On multiprocessor architectures, Zephyr supports the use of multiple physical CPUs running Zephyr application code. This support is “symmetric” in the sense that no specific CPU is treated specially by default. Any processor is capable of running any Zephyr thread, with access to all standard Zephyr APIs supported.
No special application code needs to be written to take advantage of this feature. If there are two Zephyr application threads runnable on a supported dual processor device, they will both run simultaneously.
SMP configuration is controlled under the
variable. This must be set to “y” to enable SMP features, otherwise
a uniprocessor kernel will be built. In general the platform default
will have enabled this anywhere it’s supported. When enabled, the
number of physical CPUs available is visible at build time as
CONFIG_MP_NUM_CPUS. Likewise, the default for this will be the
number of available CPUs on the platform and it is not expected that
typical apps will change it. But it is legal and supported to set
this to a smaller (but obviously not larger) number for special
purposes (e.g. for testing, or to reserve a physical CPU for running
At the application level, core Zephyr IPC and synchronization primitives all behave identically under an SMP kernel. For example semaphores used to implement blocking mutual exclusion continue to be a proper application choice.
At the lowest level, however, Zephyr code has often used the
irq_unlock() primitives to implement fine grained
critical sections using interrupt masking. These APIs continue to
work via an emulation layer (see below), but the masking technique
does not: the fact that your CPU will not be interrupted while you are
in your critical section says nothing about whether a different CPU
will be running simultaneously and be inspecting or modifying the same
SMP systems provide a more constrained
that not only masks interrupts locally, as done by
also atomically validates that a shared lock variable has been
modified before returning to the caller, “spinning” on the check if
needed to wait for the other CPU to exit the lock. The default Zephyr
k_spin_unlock() is built
on top of the pre-existing
atomic_ layer (itself usually
implemented using compiler intrinsics), though facilities exist for
architectures to define their own for performance reasons.
One important difference between IRQ locks and spinlocks is that the earlier API was naturally recursive: the lock was global, so it was legal to acquire a nested lock inside of a critical section. Spinlocks are separable: you can have many locks for separate subsystems or data structures, preventing CPUs from contending on a single global resource. But that means that spinlocks must not be used recursively. Code that holds a specific lock must not try to re-acquire it or it will deadlock (it is perfectly legal to nest distinct spinlocks, however). A validation layer is available to detect and report bugs like this.
When used on a uniprocessor system, the data component of the spinlock (the atomic lock variable) is unnecessary and elided. Except for the recursive semantics above, spinlocks in single-CPU contexts produce identical code to legacy IRQ locks. In fact the entirety of the Zephyr core kernel has now been ported to use spinlocks exclusively.
Legacy irq_lock() emulation¶
For the benefit of applications written to the uniprocessor locking
irq_unlock() continue to work compatibly on
SMP systems with identical semantics to their legacy versions. They
are implemented as a single global spinlock, with a nesting count and
the ability to be atomically reacquired on context switch into locked
threads. The kernel will ensure that only one thread across all CPUs
can hold the lock at any time, that it is released on context switch,
and that it is re-acquired when necessary to restore the lock state
when a thread is switched in. Other CPUs will spin waiting for the
release to happen.
The overhead involved in this process has measurable performance
impact, however. Unlike uniprocessor apps, SMP apps using
irq_lock() are not simply invoking a very short (often ~1
instruction) interrupt masking operation. That, and the fact that the
IRQ lock is global, means that code expecting to be run in an SMP
context should be using the spinlock API wherever possible.
It is often desirable for real time applications to deliberately
partition work across physical CPUs instead of relying solely on the
kernel scheduler to decide on which threads to execute. Zephyr
provides an API, controlled by the
kconfig variable, which can associate a specific set of CPUs with each
thread, indicating on which CPUs it can run.
By default, new threads can run on any CPU. Calling
k_thread_cpu_mask_disable() with a particular CPU ID will prevent
that thread from running on that CPU in the future. Likewise
k_thread_cpu_mask_enable() will re-enable execution. There are also
available for convenience. For obvious reasons, these APIs are
illegal if called on a runnable thread. The thread must be blocked or
suspended, otherwise an
-EINVAL will be returned.
Note that when this feature is enabled, the scheduler algorithm
involved in doing the per-CPU mask test requires that the list be
traversed in full. The kernel does not keep a per-CPU run queue.
That means that the performance benefits from the
scheduler backends cannot be realized. CPU mask processing is
available only when
CONFIG_SCHED_DUMB is the selected
backend. This requirement is enforced in the configuration layer.
SMP Boot Process¶
A Zephyr SMP kernel begins boot identically to a uniprocessor kernel. Auxiliary CPUs begin in a disabled state in the architecture layer. All standard kernel initialization, including device initialization, happens on a single CPU before other CPUs are brought online.
Just before entering the application
main() function, the kernel
z_smp_init() to launch the SMP initialization process. This
enumerates over the configured CPUs, calling into the architecture
arch_start_cpu() for each one. This function is
passed a memory region to use as a stack on the foreign CPU (in
practice it uses the area that will become that CPU’s interrupt
stack), the address of a local
smp_init_top() callback function to
run on that CPU, and a pointer to a “start flag” address which will be
used as an atomic signal.
The local SMP initialization (
smp_init_top()) on each CPU is then
invoked by the architecture layer. Note that interrupts are still
masked at this point. This routine is responsible for calling
smp_timer_init() to set up any needed stat in the timer driver. On
many architectures the timer is a per-CPU device and needs to be
configured specially on auxiliary CPUs. Then it waits (spinning) for
the atomic “start flag” to be released in the main thread, to
guarantee that all SMP initialization is complete before any Zephyr
application code runs, and finally calls
z_swap() to transfer
control to the appropriate runnable thread via the standard scheduler
When running in multiprocessor environments, it is occasionally the case that state modified on the local CPU needs to be synchronously handled on a different processor.
One example is the Zephyr
k_thread_abort() API, which cannot return
until the thread that had been aborted is no longer runnable. If it
is currently running on another CPU, that becomes difficult to
Another is low power idle. It is a firm requirement on many devices that system idle be implemented using a low-power mode with as many interrupts (including periodic timer interrupts) disabled or deferred as is possible. If a CPU is in such a state, and on another CPU a thread becomes runnable, the idle CPU has no way to “wake up” to handle the newly-runnable load.
So where possible, Zephyr SMP architectures should implement an
interprocessor interrupt. The current framework is very simple: the
architecture provides a
arch_sched_ipi() call, which when invoked
will flag an interrupt on all CPUs (except the current one, though
that is allowed behavior) which will then invoke the
function implemented in the scheduler. The expectation is that these
APIs will evolve over time to encompass more functionality
(e.g. cross-CPU calls), and that the scheduler-specific calls here
will be implemented in terms of a more general framework.
Note that not all SMP architectures will have a usable IPI mechanism (either missing, or just undocumented/unimplemented). In those cases Zephyr provides fallback behavior that is correct, but perhaps suboptimal.
k_thread_abort() becomes only slightly more
complicated in SMP: for the case where a thread is actually running on
another CPU (we can detect this atomically inside the scheduler), we
broadcast an IPI and spin, waiting for the thread to either become
“DEAD” or for it to re-enter the queue (in which case we terminate it
the same way we would have in uniprocessor mode). Note that the
“aborted” check happens on any interrupt exit, so there is no special
handling needed in the IPI per se. This allows us to implement a
reasonable fallback when IPI is not available: we can simply spin,
waiting until the foreign CPU receives any interrupt, though this may
be a much longer time!
Likewise idle wakeups are trivially implementable with an empty IPI handler. If a thread is added to an empty run queue (i.e. there may have been idle CPUs), we broadcast an IPI. A foreign CPU will then be able to see the new thread when exiting from the interrupt and will switch to it if available.
Without an IPI, however, a low power idle that requires an interrupt will not work to synchronously run new threads. The workaround in that case is more invasive: Zephyr will not enter the system idle handler and will instead spin in its idle loop, testing the scheduler state at high frequency (not spinning on it though, as that would involve severe lock contention) for new threads. The expectation is that power constrained SMP applications are always going to provide an IPI, and this code will only be used for testing purposes or on systems without power consumption requirements.
SMP Kernel Internals¶
In general, Zephyr kernel code is SMP-agnostic and, like application code, will work correctly regardless of the number of CPUs available. But in a few areas there are notable changes in structure or behavior.
Many elements of the core kernel data need to be implemented for each
CPU in SMP mode. For example, the
_current thread pointer obviously
needs to reflect what is running locally, there are many threads
running concurrently. Likewise a kernel-provided interrupt stack
needs to be created and assigned for each physical CPU, as does the
interrupt nesting count used to detect ISR state.
These fields are now moved into a separate struct
_kernel struct, which has a
cpus array indexed by ID.
Compatibility fields are provided for legacy uniprocessor code trying
to access the fields of
cpus using the older syntax and assembly
Note that an important requirement on the architecture layer is that
the pointer to this CPU struct be available rapidly when in kernel
context. The expectation is that
arch_curr_cpu() will be
implemented using a CPU-provided register or addressing mode that can
store this value across arbitrary context switches or interrupts and
make it available to any kernel-mode code.
Similarly, where on a uniprocessor system Zephyr could simply create a global “idle thread” at the lowest priority, in SMP we may need one for each CPU. This makes the internal predicate test for “_is_idle()” in the scheduler, which is a hot path performance environment, more complicated than simply testing the thread pointer for equality with a known static variable. In SMP mode, idle threads are distinguished by a separate field in the thread struct.
Switch-based context switching¶
The traditional Zephyr context switch primitive has been
Unfortunately, this function takes no argument specifying a thread to
switch to. The expectation has always been that the scheduler has
already made its preemption decision when its state was last modified
and cached the resulting “next thread” pointer in a location where
architecture context switch primitives can find it via a simple struct
offset. That technique will not work in SMP, because the other CPU
may have modified scheduler state since the current CPU last exited
the scheduler (for example: it might already be running that cached
Instead, the SMP “switch to” decision needs to be made synchronously
with the swap call, and as we don’t want per-architecture assembly
code to be handling scheduler internal state, Zephyr requires a
somewhat lower-level context switch primitives for SMP systems:
arch_switch() is always called with interrupts masked, and takes
exactly two arguments. The first is an opaque (architecture defined)
handle to the context to which it should switch, and the second is a
pointer to such a handle into which it should store the handle
resulting from the thread that is being switched out.
The kernel then implements a portable
z_swap() implementation on top
of this primitive which includes the relevant scheduler logic in a
location where the architecture doesn’t need to understand it.
Similarly, on interrupt exit, switch-based architectures are expected
z_get_next_switch_handle() to retrieve the next thread to
run from the scheduler, passing in an “interrupted” handle reflecting
the same opaque type used by switch, which the kernel will then save
in the interrupted thread struct.
Note that while SMP requires
CONFIG_USE_SWITCH, the reverse is not
true. A uniprocessor architecture built with
CONFIG_SMP set to No might
still decide to implement its context switching using