Process Creation

Creating processes is a fundamental requirement of modern operating systems above a certain size. Xous supports process creation, although it does not prescribe an executable format nor does it even have a built-in loader.

Process creation arguments vary depending on the platform being targeted, making this one of the less portable aspects of Xous. All platforms support the CreateProcess syscall, however the arguments to this syscall vary widely.

Creating Processes in Hosted Mode

In Hosted mode, the ProcessArgs struct contains a full command line to be passed directly to the shell. This is actually used by the kernel during its init routine when it spawns each child process of PID 1.

Internally, the parent process is responsible for launching the process as part of the create_process_post() that gets called after the successful return of the CreateProcess syscall. As part of this, the hook sets various environment variables for the child process such as its 16-byte key stored in the XOUS_PROCESS_KEY variable, as well as the PID stored in the XOUS_PID variable.

Creating Processes in Test Mode

Test mode is a special case. Tests don't want to depend on files in the filesystem, particularly as multiple tests are running at the same time. To work around this, processes are created as threads. This is a special case intended to support heavily-parallel machines that can run all thread tests simultaneously, and is not normally used.

Creating Processes on Native Hardware (e.g. RISC-V)

Process creation on real hardware requires a minimum of six pieces of information. These are all defined in the ProcessInit struct, which gets passed directly to the kernel:

pub struct ProcessInit {
    // 0,1 -- Stack Base, Stack Size
    pub stack: crate::MemoryRange,
    // 2,3 -- Text Start, Text Size
    pub text: crate::MemoryRange,
    // 4 -- Text destination address
    pub text_destination: crate::MemoryAddress,
    // 5 -- Entrypoint (must be within .text)
    pub start: crate::MemoryAddress,

The stack defaults to 128 kB growing downwards from 0x8000_0000.

text refers to a region of memory INSIDE YOUR PROGRAM that will be detached and moved to the child process. This memory will form the initialization routine for the child process, and should contain no .bss or .data sections, unless it also contains code to allocate and set up those sections.

text_destination describes the offset where text will be copied. This address is determined by the link address of your initialization program.

The start is the address where the program counter will start. This is the address of your program's entrypoint. It must reside within the allocated text section, beginning at text_destination.

Native Hardware Entrypoint

The entrypoint for native hardware takes four arguments. When combined, these four arguments form a Server ID that can be used for sending additional data from the parent process to the child. An example loader program might look like the following:

pub extern "C" fn init(a1: u32, a2: u32, a3: u32, a4: u32) -> ! {
    let server = xous::SID::from_u32(a1, a2, a3, a4);
    while let Ok(xous::Result::Message(envelope)) =
        match {
            StartupCommand::WriteMemory => write_memory(envelope.body.memory_message()),
            StartupCommand::FinishStartup => finish_startup(server, envelope),
            StartupCommand::PingResponse => ping_response(envelope),

            _ => panic!("unsupported opcode"),
    panic!("parent exited");

This compiles down to a very efficient program that can be used to load a larger program into the new address space. Memory is written using the WriteMemory opcode to load new pages into the nascent process, and FinishStartup is used to shut down the server and jump to the new process entrypoint.

Limitations of Created Processes

NOTE: The following is subject to fixes in the kernel, and do not currently apply. This information is presented here in order to explain oddities observed when these features are implemented.

Newly-created processes cannot create servers with a predefined Server ID. They can only create randomized servers.

Processes created using CreateProcess are not ever scheduled to run. Parent processes must donate their quantum to child processes in order for them to run. This is done with a special syscall.

When a parent process exits, all child processes will also exit. This is because those processes will not be scheduled anymore, so there's no point in letting them continue to run.