The tty Layer

In the first of a series of articles on device-driver development, we'll start with how the kernel handles the system console and serial ports.
No Read?

One thing that might stand out in the above list of functions is the lack of a read function to be implemented by the tty driver. The tty layer contains a buffer that it uses to send data to user space when read(2) is called on a tty device node. This buffer needs to be filled up by the tty driver whenever it receives any data from the device. Because tty data does not show up whenever a user asks for it, or wants it, this model is necessary. That way the tty layer buffers any received data and the individual tty driver does not have to worry about blocking until data shows up on the tty line.

The Tiny tty Driver

Now that we have gone over all of the different fields, which ones are actually necessary to get a basic tty driver up and running? Listing 2 is an example of the most minimal tty driver possible. Once the steps shown there are completed, create the tiny_open, tiny_close, tiny_write and tiny_write_room functions and you are finished with a tiny tty driver.

Listing 2. Minimal TTY Driver

For an example implementation of a tiny tty driver, see Listing 3 [available at]. This tty driver creates a timer to place data into the tty layer every two seconds in order to emulate real hardware. It also properly handles locking the device structures when it is run on an SMP machine.

Flow of Data

When the tty driver's open function is called, the driver is expected to save some data within the tty_struct variable that is passed to it. This is so the tty driver will know which device is being referenced when the later close, write and other functions are called. If this is not done, the driver can key off of the MINOR(tty->device) function, which returns the minor number for the device.

If you look at the tiny_open function, the tiny_serial structure is saved within the tty driver. This allows the tiny_write, tiny_write_room and tiny_close functions to retrieve the tiny_serial structure and manipulate it properly.

The open and close functions of a tty driver can be called multiple times for the same device as different user programs connect to the device. This could allow one process to read data and another to write data. To handle everything correctly, you should keep a count of how many times the port has been opened or closed. When the port is opened for the first time you can do the necessary hardware initialization and memory allocation. When the port is closed for the last time you can do the proper hardware shutdown and free any allocated memory. See the tiny_open() and tiny_close() functions for examples of how the number of times the port is opened can be accounted for.

When data is received from the hardware, it needs to be placed into the tty device's flip buffer. This can be done with the following bit of code:

for (i = 0; i < data_size; ++i) {
        if (tty->flip.count >= TTY_FLIPBUF_SIZE)
        tty_insert_flip_char(tty, data[i], 0);

This example makes sure there are no buffer overflows in the tty flip buffer as the data is being added. For drivers that accept data at very high rates, the tty->low_latency flag should be set, which will cause the last call to tty_flip_buffer_push() to be executed immediately when called. In the example driver, the tty_timer function inserts one byte of data into the tty's flip buffer and then resubmits the timer to be called again. This emulates a slow stream of characters being received from a hardware device.

When data is to be sent to the hardware, the write function is called. It is important that the write call checks the from_user flag to prevent it from accidentally trying to copy a user-space buffer directly into kernel space. The write function is allowed to return a short write. This means that the device was not able to send all of the data requested. It is up to the user-space program that is calling the write(2) function to check the return value properly to determine if all of the data was really sent. It is much easier for this check to be done in user space than it is for a kernel driver to sleep until all of the requested data is able to be sent out.

The tty Interface over Time

The tty layer has been very stable from the 2.0, 2.2 and 2.4 kernel versions, with only a very minor amount of functionality added over time. So a tty driver written for 2.0 will successfully work on 2.4 with almost no changes. Throughout the 2.5 kernel series, the tty layer has been marked for a rewrite, so this article may describe things that are no longer true. When in doubt, read the include/tty_driver.h file of the kernel version for which you wish to develop. Also, take a look at any of the tty drivers in the driver/char kernel directory for examples of how to implement some of the functions that are not covered here.



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Needs some explanation

Sathish Kumar's picture

The explanation is fine... but if we add the flow graph it will be useful for newbies.....
Please explain detail about tty driver, device, layer...... beacuse the flow is not clear

Need flow diagram

Ajay Thakur's picture

Yes this article is good but it takes time to understand
the flow of data from application to hardware and vice-versa.
It would be good if you can add data flow diagram.

Re: The tty Layer

Anonymous's picture

the section of "why no Read" is not clear, can you explain more ?

Re: The tty Layer

Anonymous's picture

Excellet article, one suggestion.
Adding a listing section which carries a Test code to perform
test on tty driver will be very usefull for newbies.

Brilliant article !!!

Romel's picture

Brilliant article !!!
but more codes example would have been helpful for newbies like me..