Introduction -- eCos support for Power Management



This package is not a supported component of eCosPro.

The eCos Power Management package provides a framework for incorporating power management facilities in an embedded application. However its functionality is deliberately limited.

  1. The package does not contain any support for controlling the current power mode of any given processor, device or board. Instead it is the responsibility of the appropriate HAL or device driver package to implement such support, by implementing power controllers. The power management package groups these power controllers together and provides an interface for manipulating them.

  2. The package does not contain any power management policy support. Specifically, including this package in an application does not by itself ever cause the system to go into low-power mode. Instead it is the responsibility of a separate policy module, provided by higher-level application code or by some other package, to decide when it would be appropriate to switch from one power mode to another. The power management package then provides the mechanisms for making it happen.

Including Power Management

The power management package is never included automatically in an eCos configuration: it is not part of any target specification or of any template. Instead it must be added explicitly to a configuration if the intended application requires power management functionality. When using the command-line ecosconfig tool this can be achieved using a command such as:

$ ecosconfig add power

The generic eCos user documentation should be consulted for more information on how to use the various tools. The functionality provided by the power management package is defined in the header file cyg/power/power.h. This header file can be used by both C and C++ code.

Power Modes

There are four defined modes of operation:


The system is fully operational, and power consumption is expected to be high.


There has been little or no activity for a short period of time. It is up to the policy module to determine what constitutes a short period of time, but typically it will be some tenths of a second or some small number of seconds. A possible action when entering idle mode is to reduce the system's clock speed, thus reducing the power drawn by the cpu.

Note that typically this power mode is not entered automatically whenever the idle thread starts running. Instead it is entered when the policy module discovers that for a certain period of time the system has been spending most of its time in the idle thread. Theoretically it is possible to implement a policy module that would cause a switch to idle mode as soon as the idle thread starts running, but that could result in a great many power mode changes for no immediate benefit.


The system has been idle for a significant period of time, perhaps some tens of seconds. It is desirable to shut down any hardware that is drawing a significant amount of power, for example a screen backlight.


The system is powered down. Power consumption should be minimized. Some special action may be needed before the system comes back up, for example the user may need to press a specific button.

The exact transitions that will happen are decided by the policy module. One policy module might include transitions from active to idle, from idle to sleep, from sleep to off, and from any of idle, sleep or off directly back to active. Another policy module might only use the active and off states, bypassing the intermediate ones.

Power Controllers

The power management package operates primarily on power controllers. The main functionality provided by a power controller is to switch the power mode for some part of the system, for example the lcd display or the cpu. A power controller consists primarily of a function which will be invoked to switch the power mode for the part of the overall system being controlled, plus some auxiliary data. A typical system will include a number of different power controllers:

  1. Usually there will be one power controller power_controller_cpu associated with the processor or with the target platform, and provided by the corresponding HAL package. It is this controller which is responsible for switching off the system when entering the off mode, which makes it somewhat special: attempting to switch off the cpu before other devices like the lcd display does not make sense because the cpu would no longer be executing any instructions for the latter operation. Therefore this power controller has to be invoked last when switching to a lower-power mode, and similarly when switching back to a higher-power mode it will be invoked first.

    It should be noted that providing power management support is not a hard requirement when porting eCos to a new processor or platform, and many eCos ports predate the availability of power management support. Therefore for any given platform it is distinctly possible that power_controller_cpu is not yet provided, and if full power management functionality is desired then the appropriate HAL package would have to be extended first. System developers should examine the relevant HAL documentation and sources to determine what is actually available.

  2. Some or all of the device drivers will supply their own power controllers, as part of the device driver package. It is not required that all device drivers provide power controllers. In some cases, especially for devices that are integrated with the processor, power_controller_cpu will take care of the integrated devices as a side effect. In other cases the hardware may not provide any functionality that allows power consumption to be controlled. For any given device driver it is also possible that no power controller exists either because it was not required when the driver was written, or because the driver predates the availability of power management. Again the relevant documentation and sources should be consulted for further information.

  3. There may be power controllers which are not associated directly with any specific hardware. For example a TCP/IP stack could provide a power controller so that it gets informed when the system has been reactivated: by looking at the system clock it can determine for how long the system has been switched off; using this information it can then recover from expired dhcp leases, or even to shut down any stream connections that may have become invalid (although arguably the stack should have refused to go to off mode while there were open connections).

Basic Operation

By default the Power Management package creates a thread during initialization. It is also possible for the package to be used without such a thread, for example in configurations which do not include a full kernel, and this alternative is described below. When a separate thread is used the stacksize and priority for this thread can be controlled by configuration options CYGNUM_POWER_THREAD_STACKSIZE and CYGNUM_POWER_THREAD_PRIORITY. Typically the thread will just wait on a semaphore internal to the package, and will do nothing until some other part of the system requests a change to the power mode.

At some point the policy module will decide that the system should move into a lower-power mode, for example from active to idle. This is achieved by calling the function power_set_mode, provided by the power management package and declared in cyg/power/power.h, with a single argument, PowerMode_Idle. This function manipulates some internal state and posts the semaphore, thus waking up the power management thread. Note that the function returns before the mode change has completed, and in fact depending on thread priorities this return may happen before any power controller has been invoked.

When the power management thread wakes up it examines the internal state to figure out what it should be doing. In this case it is supposed to change the global power mode, so it will iterate over all the power controllers requesting each one to switch to the idle mode. It is up to each power controller to handle this request appropriately. Optionally the thread will invoke a callback function after processing each power controller, so that higher-level code such as the policy module can more easily keep track of the actual state of each controller. Once the thread has iterated through all the power controllers it will again wait on the internal semaphore for the next request to arrive.

Note: At present the power management thread always runs at a single priority, which defaults to a low priority. A possible future enhancement would be to support two separate priorities. When switching to a lower-powered mode the thread would run at a low priority as before, thus allowing other threads to run and get a chance to cancel this mode change. When switching to a higher-powered mode the thread would run at a high priority. This could be especially important when moving out of the off state: for example it would ensure that all device drivers get a chance to wake up before ordinary application threads get to run again and possibly attempt I/O operations.

Although usually calls to power_set_mode will come from just one place in the policy module, this is not a hard requirement. It is possible for multiple threads to call this function, with no need for any synchronization. If the power management thread is in the middle of performing a mode change and a new request comes in, the thread will detect this, abort the current operation, and start iterating through the power controllers again with the new mode. This check happens between every power controller invocation. Usefully this makes it possible for power controllers themselves to manipulate power modes: a power controller is invoked to change mode; for some reason it determines that the new mode is inappropriate; it calls power_set_mode to move the system back to another mode; when the power controller returns this event will be detected; the power management thread will abort the current mode change, and start the new one.

In addition to changing the power mode for the system as a whole, individual controllers can be manipulated using the function power_set_controller_mode. For example, while the system as a whole might be in active mode certain devices might be kept in sleep mode until they are explicitly activated. It is possible to mix concurrent calls to power_set_mode and power_set_controller_mode, and when a power controller is invoked it may use power_set_controller_mode to request further changes to its own or to another controller's mode as required.

There are some scenarios where the power management package should not use its own thread. One scenario is if the configuration is specifically for a single-threaded application such as RedBoot. Another scenario is if the policy module already involves a separate thread: it may make more sense if the various power management operations are synchronous with respect to the calling thread. The use of a separate thread inside the power management package is controlled by the configuration option CYGPKG_POWER_THREAD, which is active only if the kernel package is present and enabled by default.

If no separate power management thread is used then obviously the implementations of power_set_mode and power_set_controller_mode will be somewhat different: instead of waking up a separate thread to do the work, these functions will now manipulate the power controllers directly. If the system does still involve multiple threads then only one thread may call power_set_mode or power_set_controller_mode at a time: the power management package will not provide any synchronization, that must happen at a higher level. However when a power controller is invoked it can still call these functions as required.

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