Software Interrupt Context: Bottom Halves, Tasklets, softirqs

Whenever a system call is about to return to userspace, or a hardware interrupt handler exits, any `software interrupts' which are marked pending (usually by hardware interrupts) are run (kernel/softirq.c).

Much of the real interrupt handling work is done here. Early in the transition to SMP, there were only `bottom halves' (BHs), which didn't take advantage of multiple CPUs. Shortly after we switched from wind-up computers made of match-sticks and snot, we abandoned this limitation.

include/linux/interrupt.h lists the different BH's. No matter how many CPUs you have, no two BHs will run at the same time. This made the transition to SMP simpler, but sucks hard for scalable performance. A very important bottom half is the timer BH (include/linux/timer.h): you can register to have it call functions for you in a given length of time.

2.3.43 introduced softirqs, and re-implemented the (now deprecated) BHs underneath them. Softirqs are fully-SMP versions of BHs: they can run on as many CPUs at once as required. This means they need to deal with any races in shared data using their own locks. A bitmask is used to keep track of which are enabled, so the 32 available softirqs should not be used up lightly. (Yes, people will notice).

tasklets (include/linux/interrupt.h) are like softirqs, except they are dynamically-registrable (meaning you can have as many as you want), and they also guarantee that any tasklet will only run on one CPU at any time, although different tasklets can run simultaneously (unlike different BHs).


The name `tasklet' is misleading: they have nothing to do with `tasks', and probably more to do with some bad vodka Alexey Kuznetsov had at the time.

You can tell you are in a softirq (or bottom half, or tasklet) using the in_softirq() macro (include/asm/softirq.h).


Beware that this will return a false positive if a bh lock (see below) is held.