LinuxConf.Au: Docks, Bays, and Ports: Not just for oceans any more

Posted in Conferences, Operating Systems on May 10, 2007

LinuxConf.Au: Docks, Bays, and Ports: Not just for oceans any more

For many years, the only devices the Linux user could reliably hot plug were USB and PCI. 2006 was the year that users of Linux on a laptop finally realized the dream of being able to hit the eject button on their dock station and have it actually do something other than crash or hang. As if that wasn't exciting enough, later in 2006, thanks to the addition of hot plug support to the SATA layer, removable drive bay support became a reality as well.

This presentation will discuss in a generic way how we insert and remove devices into a system, the subsystem interactions required, and the user space notification process. We will discuss the new dock station driver as a specific example of a set of removable devices, and also show how the bay driver was ported from the dock driver to at last allow users to dynamically swap out the drive bay on their laptop.

All removable devices have generically the same behavior - detect that the device state has changed, and then create or destroy the device structures that represent the device to the OS. They all must alert their respective subsystems that a new device exists, and handle user notification as applicable. Some subsystems easily accommodate hot plug (such as PCI), while others are not quite ready for removable devices (such as PATA). Some removable devices are required to work with multiple subsystems (such as the dock station driver). For the devices that we will cover, we will show how the drivers interact with the different subsystems. In some cases we will show specific workarounds that we have had to do in the driver to accommodate lack of hot plug support in the subsystem. We will also delve into some of the lower level system support that is required in order to physically remove a device without damaging the system. We will discuss how ACPI is used to assist this process, and show how different system manufactures can implement the same feature in many different ways. Finally, we will describe the common software tasks that are required to insert and remove these devices at the kernel level as well as give an overview of each device driver's unique implementation details.

Not only is kernel support required for removable devices to be inserted or removed from a running system without catastrophic results, but support in user space is also essential. User space notification of removable devices isn't standardized, and there are a variety of strategies that are employed by kernel drivers to communicate to user space. We will discuss how each separate device communicates events to user space and demonstrate how user space applications can obtain knowledge of the insertion and removal, and how they might take advantage of this knowledge.

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Tags: Conferences, OS, Linux, Lectures, LinuxConf.AU, Hardware