13.2. Host Controllers

The host controller (HC) controls the transmission of packets on the bus. Frames of 1 millisecond are used. At the start of each frame the host controller generates a Start of Frame (SOF) packet.

The SOF packet is used to synchronise to the start of the frame and to keep track of the frame number. Within each frame packets are transferred, either from host to device (out) or from device to host (in). Transfers are always initiated by the host (polled transfers). Therefore there can only be one host per USB bus. Each transfer of a packet has a status stage in which the recipient of the data can return either ACK (acknowledge reception), NAK (retry), STALL (error condition) or nothing (garbled data stage, device not available or disconnected). Section 8.5 of the USB specification explains the details of packets in more detail. Four different types of transfers can occur on a USB bus: control, bulk, interrupt and isochronous. The types of transfers and their characteristics are described below (`Pipes' subsection).

Large transfers between the device on the USB bus and the device driver are split up into multiple packets by the host controller or the HC driver.

Device requests (control transfers) to the default endpoints are special. They consist of two or three phases: SETUP, DATA (optional) and STATUS. The set-up packet is sent to the device. If there is a data phase, the direction of the data packet(s) is given in the set-up packet. The direction in the status phase is the opposite of the direction during the data phase, or IN if there was no data phase. The host controller hardware also provides registers with the current status of the root ports and the changes that have occurred since the last reset of the status change register. Access to these registers is provided through a virtualised hub as suggested in the USB specification [ 2]. The virtual hub must comply with the hub device class given in chapter 11 of that specification. It must provide a default pipe through which device requests can be sent to it. It returns the standard andhub class specific set of descriptors. It should also provide an interrupt pipe that reports changes happening at its ports. There are currently two specifications for host controllers available: Universal Host Controller Interface (UHCI; Intel) and Open Host Controller Interface (OHCI; Compaq, Microsoft, National Semiconductor). The UHCI specification has been designed to reduce hardware complexity by requiring the host controller driver to supply a complete schedule of the transfers for each frame. OHCI type controllers are much more independent by providing a more abstract interface doing a lot of work themselves.

13.2.1. UHCI

The UHCI host controller maintains a framelist with 1024 pointers to per frame data structures. It understands two different data types: transfer descriptors (TD) and queue heads (QH). Each TD represents a packet to be communicated to or from a device endpoint. QHs are a means to groupTDs (and QHs) together.

Each transfer consists of one or more packets. The UHCI driver splits large transfers into multiple packets. For every transfer, apart from isochronous transfers, a QH is allocated. For every type of transfer these QHs are collected at a QH for that type. Isochronous transfers have to be executed first because of the fixed latency requirement and are directly referred to by the pointer in the framelist. The last isochronous TD refers to the QH for interrupt transfers for that frame. All QHs for interrupt transfers point at the QH for control transfers, which in turn points at the QH for bulk transfers. The following diagram gives a graphical overview of this:

This results in the following schedule being run in each frame. After fetching the pointer for the current frame from the framelist the controller first executes the TDs for all the isochronous packets in that frame. The last of these TDs refers to the QH for the interrupt transfers for thatframe. The host controller will then descend from that QH to the QHs for the individual interrupt transfers. After finishing that queue, the QH for the interrupt transfers will refer the controller to the QH for all control transfers. It will execute all the subqueues scheduled there, followed by all the transfers queued at the bulk QH. To facilitate the handling of finished or failed transfers different types of interrupts are generated by the hardware at the end of each frame. In the last TD for a transfer the Interrupt-On Completion bit is set by the HC driver to flag an interrupt when the transfer has completed. An error interrupt is flagged if a TD reaches its maximum error count. If the short packet detect bit is set in a TD and less than the set packet length is transferred this interrupt is flagged to notify the controller driver of the completed transfer. It is the host controller driver's task to find out which transfer has completed or produced an error. When called the interrupt service routine will locate all the finished transfers and call their callbacks.

See for a more elaborate description the UHCI specification.

13.2.2. OHCI

Programming an OHCI host controller is much simpler. The controller assumes that a set of endpoints is available, and is aware of scheduling priorities and the ordering of the types of transfers in a frame. The main data structure used by the host controller is the endpoint descriptor (ED) to which a queue of transfer descriptors (TDs) is attached. The ED contains the maximum packet size allowed for an endpoint and the controller hardware does the splitting into packets. The pointers to the data buffers are updated after each transfer and when the start and end pointer are equal, the TD is retired to the done-queue. The four types of endpoints have their own queues. Control and bulk endpoints are queued each at their own queue. Interrupt EDs are queued in a tree, with the level in the tree defining the frequency at which they run.

framelist interruptisochronous control bulk

The schedule being run by the host controller in each frame looks as follows. The controller will first run the non-periodic control and bulk queues, up to a time limit set by the HC driver. Then the interrupt transfers for that frame number are run, by using the lower five bits of the frame number as an index into level 0 of the tree of interrupts EDs. At the end of this tree the isochronous EDs are connected and these are traversed subsequently. The isochronous TDs contain the frame number of the first frame the transfer should be run in. After all the periodic transfers have been run, the control and bulk queues are traversed again. Periodically the interrupt service routine is called to process the done queue and call the callbacks for each transfer and reschedule interrupt and isochronous endpoints.

See for a more elaborate description the OHCI specification. Services layer The middle layer provides access to the device in a controlled way and maintains resources in use by the different drivers and the services layer. The layer takes care of the following aspects:

  • The device configuration information

  • The pipes to communicate with a device

  • Probing and attaching and detaching form a device.

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