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Deferred Interrupt Handling
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What is deferred interrupt handling?

In FreeRTOS, a deferred interrupt handler refers to an RTOS task that is unblocked (triggered) by an interrupt service routine (ISR) so the processing necessitated by the interrupt can be performed in the unblocked task, rather than directly in the ISR. The mechanism differs from standard interrupt processing, in which all the processing is performed within the ISR, because the majority of the processing is deferred until after the ISR has exited:

  • Standard ISR Processing

    Standard ISR processing will typically involve recording the reason for the interrupt, clearing the interrupt, then performing any processing necessitated by the interrupt, all within the ISR itself.

  • Deferred Interrupt Processing

    Deferred interrupt processing will typically involve recording the reason for the interrupt and clearing the interrupt within the ISR, but then unblocking an RTOS task so the processing necessitated by the interrupt can be performed by the unblocked task, rather than within the ISR.

    If the task to which interrupt processing is deferred is assigned a high enough priority then the ISR will return directly to the unblocked task (the interrupt will interrupt one task, but then return to a different task), resulting in all the processing necessitated by the interrupt being performed contiguously in time (without a gap), just as if all the processing had been performed in the ISR itself. This can be see in the image below, where all the interrupt processing occurs between times t2 and t4, even though part of the processing is performed by a task.

    using an rtos to defer interrupt processing
    Deferred interrupt processing execution sequence when the
    deferred handling task has a high priority


    With reference to the image above:

    1. At time t2: A low priority task is pre-empted by an interrupt.
    2. At time t3: The ISR returns directly to a task that was unblocked from within the ISR. The majority of interrupt processing is performed within the unblocked task.
    3. At time t4: The task that was unblocked by the ISR returns to the Blocked state to wait for the next interrupt, allowing the lower priority application task to continue its execution.


When to use deferred interrupt handling

Most embedded engineers will strive to minimise the amount of time spent inside an ISR (to minimise jitter in the system, enable other interrupts of the same or lower priority to execute, maximise interrupt responsiveness, etc.), and the technique of deferring interrupt processing to a task provides a convenient method of achieving this. However, the mechanics of first unblocking, and then switching to, an RTOS task itself takes a finite amount of time, so typically an application will only benefit from deferring interrupt processing if the processing:

  • Needs to perform lengthy operations, or
  • Would benefit from using the full RTOS API, rather than just the ISR safe API, or
  • Needs to perform an action that is not deterministic, within reasonable bounds.


Techniques for deferring interrupt processing to a task

Methods of deferring interrupts to tasks fall into two categories:
  1. Centralised Deferred Interrupt Handling

    Centralised deferred interrupt handling is so called because each interrupt that uses this method executes in the context of the same RTOS daemon task. The RTOS daemon task is created by FreeRTOS, and is also known as the timer service task.

    To defer interrupt processing to the RTOS daemon task pass a pointer to the interrupt processing function as the xFunctionToPend parameter in a call to xTimerPendFunctionCallFromISR() API function. See the xTimerPendFunctionCallFromISR() documentation page for a worked example.

    Advantages of centralised deferred interrupt handling include minimal resource usage, as each deferred interrupt handler uses the same task.

    Disadvantages of centralised deferred interrupt handling include:

    • All the deferred interrupt handler functions execute in the context of the same RTOS daemon task, and therefore execute with the same RTOS task priority.

    • xTimerPendFunctionCallFromISR() sends pointers to the deferred interrupt handling functions to the RTOS daemon task over the timer command queue. Therefore the RTOS daemon task processes the functions in the order in which they are received on the queue, not necessarily in interrupt priority order.

    • Writing to, and then subsequently reading from, the timer command queue adds an additional latency.


  2. Application Controlled Deferred Interrupt Handling

    Application controlled deferred interrupt handling is so called because each interrupt that uses this method executes in the context of a task created by the application writer. See the Using an RTOS Task Notification as a Light Weight Counting Semaphore documentation page for a worked example.

    Advantages of application controlled deferred interrupt handling include:

    • Reduced latency (function pointers are not passed through a queue).

    • The ability to assign a different priority to each deferred interrupt handling RTOS task - allowing the relative priority of deferred interrupt task to match the relative priority of their respective interrupts.

    Disadvantages of application controlled deferred interrupt handling includes the greater consumption of resources as typically more tasks are required.







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