Article: QNX Priorities - You aren't in UNIX anymore

QNX Priorities - You Aren’t In UNIX Anymore
By Chris McKillop <>

Unlike many general purpose systems (like Linux, BSD, BeOS), the Neutrino
kernel (the kernel used in the Realtime Platform) uses a fixed priority
system for determining when processes get to use the CPU(s). The more
general systems tend to use a heuristic for figuring out when to run a
process. It is usually based on such things as a process’s current “nice”
level, how long it ran in the past before blocking, how often it has been
blocking and other internal measures. Now, this can provide a nice
interactive system for multiple users. Unfortunately it does fails to
provide consistent response time under heavy load or in circumstances not
considered by their algorithms.

The Neutrino Kernel’s fixed priority system, however, uses a process’s
priority alone to determine when it gets to run*. This means that the
highest priority process that is ready to run is the one that will be
running and it will continue to run until it blocks. A process blocks when
it needs to wait for something to happen or it gives up the processor on its
own. When a process blocks it will be put at the end of the line of the
processes waiting to run at the same priority.

So what does this mean to you? Under the Realtime Platform, processes will
run at priority 10 by default. So when you open a terminaland run a
program, unless it takes steps to modify it’s priority, it will be running
at priority 10. Now this is fine and good for processes that behave
themselves. Lets look and see what happens when a process doesn’t behave.
The following source code can be compiled into a program that will simply
eat CPU time forever, printing out a dot every 10 million iterations.

/* cpuhog.c - chew up cpu time at its priority level */
#include <stdio.h>
int main( void )
int count;
count = 0;
while( 1 )
if( ( count % 10000000 ) == 0 )
printf( “.” );
fflush( stdout );


If you compile this little program and run it you will find that pretty much
everything in the system starts to run slow. Redraws will take longer and
things will be generally less “responsive”. In fact, the only reason you
are able to interact with the system at all is that services like Photon and
hardware drivers all run above priority 10, which can force the cpuhog to
the end of the ready-to-run queue for priority 10.

Now, if you try running cpuhog at priority 9 by invoking…

“on -p 9 ./cpuhog”

the system will run normally and cpuhog will still print out dots at about
the same rate as before. This is because now cpuhog will only run when the
processes at priority >9 are not wanting to use the CPU. You can also try
raising the priority of cpuhog, but it might take a while to kill it off.
You will be saved by the fact that there is a printf(), which will cause
cpuhog to become blocked once in a while as it waits for the output to
print! That should be enough time to get a ctrl-c accepted by Photon and the

Armed with this information you can now start playing with the priority of
different processes running in your system. For example, you could lower
the priority of the shell running in a terminal by running…

“renice 1 $$”

This will lower the priority of the shell ($$ is the shell pid) by 1 (making
it run at priority 9). Now all the programs you start from that shell will
also run at priority 9. You can also change priorities by name, using the
slay utility. For example,

“slay -P 11 voyager vserver”

This will boost your web browser above other processes, making it much more
responsive under heavy load.

Finally, be sure to read the “QNX Neutrino System Architecture” guide, which
can be found online and in the helpviewer on an installed system.

*Note: This assumes you are using FIFO and not Round Robin scheduling.
Otherwise there is also time slicing that occurs within each priority level.