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Using FreeRTOS on ARM Cortex-A9 Embedded Processors
That incorporate a Generic Interrupt Controller (GIC)


The information on this page is relevant to both the 32-bit ARMv7-A and 64-bit ARMv8-A RTOS ports.

Some ARM Cortex-A processors incorporate ARM's own Generic Interrupt Controller (GIC), while others incorporate proprietary interrupt controllers. Separate web pages are provided to give instructions on using the RTOS in both scenarios. This page provides information on running the RTOS on an ARM Cortex-A embedded processor that uses the ARM GIC. See also the web page that describes running the RTOS on an ARM Cortex-A embedded processor that uses a proprietary interrupt controller.

On this page:

Features of the FreeRTOS ARM Cortex-A kernel port

The FreeRTOS ARM Cortex-A port:
  • Extends the use of the familiar, small, simple, deterministic, de facto standard FreeRTOS kernel beyond the microcontroller market

  • Implements a full interrupt nesting model

  • Allows a subset of interrupts to remain enabled even inside RTOS critical sections #1

  • Includes hardware floating point support

  • Uses a flat/linear memory model (the MMU is not supported).

#1 The ARM Cortex-A hardware will itself globally disable interrupts when an interrupt is taken, and dictates that interrupts are globally disables when certain operations are performed. These are the only times interrupts are globally disabled, and interrupts are always re-enabled as soon as possible.

Using the floating point unit (FPU) in interrupts

By default, the Cortex-A9 port does not support the use of the floating point unit in interrupts. If it is necessary to use the floating point unit in interrupts then it will also be necessary to save the entire floating point context to the stack on entry to each (potentially nested) interrupt. From FreeRTOS V9.0.0 the FreeRTOS GCC Cortex-A port can do this automatically for you - see the description of the vApplicationFPUSafeIRQHandler() callback function in the Interrupt Handling section below.

Using the floating point unit (FPU) in tasks

To prevent processor register corruption a task must not use any floating point registers unless it has a floating point context. Whether or not RTOS tasks are created with a floating point context by default depends on the compiler in use, and the configUSE_TASK_FPU_SUPPORT setting in FreeRTOSConfig.h.

A newly created task will not have a floating point context if:

  • You are using a FreeRTOS version older than V9.0.0, or
  • You are using a compiler other than GCC, or
  • configUSE_TASK_FPU_SUPPORT is set to 1 in FreeRTOSConfig.h, or
  • configUSE_TASK_FPU_SUPPORT is undefined.

A newly created task will already have a floating point context if:

  • You are using FreeRTOS V9.0.0 or later, and
  • The GCC compiler is used, and
  • configUSE_TASK_FPU_SUPPORT is set to 2 in FreeRTOSConfig.h.

A task that does not have a floating point context must create a floating point context for itself by calling portTASK_USES_FLOATING_POINT() before any floating point calculations are executed. It is only necessary to call portTASK_USES_FLOATING_POINT() once per task. For example:

void vATaskFunction( void *pvParameters )
double x, y;

    /* This task is going to use floating point operations.  Therefore it calls
    portTASK_USES_FLOATING_POINT() once on task entry, before entering the loop
    that implements its functionality.  From this point on the task has a floating
    point context. */

    /* Enter the loop that implements the task's function. */
    for( ;; )
        /* portTASK_USES_FLOATING_POINT() has already been called, so it is safe
        to use the floating point x and y variables here... */
        x = [whatever];
        y = [whatever];
Calling portTASK_USES_FLOATING_POINT() before any floating point calculations are performed

Important note for GCC (and possibly other compiler) users:

Some GCC libraries optimise memory copy and memory set (and possibly other) functions by making use of the wide floating point registers. Therefore, by default, any task that uses functions such as memcpy(), memcmp() or memset(), or uses a FreeRTOS API function such as xQueueSend() which itself uses memcpy(), will inadvertently corrupt the floating point registers. Further, any interrupt that calls a FreeRTOS queue or semaphore function will also corrupt the floating point context as they too make use of memcpy().

To avoid this either:

  • Use library functions that do not use the floating point registers, and if that is not possible provide your own implementation of memcpy(), memcmp() and memset() to ensure the versions provided by the library are not used.

  • Make use of the portTASK_USES_FLOATING_POINT() and vApplicationFPUSafeIRQHandler() functions described on this page.

Essential information on interrupt priorities

The RTOS Cortex-A port implements a full interrupt nesting scheme, the behaviour of which is dependent on the configMAX_API_CALL_INTERRUPT_PRIORITY setting. configMAX_API_CALL_INTERRUPT_PRIORITY must be defined in FreeRTOSConfig.h.

Interrupts assigned a priority at or below the priority set by configMAX_API_CALL_INTERRUPT_PRIORITY can call interrupt safe FreeRTOS API function, and will nest. Interrupts safe FreeRTOS API function are those that end in "FromISR" (FreeRTOS maintains a separate interrupt API to ensure interrupt entry is as efficient and simple as possible).

Interrupts assigned a priority above the configMAX_API_CALL_INTERRUPT_PRIORITY setting will not be effected by RTOS critical sections, and will nest, but cannot call any FreeRTOS API functions.

Special Note 1: In ARM interrupt controllers, higher numeric interrupt priority values denote lower logical interrupt priorities. Therefore an interrupt priority of 5 is lower than an interrupt priority of 4. If configMAX_API_CALL_INTERRUPT_PRIORITY is set to 5, then it is correct for an interrupt handler that calls an interrupt safe API function to be assigned a priority of 5 or 6, but it is not correct for it to be assigned a priority of 4.

Special Note 2: The interrupt controller's internal representation of priority bits can be ignored. If the interrupt controller implements 32 unique priority levels, then the only valid values for configMAX_API_CALL_INTERRUPT_PRIORITY are 1 to 30. Likewise, if the interrupt controller implements 16 unique priority levels then valid values are 1 to 14.

Special Note 3: Interrupt controllers that can sub-divide interrupt priority bits into preemption priorities and sub-priorities should have all bits configured as preemption priority. In the ARM generic interrupt controller (GIC) this means the interrupt controller's binary point register must be set to 0.

ARM Cortex-A specific FreeRTOSConfig.h settings

The following settings must be included in FreeRTOSConfig.h:

    Must be set to the base address of the ARM Generic Interrupt Controller (GIC)


    The offset from configINTERRUPT_CONTROLLER_BASE_ADDRESS at which the GIC's CPU interface starts. Typically this will be 0x1000.


    The number of unique priorities that can be specified in the GIC.


    See the interrupt priorities section.

Note: If there is an official demo for the Cortex-A9 processor you are using then the FreeRTOSConfig.h file provided with the demo will already contain the correct settings.

Configuring and installing the RTOS tick interrupt

Every official FreeRTOS demo that targets an ARM Cortex-A based embedded processor includes code to configure a timer to generate the RTOS tick interrupt, and install the FreeRTOS tick interrupt handler. The following information is only required if you need to change the provided implementation.

The macro configSETUP_TICK_INTERRUPT() is called by the RTOS kernel port layer. configSETUP_TICK_INTERRUPT() must be #defined in FreeRTOSConfig.h to configure a peripheral to generate a periodic interrupt at the frequency set by the configTICK_RATE_HZ FreeRTOSConfig.h setting. FreeRTOS_Tick_Handler() must then be installed as the interrupt's handler function. For example:

/* Implement a function in a C file to generate a periodic interrupt at the
required frequency. */
void vSetupTickInterrupt( void )
/* FreeRTOS_Tick_Handler() is itself defined in the RTOS port layer.  An extern
declaration is required to allow the following code to compile. */
extern void FreeRTOS_Tick_Handler( void );

    /* Assume TIMER1_configure() configures a hypothetical timer peripheral called
    TIMER1 to generate a periodic interrupt with a frequency set by its parameter. */
    TIMER1_configure( configTICK_RATE_HZ );

    /* Next assume Install_Interrupt() installs the function passed as its second
    parameter as the handler for the peripheral passed as its first parameter. */
    Install_Interrupt( TIMER1, FreeRTOS_Tick_Handler );
Defining a function that configures a timer to generate a periodic tick

/* Given the function definition above, add the following line to FreeRTOSConfig.h. */
#define configSETUP_TICK_INTERRUPT() vSetupTickInterrupt()
#defining configSETUP_TICK_INTERRUPT() to the function that generates the periodic tick

Interrupt handling

Every official FreeRTOS demo that targets an ARM Cortex-A based embedded processor includes code that handles interrupts. The following information is only required if you need to change the provided implementation.

Interrupt entry, nesting, and exit code is provided by the RTOS kernel port layer. After an interrupt has been entered the RTOS port layer executes a callback function that must be provided by the application writer. Individual interrupt service routines can then be called by the callback function. An example is provided below.

The callback function can be called either vApplicationIRQHandler(), or if you are using GCC and FreeRTOS V9.0.0 or later, vApplicationFPUSafeIRQHandler().

/* The two callback function options.  In both cases ulICCIAR is passed as the value
of the interrupt controller's ICCIAR (interrupt acknowledge register). */
void vApplicationIRQHandler( uint32_t ulICCIAR );
void vApplicationFPUSafeIRQHandler( uint32_t ulICCIAR );
The handler function called after interrupt entry housekeeping tasks have already been performed

If the application writer provides a callback function called vApplicationIRQHandler() then floating point registers will not be saved on entry to the interrupt, and the interrupt must not use any floating point instructions or registers. If the application writer instead provides a callback function called vApplicationFPUSafeIRQHandler() then floating point registers will be saved on entry to each (potentially nested) interrupt, which will use more stack space and slow down interrupt entry, but allow interrupt handlers to use FPU registers. See the "Using the floating point unit (FPU) in interrupts" section above.

The callback function (vApplicationIRQHandler() or vApplicationFPUSafeIRQHandler()) is called with interrupts disabled, but can (and in most cases should) enable interrupts. Below is an example implementation:

/* vApplicationIRQHandler() is just a normal C function. */
void vApplicationIRQHandler( uint32_t ulICCIAR )
uint32_t ulInterruptID;

    /* In the 64-bit Cortex-A RTOS port it is necessary to clear the source of
    the interrupt BEFORE interrupts are re-enabled. */

    /* Re-enable interrupts. */
    __asm volatile( "CPSIE I" );

    /* The ID of the interrupt can be obtained by bitwise ANDing the ICCIAR value
    with 0x3FF. */
    ulInterruptID = ulICCIAR & 0x3FFUL;

    /* On the assumption that handlers for each interrupt are stored in an array
    called InterruptHandlerFunctionTable, use the interrupt ID to index to and
    call the relevant handler function. */
    InterruptHandlerFunctionTable[ ulInterruptID ]();
An example implementation of vApplicationIRQHandler()

Installing the FreeRTOS IRQ and SWI (SVC) interrupt handlers

FreeRTOS_IRQ_Handler() must be installed as the Cortex-A's IRQ handler.

FreeRTOS_SWI_Handler() must be installed as the Cortex-A's SWI (SVC) handler.

If it is not possible to edit the interrupt vector code then map the FreeRTOS handlers to the required handler names using #defines in FreeRTOSConfig.h. For example, if the installed handlers are called IRQ_Handler() and SWI_Handler() respectively, then the FreeRTOS handlers can be mapped to these names by adding the following two lines to FreeRTOSConfig.h.

#define FreeRTOS_IRQ_Handler IRQ_Handler
#define FreeRTOS_SWI_Handler SWI_Handler
Mapping the FreeRTOS interrupt handler names to alternative handler names

ARMv7A processor modes and stacks

The C start up code must, as a minimum, configure stacks for the IRQ and Supervisor modes of the Cortex-A processor. main() must be called from a privileged mode, preferably Supervisor mode.

It is not necessary to allocate a stack to User/System mode unless main() is called from System mode (main() must not be called from User mode). If a stack is allocated to User/System mode it will not be used after the RTOS kernel has been started.

The RTOS stack overflow detection functionality only detects overflows in task stacks, not IRQ or Supervisor stacks.

ARMv8A exception levels

  • The RTOS executes at EL3 (Exception Level 3), and uses the EL3 stack.
  • RTOS tasks execute at EL3 and use the EL1 stack.

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