Traps can be issued by an instruction or by the hardware, and are caught by a trap handler. System traps are traps that are initiated from an instruction and trap into the kernel. All system calls are implemented using trap instructions. Some examples of hardware traps are those issued from the floating point unit when it is unable to complete an instruction (such as the fitos instruction for some register-content values on the UltraSPARC® III platform), or when the instruction is not implemented in the hardware.
When a trap is issued, the Solaris LWP or Linux kernel enters system mode. On the Solaris OS, the microstate is usually switched from User CPU state to Trap state then to System state. The time spent handling the trap can show as a combination of System CPU time and User CPU time, depending on the point at which the microstate is switched. The time is attributed to the instruction in the user’s code from which the trap was initiated (or to the system call).
For some system calls, it is considered critical to provide as efficient handling of the call as possible. The traps generated by these calls are known as fast traps. Among the system functions that generate fast traps are gethrtime and gethrvtime. In these functions, the microstate is not switched because of the overhead involved.
In other circumstances it is also considered critical to provide as efficient handling of the trap as possible. Some examples of these are TLB (translation lookaside buffer) misses and register window spills and fills, for which the microstate is not switched.
In both cases, the time spent is recorded as User CPU time. However, the hardware counters are turned off because the CPU mode has been switched to system mode. The time spent handling these traps can therefore be estimated by taking the difference between User CPU time and Cycles time, preferably recorded in the same experiment.
In one case the trap handler switches back to user mode, and that is the misaligned memory reference trap for an 8-byte integer which is aligned on a 4-byte boundary in Fortran. A frame for the trap handler appears on the stack, and a call to the handler can appear in the Performance Analyzer, attributed to the integer load or store instruction.
When an instruction traps into the kernel, the instruction following the trapping instruction appears to take a long time, because it cannot start until the kernel has finished executing the trapping instruction.