Writing Device Drivers

Byte Ordering

To achieve the goal of multiple platform, multiple instruction set architecture portability, host bus dependencies were removed from the drivers. The first dependency issue to be addressed was the endian-ness (or byte ordering) of the processor. For example, the x86 processor family is little endian while the SPARC architecture is big endian.

Bus architectures display the same endian-ness types as processors. The PCI local bus, for example, is little endian, the SBus is big endian, the ISA bus is little endian and so on.

To maintain portability between processors and buses, DDI-compliant drivers must be endian neutral. Although drivers could conceivably manage their endian-ness by runtime checks or by preprocessor directives like #ifdef _LITTLE_ENDIAN or _BIG_ENDIAN statements in the source code, long-term maintenance would be troublesome. The Solaris 7 DDI solution hides the endian-ness issues from the drivers as illustrated in Figure 2-5. In some cases, the DDI framework performs the byte swapping using a software approach. In other cases, where byte swapping can be done by hardware (as in memory management unit (MMU) page-level swapping or by special machine instructions), the DDI framework will take advantage of the hardware features to improve performance.

Figure 2-5 Byte Ordering Host Bus Dependency


Along with being endian-neutral, portable drivers must also be independent from data ordering of the processor. Under most circumstances, data must be transferred in the sequence instructed by the driver. However, sometimes data can be merged, batched, or reordered to streamline the data transfer, as illustrated in Figure 2-6. For example, data merging may be applied to accelerate graphics display on frame buffers. Drivers have the option to advise the DDI framework to use other optimal data transfer mechanisms during the transfer.

Figure 2-6 Data Ordering Host Bus Dependency