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Symbian OS Internals/16. Boot Processes Part 1

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There is only one satisfying way to boot a computer.

J.H. Goldfuss

A description of how Symbian OS operates, manages hardware resources and provides services for application software is incomplete without an explanation of how it takes the hardware from an uninitialized, powered-off state to one in which the system is fully ready for action.

In this chapter I will walk through the boot process for mobile phones that run the operating system from execute-in-place (XIP) Flash memory, such as NOR Flash, and then describe the differences needed to support non-XIP media, such as NAND Flash.

The opposite process, shutdown, also deserves some attention, so I will go on to explain how Symbian OS responds to a request to switch off.

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Operating system startup

The process of bootstrapping an operating system is a carefully managed operation. The different stages of initialization must be correctly sequenced to avoid services being initialized before the services they depend on are ready.

Figure 16.1 illustrates the main stages of OS initialization for an XIP Flash memory device. However, before I explain why the memory technology makes a difference to the boot process, we should start at the very beginning, or perhaps even a little earlier.

To successfully initialize the hardware and OS, it is important to know what state the hardware will be in immediately after it has been switched on or reset. For the most part, the OS has to assume that hardware is in an unknown state because the boot process may arise from several causes.

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For example, after a mobile phone is switched on, the CPU, MMU and memory controller are in the most primitive state: clocks are set to low frequencies, the MMU is disabled, only memory essential for reset is visible and RAM will contain garbage. On the other hand, following a software reset these components are typically already initialized. The initialization carried out during the boot process must be robust enough to handle any reason for reset.

Switching on the phone triggers the CPU and MMU to reset. This disables the MMU and causes the CPU to jump to a well-known location to execute the reset code. On ARM CPUs, this is address 0x00000000, which is usually referred to as the reset vector. Obviously there must be some code at physical address zero for this to work and hence some hardware - usually this will be some masked ROM or XIP Flash.

Mobile phones typically use some form of Flash memory to store the OS image and built-in software. Although this is significantly more expensive (and slower) than masked ROM, there are two substantial advantages:

Mobile phones are complex products and often require an update during their lifetime. Flash memory enables the OS to be over-written or upgraded (reflashed)

Masked ROM takes time to manufacture. This introduces a delay of several weeks between the software being ready and the production of the phone. Several weeks is a lot of phone sales.

Some types of non-volatile memory, such as NOR Flash, can be treated by the memory controller as directly accessed, read-only memory. This allows program code to execute directly from Flash memory, which makes initial system startup much simpler. It is interesting to compare this to desktop systems where the operating system resides on hard disk and must be loaded into RAM before it is possible to start executing any of the code. There are some Flash technologies, such as NAND Flash, that cannot support execute-in-place and thus require a boot process that more closely resembles that of a desktop OS. In Section 16.2.1 I will look at how Symbian OS supports booting from NAND Flash, and discuss why you might choose to boot from NAND, given this inefficiency.

But now, let's return to the boot process.

High level process

As the OS starts up, the boot process runs through, broadly speaking, five stages. I say broadly because the later stages can be broken into more discrete steps. However, this book is primarily about the operation of the kernel and file server, so as the later boot stages are related to general OS services and user interface initialization I will not cover them in depth.

Figure 16.1 illustrates these main stages. The beginning of each stage is marked by the execution path entering a specific new process within the operating system, and each stage ends when the services provided by that process are ready for use by the OS.

Before examining each stage in more detail, I will provide an overview of each stage and what it achieves before it hands over to the next process in the chain.

Switching the phone on triggers a hardware reset. The first software that is executed after this is known as the bootstrap. On entry to the bootstrap, the execution environment is very primitive, and the bootstrap is tasked with providing a basic execution environment for the kernel process

On entry to the kernel, the CPU is now running at full speed and an execution stack allows typical C++ code to be run. However, there is still only a primitive memory environment and only one execution path. Static data is now initialized and interrupts are masked. Once kernel and base support package (BSP) initialization is complete, there is full management of CPU, memory, power and peripherals and the second OS process is started

At this stage in the boot there is a fully functional micro-kernel that supports multiple multi-threaded, protected user-mode processes. However, the OS has not yet provided the means to instantiate new processes, to extract file-based data from the Flash or to persist data in read/write Flash memory. The process of establishing all of these services falls to EFILE.EXE and its supporting process, ESTART.EXE

All of the kernel, user library and file server services are now fully initialized ready for the rest of the OS to begin its boot process - a job that is given to the system starter process. The system starter manages the initialization of the rest of the OS system services in an ordered manner, and can also provide monitoring and restart for those which terminate unexpectedly. The precise order in which the persistence, communications, multimedia, security and other services are started is controlled by a script and is phone-specific

Once enough of the system services are running, the primary GUI service, the window server, can be started. This now allows initialization of the other UI services and the applications that make up the aspect of the OS that is most evident to the user.

This is a standard sequence for booting the phone. According to this process, the OS services for displaying images or animations, or playing audio become available quite late in the boot. This does not reconcile with the typical experience of using a Symbian OS phone - in practice phones often use lower level graphics services to display images during boot without demanding that the full screen-sharing capabilities of the window server are available.

It is worth looking in more detail at some of the work done in the earlier stages of boot to understand how the OS brings the services online in a carefully orchestrated manner. Many of the interesting events or activities can be seen in Figure 16.2, which provides a graphical history of booting EKA2 on development hardware.

The horizontal lanes each show a particular related area of the OS or hardware that requires initialization during startup - for example, activities that are to do with initializing memory and memory services are in the central lane.

The four main vertical divisions show when execution passes from one executable to another during boot. The first two each represent one of the stages referred to earlier, while the last two together make up stage three of the startup. The total elapsed time for these stages of boot is less than one second.

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The bootstrap

On entry to the bootstrap, bootrom.bin, very little is certain about the processor or hardware state. The CPU and memory will be set to run at safe, slow speeds, the MMU is disabled and the only CPU general register that is known to be good is the PC in supervisor mode (R15_SVC) - and that will be zero at the very start of the bootstrap.

Immediately, the bootstrap modifies the CPU mode to run in SVR mode with all interrupts masked. Any interrupt or exception at this stage would cause a fault, because the CPU registers for these states have not yet been initialized. The bootstrap then initializes hardware, starting with the CPU and MMU, and clears interrupts. The bootstrap creates an execution stack and points the supervisor stack pointer, R13_SVC, to this memory.

The superpage

From here, the bootstrap starts populating a structure called the superpage. This is a structure that is shared between the bootstrap and the kernel and is used for passing information determined by the bootstrap to the kernel. This is information such as addresses of key ROM locations (such as the root directory), location and size of memory banks, and various other values that are calculated by the bootstrap. The superpage is always allocated at a known virtual address, specific to each memory model - which is how the bootstrap and kernel know where to put it and find it. All other bootstrap data is lost after completion.

The bootstrap determines the available memory, both RAM and ROM. It does this using a combination of explicit information in a table provided by the BSP, and dynamic probing to determine memory address, size and width. At the end of this, the superpage will contain a record of all the blocks of memory in the system. With this information, the bootstrap creates and initializes the RAM page allocator. Next it allocates, clears and maps the primary page directory and first page table, then maps the ROM and other memory model-related data structures. It also maps hardware I/O in the page tables. At this stage, the MMU is switched to use virtual addressing.

Now the bootstrap is ready to prepare the kernel for execution. It allocates the initial thread stack and initializes it according to the size requested in the ROM. Similarly, it allocates and initializes the kernel static data.

After some final BSP-specific initialization, the bootstrap is ready to execute the kernel. The supervisor stack pointer is changed to point to the initial thread stack (the bootstrap stack is no longer used) and the CPU branches to the entry point of the primary executable in the ROM, usually EKERN.EXE.

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The kernel

On entry to the kernel, the CPU is now running at full speed, the execution stack allows typical C++ code to be run, the memory hardware sub-system is tuned and the MMU provides virtual addressing. However, the memory environment is still primitive - the static data is initialized but there is no free pool allocator and there is only one execution path. Interrupts are still disabled.

The kernel starts by initializing all the CPU execution modes, although they will all share a common stack for now. This enables exceptions to be detected and diagnostics produced rather than generating errors that are difficult to debug. Next the kernel runs C++ constructors for static kernel objects, and we are ready to enter the C++ entry point for EKERN.EXE: KernelMain().

The kernel performs its initialization by running a number of initialization routines, init-0 to init-3. At each stage, core kernel initialization is performed and equivalent initialization routines are run in the BSP to allow the initialization of phone-specific hardware.

Init-0

From KernelMain() the initial thread first invokes P::CreateVariant(), which does phase zero of the initialization. That is, it initializes and constructs the static data objects for all BSP extensions, and then does the same for the variant. The variant must be initialized after the extensions, as the initialization of the variant may depend on one or more extensions having been through this phase already. Finally, the variant's exported Initialise() function is called to do early initialization and provide the kernel with a pointer to the singleton Asic object.

Init-1

Now that the BSP static objects are initialized and ready, the second action the initial thread takes is to call K::InitialiseMicrokernel(). This prepares various kernel and BSP objects in sequence:

  • The Mmu and Cache management objects

    Coprocessor management

    Interrupt dispatchers

    Some ISRs

    Exception mode stacks for IRQ, FIQ, ABT and UND modes.

At this point, some three milliseconds into the boot, the kernel can unmask interrupts safely, although there are no interrupts enabled yet. The nanokernel timer period is now set from the variant information.

The kernel creates an initial free store allocator over the memory reserved by the bootstrap, but this heap is not yet able to grow dynamically or support multiple threads. However, the kernel can now support dynamic object creation:

  • The kernel initializes locale data to default values

    The kernel creates a DProcess object to represent the EKERN process

    The kernel creates a DThread object to represent the currently running initial thread, which will become the null (or idle) thread.

The kernel now unlocks the scheduler and is ready to start scheduling threads. The kernel creates the supervisor DFC queue but does not yet create the thread to service the DFCs. This allows TDfc objects to be created, bound and even added to this DFC queue during early initialization - once the kernel creates the thread, it will process the queue and execute these DFCs.

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Init-2

We now have a viable heap allocator and scheduler. The next step is to complete initialization of the memory manager. This creates all the virtual address region allocators and the RAM allocator mutex used to protect the manager. It also recovers any contents of the RAM drive that survived a warm reset.

The final coprocessor initialization creates the default thread context for saved coprocessor state.

Now the rest of the kernel resource management machinery can be brought into existence:

  • The object containers are created with their mutexes, and the initial process and thread are added to these

    A chunk representing the already existing kernel heap is created and set up, and the heap's mutex is created. A second chunk to contain supervisor mode stacks is created. The kernel heap is now mutated into a dynamic heap - the kernel now has full memory allocation capabilities

    The debugger interface is initialized

    Publish and subscribe is initialized

    The power model is initialized

    The code management system is initialized.

The final act of the initial thread during boot is to create and resume the kernel supervisor thread - startup now continues in the context of that thread.

Eventually the null thread will run again, and will then enter a loop in KernelMain(), repeatedly running a low priority garbage collection process, and after that requesting the Asic object to take the processor into some form of idle state.

Init-3

The supervisor thread now initializes several more kernel services:

  • The kernel side of the HAL system

    The event queue

    The default DFC queues

    The RAM drive chunk

    The tick- and second-timer system.

The supervisor then invokes the variant's init-3, which will at last enable the kernel timer services - and, now that the kernel is fully functional, initialize various other interrupt handlers and sources.

Finally, the supervisor now runs the export entry point for each extension in turn, in this way initializing the phone's BSP piece by piece. There are many more extensions than are shown in the timeline in Figure 16.2. I have only included a few of the key ones that provide services used elsewhere in this chapter.

The last such extension is always ExStart - this is dedicated to constructing the second process by hand, and so initializing EFILE.EXE and resuming this as the first user-mode process.

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The file server

At this stage in the boot, we have a fully functional micro-kernel that supports multiple multi-threaded, protected user-mode processes. However, the OS has not yet provided the means to instantiate new processes, to extract file-based data from the Flash or to persist data in read/write Flash memory. The establishment of all of these services falls to EFILE.EXE, the designated secondary executable, and its supporting process ESTART.EXE.

EFILE starts by creating the infrastructure for the file server:

  • The secondary thread for processing disconnect requests

    The object container classes for shared resources

    The TDrive objects providing the logical media interface to the file systems.

The file server mounts the first file system (the XIP ROM file system on drive Z:) manually, and this allows the file server service to be created.

The file server now creates the loader thread, which provides the executable loader service for the rest of the OS, and waits for it to signal that it is ready. The loader initializes itself by creating the server objects and initializing its filename cache.

The file server now completes initialization of the local drive collection and prepares its notification service before creating a final slave thread to continue startup. Finally it begins to service file server requests.

The OS can now service load requests against executable files found in the XIP ROM (as this is the only file system that is mounted!). The slave thread picks up the trail and now makes requests to the loader to install the local media sub-system drivers and physical media drivers, preparing the file server for mounting the full set of file systems. The last action of the slave thread is to create the second user process: ESTART.EXE.

ESTART does phone-specific initialization, which is why it is separated from the generic EFILE.EXE. ESTART initializes the local file systems one by one, installing and mounting the required file systems over each medium - for example LFFS on a NOR Flash memory. ESTART can also be configured to use error detection and repair tools (such as scandisk) on file systems that were not shutdown in an orderly way - or to format disks when the phone is booted for the first time.

Once the read/write file systems are available, ESTART locates the persistent HAL settings on the internal drive and restores them to the HAL. This is also where the current language and locale settings are identified and restored from disk.

When we reach this point, all of the kernel, user library and file server services are now fully initialized and ready for the rest of the OS to begin its startup process. ESTART has done its job, and it now creates the next process in the chain, the system starter.

The system starter

The system starter provides a framework for the mobile phone to start and maintain all of the services necessary for normal operation. This framework is driven by a configuration file that the phone manufacturer constructs. The system starter also allows for multiple startup scenarios (some of which are described in Section 16.2.2) by supporting the selection of different configuration files.

Just as with the kernel and file server, the order in which the system services are initialized is important. This is to respect dependencies between services and to ensure that vital services are started first. In particular, on a mobile phone one would like the telephone functionality to be ready as soon as possible.

During normal system boot, we would expect that this component would first start the various low level communications, audio and graphics services. One vital server to initialize before the user interface can appear is the window server (discussed in Chapter 11, The Window Server), which provides shared access to the UI hardware on the phone, such as the display, keypad and touch screen.

Once the window server is running then the rest of the application and UI framework can initialize, and finally the telephone application is run.

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Alternative startup scenarios

Booting from NAND Flash memory

In Section 16.1, I briefly described NAND Flash memory, and particularly noted its inability to be used for XIP software. In Chapter 9, The File Server, I discussed this type of Flash and its use for both user data storage and for storing built-in software. That alone is not enough to enable the system to boot from such memory, because the ROFS (read-only file system) relies on the kernel, file server and loader to copy the executable code into memory and prepare it for execution. So how do we get these fundamental services running to support loading the main OS from a ROFS image?

Figure 16.3 shows the modified startup stages for booting from NAND Flash. There are now two extra stages before the bootstrap is run:

1a. NAND Flash provides a very basic XIP service to allow a system to boot - the first 512-byte sector of the memory can be shadowed into some internal RAM and executed from there. This first sector must contain enough code to carry out the first step in loading the entire OS. The miniboot does this, by providing the essential CPU and memory setup, before loading the rest of the first Flash block (typically 16 KB) into RAM and continuing execution from there

1b. The program in this larger block is the coreloader. This understands the partitioning of the NAND Flash and the bad block algorithm, which I discussed in Chapter 9, The File Server. This allows it to locate and load the core image into RAM. The core image is an XIP image, which must at least contain all of the code required to initialize the kernel and file server and install the ROFS file system. The core image may be compressed, as this saves space in the Flash. Once the core image is loaded, the core loader executes the entry point in the XIP image (the bootstrap) and boot continues as for the XIP sequence for a while.

The XIP boot sequence is then modified once more - during file system initialization. The file system configuration for NAND Flash typically will combine both the XIP ROM file system and the ROFS file system under a single drive identifier, as I described in Chapter 9, The File Server. This allows built-in software that expects to be in ROM to be in the usual place - drive Z:.

1a. NAND Flash provides a very basic XIP service to allow a system to boot - the first 512-byte sector of the memory can be shadowed into some internal RAM and executed from there. This first sector must contain enough code to carry out the first step in loading the entire OS. The miniboot does this, by providing the essential CPU and memory setup, before loading the rest of the first Flash block (typically 16 KB) into RAM and continuing execution from there

1b. The program in this larger block is the coreloader. This understands the partitioning of the NAND Flash and the bad block algorithm, which I discussed in Chapter 9, The File Server. This allows it to locate and load the core image into RAM. The core image is an XIP image, which must at least contain all of the code required to initialize the kernel and file server and install the ROFS file system. The core image may be compressed, as this saves space in the Flash. Once the core image is loaded, the core loader executes the entry point in the XIP image (the bootstrap) and boot continues as for the XIP sequence for a while.

The XIP boot sequence is then modified once more - during file system initialization. The file system configuration for NAND Flash typically will combine both the XIP ROM file system and the ROFS file system under a single drive identifier, as I described in Chapter 9, The File Server. This allows built-in software that expects to be in ROM to be in the usual place - drive Z:.

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Given all this extra effort and delay during startup it is worth asking, what is the value of using NAND Flash for non-volatile storage in mobile phones? The answer is the same issue that prompted the question: performance. NAND Flash provides similar performance to NOR Flash for reading, but can write data three or four times faster. This will become very important for mobile phones that have multi-megapixel cameras or allow download of music tracks from a PC - NOR Flash is too slow for these use cases.

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The information is very lengthy,it should be kept as brief as possible.

Above post needs a lot of editing to make it look like a post rather than a book chapter.

My suggestions is, if information is shortened this to be mentioned and to be included link to the chapter of the book (it is free).

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