Mapping a device’s memory in a driver

Drivers communicate with devices in a system by reading and writing bits and bytes in the devices’ memory. In Fuchsia, a driver performs the following actions to set up access to a device's memory:

  • Obtain an object that represents the device’s memory region in the system.
  • Map the object to an address space in the driver host (which is the process that the driver resides in).


Diagram 1. A process maps a virtual memory object (VMO) to its own virtual memory address region (VMAR) to access the memory region represented by the VMO.

Accessing a device’s memory from a driver

In Fuchsia, a driver acquires the ability to read and write data in a device’s memory by obtaining a virtual memory object (VMO) that represents the device’s memory region in the system.

Unlike a process’s memory, which is commonly backed by DRAM, a device’s memory region is backed by registers. A device’s VMO therefore represents a memory-mapped I/O (MMIO) region that points to these registers. When a driver reads from or writes to this region, it has the same effect as directly reading from or writing to the device’s registers.

A root bus driver (such as the platform, PCI, or ACPI bus driver), which is aware of all devices connected to the bus, has a special capability to create VMOs for devices in the system. Once created, these VMOs can be passed to other drivers. The drivers then use the VMOs to access the memory-mapped I/O regions of their target devices.

The sequence below walks through the events that enable a driver to access a device's memory:

  1. The driver manager discovers a device and binds a driver to it.
  2. The driver makes a request to generate a VMO for the device.
  3. The root bus driver invokes a syscall to create a VMO for the device.
  4. The Zircon kernel creates a VMO that represents the device’s memory region.
  5. The root bus driver receives the VMO and passes it to the driver.
  6. The driver maps the VMO to a virtual memory address region (VMAR) in the driver host.
  7. The driver reads and writes data in the driver host’s mapped address space to communicate with the device.

Generating a VMO for a device

Fuchsia provides the following (but not limited to) methods for retrieving a VMO that represents a device’s memory:

  • The PCI FIDL protocol provides GetBar() for retrieving a base area register (BAR) from a device.
  • The ACPI FIDL protocol provides GetMmio() for retrieving a device’s memory region.
  • The platform device protocol (based on Banjo) provides GetMmio() for retrieving a device’s memory region.

Once a driver obtains a device’s VMO, the driver maps the VMO to a region of a virtual address space in the driver host. This setup is necessary for the driver to read and write data in the device’s memory (see Mapping a VMO to a VMAR in a driver).

While Diagram 1 seems to show that there exists one VMO per device, a device can have multiple memory regions in the physical memory. In which case, the device may need to generate multiple VMOs to represent those memory regions separately.

A device’s VMO in the physical memory

A VMO, in general, represents a contiguous region of virtual memory. But for devices, a VMO is created differently than other usual VMOs. A device’s VMO is backed by physical pages that cover a continuous region in the system’s physical memory.

To create this type of VMO, the bus driver, with a special capability, invokes the zx_vmo_create_physical syscall and provides a physical address and size of the device’s memory region to the Zircon kernel. The kernel then returns a VMO that is backed by a cluster of continuous physical pages in the system's memory.

Address space allocation for a device

In a Fuchsia system, a region of address space for a device is determined in one of the following ways:

  • The board driver interprets ACPI or device trees and provides a static range of addresses to the driver framework.

  • The device dynamically negotiates a range of addresses, typically at boot time.

USB devices, however, never receive a region of address space. In other words, no VMOs are ever generated for USB devices when they are hotplugged into a Fuchsia system. Instead, the USB controller driver gets hold of memory-mapped resources for all USB devices. Drivers for USB devices use FIDL protocols to communicate with their USB controller driver, and the USB controller driver then transforms these interactions into read and write operations in its own memory-mapped address space.

For PCI devices, which also allow hotplugging, a specific region of address space gets pre-allocated in the system for all possible PCI devices that may be hotplugged. Subsections of this address space get distributed to the drivers bound to the hotplugged PCI devices. And it is the PCI controller driver’s responsibility to provide the correct regions of this address space to the drivers.

Mapping a VMO to a VMAR in a driver

A VMAR (virtual memory address region) represents a contiguous region of a virtual address space in a process. In Fuchsia, a process usually maps a VMO, which represents a contiguous region of virtual memory in the system, to a VMAR to facilitate reading and writing data in the memory region represented by the VMO.

Without being mapped to VMARs, processes can only interact with VMOs using a set of syscalls, such as zx_vmo_read and zx_vmo_write. This is because all memory is mapped into the kernel's address space, and only syscalls can switch into the kernel mode to directly read from or write to the memory.

Drivers must not use these syscalls to interact with device memory VMOs and must map the VMO that represents the device's memory region to a VMAR in the driver host (which is the process that the driver resides in). Drivers must not use syscalls to interact with a device’s memory because of:

  • Issues surrounding how registers are mapped (see Cached and uncached registers).
  • Limitations on the types of instructions that are safe to use for interacting with registers.

In case of multiple drivers in a single driver host, all drivers in the same driver host share the same root VMAR.

Helper library for interacting with a device’s memory

Fuchsia provides a helper library (see lib/mmio) that abstracts the details of working with VMOs and VMARs. The abstraction provided by this helper library ensures that reading from and writing to registers on a device are secure. For instance, because not every instruction that interacts with memory in the system is deemed to be safe, the helper library contains inline assembly instructions to assure correctness when reading and writing data in registers.

Cached and uncached registers

Mapping registers in a cache coherent manner is preferred in Fuchsia. On x64, peripheral memory is always cache coherent, so it can be mapped as cached. However, on ARM, peripheral memory is not cache coherent, thus it is often mapped as uncached.

Mapping registers using alternative means and manually managing the cache coherency of those registers are permitted in Fuchsia. However, only advanced developers who experience performance issues while using uncached mappings should consider this approach.