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7.2. Knowing the Current Time
Kernel code can always retrieve a representation of the current time by looking at the value of jiffies. Usually, the fact that the value represents only the time since the last boot is not relevant to the driver, because its life is limited to the system uptime. As shown, drivers can use the current value of jiffies to calculate time intervals across events (for example, to tell double-clicks from single-clicks in input device drivers or calculate timeouts). In short, looking at jiffies is almost always sufficient when you need to measure time intervals. If you need very precise measurements for short time lapses, processor-specific registers come to the rescue (although they bring in serious portability issues).
It's quite unlikely that a driver will ever need to know the wall-clock time, expressed in months, days, and hours; the information is usually needed only by user programs such as cron and syslogd. Dealing with real-world time is usually best left to user space, where the C library offers better support; besides, such code is often too policy-related to belong in the kernel. There is a kernel function that turns a wall-clock time into a jiffies value, however:
#include <linux/time.h> unsigned long mktime (unsigned int year, unsigned int mon, unsigned int day, unsigned int hour, unsigned int min, unsigned int sec);
To repeat: dealing directly with wall-clock time in a driver is often a sign that policy is being implemented and should therefore be questioned.
While you won't have to deal with human-readable representations of the time, sometimes you need to deal with absolute timestamp even in kernel space. To this aim, <linux/time.h> exports the do_gettimeofday function. When called, it fills a struct timeval pointer—the same one used in the gettimeofday system call—with the familiar seconds and microseconds values. The prototype for do_gettimeofday is:
#include <linux/time.h> void do_gettimeofday(struct timeval *tv);
The source states that do_gettimeofday has "near microsecond resolution," because it asks the timing hardware what fraction of the current jiffy has already elapsed. The precision varies from one architecture to another, however, since it depends on the actual hardware mechanisms in use. For example, some m68knommu processors, Sun3 systems, and other m68k systems cannot offer more than jiffy resolution. Pentium systems, on the other hand, offer very fast and precise subtick measures by reading the timestamp counter described earlier in this chapter.
The current time is also available (though with jiffy granularity) from the xtime variable, a struct timespec value. Direct use of this variable is discouraged because it is difficult to atomically access both the fields. Therefore, the kernel offers the utility function current_kernel_time:
#include <linux/time.h> struct timespec current_kernel_time(void);
Code for retrieving the current time in the various ways it is available within the jit ("just in time") module in the source files provided on O'Reilly's FTP site. jit creates a file called /proc/currentime, which returns the following items in ASCII when read:
We chose to use a dynamic /proc file to keep the boilerplate code to a minimum—it's not worth creating a whole device just to return a little textual information.
The file returns text lines continuously as long as the module is loaded; each read system call collects and returns one set of data, organized in two lines for better readability. Whenever you read multiple data sets in less than a timer tick, you'll see the difference between do_gettimeofday, which queries the hardware, and the other values that are updated only when the timer ticks.
phon% head -8 /proc/currentime 0x00bdbc1f 0x0000000100bdbc1f 1062370899.630126 1062370899.629161488 0x00bdbc1f 0x0000000100bdbc1f 1062370899.630150 1062370899.629161488 0x00bdbc20 0x0000000100bdbc20 1062370899.630208 1062370899.630161336 0x00bdbc20 0x0000000100bdbc20 1062370899.630233 1062370899.630161336
In the screenshot above, there are two interesting things to note. First, the current_kernel_time value, though expressed in nanoseconds, has only clock-tick granularity; do_gettimeofday consistently reports a later time but not later than the next timer tick. Second, the 64-bit jiffies counter has the least-significant bit of the upper 32-bit word set. This happens because the default value for INITIAL_JIFFIES, used at boot time to initialize the counter, forces a low-word overflow a few minutes after boot time to help detect problems related to that very overflow. This initial bias in the counter has no effect, because jiffies is unrelated to wall-clock time. In /proc/uptime, where the kernel extracts the uptime from the counter, the initial bias is removed before conversion.
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