System Calls

TRD: 104
Working Group: Kernel
Type: Documentary
Status: Draft
Author: Hudson Ayers, Guillaume Endignoux, Jon Flatley, Philip Levis, Amit Levy, Pat Pannuto, Leon Schuermann, Johnathan Van Why, dcz
Draft-Created: August 31, 2020
Draft-Modified: September 8, 2023
Draft-Version: 8


This document describes the system call application binary interface (ABI) between user space processes and the Tock kernel for 32-bit ARM Cortex-M and RISC-V RV32I platforms.

1 Introduction

The Tock operating system can run multiple independent userspace applications. Each application image is a separate process: it has its own address space and thread stack. Because applications are untrusted, the kernel uses hardware memory protection to isolate the kernel from processes. This allows applications written in C (or even assembly) to safely run on Tock. Applications invoke operations on and receive upcalls from the Tock kernel through the system call programming interface.

This document describes Tock's system call programming interface (API) and application binary interface (ABI) for 32-bit ARM Cortex-M and RISC-V RV32I platforms. It describes the system calls that Tock implements, their semantics, and how a userspace process invokes them. The ABI for other architectures, if supported, will be described in other documents.

2 Design Considerations

Three design considerations guide the design of Tock's system call API and ABI.

  1. Tock is currently supported on the ARM CortexM and RISCV architectures. It may support others in the future. Its ABI must support both architectures and be flexible enough to support future ones.
  2. Tock userspace applications can be written in any language. The system call API must support their calling semantics in a safe way. Rust is especially important.
  3. Both the API and ABI must be efficient and support common call patterns in an efficient way.

2.1 Architectural Support and ABIs

The primary question for the ABI is how many and which registers transfer data between the kernel and userspace. Passing more registers has the benefit of the kernel and userspace being able to transfer more information without relying on pointers to memory structures. It has the cost of requiring every system call to transfer and manipulate more registers.

2.2 Programming Language APIs

Userspace support for Rust is an important requirement for Tock. A key invariant in Rust is that a given memory object can either have multiple references or a single mutable reference. If userspace passes a writeable (mutable) buffer into the kernel, it must relinquish any references to that buffer. As a result, the only way for userspace to regain a reference to the buffer is for the kernel to pass it back.

2.3 Efficiency

Programming language calling conventions are another consideration because they affect efficiency. For example, the C calling convention in ARM says that the first four arguments to a function are stored in r0-r3. Additional arguments are stored on the stack. Therefore, if the system call ABI says that arguments are stored in different registers than r0-r3, a C function call that invokes a system call will need to move the C arguments into those registers.

3 System Call ABI

This section describes the ABI for Tock on 32-bit platforms, including the exact register mappings for the CortexM and 32-bit RISC-V architectures. The ABI for 64-bit platforms is currently undefined but may be specified in a future TRD. The register mappings for future 32-bit architectures can be specified in supplemental TRDs.

3.1 Registers

When userspace invokes a system call, it passes 4 registers to the kernel as arguments. It also pass an 8-bit value of which type of system call (see Section 4) is being invoked (the Syscall Class ID). When the system call returns, it returns 4 registers as return values. When the kernel invokes an upcall on userspace, it passes 4 registers to userspace as arguments and has no return value.

Syscall Argumentsr0-r3a0-a3
Syscall Return Valuesr0-r3a0-a3
Syscall Class IDsvca4
Upcall Argumentsr0-r3a0-a3
Upcall Return ValuesNoneNone

How registers are mapped to arguments can affect performance and code size. For system calls implemented by capsules and drivers (command, subscribe, and allow), arguments that are passed to these calls should be placed in the same registers that will be used to invoke those calls. This allows the system call handlers in the kernel to pass them unchanged, rather than have to move them between registers.

For example, command has this signature:

fn main() {
fn command(&self, minor_num: usize, r2: usize, r3: usize, caller_id: AppId) -> Result<(), ErrorCode>

This means that the value which will be passed as r2 to the command should be placed in register r2 when userspace invokes the system call. That way, the system call handler can just leave register r2 unchanged. If, instead, the argument r2 were passed in register r3, the system call handler would have to spend an instruction moving register r3 to register r2.

Driver system call implementations in the Tock kernel typically pass a reference to self as their first argument. Therefore, r0 is usually used to dispatch onto the correct driver; this argument is consumed by the system call handler and replaced with &self when the actual system call method is invoked.

3.2 Return Values

All system calls have the same return value format. A system call can return one of several variants, having different associated value types, which are shown here. r0-r3 refer to the return value registers: for CortexM they are r0-r3 and for RISC-V they are a0-a3.

System call return variantr0r1r2r3
Failure0Error code--
Failure with u321Error codeReturn Value 0
Failure with 2 u322Error codeReturn Value 0Return Value 1
Failure with u643Error codeReturn Value 0 LSBReturn Value 0 MSB
Success with u32129Return Value 0
Success with 2 u32130Return Value 0Return Value 1
Success with u64131Return Value 0 LSBReturn Value 0 MSB
Success with 3 u32132Return Value 0Return Value 1Return Value 2
Success with u32 and u64133Return Value 0Return Value 1 LSBReturn Value 1 MSB

There are many failure and success variants because different system calls need to pass different amounts of data. A command that requests a 64-bit timestamp, for example, needs its success to return a u64, but its failure can return nothing. In contrast, a system call that passes a pointer into the kernel may have a simple success return value but requires a failure with one 32-bit value so the pointer can be passed back.

Every system call MUST return only one failure and only one success variant. Different system calls may use different failure and success variants, but any specific system call returns exactly one of each. If an operation might have multiple success return variants or failure return variants, then it MUST be split into multiple system calls.

This requirement of a single failure variant and a single success variant is to simplify userspace implementations and preclude them from having to handle many different cases. The presence of many difference cases suggests that the operation should be split up, as there is non-determinism in its execution or its meaning is overloaded. The requirement of a single failure and a single success variant also fits well with Rust's Result type.

If userspace tries to invoke a system call that the kernel does not support, the system call will return a Failure result with an error code of NODEVICE or NOSUPPORT (Section 4). As the Allow and Subscribe system call classes have defined Failure types, the kernel can produce the expected type with known failure variants. Command, however, can return any variant. This means that Commands can appear to have two failure variants: the one expected (e.g., Failure with u32) as well as Failure. To avoid this ambiguity for NODEVICE, userspace can use the reserved "exists" command (Command Identifier 0), described in Section 4.3.1. If this command returns Success, the driver is installed and will not return a Failure with NODEVICE for Commands. The driver may still return NOSUPPORT, however. Because this implies a misunderstanding of the system call API by userspace (it is invoking system calls that do not exist), userspace is responsible for handling this case.

For all Failure types, the passed Error code MUST be placed in r1.

All 32-bit values not specified for r0 in the above table are reserved. Reserved r0 values MAY be used by a future TRD and MUST NOT be returned by the kernel unless specified in a TRD. Therefore, for future compatibility, userspace code MUST handle r0 values that it does not recognize.

3.3 Error Codes

All system call failures return an error code. These error codes are a superset of kernel error codes. They include all kernel error codes so errors from calls on kernel HILs can be easily mapped to userspace system calls when suitable. There are additional error codes to include errors related to userspace.

ValueError CodeMeaning
1FAILGeneral failure condition: no further information available.
2BUSYThe driver or kernel is busy: retry later.
3ALREADYThis operation is already ongoing can cannot be executed more times in parallel.
4OFFThis subsystem is powered off and must be turned on before issuing operations.
5RESERVEMaking this call requires some form of prior reservation, which has not been performed.
6INVALIDOne of more of the parameters passed to the operation was invalid.
7SIZEThe size specified is too large or too small.
8CANCELThe operation was actively cancelled by a call to a cancel() method or function.
9NOMEMThe operation required memory that was not available (e.g. a grant region or a buffer).
10NOSUPPORTThe system call is not available to or not supported for the calling process.
11NODEVICEThe driver specified by the driver number is not available to the calling process.
12UNINSTALLEDThe resource was removed or uninstalled (e.g., an SD card).
13NOACKThe packet transmission was sent but not acknowledged.
1024BADRVALThe variant of the return value did not match what the system call should return.

Values in the range 1-1023 reflect kernel return value error codes. Kernel error codes not specified above are reserved. TRDs MAY specify additional kernel error codes from these reserved values, but MUST NOT specify kernel error codes greater than 1023. The Tock kernel MUST NOT return an error code unless the error code is specified in a TRD.

Values greater than 1023 are reserved for userspace library use. Value 1024 (BADRVAL) is for when a system call returns a different failure or success variant than the userspace library expects.

4 System Call API

Tock has 7 classes or types of system calls. When a system call is invoked, the class is encoded as the Syscall Class Number. Some system call classes are implemented by the core kernel and so the supported calls are the same across kernels. Others are implemented by system call drivers, which can be added and removed in different kernel builds. The full set of valid system calls a kernel supports therefore depends on what system call drivers it has installed.

The 7 classes are:

Syscall ClassSyscall Class Number
Read-Write Allow3
Read-Only Allow4

All of the system call classes except Yield and Exit are non-blocking. When a userspace process calls a Subscribe, Command, Read-Write Allow, Read-Only Allow, or Memop syscall, the kernel will not put the process on a wait queue while handling the syscall. Instead, the kernel will complete the syscall and prepare the return value for the syscall immediately. The kernel scheduler may not, however, run the process immediately after handling the syscall, and may instead decide to suspend the process due to a timeslice expiration or the kernel thread being runnable. If an operation is long-running (e.g., I/O), its completion is signaled by an upcall (see the Subscribe call in 4.2).

Successful calls to Exit system calls do not return (the process exits).

System calls implemented by system call drivers (Subscribe, Command, Read-Write Allow, Read-Only Allow) all include two arguments, a driver number and a syscall number. The driver number specifies which system call driver to invoke. The syscall number (which is different than the Syscall Class Number in the table above) specifies which instance of that system call on that driver to invoke. Both arguments are unsigned 32-bit integers. For example, by convention the Console system call driver has driver number 0x1 and a Command to the console driver with syscall number 0x2 starts receiving console data into a buffer.

If userspace invokes a system call on a peripheral driver that is not installed in the kernel, the kernel MUST return a Failure result with an error of NODEVICE. If userspace invokes an unrecognized system call on a peripheral driver, the peripheral driver MUST return a Failure result with an error of NOSUPPORT.

4.1 Yield (Class ID: 0)

The Yield system call class is how a userspace process handles upcalls, relinquishes the processor to other processes, or waits for one of its long-running calls to complete. The Yield system call class implements the only blocking system call in Tock that returns, yield-wait.

When a process calls a Yield system call, the kernel schedules one pending upcall (if any) to execute on the userspace stack. If there are multiple pending upcalls, each one requires a separate Yield call to invoke. The kernel invokes upcalls only in response to Yield system calls. This form of very limited preemption allows userspace to manage concurrent access to its variables.

There are two Yield system calls:

  • yield-wait
  • yield-no-wait

The first call, yield-wait, blocks until an upcall executes. It is commonly used to provide a blocking I/O interface to userspace or to indicate to the kernel that the process has no work to do so the system can be put into a sleep state. A userspace library starts a long-running operation that has an upcall, then calls yield-wait to wait for an upcall. When the yield-wait returns, the process checks if the resuming upcall was the one it was expecting, and if not calls yield-wait again.

The second call, yield-no-wait, executes a single upcall if any is pending. If no upcalls are pending it returns immediately.

The register arguments for Yield system calls are as follows. The registers r0-r3 correspond to r0-r3 on CortexM and a0-a3 on RISC-V.

Yield numberr0
No wait fieldr1

The yield number specifies which call is invoked.

System callYield number value

All other yield number values are reserved. If an invalid yield number is passed the kernel MUST return immediately.

The no wait field is only used by yield-no-wait. It contains the memory address of an 8-bit byte that yield-no-wait writes to indicate whether an upcall was invoked. If invoking yield-no-wait resulted in an upcall executing, yield-no-wait writes 1 to the field address. If invoking yield-no-wait resulted in no upcall executing, yield-no-wait writes 0 to the field address. This field allows userspace loops that want to flush the upcall queue to execute yield-no-wait until the queue is empty.

The Yield system call class has no return value. This is because invoking an upcall pushes that function call onto the stack, such that the return value of a call to yield system call may be the return value of the upcall. This is why the no wait field exists, so that yield-no-wait can return a result to the caller. Allowing the kernel to pass a return value in register back to userspace would require either re-entering the kernel or expensive execution architectures (e.g., additional stacks or additional stack frames) for upcalls.

4.2 Subscribe (Class ID: 1)

The Subscribe system call class is how a userspace process registers upcalls with the kernel. Subscribe system calls are implemented by peripheral syscall drivers, so the set of valid Subscribe calls depends on the platform and what drivers were compiled into the kernel.

The register arguments for Subscribe system calls are as follows. The registers r0-r3 correspond to r0-r3 on CortexM and a0-a3 on RISC-V.

Driver numberr0
Subscribe numberr1
Upcall pointerr2
Application datar3

The upcall pointer is the address of the first instruction of the upcall function. The application data argument is a parameter that an application passes in and the kernel passes back in upcalls unmodified.

If the passed upcall is not valid (is outside process executable memory and is not the Null Upcall described below), the kernel MUST NOT invoke the requested driver and MUST immediately return a failure with a error code of INVALID. The currently registered upcall remains registered and the kernel does not cancel any pending invocations of the existing upcall.

Any upcall passed from a process MUST remain valid until the next successful invocation of subscribe by that process with the same syscall and driver number. When a process makes a successful subscribe system call (one which results in the Success with 2 u32 return variant), the kernel MUST cancel all pending upcalls on that process for that driver and subscribe number: it MUST NOT invoke the previous upcall after the call to subscribe, and MUST NOT invoke the new upcall for events that the kernel handled before the call to subscribe.

Note that these semantics create a period over which upcalls might be lost: any upcalls that were pending when subscribe was called will not be invoked. On one hand, losing upcalls can create strange behavior in userspace. On the other, ensuring correctness is difficult. If the pending upcalls are invoked on the old function, there is a safety/liveness issue; this means that an upcall function must exist after it has been removed, and so for safety may need to be static (exist for the lifetime of the process). Therefore, to allow dynamic upcalls, an upcall can't be invoked after it's unregistered.

Invoking the new upcall in response to prior events has its own correctness issues. For example, suppose that userspace registers an upcall for receiving a certain type of event (e.g., a rising edge on a GPIO pin). It then changes the type of event (to falling edge) and registers a new upcall. Invoking the new upcall on the previous events will be incorrect.

If userspace requires that it not lose any upcalls, it should not re-subscribe and instead use some form of userspace dispatch.

The return variants for Subscribe system calls are Failure with 2 u32 and Success with 2 u32. For success, the first u32 is the upcall pointer passed in the previous call to Subscribe (the existing upcall) and the second u32 is the application data pointer passed in the previous call to Subscribe (the existing application data). For failure, the first u32 is the passed upcall pointer and the second u32 is the passed application data pointer. For the first successful call to Subscribe for a given upcall, the upcall pointer and application data pointer returned MUST be the Null Upcall (described below).

4.2.1 The Null Upcall

The Tock kernel defines an upcall pointer as the Null Upcall. The Null Upcall denotes an upcall that the kernel will never invoke. The Null Upcall is used for two reasons. First, a userspace process passing the Null Upcall as the upcall pointer for Subscribe indicates that there should be no more upcalls. Second, the first time a userspace process calls Subscribe for a particular upcall, the kernel needs to return upcall and application pointers indicating the current configuration; in this case, the kernel returns the Null Upcall. The Tock kernel MUST NOT invoke the Null Upcall.

The Null Upcall upcall pointer MUST be 0x0. This means it is not possible for userspace to pass address 0x0 as a valid code entry point. Unlike systems with virtual memory, where 0x0 can be reserved a special meaning, in microcontrollers with only physical memory 0x0 is a valid memory location. It is possible that a Tock kernel is configured so its applications start at address 0x0. However, even if they do begin at 0x0, the Tock Binary Format for application images mean that the first address will not be executable code and so 0x0 will not be a valid function. In the case that 0x0 is valid application code and where the linker places an upcall function, the first instruction of the function should be a no-op and the address of the second instruction passed instead.

If a userspace process invokes subscribe on a driver ID that is not installed in the kernel, the kernel MUST return a failure with an error code of NODEVICE and an upcall of the Null Upcall.

4.3 Command (Class ID: 2)

The Command system call class is how a userspace process calls a function in the kernel, either to return an immediate result or start a long-running operation. Command system calls are implemented by syscall drivers, so the set of valid Command calls depends on the platform and what drivers were compiled into the kernel.

The register arguments for Command system calls are as follows. The registers r0-r3 correspond to r0-r3 on CortexM and a0-a3 on RISC-V.

Driver numberr0
Command numberr1
Argument 0r2
Argument 1r3

Argument 0 and argument 1 are unsigned 32-bit integers. Command calls should never pass pointers: those are passed with Allow calls, as they can adjust memory protection to allow the kernel to access them.

The return variants of Command are instance-specific. Each specific Command instance (combination of Driver and Command number) specifies its failure variant and success variant. If userspace invokes a command on a peripheral that is not installed, the kernel returns a failure variant of Failure, with an associated error code of NODEVICE. Therefore, command invocations that need to handle userspace/kernel mismatches should be able to handle Failure in addition to the expected failure variant (if different than Failure).

4.3.1 Command Identifier 0

Command Identifier 0 provides an existence check for drivers. Command Identifier 0 MUST return either Success or Failure with ENODEVICE. Success indicates that the driver is present and the userspace process can issue system calls to it. If the driver is not accessible, Command Identifier 0 returns Failure with an error code of ENODEVICE. A driver may be not accessible because the kernel does not have it, the process does not have the required permissions to use it, or other reasons.

4.4 Read-Write Allow (Class ID: 3)

The Read-Write Allow system call class is how a userspace process shares a buffer with the kernel that the kernel can read and write.

The register arguments for Read-Write Allow system calls are as follows. The registers r0-r3 correspond to r0-r3 on CortexM and a0-a3 on RISC-V.

Driver numberr0
Allow numberr1

The allow number argument is an ordinal number (index) of the buffer. When Read-Write Allow is called, the provided buffer SHALL get assigned to the provided allow number, replacing the previous buffer assigned to that allow number, if there was one. The supported allow numbers are defined by the driver.

The Tock kernel MUST check that the passed buffer is contained within the calling process's writeable address space. Every byte of a passed buffer must be readable and writeable by the process. Zero-length buffers may therefore have arbitrary addresses. If the passed buffer is not complete within the calling process's writeable address space, the kernel MUST return a failure result with an error code of INVALID.

The return variants for Read-Write Allow system calls are Failure with 2 u32 and Success with 2 u32. In both cases, Argument 0 contains an address and Argument 1 contains a length. When a driver implementing the Read-Write Allow system call returns a failure result, it MUST return the same address and length as those that were passed in the call. When a driver implementing the Read-Write Allow system call returns a success result, the returned address and length MUST be those that were passed in the previous call, unless this is the first call. On the first successful invocation of a particular Read-Write Allow system call, an driver implementation MUST return address 0 and size 0.

If the kernel cannot access the grant region for this process, NOMEM will be returned. This can be caused by either running out a space in the grant region of RAM for the process, or the grant was never registered with the kernel during capsule creation at board startup. If the specified allow number is not supported by the driver, the kernel will return INVALID.

The standard access model for allowed buffers is that userspace does not read or write a buffer that has been allowed: access to the memory is intended to be exclusive either to userspace or to the kernel. To regain access to a passed buffer B, the process calls the same Read-Write Allow system call again. If this call returns a success result, the result contains buffer B. The process can call with a zero-length buffer if it wishes to pass no memory to the kernel. Once a buffer has been returned to userspace as part of a Read-Write Allow system call, it is guaranteed for the kernel to no longer have access to the described memory region, unless it is currently shared with the kernel as part of the passed in buffer or another Allow mechanism.

Note that buffers held by the kernel are still considered part of a process address space, even if conceptually the process should not access that memory. This means, for example, that userspace may extend a buffer by calling allow with the same pointer and a longer length and such a call is not required to return an error code of INVALID. Similarly, it is possible for userspace to allow the same buffer multiple times to the kernel. This means, in practice, that the kernel may have multiple writeable references to the same memory and MUST take precautions to ensure this does not violate safety within the kernel.

Finally, because a process conceptually relinquishes access to a buffer when it makes a Read-Write Allow call with it, a userspace API MUST NOT assume or rely on a process accessing an allowed buffer. If userspace needs to read or write to a buffer held by the kernel, it MUST first regain access to it by calling the corresponding Read-Write Allow.

4.4.1 Buffers Can Change

The standard use of Read-Write Allow requires that userspace does not access a buffer once it has been allowed. However, the kernel MUST NOT assume that an allowed buffer does not change: there could be a bug, compromise, or other error in the userspace code. The fact that the kernel thread always preempts any user thread in Tock allows capsules to assume that a series of accesses to an allowed buffer is atomic. However, if the capsule relinquishes execution (e.g., returns from a method called on it), it may be that userspace runs in the meantime and modifies the buffer. Note that userspace could also, in this time, issue another allow call to revoke the buffer, or crash, such that the buffer is no longer valid.

The canonical case of incorrectly assuming a buffer does not change involves the length of a buffer. In this example, taken from the SPI controller capsule, userspace allows a buffer, then a command specifies a length (arg1) of how many bytes of the buffer to read or write. The variable mlen is the length of the buffer.

fn main() {
if mlen >= arg1 && arg1 > 0 {
    app.len = arg1;
    app.index = 0;

Checking that the length fits within the allowed buffer when the command is issued is insufficient, as it could be that the buffer changes during the underlying hardware I/O operation. If the buffer is replaced with one that is much smaller, the length passed in the command may now be too large. The index variable keeps track of where in the buffer the next write should occur: the capsule breaks up long writes into multiple, smaller writes to bound the size of its static kernel buffer. If capsule code blindly copies the number of bytes specified in the command, without re-checking buffer length, then it can cause the kernel to panic for an out-of-bounds error.

Therefore, in the read_write_done callback, the capsule checks the length of the buffer that userspace wants to read data into. The third line checks that the end of the just completed operation isn't past the end of the current userspace buffer (which could happen if the userspace buffer became shorter).

fn main() {
let end = index;
let start = index - length;
let end = cmp::min(end, dest.len());
let start = cmp::min(start, end);

let real_len = cmp::min(end - start, src.len());
let dest_area = &mut dest[start..end];

for (i, c) in src[0..real_len].iter().enumerate() {
    dest_area[i] = *c;

For similar reasons, a capsule should not cache computations on values from an allowed buffer. If the buffer changes, then those computations may no longer be correct (e.g., computing a length based on fields in the buffer).

4.5 Read-Only Allow (Class ID: 4)

The Read-Only Allow class is very similar to the Read-Write Allow class. It differs in some ways:

  1. The buffer it passes to the kernel is read-only, and the process MAY freely read the buffer.
  2. The kernel MUST NOT write to a buffer shared with a Read-Only Allow.
  3. The allow numbers in the Read-Only Allow are independent from those in the Read-Write Allow.

The semantics and calling conventions of Read-Only Allow are otherwise identical to Read-Write Allow: a userspace API MUST NOT depend on writing to a shared buffer and the kernel MUST NOT assume the buffer does not change.

This restriction on writing to buffers is to limit the complexity of code review in the kernel. If a userspace library relies on writes to shared buffers, then kernel code correspondingly relies on them. This sort of concurrent access can have unforeseen edge cases which cause the kernel to panic, e.g., because values changed between method calls.

The Read-Only Allow class exists so that userspace can pass references to constant data to the kernel. This is useful, for example, when a process prints a constant string to the console; it wants to allow the constant string to the kernel as an application slice, then call a command that transmits the allowed slice. Constant strings are usually stored in flash, rather than RAM, which Tock's memory protection marks as read-only memory. Therefore, if a process tries to pass a constant string stored in flash through a Read-Write Allow, the allow will fail because the kernel detects that the passed slice is not writeable.

Another common use case for Read-Only allow is passing test or diagnostic data. A U2F authentication key, for example, will often run some cryptographic tests at boot to ensure correct operation. These tests store input data, keys, and expected output data as constants in flash. An encrypt operation, for example, wants to be able to pass a read-only input and read-only key to obtain a ciphertext. Without a read-only allow, all of this read-only data has to be copied into RAM, and for software engineering reasons these RAM buffers may be difficult to reuse.

Having a Read-Only Allow allows a system call driver to clearly specify whether data is read-only or read-write and also saves processes the RAM overhead of having to copy read-only data into RAM so it can be passed with a Read-Write Allow.

The Tock kernel MUST check that the passed buffer is contained within the calling process's readable address space. Every byte of the passed buffer must be readable by the process. Zero-length buffers may therefore have arbitrary addresses. If the passed buffer is not complete within the calling process's readable address space, the kernel MUST return a failure result with an error code of INVALID.

4.6 Memop (Class ID: 5)

The Memop class is how a userspace process requests and provides information about its address space. The register arguments for Memop system calls are as follows. The registers r0-r3 correspond to r0-r3 on CortexM and a0-a3 on RISC-V.

Operation argumentr1

The operation argument specifies which memory operation to perform. There are 12:

Memop OperationOperationSuccess
1SBreakSuccess with u32
2Get process RAM start addressSuccess with u32
3Get address immediately after process RAM allocationSuccess with u32
4Get process flash start addressSuccess with u32
5Get address immediately after process flash regionSuccess with u32
6Get lowest address (end) of the grant regionSuccess with u32
7Get number of writeable flash regions in process headerSuccess with u32
8Get start address of a writeable flash regionSuccess with u32
9Get end address of a writeable flash regionSuccess with u32
10Set the start of the process stackSuccess
11Set the start of the process heapSuccess

The success return variant is Memop class system call specific and specified in the table above. All Memop class system calls have a Failure failure type.

4.7 Exit (Class ID: 6)

The Exit system call class is how a userspace process terminates. Successful calls to Exit system calls do not return.

There are two Exit system calls:

  • exit-terminate
  • exit-restart

The first call, exit-terminate, terminates the process and tells the kernel that it may reclaim and reallocate the process as well as all of its resources. Usually this indicates that the process has completed its work.

The second call, exit-restart, terminates the process and tells the kernel that the application would like to restart if possible. If the kernel restarts the application, it MUST assign it a new process identifier. The kernel MAY reuse existing process resources (e.g., RAM regions) or MAY allocate new ones.

The register arguments for Exit system calls are as follows. The registers r0-r3 correspond to r0-r3 on CortexM and a0-a3 on RISC-V.

Exit numberr0
Completion coder1

The exit number specifies which call is invoked.

System callExit number value

The difference between exit-terminate and exit-restart is what behavior the application asks from the kernel. With exit-terminate, the application tells the kernel that it considers itself completed and does not need to run again. With exit-restart, it tells the kernel that it would like to be rebooted and run again. For example, exit-terminate might be used by a process that stores some one-time data on flash, while exit-restart might be used if the process runs out of memory.

The completion code is an unsigned 32-bit number which indicates status. This information can be stored in the kernel and used in management or policy decisions. The definition of these status codes is outside the scope of this document.

If an exit syscall is successful, it does not return. Therefore, the return value of an exit syscall is always Failure. exit-restart and exit-terminate MUST always succeed and so never return.

5 libtock-c Userspace Library Methods

This section describes the method signatures for system calls and upcalls in C, as an example of how they appear to application/userspace code..

Because C allows a single return value but Tock system calls can return multiple values, they do not easily map to idiomatic C. These low-level APIs are translated into standard C code by the userspace library. The general calling convention is that the complex return types are returned as structs. Since these structs are composite types larger than a single word, the ARM and RISC-V calling conventions pass them on the stack.

The system calls are implemented as inline assembly. This assembly moves arguments into the correct registers and invokes the system call, and on return copies the returned data into the return type on the stack.

5.1 Yield

The Yield system calls have these function prototypes:

int yield_no_wait(void);
void yield(void);

yield_no_wait returns 1 if an upcall was invoked and 0 if one was not invoked.

5.2 Subscribe

The subscribe system call has this function prototype:

typedef void (subscribe_upcall)(int, int, int, void*);

typedef struct {
  bool success;
  subscribe_upcall* upcall;
  void* userdata;
  tock_error_t error;
} subscribe_return_t;

subscribe_return_t subscribe(uint32_t driver, uint32_t subscribe,
                             subscribe_upcall uc, void* userdata);

The success field indicates whether the call to subscribe succeeded. If it failed, the error code is stored in error. If it succeeded, the value in error is undefined.

5.3 Command

The subscribe system call has this function prototype:

typedef struct {
  syscall_rtype_t type;
  uint32_t data[3];
} syscall_return_t;

syscall_return_t command(uint32_t driver, uint32_t command, int data, int arg2);

Because a command can return any failure or success variant, it returns a direct mapping of the return registers. rtype contains the value of r0, while data[0] contains what was passed in r1, data[1] contains was passed in r2, and data[2] contains what was passed in r3.

5.4 Read-Write Allow

The read-write allow system call has this function prototype:

typedef struct {
  bool success;
  void* ptr;
  size_t size;
  tock_error_t error;
} allow_rw_return_t;

allow_rw_return_t allow_readwrite(uint32_t driver, uint32_t allow, void* ptr, size_t size);

The success field indicates whether the call succeeded. If it failed, the error code is stored in error. If it succeeded, the value in error is undefined. ptr and size contain the pointer and size of the passed buffer.

5.5 Read-Only Allow

The read-only allow system call has this function prototype:

typedef struct {
  bool success;
  const void* ptr;
  size_t size;
  tock_error_t error;
} allow_ro_return_t;

allow_ro_return_t allow_readonly(uint32_t driver, uint32_t allow, const void* ptr, size_t size);

The success field indicates whether the call succeeded. If it failed, the error code is stored in error. If it succeeded, the value in error is undefined. ptr and size contain the pointer and size of the passed buffer.

5.6 Memop

Because the Memop system calls are defined by the kernel and not extensible, they are directly defined by libtock-c as library functions:

void* tock_app_memory_begins_at(void);
void* tock_app_memory_ends_at(void);
void* tock_app_flash_begins_at(void);
void* tock_app_flash_ends_at(void);
void* tock_app_grant_begins_at(void);
int tock_app_number_writeable_flash_regions(void);
void* tock_app_writeable_flash_region_begins_at(int region_index);
void* tock_app_writeable_flash_region_ends_at(int region_index);

They wrap around an underlying function which uses inline assembly:

void* memop(uint32_t op_type, int arg1);

5.7 Exit

The Exit system calls have these function prototypes:

void tock_exit(uint32_t completion_code);
void tock_restart(uint32_t completion_code);

Since these two variants of Exit never return, they have no return value.

6 Authors' Address

Guillaume Endignoux <>

Jon Flatley <>

Philip Levis
414 Gates Hall
Stanford University
Stanford, CA 94305

Phone: +1 650 725 9046

Amit Levy <>

Pat Pannuto <>

Leon Schuermann <>

Johnathan Van Why <>

7 References and Additional Information