Why does my firmware need … an RTOS?

Once upon a time, there was a firmware development team. For many years, the team had been working on an RTOS spell, and now, finally, it was complete. They had tested it in a variety of their arcane firmware rituals, and it had worked well. The team were well pleased, and proud of what they had wrought.

From their caverns, deep in the darkest recesses of the world — where firmware designers must dwell, for they are shunned by all other mortals — they sent word to other teams in their company, offering them the use of their spell. Instead of being showered by their peers with praise and gratitude, the only response they received was as terse as it was unexpected:

We have never seen the need for an RTOS.

If this really was a fairy tale, there would be no reason for this post. But every word of it is true. The response came from the leader of an established team, with quite a few products and projects to their name. And it wasn’t that long ago. They had never seen the need for an RTOS…. <despair> <sympathy> <disbelief>

The title of this post asks why our firmware needs an RTOS, but the truth is that it already has one. If you think yours doesn’t, that’s because you haven’t split it out from your application code. [Shame on you!] Your application already has hardware initialisation code, peripheral device drivers, tasks and timers. That’s your RTOS. That’s what an RTOS is, and what it does.

You don’t use tasks? Then what is that loop at the end of your main(), that executes a number of methods in sequence? It’s a simple task scheduler, and the methods are tasks.

You already have an RTOS. In accordance with DRY, split that code out, and use the one tried and tested copy in all your future applications. Using an RTOS is simple code re-use. I know of no argument against that, do you?

Having limited resources on your target is no barrier to using an RTOS. We used ours without problems on targets with as little as 256 bytes of RAM. Call it an Application Support Layer if you don’t like the usual name, but your firmware needs an RTOS.

If a commercial RTOS meets your needs, use one. If not, and your needs are simple, write your own. Most of your RTOS code is peripheral drivers anyway, and your build-tool or micro-controller vendor will usually supply them free. We wrote our own, and never regretted it.

This is the third in a short series of short blog posts. Their main (intended) purpose is to stimulate discussion, so please leave a comment. Let us know what you think. Thanks for dropping by!


[Edited to remove the half-line that crept in at the beginning. Sorry about that.]


Why does my firmware need … an RTOS?

2 thoughts on “Why does my firmware need … an RTOS?

  1. I hung my head with the shame of once saying those same words! I was so proud of creating my little bare-metal code in those tiny little MSPs. But you are right, any structured, processed way of running through a program is a type of RTOS so why not just call it what it is and make it right.

    Liked by 1 person

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