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Dissecting the ACPI Button Driver in Kernel 2.6

By Pramode C.E.

A student came and told me that his Linux system was not shutting down automatically when the power button was pressed. It was a problem with ACPI (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface) not being set up properly on his machine. This was an opportunity to learn a bit about power management and its implementation under Linux. I was not particularly interested in the topic, but reading a few files under drivers/acpi convinced me that I could turn this into an interesting demonstration of how to go about reading and deciphering kernel code.

Getting started

Power management is a serious issue in modern systems - the Operating System should be able to determine things like battery charge level, CPU temperature, etc. and take intelligent actions. ACPI is designed with the objective of giving the OS as much flexibility as possible in dealing with power management issues. This much I was able to understand by doing a quick Google search. When one article mentioned that the complete ACPI spec was well over 500 pages, I concluded that this was not my cup of tea. I just wanted to know what the OS does to shut down and power off my system cleanly when I press the power button; no way I am going to read 500 pages of a manual to understand that.

Some Experiments

The first thing was to find out whether my kernel had ACPI code compiled into it. A quick

dmesg | grep ACPI

solved the problem - it is. As with all things complex (say USB), it's a worthwhile guess that the kernel might contain some `core' code to handle all the really tough things like communicating with the ACPI BIOS and finding out what all `events' had taken place (pressing the power switch is one event). The code which `reacts' to these events should be much simpler and would mostly be written as a module. Keeping in mind the basic Unix philosophy of pushing `policy' as much towards the user as possible, you will guess that this `reaction' would be mostly letting a user level process know that something has happened. Now, how does a device driver let a user space process know that something has happened? Two of the simplest ways are using a proc file entry and using a device file - proc file entry being the better bet. Sure enough, looking under /proc, I saw a directory called `acpi'.

The last link in the chain would be a user level program which reads some file under /proc/acpi and performs some actions based on the event information it gets from the kernel - let's say, a program called `acpid'. A `ps ax' showed me that such a program was running. Running an

strace -p <pid>

showed the program doing a `select' on two file descriptors 3 and 4. Killing acpid and running it once again like this:

strace acpid

displayed the following line as part of the output:

open("/proc/acpi/event", O_RDONLY);

So, that's it! Just read from /proc/acpi/event and you will know what all power management `events' had occurred. I killed acpid and did a

cat /proc/acpi/event

The process expectedly blocked. Pressing the power button resulted in the following line getting printed:

button/power PWRF 00000080 00000001

The chain is almost complete. How does the core ACPI code know that the button has been pressed? The kernel can't keep on doing some kind of busy loop - interrupts are the only way out. Sure enough, a `cat /proc/interrupts' showed:

           CPU0       CPU1       
  0:   11676819   11663518    IO-APIC-edge  timer
  1:       8998       7247    IO-APIC-edge  i8042
  2:          0          0          XT-PIC  cascade
  8:          1          0    IO-APIC-edge  rtc
  9:          3          1   IO-APIC-level  acpi
 12:         84          0    IO-APIC-edge  i8042
(other stuff deleted)

Look at IRQ 9 - that's what we are interested in. Pressing the button resulted in the interrupt count getting incremented.

Here is the complete chain:

              Power Button
                 IRQ 9
             Core ACPI Code
              Button Driver
    User Program Reading /proc/acpi/event

Reading the code

A quick look under /usr/src/linux-2.6.5/drivers showed a directory called `acpi' which has a file called `button.c' - surely this must be the `plug-in' driver code which responded to button events. Another file called `event.c' has routines which respond to open/read requests from user space.

A `read' request from userspace on the file /proc/acpi/events results in `acpi_system_read_event' getting invoked. This function in turn invokes `acpi_bus_receive_event' which blocks if no event has been posted by the button driver code. Events are posted by a function called `acpi_bus_generate_event' defined in the file bus.c.

Understanding button.c

Getting a `high-level' idea of the working of the button driver code is fairly simple. When trying to get a grip on driver code like this, it might be good if you can strip off some lines so that you can better concentrate on the essentials. The functions acpi_button_info_seq_show, acpi_button_info_open_fs, acpi_button_state_seq_show, acpi_button_state_open_fs, acpi_button_add_fs and acpi_button_remove_fs can be safely taken off. A few simple printk's at the beginning of the functions which we find interesting will give us some idea of the flow of control. Here is the first cut-down version of button.c:

Listing 1

Here are the things which I noticed when the module was compiled separately and loaded into the kernel (2.6.5).

It's once again time to do a bit of guesswork. The acpi_button_init function is calling acpi_bus_register_driver with the address of an object of type `struct acpi_driver':

static struct acpi_driver acpi_button_driver = {
	.ops =		{
				.add =		acpi_button_add,
				.remove =	acpi_button_remove,

The guess is that acpi_button_add would be talking with the lower level `core' code and arranging for some handler functions to be invoked when events like a power or sleep button activation are detected (well - lots of vagueness here - the source code talks of a POWER and POWERF button as well as a SLEEP and SLEEPF button. Can somebody who knows the code better enlighten me as to what POWERF and SLEEPF are for?). As handlers are to be invoked for multiple button types, the acpi_bus_register_driver function would be examining the .ids field of the structure and parsing the names in it one by one, invoking the acpi_button_add function each time it encounters another name (this might be a dumb guess - I haven't really looked into scan.c which implements the acpi_bus_register_driver function. Trouble is, I don't understand why `add' is getting called only twice).

The next revision of button.c, I keep only one name, ACPI_FPB in the .ids field and trim down acpi_button_add/acpi_button_remove to handle the case of only the power button. The most important line to look for in this function is the invocation of acpi_install_fixed_event_handler which registers the function acpi_button_notify_fixed as a handler to be invoked when the ACPI system detects button activity.

Listing 2

The handler (acpi_button_notify_fixed) calls acpi_button_notify which in turn calls acpi_bus_generate_event. Remember, a read on /proc/acpi/events was blocked by acpi_bus_receive_event. The read (and the user level process) comes out of the block when acpi_bus_generate_event is invoked!

Adding a char driver interface

Let's modify the driver so that it uses a different interface for communicating with userland - a simple char driver (well, this is a rather stupid idea - but we have to make some change!). The `read' method of the driver goes to sleep by calling `interruptible_sleep_on' while the acpi_button_notify_fixed function wakes it up.

Listing 3

Let's say the driver is allotted a major number of 254. We make a device file:

mknod button c 254 0

and try `cat button'. The reading process goes to sleep. Now, we press the power switch and it immediately comes out of the block!

Winding up

A simple shell script (lets call it `silly_acpid')

cat /home/pce/button

Run this in the background and press the power switch - voila, the system gets shut down and powered off automagically!

Further Reading and References

The October 2003 issue of ACM Queue has an introductory article on ACPI meant for newbies; it is a good read. The Linux ACPI project has its home page here. The source code of the simple `acpi daemon' program can be downloaded from here. The module compilation process for the 2.6 series kernel is different from that for the 2.4 series. More information is available under /usr/src/linux/Documentation/kbuild/.


[BIO] I am an instructor working for IC Software in Kerala, India. I would have loved becoming an organic chemist, but I do the second best thing possible, which is play with Linux and teach programming!

Copyright © 2004, Pramode C.E.. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 106 of Linux Gazette, September 2004

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