Vectors and VSRs

The CPU delivers all exceptions, whether synchronous faults or asynchronous interrupts, to a set of hardware defined vectors. Depending on the architecture, these may be implemented in a number of different ways. Examples of existing mechanisms are:

PowerPC

Exceptions are vectored to locations 256 bytes apart starting at either zero or 0xFFF00000. There are 16 such vectors defined by the basic architecture and extra vectors may be defined by specific variants. One of the base vectors is for all external interrupts, and another is for the architecture defined timer.

MIPS

Most exceptions and all interrupts are vectored to a single address at either 0x80000000 or 0xBFC00180. Software is responsible for reading the exception code from the CPU cause register to discover its true source. Some TLB and debug exceptions are delivered to different vector addresses, but these are not used currently by eCos. One of the exception codes in the cause register indicates an external interrupt. Additional bits in the cause register provide a first-level decode for the interrupt source, one of which represents an architecture defined timer.

IA32

Exceptions are delivered via an Interrupt Descriptor Table (IDT) which is essentially an indirection table indexed by exception number. The IDT may be placed anywhere in memory. In PC hardware the standard interrupt controller can be programmed to deliver the external interrupts to a block of 16 vectors at any offset in the IDT. There is no hardware supplied mechanism for determining the vector taken, other than from the address jumped to.

ARM

All exceptions, including the FIQ and IRQ interrupts, are vectored to locations four bytes apart starting at zero. There is only room for one instruction here, which must immediately jump out to handling code higher in memory. Interrupt sources have to be decoded entirely from the interrupt controller.

With such a wide variety of hardware approaches, it is not possible to provide a generic mechanism for the substitution of exception vectors directly. Therefore, eCos translates all of these mechanisms in to a common approach that can be used by portable code on all platforms.

The mechanism implemented is to attach to each hardware vector a short piece of trampoline code that makes an indirect jump via a table to the actual handler for the exception. This handler is called the Vector Service Routine (VSR) and the table is called the VSR table.

The trampoline code performs the absolute minimum processing necessary to identify the exception source, and jump to the VSR. The VSR is then responsible for saving the CPU state and taking the necessary actions to handle the exception or interrupt. The entry conditions for the VSR are as close to the raw hardware exception entry state as possible - although on some platforms the trampoline will have had to move or reorganize some registers to do its job.

To make this more concrete, consider how the trampoline code operates in each of the architectures described above:

PowerPC

A separate trampoline is contained in each of the vector locations. This code saves a few work registers away to the special purposes registers available, loads the exception number into a register and then uses that to index the VSR table and jump to the VSR. The VSR is entered with some registers move to the SPRs, and one of the data register containing the number of the vector taken.

MIPS

A single trampoline routine attached to the common vector reads the exception code out of the cause register and uses that value to index the VSR table and jump to the VSR. The trampoline uses the two registers defined in the ABI for kernel use to do this, one of these will contain the exception vector number for the VSR.

IA32

There is a separate 3 or 4 instruction trampoline pointed to by each active IDT table entry. The trampoline for exceptions that also have an error code pop it from the stack and put it into a memory location. Trampolines for non-error-code exceptions just zero the memory location. Then all trampolines push an interrupt/exception number onto the stack, and take an indirect jump through a precalculated offset in the VSR table. This is all done without saving any registers, using memory-only operations. The VSR is entered with the vector number pushed onto the stack on top of the standard hardware saved state.

ARM

The trampoline consists solely of the single instruction at the exception entry point. This is an indirect jump via a location 32 bytes higher in memory. These locations, from 0x20 up, form the VSR table. Since each VSR is entered in a different CPU mode (SVC,UNDEF,ABORT,IRQ or FIQ) there has to be a different VSR for each exception that knows how to save the CPU state correctly.

2017-02-09
Documentation license for this page: Open Publication License