Article: About Pulses and Pulse Events

About Pulses and Pulse Events
By Steve Dufresne, QNX Software Systems Ltd.

A pulse is a special notification mechanism whereby a sender sends a message
to a receiving process without waiting for acknowledgment. Contrast this
with the Send-Receive-Reply protocol, where the sender blocks waiting until
the receiver receives the message and then replies.

When would you use a pulse?
Sometimes the sender of a message can’t afford to block. One example of the
use of a pulse would be where a driver needs to notify a client that data is
available. The driver would buffer the data and then send a pulse to the
client. At its leisure, the client receives the pulse message and sends a
message to the driver asking for the data.

In this example, at no time is the driver blocked waiting for the client. It
was blocked on the MsgReceive*() call, but that is where it wanted to be
while waiting for notification from either an ISR, the kernel, or an
interrupt-handling thread.

Delivery isn’t guaranteed
Pulse delivery isn’t guaranteed. If sending a pulse from one thread to
another, where both threads are on the same machine, then your only
guarantee is that the connection that the pulse sent over is valid. If the
receiver is in another process, then this implies that the receiver process
is still alive. However, if the receiver is not sitting on its receive
function (MsgReceive*()) waiting for the pulse, then the pulse is added to
the receiver’s receive queue. If the receiver dies before receiving the
pulse, then it simply never gets there. In sending a pulse across the native
Neutrino network, you can’t be guaranteed even that the receiver is still

What’s in a pulse?
When sending a pulse, you can include an 8-bit code and a 32-bit value. The
code is typically used as a pulse message type, since you may be using
pulses for a variety of things and will need some way of distinguishing
between them. This means that you really have only the 32-bit value for the
data that may vary from time to time. The pulse code should be in the range

Pulses and priorities
A pulse has a priority. This priority specifies where the pulse will be
inserted in the receiver’s receive queue. Let’s say the receiver isn’t
currently sitting RECEIVE-blocked and a priority 13 thread sends a message
via MsgSend() to the receiver. This message is added to the receiver’s
receive queue. If a priority 17 pulse is then sent to the receiver, this
pulse is inserted into the receive queue in front of the message from the
priority 13 thread. When the receiver next gets to its MsgReceive(), the
pulse will be received.

By default, a receiver floats to the priority of the sender. This means that
if the receiver is currently at priority 15, and if a priority 17 pulse
arrives, then the receiver will be boosted to priority 17. This is okay,
because the receiver will do the work at the pulse’s priority and then go
back to its RECEIVE-blocked state. It will still be at priority 17, but who
cares – it’s now blocked. When another message arrives, it will then run at
the priority of that message’s sender. This priority-floating can be
suppressed with the _NTO_CHF_FIXED_PRIORITY channel flag.

Using MsgDeliverEvent() to send a pulse
You can use either of these two functions to send a pulse:

We’ll discuss the MsgDeliverEvent() function here.

The idea behind events, and hence MsgDeliverEvent(), is twofold. First, it
provides a common mechanism for the delivery of pulses, signals, and other
types. Second, it allows the recipient to choose how it gets notified (i.e.
via a pulse, signal, …).

There are two parts to dealing with events: setup and delivery. The setup
involves the pulse’s recipient filling a struct sigevent with a pulse event,
and then giving it to the delivering thread (which could be a thread in a
separate process). You’ll find some handy macros for filling in the sigevent
structure in the Neutrino Library Reference manual (under the sigevent

The setup is typically done only once. Then, whenever the delivering thread
wants to notify the recipient that something has happened, it delivers the
event by calling MsgDeliverEvent(). At no time does the delivering thread
need to know that the event contains a pulse.

Diagrams to illustrate various setups is available at:

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