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POLLING(4)             FreeBSD Kernel Interfaces Manual             POLLING(4)

     polling -- device polling support

     options DEVICE_POLLING
     options HZ=1000

     Device polling (polling for brevity) refers to a technique to handle
     devices that does not rely on the latter to generate interrupts when they
     need attention, but rather lets the CPU poll devices to service their
     needs.  This might seem inefficient and counterintuitive, but when done
     properly, polling gives more control to the operating system on when and
     how to handle devices, with a number of advantages in terms of system
     responsiveness and performance.

     In particular, polling reduces the overhead for context switches which is
     incurred when servicing interrupts, and gives more control on the sched-
     uling of the CPU between various tasks (user processes, software inter-
     rupts, device handling) which ultimately reduces the chances of livelock
     in the system.

   Principles of Operation
     In the normal, interrupt-based mode, devices generate an interrupt when-
     ever they need attention.  This in turn causes a context switch and the
     execution of an interrupt handler which performs whatever processing is
     needed by the device.  The duration of the interrupt handler is poten-
     tially unbounded unless the device driver has been programmed with real-
     time concerns in mind (which is generally not the case for FreeBSD driv-
     ers).  Furthermore, under heavy traffic load, the system might be persis-
     tently processing interrupts without being able to complete other work,
     either in the kernel or in userland.

     Device polling disables interrupts by polling devices at appropriate
     times, i.e., on clock interrupts, system calls and within the idle loop.
     This way, the context switch overhead is removed.  Furthermore, the oper-
     ating system can control accurately how much work to spend in handling
     device events, and thus prevent livelock by reserving some amount of CPU
     to other tasks.

     Enabling polling also changes the way software network interrupts are
     scheduled, so there is never the risk of livelock because packets are not
     processed to completion.

   MIB Variables
     The operation of polling is controlled by the following sysctl(8) MIB

             If set to non-zero, polling is enabled.  Default is disabled.

             When polling is enabled, and provided that there is some work to
             do, up to this percent of the CPU cycles is reserved to userland
             tasks, the remaining fraction being available for polling pro-
             cessing.  Default is 50.

             Maximum number of packets grabbed from each network interface in
             each timer tick.  This number is dynamically adjusted by the ker-
             nel, according to the programmed user_frac, burst_max, CPU speed,
             and system load.

             The burst above is split into smaller chunks of this number of
             packets, going round-robin among all interfaces registered for
             polling.  This prevents the case that a large burst from a single
             interface can saturate the IP interrupt queue
             (net.inet.ip.intr_queue_maxlen).  Default is 5.

             Upper bound for kern.polling.burst.  Note that when polling is
             enabled, each interface can receive at most (HZ * burst_max)
             packets per second unless there are spare CPU cycles available
             for polling in the idle loop.  This number should be tuned to
             match the expected load (which can be quite high with GigE
             cards).  Default is 150 which is adequate for 100Mbit network and

             Controls if polling is enabled in the idle loop.  There are no
             reasons (other than power saving) to disable this.  Default is

             Controls if polling is enabled during hardware traps.  Enabling
             this can be useful to improve the network responsiveness of boxes
             with 100% CPU usage.  Default is disabled.

             Controls how often (every reg_frac / HZ seconds) the status reg-
             isters of the device are checked for error conditions and the
             like.  Increasing this value reduces the load on the bus, but
             also delays the error detection.  Default is 20.

             How many active devices have registered for polling.

             Debugging variables.

     Device polling requires explicit modifications to the device drivers.  As
     of this writing, the dc(4), em(4), fwe(4), fxp(4), nge(4), rl(4), sis(4),
     and ste(4) devices are supported, with others in the works.  The modifi-
     cations are rather straightforward, consisting in the extraction of the
     inner part of the interrupt service routine and writing a callback func-
     tion, *_poll(), which is invoked to probe the device for events and
     process them.  (See the conditionally compiled sections of the devices
     mentioned above for more details.)

     As in the worst case the devices are only polled on clock interrupts, in
     order to reduce the latency in processing packets, it is advisable to
     increase the frequency of the clock to at least 1000 HZ.

     Device polling first appeared in FreeBSD 4.6 and FreeBSD 5.0.

     Device polling was written by Luigi Rizzo <>.

FreeBSD 4.10                    March 31, 2004                    FreeBSD 4.10


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