Architecture of RTOS in Embedded Systems

A Real-Time Operating System (RTOS) is a specialized operating system designed to manage resources and tasks in embedded systems and other applications where real-time constraints are critical. Here’s a detailed explanation of the architecture of RTOS:

General Architecture of RTOS

architecture of rtos in embedded systems


  • At the core of any RTOS lies the kernel. It is a piece of software responsible for providing secure access to the system’s hardware and to running the programs. Kernel is common to every operating system either a real time or non-real time .
  • Kernel is responsible for providing essential services such as task scheduling, interrupt handling, memory management, and inter-task communication.
  • The kernel typically comes in different configurations tailored to the specific requirements of the application, such as preemptive or cooperative scheduling, fixed or variable task priorities, and the level of real-time determinism.

Task Management

Inside the kernel is the scheduler. It is basically a set of algorithms which manage the task running order. Multitasking definition comes from the ability of the kernel to control multiple tasks that must run within time deadlines.

Multitasking may give the impression that multiple threads are running concurrently, as a matter of fact the processer runs task by task, according to the task scheduling.

    • Tasks: In an RTOS, the basic unit of execution is a task, also known as a thread or process. Tasks represent individual activities or functions within the system and can execute concurrently or sequentially depending on their scheduling policy.
    • Task Control Block (TCB): Each task is associated with a data structure known as a Task Control Block (TCB), which contains information about the task’s state, priority, stack pointer, program counter, and other relevant context information.
    • Task Scheduling: The RTOS scheduler is responsible for determining which task should execute next based on their priority, scheduling algorithm (such as preemptive or cooperative), and real-time constraints. Task scheduling can be preemptive, where higher-priority tasks can interrupt lower-priority ones, or cooperative, where tasks yield control voluntarily.

Interrupt Handling

    • Interrupt Service Routines (ISRs): RTOSes must efficiently handle interrupts generated by hardware peripherals, timers, or external events. Interrupt Service Routines (ISRs) are special functions invoked in response to interrupts, and they typically have higher priority than tasks to ensure timely handling of critical events.
    • Interrupt Latency: Minimizing interrupt latency is crucial in real-time systems to ensure timely response to external stimuli. RTOS kernels are optimized to keep interrupt latency low by prioritizing interrupt handling and minimizing non-deterministic delays.

Memory Management

    • Dynamic Memory Allocation: Some RTOS kernels support dynamic memory allocation to manage memory resources efficiently. However, dynamic memory allocation can introduce non-deterministic behavior and fragmentation issues, so its usage in real-time systems is often limited or carefully managed.
    • Static Memory Allocation: Many RTOS applications use static memory allocation, where memory for tasks, stacks, and other data structures is allocated statically at compile time. Static allocation eliminates the overhead and unpredictability associated with dynamic memory management, making it well-suited for real-time systems.

Inter-Task Communication and Synchronization

    • Semaphores: Semaphores are synchronization primitives used to coordinate access to shared resources among tasks. They can be binary (mutex) or counting semaphores.
    • Message Queues: Message queues allow tasks to communicate asynchronously by sending and receiving messages. Message queues are commonly used for inter-task communication in real-time systems, where timing constraints must be met.
    • Event Flags: Event flags provide a mechanism for tasks to wait for specific combinations of events to occur before proceeding. Tasks can set, clear, and wait for event flags to synchronize their execution.

Timer Management

    • RTOS kernels often provide timer services to facilitate time-based operations such as periodic task execution, timeouts, and scheduling of time-critical events.
    • Timers can be implemented using hardware timers or software counters managed by the kernel.

Device Drivers and I/O Management

    • RTOS kernels typically provide a device abstraction layer to interface with hardware peripherals and manage device drivers efficiently.
    • Device drivers encapsulate the low-level details of hardware communication and provide a standardized interface for accessing peripheral devices.

Configuration and Customization

    • RTOS kernels often offer configurability and customization options to tailor the operating system to the specific requirements of the target application.
    • Developers can typically select features, scheduling policies, memory allocation schemes, and other parameters to optimize performance and resource utilization.

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