Real-Time Systems

Carnegie Mellon University
18-849b Dependable Embedded Systems
Spring 1998

Authors: Kanaka Juvva


Real-Time systems are becoming pervasive. Typical examples of real-time systems include Air Traffic Control Systems, Networked Multimedia Systems, Command Control Systems etc. In a Real-Time System the correctness of the system behavior depends not only on the logical results of the computations, but also on the physical instant at which these results are produced. Real-Time systems are classified from a number of viewpoints i.e. on factors outside the computer system and factors inside the computer system. Special emphasis is placed on hard and soft real-time systems. A missed deadline in hard real-time systems is catastrophic and in soft real-time systems it can lead to a significant loss. Hence predictability of the system behavior is the most important concern in these systems. Predictability is often achieved by either static or dynamic scheduling of real-time tasks to meet their deadlines. Static scheduling makes scheduling decisions at compile time and is off-line. Dynamic scheduling is online and uses schedulabilty test to determine whether a set of tasks can meet their deadlines. The present paper talks about static and dynamic scheduling algorithms and operating systems support for these mechanisms.

Related Topics:



Real-Time systems span several domains of computer science. They are defense and space systems, networked multimedia systems, embedded automative electronics etc. In a real-time system the correctness of the system behavior depends not only the logical results of the computations, but also on the physical instant at which these results are produced. A real-time system changes its state as a function of physical time, e.g., a chemical reaction continues to change its state even after its controlling computer system has stopped. Based on this a real-time system can be decomposed into a set of subsystems i.e., the controlled object, the real-time computer system and the human operator. A real-time computer system must react to stimuli from the controlled object (or the operator) within time intervals dictated by its environment. The instant at which a result is produced is called a deadline. If the result has utility even after the deadline has passed, the deadline is classified as soft, otherwise it is firm. If a catastrophe could result if a firm deadline is missed, the deadline is hard. Commands and Control systems, Air traffic control systems are examples for hard real-time systems. On-line transaction systems, airline reservation systems are soft real-time systems.

Key Concepts

Classification Of Real-Time Systems

Real-Time systems can be classified [Kopetz97] from different perspectives. The first two classifications, hard real-time versus soft real-time, and fail-safe versus fail-operational, depend on the characteristics of the application, i.e., on factors outside the computer system. The second three classifications, guaranteed-timeliness versus best-effort, resource-adequate versus resource-inadequate, and event-triggered versus time-triggered, depend on the design and implementation, i.e., on factors inside the computer system. However this paper focuses on the differences between hard and soft real-time classification.

Hard Real-Time versus Soft Real-Time

Tabel 1 shows the major differences between hard and soft real-time systems. The response time requirements of hard real-time systems are in the order of milliseconds or less and can result in a catastrophe if not met. In contrast, the response time requirements of soft real-time systems are higher and not very stringent. In a hard real-time system, the peak-load performance must be predictable and should not violate the predefined deadlines. In a soft real-time system, a degraded operation in a rarely occurring peak load can be tolerated. A hard real-time system must remain synchronous with the state of the environment in all cases. On the otherhand soft real-time systems will slow down their response time if the load is very high. Hard real-time systems are often safety critical. Hard real-time systems have small data files and real-time databases. Temporal accuracy is often the concern here. Soft real-time systems for example, on-line reservation systems have larger databases and require long-term integrity of real-time systems. If an error occurs in a soft real-time system, the computation is rolled back to a previously established checkpoint to initiate a recovery action. In hard real-time systems, roll-back/recovery is of limited use.

Real-Time Scheduling

A hard real-time system must execute a set of concurrent real-time tasks in a such a way that all time-critical tasks meet their specified deadlines. Every task needs computational and data resources to complete the job. The scheduling problem is concerned with the allocation of the resources to satisfy the timing constraints. Figure 2 given below represents a taxonomy of real-time scheduling algorithms.

Real-Time scheduling can be categorized into hard vs soft. Hard real-time scheduling can be used for soft real-time scheduling. Some of the research on QoS [ Klara95] addresses this problem in detail and is not covered here. The present paper focuses on scheduling algorithms for hard real-time.

Hard real-time scheduling can be broadly classifies into two types: static and dynamic. In static scheduling, the scheduling decisions are made at compile time. A run-time schedule is generated off-line based on the prior knowledge of task-set parameters, e.g., maximum execution times, precedence constraints, mutual exclusion constraints, and deadlines. So run-time overhead is small. More details on static scheduling can be found in [ Xu90]. On the otherhand, dynamic scheduling makes its scheduling decisions at run time, selecting one out of the current set of ready tasks. Dynamic schedulers are flexible and adaptive. But they can incur significant overheads because of run-time processing. Preemptive or nonpreemptive scheduling of tasks is possible with static and dynamic scheduling. In preemptive scheduling, the currently executing task will be preempted upon arrival of a higher priority task. In nonpreemptive scheduling, the currently executing task will not be preempted until completion.

Dynamic Scheduling Algorithms

Schedulability test often used by dynamic schedulers to determine whether a given set of ready tasks can be scheduled to meet their deadlines. Different scheduling algorithms and their schedulability criteria is explained below.

Rate Monotonic Algorithm (RMA)

Rate monotonic algorithm [ Lui94] is a dynamic preemptive algorithm based on static priorities. The rate monotonic algorithm assigns static priorities based on task periods. Here task period is the time after which the tasks repeats and inverse of period is task arrival rate. For example, a task with a period of 10ms repeats itself after every 10ms. The task with the shortest period gets the highest priority, and the task with the longest period gets the lowest static priority. At run time, the dispatcher selects the task with the highest priority for execution. According to RMA a set of periodic, independent task can be scheduled to meet their deadlines, if the sum of their utilization factors of the n tasks is given as below.

Ealriest Deadline-First (EDF) Algorithm:

EDF algorithm is an optimal dynamic preemptive algorithm based on dynamic priorities. In this after any significant event, the task with the earliest deadline is assigned the highest dynamic priority. A significant event in a system can be blocking of a task, invocation of a task, completion of a task etc. The processor utilization can up to 100% with EDF, even when the task periods are not multiples of the smallest period. The dispatcher operates in the same way as the dispatcher for the rate monotonic algorithm.

The Priority Ceiling Protocol:

The priority ceiling protocol [ Lui90] is used to schedule a set dependant periodic tasks that share resources protected by semaphores. The shared resources, e.g., common data structures are used for interprocess communication. The sharing of resources can lead to unbounded priority inversion. The priority ceiling protocols were developed to minimize the priority inversion and blocking time.

Static Scheduling Algorithms

In static scheduling, scheduling decisions are made during compile time. This assumes parameters of all the tasks is known a priori and builds a schedule based on this. Once a schedule is made, it cannot be modified online. Static scheduling is generally not recommended for dynamic systems. Applications like process control can benefit from this scheduling, where sensor data rates of all tasks are known before hand. There are no explicit static scheduling techniques except that a schedule is made to meet the deadline of the given application under known system configuration. Most often there is no notion of priority in static scheduling. Based on task arriaval pattern a time line is built and embedded into the program and no change in schedules are possible during execution.

Available tools, techniques, and metrics

Real-Time Operating Systems (RTOS) can be used to provide predictable services to the applications. RTOS provide the primitives real-time scheduling policies, inter process communication and run-time monitoring. There a number of RTOSs, e.g. RT-Mach, VxWORKS, Solaris, Lynx.

Relationship to other topics


Real-Time systems interact with their environment by input/output subsystem. Sensors and actuators are the examples of i/o elements in real-time systems. On the otherhand i/o an important part of real-time systems.

Fault Tolerant Computing

Fault tolerance is important in safety-critical real-time systems because otherwise a single component failure can lead to a catastrophic systems failure.

Quality of Service

With the growth of Internet several multimedia applications like multimedia are merging with real-time systems. Scheduling in these systems is done to provide good quality of service. Some of the real-time systems research is being extended to QoS scheduling to multimedia applications.


Real-Time systems span a large part of computer industry. So far most of the real-time systems research has been mostly confined to single node systems and mainly for processor scheduling. This needs to be extended for multiple resources and distributed nodes. Real-time systems are expanding to several other domains such as automative industry and embedded real-time systems. Especially the marriage of the Internet with multimedia applications has opened several new volume applications.

Annotated Reference List


Notes: Wide variety of info on real-time systems.

Notes: This paper describes static scheduling of processes with known Release Times, Deadlines, Precedence, and Exclusion Relations.

Notes: This paper talks resource orchestration by QoS brokers in networked multimedia systems. This can be applicable to other soft real-time systems.

Notes: This paper gives a good review of rate-monotonic scheduling theory and its application to real-time systems in real-life.

Notes: This paper discusses about synchronization protocols in real-time systems and a priority inheritance approach to them.

Loose Ends

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