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Disabling interrupts

The crudest way to do synchronization is to disable interrupts, that is, to temporarily prevent the CPU from responding to interrupts. If interrupts are off, no other thread will preempt the running thread, because thread preemption is driven by the timer interrupt. If interrupts are on, as they normally are, then the running thread may be preempted by another at any time, whether between two C statements or even within the execution of one.

Incidentally, this means that Pintos is a “preemptible kernel,” that is, kernel threads can be preempted at any time. Traditional Unix systems are “nonpreemptible,” that is, kernel threads can only be preempted at points where they explicitly call into the scheduler. (User programs can be preempted at any time in both models.) As you might imagine, preemptible kernels require more explicit synchronization.

You should have little need to set the interrupt state directly. Most of the time you should use the other synchronization primitives described in the following sections. The main reason to disable interrupts is to synchronize kernel threads with external interrupt handlers, which cannot sleep and thus cannot use most other forms of synchronization.

Some external interrupts cannot be postponed, even by disabling interrupts. These interrupts, called non-maskable interrupts (NMIs), are supposed to be used only in emergencies, e.g. when the computer is on fire. Pintos does not handle non-maskable interrupts.

Types and functions for disabling and enabling interrupts are in threads/interrupt.h.

enum intr_level

One of INTR_OFF or INTR_ON, denoting that interrupts are disabled or enabled, respectively.

enum intr_level intr_get_level (void)

Returns the current interrupt state.

enum intr_level intr_set_level (enum intr_level level)

Turns interrupts on or off according to level. Returns the previous interrupt state.

enum intr_level intr_enable (void)

Turns interrupts on. Returns the previous interrupt state.

enum intr_level intr_disable (void)

Turns interrupts off. Returns the previous interrupt state.

This project only requires accessing a little bit of thread state from interrupt handlers. For the alarm clock, the timer interrupt needs to wake up sleeping threads. When you access these variables from kernel threads, you will need to disable interrupts to prevent the timer interrupt from interfering.

When you do turn off interrupts, take care to do so for the least amount of code possible, or you can end up losing important things such as timer ticks or input events. Turning off interrupts also increases the interrupt handling latency, which can make a machine feel sluggish if taken too far.

The synchronization primitives themselves in synch.c are implemented by disabling interrupts. You may need to increase the amount of code that runs with interrupts disabled here, but you should still try to keep it to a minimum.

Disabling interrupts can be useful for debugging, if you want to make sure that a section of code is not interrupted. You should remove debugging code before turning in your project. (Don’t just comment it out, because that can make the code difficult to read.)

There should be no busy waiting in your submission. A tight loop that calls thread_yield() is one form of busy waiting.