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18.11 Hardware interrupt hooking has its subtleties

Q: I did everything you tell me to install the interrupt handler correctly, but my program occasionally still hangs....

Q: From time to time my program crashes with a message "Page Fault in RMCB". What's that?

A: Hooking interrupts in DJGPP (and in protected mode in general) has a few subtle aspects. In general, hardware interrupt handling in DJGPP v2.x is rock solid if you play by the rules. Unfortunately, the rules are a bit tricky.

One cause of your problems might be that your interrupt handler or some memory location it uses get paged out because of the virtual memory mechanism, or because your program spawned a child program. In that case, the interrupt might cause a call to a non-existent service routine, with the obvious results. You should lock all the memory pages that your handler accesses by calling the __dpmi_lock_linear_region library function. This also means in practice that you should write your handler in assembly, as described in how to set an interrupt handler, above. You can disable virtual memory, or put _CRT0_FLAG_LOCK_MEMORY into _crt0_startup_flags to make sure nothing is paged out (but then your program might not have enough memory to run, unless you run on memory-abundant systems).

When CWSDPMI detects that your handler accesses memory that is not locked, it aborts your program with a message saying "Page Fault in RMCB". This can happen if your program installs a callback for some real-mode service, like the mouse callback, as well as if you install a hardware interrupt handler; in both of these cases you need to lock all the memory touched by your handler or by functions it calls. CWSDPMI aborts your program if your program attempts to page while an interrupt handler or a real-mode callback are active, because paging uses DOS file I/O. Since DOS is non-reentrant, if the hardware interrupt handler was called in a middle of another DOS call, paging could badly damage your hard disk37. By refusing to page in these cases, CWSDPMI ensures the stability of your system and integrity of your files. You pay for that stability by having to lock all code and data touched by the handler.

Another problem might be that the hardware peripheral you use generates a lot of interrupts. Due to specifics of hardware interrupts handling in protected mode, there is a substantial overhead involved with reflection of interrupts between real and protected modes. For instance, on a 486DX/33 this reflection might consume up to 3000 clocks; on a 386SX/16, even a 1KHz clock might eat up 1/2 of available cycles. One user reported that a 120 MHz Pentium will be able to service up to 45-50K interrupts per second before exhausting its CPU resources, and a 486DX/50 is capable of about half that number. If your hardware fires too many interrupts, your CPU might not be able to keep up. A good rule of thumb is to consider 20KHz as the breaking point, if your program needs to do something non-trivial besides servicing interrupts. If you are beyond that interrupt rate, consider reducing the interrupt frequency, or move some of the processing done inside the interrupt handler to some other place. Use a ring-0 DPMI server such as CWSDPR0 or PMODE/DJ (of these two, the latter is the faster one) which don't swap interrupt stacks--this will reduce the overhead of the interrupt reflection to some degree. If your handler is written in C, write it in assembly and make sure it doesn't chain. And most important--make sure your program keeps the processor completely in protected mode while handling high-frequency interrupts: avoid unnecessary library calls, disk I/O, BIOS calls, and anything else that could generate a mode switch. For example, using BIOS services to wait a certain period of time while interrupts come in is clearly a bad idea when the interrupts come at high frequency.

Installing a good memory manager will usually also remove most of the mode switch overhead, since a memory manager runs the CPU in V86 mode, where hardware interrupts are delivered in protected mode by the processor, without any need for a mode switch.

Preventing the program from paging (by installing enough physical RAM and using memory efficiently) will also help keeping the CPU in protected mode, since paging is done by calling DOS in real mode. By keeping your processor in protected mode as much as you can, you avoid the expensive mode switches when the interrupts are reflected to your PM handler.

If all that still doesn't help, install a real-mode handler.

Some losing memory managers, notably EMM386, were reported to induce a high interrupt handling overhead. In one case, a user reported an increase in the maximum interrupt rate his program could support from 2 KHz to 6 KHz after uninstalling EMM386.

Still another possibility is that you use a non-default sbrk algorithm in your program. Check if the header file crt0.h is included anywhere in the program, and if so, if the _CRT0_FLAG_UNIX_SBRK bit in the _crt0_startup_flags variable is set by the program. If it is, then a hardware interrupt which happens at the wrong time could crash your machine, especially if you run under Windows 3.X.

You should also keep in mind that the DPMI server can decide to handle some of the interrupts itself and not pass them to your program, although this is rare. For example, Windows 9X won't pass the Ctrl-Alt-Del combination to your keyboard interrupt handler, but will rather act on it itself; QDPMI sometimes processes Ctrl-C keypresses so that your program never sees them, etc. Sometimes, but not always, you can change some configuration option to make some keys get to your handler (e.g., the Alt-TAB setting on the Windows3.X .PIF file).

If the above still doesn't explain your problem, then post your code on the DJGPP mailing list or the comp.os.msdos.djgpp news group, tell there how it fails and somebody will usually have a solution or a work-around for you.

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