Poster of Linux kernelThe best gift for a Linux geek
 Linux kernel map 
Team LiB
Previous Section Next Section

Interrupt Control

The Linux kernel implements a family of interfaces for manipulating the state of interrupts on a machine. These interfaces enable you to disable the interrupt system for the current processor or mask out an interrupt line for the entire machine. These routines are all very architecture dependent and can be found in <asm/system.h> and <asm/irq.g>. See Table 6.2, later in this chapter, for a complete listing of the interfaces.

Table 6.2. Listing of Interrupt Control Methods




Disable local interrupt delivery


Enable local interrupt delivery


Save the current state of local interrupt delivery and then disable it


Restore local interrupt delivery to the given state


Disable the given interrupt line and ensure no handler on the line is executing before returning


Disable the given interrupt line


Enable the given interrupt line


Returns nonzero if local interrupt delivery is disabled; otherwise returns zero


Returns nonzero if in interrupt context and zero if in process context


Returns nonzero if currently executing an interrupt handler and zero otherwise

Reasons to control the interrupt system generally boil down to needing to provide synchronization. By disabling interrupts, you can guarantee that an interrupt handler will not preempt your current code. Moreover, disabling interrupts also disables kernel preemption. Neither disabling interrupt delivery nor disabling kernel preemption provides any protection from concurrent access from another processor, however. Because Linux supports multiple processors, kernel code more generally needs to obtain some sort of lock to prevent another processor from accessing shared data simultaneously. These locks are often obtained in conjunction with disabling local interrupts. The lock provides protection against concurrent access from another processor, whereas disabling interrupts provides protection against concurrent access from a possible interrupt handler. Chapters 8 and 9 discuss the various problems of synchronization and their solutions. Nevertheless, understanding the kernel interrupt control interfaces is important.

Disabling and Enabling Interrupts

To disable interrupts locally for the current processor (and only the current processor) and then later reenable them, do the following

/* interrupts are disabled .. */

These functions are usually implemented as a single assembly operation (of course, this depends on the architecture). Indeed, on x86, local_irq_disable() is a simple cli and local_irq_enable() is a simple sti instruction. For non-x86 hackers, cli and sti are the assembly calls to clear and set the allow interrupts flag, respectively. In other words, they disable and enable interrupt delivery on the issuing processor.

The local_irq_disable() routine is dangerous if interrupts were already disabled prior to its invocation. The corresponding call to local_irq_enable() unconditionally enables interrupts, despite the fact that they were off to begin with. Instead, a mechanism is needed to restore interrupts to a previous state. This is a common concern because a given code path in the kernel can be reached both with and without interrupts enabled, depending on the call chain. For example, imagine the previous code snippet is part of a larger function. Imagine that this function is called by two other functions, one which disables interrupts and one which does not. Because it is becoming harder as the kernel grows in size and complexity to know all the code paths leading up to a function, it is much safer to save the state of the interrupt system before disabling it. Then, when you are ready to reenable interrupts, you simply restore them to their original state:

unsigned long flags;

local_irq_save(flags);    /* interrupts are now disabled */
/* ... */
local_irq_restore(flags); /* interrupts are restored to their previous state */

Note that these methods are implemented at least in part as macros, so the flags parameter (which must be defined as an unsigned long) is seemingly passed by value. This parameter contains architecture-specific data containing the state of the interrupt systems. Because at least one supported architecture incorporates stack information into the value (ahem, SPARC), flags cannot be passed to another function (specifically, it must remain on the same stack frame). For this reason, the call to save and the call to restore interrupts must occur in the same function.

All the previous functions can be called from both interrupt and process context.

No more global cli()

The kernel formerly provided a method to disable interrupts on all processors in the system. Furthermore, if another processor called this method, it would have to wait until interrupts were enabled before continuing. This function was named cli() and the corresponding enable call was named sti()very x86-centric, despite existing for all architectures. These interfaces were removed during 2.5, and consequently all interrupt synchronization must now use a combination of local interrupt control and spin locks (discussed in Chapter 9). This means that code that previously only had to disable interrupts globally to ensure mutual exclusive access to shared data now needs to do a bit more work.

Previously, driver writers could assume a cli() used in their interrupt handlers and anywhere else the shared data was accessed would provide mutual exclusion. The cli() call would ensure that no other interrupt handlers (and thus their specific handler) would run. Furthermore, if another processor entered a cli() protected region, it would not continue until the original processor exited its cli() protected region with a call to sti().

Removing the global cli() has a handful of advantages. First, it forces driver writers to implement real locking. A fine-grained lock with a specific purpose is faster than a global lock, which is effectively what cli() is. Second, the removal streamlined a lot of code in the interrupt system and removed a bunch more. The result is simpler and easier to comprehend.

Disabling a Specific Interrupt Line

In the previous section, we looked at functions that disable all interrupt delivery for an entire processor. In some cases, it is useful to disable only a specific interrupt line for the entire system. This is called masking out an interrupt line. As an example, you might want to disable delivery of a device's interrupts before manipulating its state. Linux provides four interfaces for this task:

void disable_irq(unsigned int irq);
void disable_irq_nosync(unsigned int irq);
void enable_irq(unsigned int irq);
void synchronize_irq(unsigned int irq);

The first two functions disable a given interrupt line in the interrupt controller. This disables delivery of the given interrupt to all processors in the system. Additionally, the disable_irq() function does not return until any currently executing handler completes. Thus, callers are assured not only that new interrupts will not be delivered on the given line, but also that any already executing handlers have exited. The function disable_irq_nosync() does not wait for current handlers to complete.

The function synchronize_irq() waits for a specific interrupt handler to exit, if it is executing, before returning.

Calls to these functions nest. For each call to disable_irq() or disable_irq_nosync() on a given interrupt line, a corresponding call to enable_irq() is required. Only on the last call to enable_irq() is the interrupt line actually enabled. For example, if disable_irq() is called twice, the interrupt line is not actually reenabled until the second call to enable_irq().

All three of these functions can be called from interrupt or process context and do not sleep. If calling from interrupt context, be careful! You do not want, for example, to enable an interrupt line while you are handling it. (Recall that the interrupt line of a handler is masked out while it is being serviced.)

It would be rather rude to disable an interrupt line that is shared among multiple interrupt handlers. Disabling the line disables interrupt delivery for all devices on the line. Therefore, drivers for newer devices tend not to use these interfaces[3]. Because PCI devices have to support interrupt line sharing by specification, they should not use these interfaces at all. Thus, disable_irq() and friends are found more often in drivers for older legacy devices, such as the PC parallel port.

[3] Many older devices, particularly ISA devices, do not provide a method of obtaining whether or not they generated an interrupt. Therefore, often interrupt lines for ISA devices cannot be shared. Because the PCI specification mandates the sharing of interrupts, modern PCI-based devices support interrupt sharing. In contemporary computers, nearly all interrupt lines can be shared.

Status of the Interrupt System

It is often useful to know the state of the interrupt system (for example, whether interrupts are enabled or disabled) or whether you are currently executing in interrupt context.

The macro irqs_disabled(), defined in <asm/system.h>, returns nonzero if the interrupt system on the local processor is disabled. Otherwise, it returns zero.

Two macros, defined in <asm/hardirg.h>, provide an interface to check the kernel's current context. They are


The most useful is the first: It returns nonzero if the kernel is in interrupt context. This includes either executing an interrupt handler or a bottom half handler. The macro in_irq() returns nonzero only if the kernel is specifically executing an interrupt handler.

More often, you want to check whether you are in process context. That is, you want to ensure you are not in interrupt context. This is often the case because code wants to do something that can only be done from process context, such as sleep. If in_interrupt() returns zero, the kernel is in process context.

Yes, the names are confusing and do little to impart their meaning. Table 6.2 is a summary of the interrupt control methods and their description.

    Team LiB
    Previous Section Next Section