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Genode on the Codezero microkernel
Norman Feske
Codezero is a microkernel primarily targeted at ARM-based embedded systems.
It is developed by the British company B-Labs.
:B-Labs website:
The Codezero kernel was first made publicly available in summer 2009. The
latest version, documentation, and community resources are available at the
project website:
:Codezero project website:
As highlighted by the name of the project website, the design of the kernel is
closely related to the family of L4 microkernels. In short, the kernel provides
a minimalistic set of functionality for managing address spaces, threads, and
communication between threads, but leaves complicated policy and device access
to user-level components.
Using Genode with Codezero
For using Codezero, please ensure to have Git, SCons, and Python installed as
these tools are required for downloading and building the kernel. Furthermore,
you will need to install the tool chain for ARM. For instructions on how to
download and install the tool chain, please refer to:
Genode tool-chain
To download the Codezero kernel and integrate it with Genode, issue
! make prepare
from the 'base-codezero/' directory. The Codezero kernel is fully supported by
Genode's run mechanism. Therefore, you can run Genode scenarios using Qemu
directly from the build directory. For a quick test, let's create a build
directory for Codezero on the VersatilePB926 platform using Genode's
'create_builddir' tool:
! <genode-dir>/tool/create_builddir codezero_vpb926 BUILD_DIR=<build_dir>
To execute the graphical Genode demo, change to the new created build directory
and issue:
! make run/demo
Characteristics of the kernel
To put Codezero in relation to other L4 kernels, here is a quick summary on the
most important design aspects as implemented with the version 0.3, and on how
our port of Genode relates to them:
* In the line of the original L4 interface, the kernel uses global name spaces
for kernel objects such as threads and address spaces.
* For the interaction between a user thread and the kernel, the concept of
user-level thread-control blocks (UTCB) is used. A UTCB is a small
thread-specific region in the thread's virtual address space, which is
always mapped. Hence the access to the UTCB can never raise a page fault,
which makes it perfect for the kernel to access system-call arguments,
in particular IPC payload copied from/to user threads. In contrast to other
L4 kernels, the location of UTCBs within the virtual address space is managed
by the user land.
On Genode, core keeps track of the UTCB locations for all user threads.
This way, the physical backing store for the UTCB can be properly accounted
to the corresponding protection domain.
* The kernel provides three kinds of synchronous inter-process communication
(IPC): Short IPC carries payload in CPU registers only. Full IPC copies
message payload via the UTCBs of the communicating parties. Extended IPC
transfers a variable-sized message from/to arbitrary locations of the
sender/receiver address spaces. During an extended IPC, page fault may
Genode solely relies on extended IPC, leaving the other IPC mechanisms to
future optimizations.
* The scheduling of threads is based on hard priorities. Threads with the
same priority are executed in a round-robin fashion. The kernel supports
time-slice-based preemption.
Genode does not support Codezero priorities yet.
* The original L4 interface leaves open the question on how to manage
and account kernel resources such as the memory used for page tables.
Codezero makes the accounting of such resources explicit, enables the
user-land to manage them in a responsible way, and prevent kernel-resource
denial-of-service problems.
* In contrast to the original L4.v2 and L4.x0 interfaces, the kernel provides
no time source in the form of IPC timeouts to the user land. A time source
must be provided by a user-space timer driver. Genode employs such a timer
services on all platforms so that it is not effected by this limitation.
In several ways, Codezero goes beyond the known L4 interfaces. The most
noticeable addition is the support for so-called containers. A container is
similar to a virtual machine. It is an execution environment that holds a set
of physical resources such as RAM and devices. The number of containers and the
physical resources assigned to them is static and is to be defined at build
time. The code executed inside a container can be roughly classified into two
cases. First, there are static programs that require strong isolation from the
rest of the system but no classical operating-system infrastructure, for
example special-purpose telecommunication stacks or cryptographic functionality
of an embedded device. Second, there a kernel-like workload, which use the L4
interface to substructure the container into address spaces, for example a
paravirtualized Linux kernel that uses Codezero address spaces to protect Linux
processes. Genode runs inside a container and facilitates Codezero's L4
interface to implement its multi-server architecture.
Behind the scenes
The 'make prepare' mechanism checks out the kernel source code from the
upstream Git repository to 'base-codezero/contrib'. When building the kernel
from within a Genode build directory via 'make kernel', this directory won't be
touched by the Genode build system. Instead, a snapshot of the 'contrib'
directory is taken to '<build-dir>/kernel/codezero'. This is the place where
the Codezero configuration and build processes are executed. By working with a
build-directory-local snapshot, we ensure that the source tree remains
untouched at all times. After having taken the snapshot, the Codezero kernel is
configured using a configuration template specific for the hardware platform.
The configuration comes in the form of a CML file located at
'base-codezero/config/'. There is one CML file per supported platform named
'<platform>.cml'. The configured Codezero build directory will reside at
'<build-dir>/kernel/codezero/build/'. Finally, the Codezero build system is
invoked to build the kernel.
The two stages of building Codezero
The Codezero build system always performs the compilation of the kernel and the
so-called containers as well as the integration of all these components into a
final ELF image as one operation. When building just the kernel via 'make
kernel', the final image will contain the default container0 that comes with
the Codezero distribution. For integrating Genode into the final image, the
content of the container0 must be replaced by the Genode binaries followed by
another execution of 'kernel/codezero/'. Now, the single-image will be
re-created, including the Genode binaries. When using Genode's run mechanism,
these steps are automated for you. For reference, please review the Codezero
run environment at 'base-codezero/run/env'.
By first building the kernel with Codezero's default container ('make kernel')
and later replacing the container's content with Genode binaries, we
optimize the work flow for building Genode components. The kernel is compiled
only once, but the (quick) re-linking of the final image is done every time a
run script is executed.
In the run environment, you will see that we forcefully remove a file called
'cinfo.c' from the build-directory-local snapshot of the Codezero source tree.
This file is generated automatically by the Codezero build system and linked
against the kernel. It contains the parameters of the containers executed on
the kernel. Because we change the content of container0 each time when
executing a run script, those parameter change. So we have to enforce to
re-generation of the 'cinfo.c' file.
How Genode ROM modules are passed into the final image
The Codezero build system picks up any ELF files residing the container's
directory wheres the file called 'main.elf' is considered to be the roottask
(in Codezero speak called pager) of the container. For Genode, 'main.elf'
corresponds to the core executable. All other boot modules are merged into an
ELF file, which we merely use as a container for these binary data. This ELF
file is linked such that it gets loaded directly after the core image (this is
how core finds the boot modules). The process of archiving all boot modules
into the single ELF file is automated via the 'base-codezero/tool/gen_romfs'
tool. In the container's directory, the merged file is called 'modules.elf'.
Adapting the source code of the kernel
For debugging and development you might desire to change the kernel code
at times. You can safely do so within the 'base-codezero/contrib/' directory.
When issuing the next 'make kernel' from the Genode build directory, your
changes will be picked up. However, when working with run scripts, the kernel
is not revisited each time. The kernel gets built only once if the
'<build-dir>/kernel' directory does not exist, yet. If you work on the kernel
source tree and wish to conveniently test the kernel with a run script, use
! make kernel run/<run-script>
This way, you make sure to rebuild the kernel prior executing the steps
described in the run script.
Tweaking the kernel configuration
The kernel configuration can be tweaked within '<build-dir>/kernel/codezero'.
Just change to this directory and issue './ -C'. The next time you
build the kernel via 'make kernel' your configuration will be applied.
If you want to conserve your custom configuration, just copy the file
Parameters of 'vpb926.cml' explained
The default configuration for the VersatilePB926 platform as found at
'base-codzero/config/vpb926.cml' is paramaterized as follows:
:Default pager parameters:
! 0x40000 Pager LMA
! 0x100000 Pager VMA
These values are important because they are currently hard-wired in the
linker script used by Genode. If you need to adopt these values, make
sure to also update the Genode linker script located at
:Physical Memory Regions:
! 1 Number of Physical Regions
! 0x40000 Physical Region 0 Start Address
! 0x4000000 Physical Region 0 End Address
We only use 64MB of memory. The physical memory between 0 and 0x40000 is
used by the kernel.
:Virtual Memory Regions:
! 1 Number of Virtual Regions
! 0x0 Virtual Region 0 Start Address
! 0x50000000 Virtual Region 0 End Address
It is important to choose the end address such that the virtual memory
covers the thread context area. The context area is defined at
At the current stage, the Genode version for Codezero is primarily geared
towards the developers of Codezero as a workload to stress their kernel. It
still has a number of limitations that would affect the real-world use:
* Because the only platform supported out of the box by the official Codezero
source tree is the ARM-based Versatilebp board, Genode is currently tied to
this hardware platform.
* The current timer driver at 'os/src/drivers/timer/codezero/' is a dummy
driver that just yields the CPU time instead of blocking. Is is not
suitable as time source.
* The PL110 framebuffer driver at 'os/src/drivers/framebuffer/pl110/'
does only support the LCD display as provided by Qemu but it is not tested on
real hardware.
* Even though Codezero provides priority-based scheduling, Genode does not
allow assigning priorities to Codezero processes, yet.
As always, these limitations will be addressed as needed.
We want to thank the main developer of Codezero Bahadir Balban for his great
responsiveness to our feature requests and questions. Without his help, the
porting effort would have taken much more effort. We hope that our framework
will be of value to the Codezero community.