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15.5 Critical Section Revisited

Many sources give the impression that a mutual exclusion algorithm similar to either the interrupt lock or the preemption lock should be used to guard a critical section. One implication is that the critical section should be kept short. This idea bears further examination.

The critical section of a task is a section of code that accesses a shared resource. A competing critical section is a section of code in another task that accesses the same resource. If these tasks do not have real-time deadlines and guarding the critical section is used only to ensure exclusive access to the shared resource without side effects, then the duration of the critical section is not important.

Imagine that a system has two tasks: one that performs some calculations and stores the results in a shared variable and another that reads that shared variable and displays its value. Using a chosen mutual exclusion algorithm to guard the critical section ensures that each task has exclusive access to the shared variable. These tasks do not have real-time requirements, and the only constraint placed on these two tasks is that the write operation precedes the read operation on the shared variable.

If another task without a competing critical section exists in the system but does have real-time deadlines to meet, the task must be allowed to interrupt either of the other two tasks, regardless of whether the task to be interrupted is in its critical section, in order to guarantee overall system correctness. Therefore, in this particular example, the duration of the critical sections of the first two tasks can be long, and higher priority task should be allowed to interrupt.

If the first two tasks have real-time deadlines and the time needed to complete their associated critical sections impacts whether the tasks meet their deadlines, this critical section should run to completion without interruption. The preemption lock becomes useful in this situation.

Therefore, it is important to evaluate the criticality of the critical section and the overall system impact before deciding on which mutual exclusion algorithm to use for guarding a critical section. The solution to the mutual exclusion problem should satisfy the following conditions:

· only one task can enter its critical section at any given time,

· fair access to the shared resource by multiple competing tasks is provided, and

· one task executing its critical section must not prevent another task executing a non-competing critical section.


15.4.2 Preemption Locks | Real-Time Concepts for Embedded Systems | 15.6 Common Practical Design Patterns