently without any conflicts – moreover in a project as huge as Linux? There are many reasons. But definitely, one of the strong reasons is, following & abiding by the inherent coding guidelines. Take for example the guideline for returning values from a function in kernel programming.

Any kernel function needing error handling, typically returns an integer-like type and the return value again follows a guideline. For an error, we return a negative number – a minus sign appended with a macro included through the kernel header <linux/errno.h>, that includes the various error number headers under the kernel sources, namely <asm/errno.h>, <asm-generic/errno.h>, <asm-generic/errno-base.h>. For success, zero is the most common return value, unless there is some additional information to be provided. In that case, a positive value is returned, the value indicating the information like number of bytes transferred.

Kernel C = Pure C

Once back into the lab, Shweta remembered their professor mentioning that no /usr/include headers can be used for kernel programming. But Pugs said that kernel C is just standard C with some gcc extensions. Why this conflict? Actually this is not a conflict. Standard C is just pure C – just the language. The headers are not part of it. Those are part of the standard libraries built in C for C programmers, based on the concept of re-using code. Does that mean, all standard libraries and hence all ANSI standard functions are not part of ‘pure’ C? Yes. Then, hadn’t it been really tough coding the kernel. Not for this reason. In reality, kernel developers have developed their own needed set of functions, and they are all part of the kernel code. printk is just one of them. Similarly, many string functions, memory functions, … are all part of the kernel source under various directories like kernel, ipc, lib, … and the corresponding headers under include/linux directory.

“O ya! That is why we need to have kernel source for building a driver”, affirmed Shweta. “If not the complete source, at least the headers are a must. And that is why we have separate packages to install complete kernel source or just the kernel headers”, added Pugs. “In the lab, all the sources are setup. But if I want to try out drivers on my Linux system at my hostel room, how do I go about it?” asked Shweta. “Our lab have Fedora, where the kernel sources typically get installed under /usr/src/kernels/<kernel_version> unlike the standard place /usr/src/linux. Lab administrators must have installed it using command line ‘yum install kernel-devel‘. I use Mandriva and installed the kernel sources using ‘urpmi kernel-source‘, replied Pugs. “But, I have Ubuntu”. “Okay!! For that just use apt-get install – possibly, ‘apt-get install linux-source‘”.

Summing up

Lab timings were just getting over. Suddenly, Shweta put out her curiosity – “Hey Pugs! What is the next topic we are going to learn in our Linux device drivers class?”. “Hmmm!! Most probably character drivers”. With this information, Shweta hurriedly packed up her bag & headed towards her room to setup the kernel sources and try out the next driver on her own. “In case you are stuck up, just give me a call. I’ll be there”, called up Pugs from the behind with a smile.

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  1. The default syslog file /var/log/messages may vary from distro to distro. For example, in the latest Ubuntu distros, it is /var/log/syslog.

Other References:

  1. Another possible pointer to the missing /var/log/messages in Ubuntu    Send article as PDF   

Bench Calculator to Program Mathematics

This third article of the mathematical journey through open source, takes you through the functional power of bench calculator.

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After going through the basic programming on bench calculator, here’s the time to explore its functional power. As mentioned earlier, we can do functions in bench calculator. Unlike C, it has built-in functions, though the standard math functions and the user-defined functions are similar to as in C.

Built-in Functions

Complete list of bc‘s built-in functions is:

  • length(expr) – returns the number of significant digits in expr
  • read() – reads a number from standard input in the base dictated by the ibase variable
  • scale(expr) – returns the number of digits after the decimal point in expr
  • sqrt(expr) – returns the positive square root of expr, given that expr is non-negative

Here’s a sample execution of the above functions:

$ bc -ql
length(000023.450) # Number of significant digits
scale(000023.450) # Number of digits after the decimal
sqrt(2) # Square root of 2
sqrt(-1) # Square root of -1 is an error
Runtime error (func=(main), adr=4): Square root of a negative number
ibase=2 # Changing the input base to 2
x=read() # Wait to read the input in binary and then display
1100 # This is the input
x # Display the read value in the default output base 10
quit # Get out

Is that the complete list of built-in functions? But no talk of the previously used print. The reason is that print is not a function – didn’t you notice the missing () with print. print is actually a statement in bc, like if, for, … and the syntax of print is: print <list>, where <list> is a comma separated list of strings and expressions

If you have not yet got the hang of this word expression, it is a statement of numbers and variables operated with the various operators and functions.

Standard Math Functions

When bc is invoked with -l option, the math library gets loaded along with. And the following 6 math functions, also get available to use:

  • s(x) – returns sine of x, x is radians
  • c(x) – returns cosine of x, x is radians
  • a(x) – returns arctangent (in radians) of x
  • l(x) – returns the natural logarithm (base e) of x
  • e(x) – returns the value of e raised to the power of x
  • j(n, x) – Bessel function of integer order n of x

All these functions operate with the scale dictated by the built-in variable scale. By default, scale is set to 20. Here’s a sample execution:

$ bc -ql
scale # Show the current scale
pi=4*a(1) # Calculate pi as tan-1(1) is pi / 4
pi # Show the value approx. to 20 decimals
s(pi/3) # Calculate sine of 60° - should sqrt(3)/2
sqrt(3)/2 # value for comparison – note the approx. error
c(pi/3) # Calculate sine of 60° - should be 0.5
l(1) # log(1)
e(1) # Value of e1 approx. to 20 decimals
quit # Get out

This all sounds too geeky and mathematical – all going over the head. Okay, let’s forget about that and do some simple stuff. Let’s write our own simple functions – yes user-defined functions.

User-defined functions

Here is how we write a user-defined function (to add two numbers) in bc:

$ bc -ql
define add(x, y) {
	return (x + y)
add(3, add(4, 5)) # Lets add 3 with the sum of 4 & 5
quit # Get out

Given that, the factorial code from our previous learnings can be converted into a function as follows (say in functions.bc):

define factorial(n) {
	product = 1
	for (current_num = 1; current_num <= n; current_num += 1)
		product *= current_num
	return product

And then, we can use that function as follows:

$ bc -ql functions.bc # Load the functions while invoking bc
factorial(10) # Compute the factorial of 10
quit # Get out

As now, we have factorial, we can even calculate the series of e, i.e. 1 + 1/1! + 1/2! + …, say upto 1/20! for a good enough approximation. Here’s how it would go

$ bc -ql functions.bc # Load the functions while invoking bc
for (i = 1; i <= 20; i++)
	exp += (1/factorial(i))
exp # Display the computed value of e
e(1) # Compare with the standard math function
quit # Get out

And as in C, if we need a function only to do actions and not return anything, void is the way.

$ bc -ql
define void designer_print(v) {
	print "---{", v, "}---"
designer_print(100) # Print 100 with the designs
quit # Get out

With all these fundamentals of functions in bc, next we would dive into its recursive functional power.

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