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The RISC-V Instruction Set Manual, Volume II: Privileged Architecture , 20211203

7 Platform-Level Interrupt Controller (PLIC)

This chapter describes the general architecture for the RISC-V platform-level interrupt controller (PLIC), which prioritizes and distributes global interrupts in a RISC-V system.

7.1 PLIC Overview

Figure 1.1 provides a quick overview of PLIC operation. The PLIC connects global interrupt sources, which are usually I/O devices, to interrupt targets, which are usually hart contexts. The PLIC contains multiple interrupt gateways, one per interrupt source, together with a PLIC core that performs interrupt prioritization and routing. Global interrupts are sent from their source to an interrupt gateway that processes the interrupt signal from each source and sends a single interrupt request to the PLIC core, which latches these in the core interrupt pending bits (IP). Each interrupt source is assigned a separate priority. The PLIC core contains a matrix of interrupt enable (IE) bits to select the interrupts that are enabled for each target. The PLIC core forwards an interrupt notification to one or more targets if the targets have any pending interrupts enabled, and the priority of the pending interrupts exceeds a per-target threshold. When the target takes the external interrupt, it sends an interrupt claim request to retrieve the identifier of the highest-priority global interrupt source pending for that target from the PLIC core, which then clears the corresponding interrupt source pending bit. After the target has serviced the interrupt, it sends the associated interrupt gateway an interrupt completion message and the interrupt gateway can now forward another interrupt request for the same source to the PLIC. The rest of this chapter describes each of these components in detail, though many details are necessarily platform specific.

Platform-Level Interrupt Controller (PLIC) conceptual block diagram. The figure shows the first two of potentially many interrupt sources, and the first two of potentially many interrupt targets. The figure is just intended to show the logic of the PLIC’s operation, not to represent a realistic implementation strategy.

7.2 Interrupt Sources

RISC-V harts can have both local and global interrupt sources. Only global interrupt sources are handled by the PLIC.

7.2.1 Local Interrupt Sources

Each hart has a number of local interrupt sources that do not pass through the PLIC, including the standard software interrupts and timer interrupts for each privilege level. Local interrupts can be serviced quickly since there will be minimal latency between the source and the servicing hart, no arbitration is required to determine which hart will service the request, and the servicing hart can quickly determine the interrupt source using the mcause register.

All local interrupts follow a level-based model, where an interrupt is pending if the corresponding bit in mip is set. The interrupt handler must clear the hardware condition that is causing the mip bit to be set to avoid retaking the interrupt after re-enabling interrupts on exit from the interrupt handler.

Additional platform-specific local interrupt sources can be made visible to machine-mode by adding them to the high bits of the mip/ mie registers, with corresponding additional cause values returned in the mcause register. These additional platform-specific local interrupts may also be made visible to lower privilege levels, using the corresponding bits in the mideleg register. The priority of these additional interrupt sources relative to external, timer, and software interrupts is platform-specific.

7.2.2 Global Interrupt Sources

Global interrupt sources are those that are prioritized and distributed by the PLIC. Depending on the platform-specific PLIC implementation, any global interrupt source could be routed to any hart context.

Global interrupt sources can take many forms, including level-triggered, edge-triggered, and message-signalled. Some sources might queue up a number of interrupt requests. All global interrupt sources are converted to a common interrupt request format for the PLIC.

7.3 Interrupt Targets and Hart Contexts

Interrupt targets are usually hart contexts, where a hart context is a given privilege mode on a given hart (though there are other possible interrupt targets, such as DMA engines). Not all hart contexts need be interrupt targets, in particular, if a processor core does not support delegating external interrupts to lower-privilege modes, then the lower-privilege hart contexts will not be interrupt targets. Interrupt notifications generated by the PLIC appear in the meip/seip/ueip bits of the mip/sip/ uip registers for M/S/U modes, respectively. For the notifications to appear in lower-privilege xip registers, the corresponding external interrupts must have been delegated in the higher-privilege yideleg registers.

Each processor core must define a policy on how simultaneous active interrupts are taken by multiple hart contexts on the core. For the simple case of a single stack of hart contexts, one for each supported privileged mode, interrupts for higher-privilege contexts can preempt execution of interrupt handlers for lower-privilege contexts. A multithreaded processor core could run multiple independent interrupt handlers on different hart contexts at the same time. A processor core could also provide hart contexts that are only used for interrupt handling to reduce interrupt service latency, and these might preempt interrupt handlers for other harts on the same core.

The PLIC treats each interrupt target independently and does not take into account any interrupt prioritization scheme used by a component that contains multiple interrupt targets. As a result, the PLIC provides no concept of interrupt preemption or nesting so this must be handled by the cores hosting multiple interrupt target contexts.

7.4 Interrupt Gateways

The interrupt gateways are responsible for converting global interrupt signals into a common interrupt request format, and for controlling the flow of interrupt requests to the PLIC core. At most one interrupt request per interrupt source can be pending in the PLIC core at any time, indicated by setting the source’s IP bit. The gateway only forwards a new interrupt request to the PLIC core after receiving notification that the interrupt handler servicing the previous interrupt request from the same source has completed.

If the global interrupt source uses level-sensitive interrupts, the gateway will convert the first assertion of the interrupt level into an interrupt request, but thereafter the gateway will not forward an additional interrupt request until it receives an interrupt completion message. On receiving an interrupt completion message, if the interrupt is level-triggered and the interrupt is still asserted, a new interrupt request will be forwarded to the PLIC core. The gateway does not have the facility to retract an interrupt request once forwarded to the PLIC core. If a level-sensitive interrupt source deasserts the interrupt after the PLIC core accepts the request and before the interrupt is serviced, the interrupt request remains present in the IP bit of the PLIC core and will be serviced by a handler, which will then have to determine that the interrupt device no longer requires service.

If the global interrupt source was edge-triggered, the gateway will convert the first matching signal edge into an interrupt request. Depending on the design of the device and the interrupt handler, between sending an interrupt request and receiving notice of its handler’s completion, the gateway might either ignore additional matching edges or increment a counter of pending interrupts. In either case, the next interrupt request will not be forwarded to the PLIC core until the previous completion message has been received. If the gateway has a pending interrupt counter, the counter will be decremented when the interrupt request is accepted by the PLIC core.

Unlike dedicated-wire interrupt signals, message-signalled interrupts (MSIs) are sent over the system interconnect via a message packet that describes which interrupt is being asserted. The message is decoded to select an interrupt gateway, and the relevant gateway then handles the MSI similar to an edge-triggered interrupt.

7.5 Interrupt Identifiers (IDs)

Global interrupt sources are assigned small unsigned integer identifiers, beginning at the value 1. An interrupt ID of 0 is reserved to mean “no interrupt”.

Interrupt identifiers are also used to break ties when two or more interrupt sources have the same assigned priority. Smaller values of interrupt ID take precedence over larger values of interrupt ID.

7.6 Interrupt Priorities

Interrupt priorities are small unsigned integers, with a platform-specific maximum number of supported levels. The priority value 0 is reserved to mean “never interrupt”, and interrupt priority increases with increasing integer values.

Each global interrupt source has an associated interrupt priority held in a platform-specific memory-mapped register. Different interrupt sources need not support the same set of priority values. A valid implementation can hardwire all input priority levels. Interrupt source priority registers should be WARL fields to allow software to determine the number and position of read-write bits in each priority specification, if any. To simplify discovery of supported priority values, each priority register must support any combination of values in the bits that are variable within the register, i.e., if there are two variable bits in the register, all four combinations of values in those bits must operate as valid priority levels.

In the degenerate case, all priorities can be hardwired to the value 1, in which case input priorities are effectively determined by interrupt ID.

The supported priority values can be determined as follows: 1) write all zeros to the priority register then 2) read back the value. Any set bits are hardwired to 1. Next, 3) write all ones to the register, and 4) read back the value. Any clear bits are hardwired to 0. Any set bits that were not found to be hardwired in step 2 are variable. The supported priority levels are the set of values obtained by substituting all combinations of ones and zeros in the variable bits within the priority field.

7.7 Interrupt Enables

Each target has a vector of interrupt enable (IE) bits, one per interrupt source. The target will not receive interrupts from sources that are disabled. The IE bits for a single target should be packed together as a bit vector in platform-specific memory-mapped control registers to support rapid context switching of the IE bits for a target. IE bits are WARL fields that can be hardwired to either 0 or 1.

A large number of potential IE bits might be hardwired to zero in cases where some interrupt sources can only be routed to a subset of targets.

A larger number of bits might be wired to 1 for an embedded device with fixed interrupt routing. Interrupt priorities, thresholds, and hart-internal interrupt masking provide considerable flexibility in ignoring external interrupts even if a global interrupt source is always enabled.

7.8 Interrupt Priority Thresholds

Each interrupt target has an associated priority threshold, held in a platform-specific memory-mapped register. Only active interrupts that have a priority strictly greater than the threshold will cause a interrupt notification to be sent to the target. Different interrupt targets need not support the same set of priority threshold values. Interrupt target threshold registers should be WARL fields to allow software to determine the supported thresholds. A threshold register should always be able to hold the value zero, in which case, no interrupts are masked. If implemented, the threshold register will usually also be able to hold the maximum priority level, in which case all interrupts are masked.

A simple valid implementation is to hardwire the threshold to zero, in which case it has no effect, and the individual enable bits will have to be saved and restored to attain the same effect. While the function of the threshold can be achieved by changing the interrupt-enable bits, manipulating a single threshold value avoids the target having to consider the individual priority levels of each interrupt source, and saving and restoring all the interrupt enables. Changing the threshold quickly might be especially important for systems that move frequently between power states.

7.9 Interrupt Notifications

Each interrupt target has an external interrupt pending (EIP) bit in the PLIC core that indicates that the corresponding target has a pending interrupt waiting for service. The value in EIP can change as a result of changes to state in the PLIC core, brought on by interrupt sources, interrupt targets, or other agents manipulating register values in the PLIC. The value in EIP is communicated to the destination target as an interrupt notification. If the target is a RISC-V hart context, the interrupt notifications arrive on the meip/seip/ueip bits depending on the privilege level of the hart context.

In simple systems, the interrupt notifications will be simple wires connected to the processor implementing a hart. In more complex platforms, the notifications might be routed as messages across a system interconnect.

The PLIC hardware only supports multicasting of interrupts, such that all enabled targets will receive interrupt notifications for a given active interrupt.

Multicasting provides rapid response since the fastest responder claims the interrupt, but can be wasteful in high-interrupt-rate scenarios if multiple harts take a trap for an interrupt that only one can successfully claim. Software can modulate the PLIC IE bits as part of each interrupt handler to provide alternate policies, such as interrupt affinity or round-robin unicasting.

Depending on the platform architecture and the method used to transport interrupt notifications, these might take some time to be received at the targets. The PLIC is guaranteed to eventually deliver all state changes in EIP to all targets, provided there is no intervening activity in the PLIC core.

The value in an interrupt notification is only guaranteed to hold an EIP value that was valid at some point in the past. In particular, a second target can respond and claim an interrupt while a notification to the first target is still in flight, such that when the first target tries to claim the interrupt it finds it has no active interrupts in the PLIC core.

7.10 Interrupt Claims

Sometime after a target receives an interrupt notification, it might decide to service the interrupt. The target sends an interrupt claim message to the PLIC core, which will usually be implemented as a non-idempotent memory-mapped I/O control register read. On receiving a claim message, the PLIC core will atomically determine the ID of the highest-priority pending interrupt for the target and then clear down the corresponding source’s IP bit. The PLIC core will then return the ID to the target. The PLIC core will return an ID of zero, if there were no pending interrupts for the target when the claim was serviced.

After the highest-priority pending interrupt is claimed by a target and the corresponding IP bit is cleared, other lower-priority pending interrupts might then become visible to the target, and so the PLIC EIP bit might not be cleared after a claim. The interrupt handler can check the local meip/seip/ueip bits before exiting the handler, to allow more efficient service of other interrupts without first restoring the interrupted context and taking another interrupt trap.

It is always legal for a hart to perform a claim even if the EIP is not set. In particular, a hart could set the threshold value to maximum to disable interrupt notifications and instead poll for active interrupts using periodic claim requests, though a simpler approach to implement polling would be to clear the external interrupt enable in the corresponding xie register for privilege mode x.

7.11 Interrupt Completion

After a handler has completed service of an interrupt, the associated gateway must be sent an interrupt completion message, usually as a write to a non-idempotent memory-mapped I/O control register. The gateway will only forward additional interrupts to the PLIC core after receiving the completion message.

7.12 Interrupt Flow

Figure 1.2 shows the messages flowing between agents when handling interrupts via the PLIC.

Flow of interrupt processing via the PLIC.

The gateway will only forward a single interrupt request at a time to the PLIC, and not forward subsequent interrupts requests until an interrupt completion is received. The PLIC will set the IP bit once it accepts an interrupt request from the gateway, and sometime later forward an interrupt notification to the target. The target might take a while to respond to a new interrupt arriving, but will then send an interrupt claim request to the PLIC core to obtain the interrupt ID. The PLIC core will atomically return the ID and clear the corresponding IP bit, after which no other target can claim the same interrupt request. Once the handler has processed the interrupt, it sends an interrupt completion message to the gateway to allow a new interrupt request.

7.13 PLIC Core Specification

The operation of the PLIC core can be specified as a non-deterministic finite-state machine with input and output message queues, with the following atomic actions:

  • Write Register: A message containing a register write request is dequeued. One of the internal registers is written, where an internal register can be a priority, an interrupt-enable (IE), or a threshold.

  • Accept Request: If the IP bit corresponding to the interrupt source is clear, a message containing an interrupt request from a gateway is dequeued and the IP bit is set.

  • Process Claim: An interrupt claim message is dequeued. A claim-response message is enqueued to the requester with the ID of the highest-priority active interrupt for that target, and the IP bit corresponding to this interrupt source is cleared.

The value in the EIP bit is determined as a combinational function of the PLIC Core state. Interrupt notifications are sent via an autonomous process that ensures the EIP value is eventually reflected at the target.

Note that the operation of the interrupt gateways is decoupled from the PLIC core. A gateway can handle parsing of interrupt signals and processing interrupt completion messages concurrently with other operations in the PLIC core.

Figure 1.1 is a high-level conceptual view of the PLIC design. The PLIC core can be implemented in many ways provided its behavior can always be understood as following from some sequential ordering of these atomic actions. In particular, the PLIC might process multiple actions in a single clock cycle, or might process each action over many clock cycles.

7.14 Controlling Access to the PLIC

In the expected use case, only machine mode accesses the source priority, source pending, and target interrupt enables to configure the interrupt subsystem. Lower-privilege modes access these features via ABI or SBI calls. The interrupt enables act as a protection mechanism where a target can only signal completion to an interrupt gateway that is currently enabled for that target.

Interrupt handlers that run with lower than machine-mode privilege need only be able to perform a claim read and a completion write, and to set their target threshold value. The memory map for these registers should allow machine mode to protect different targets from each other’s accesses, using either physical memory protection or virtual memory page protections.