HP OpenVMS Systems Documentation

Content starts here

OpenVMS Programming Concepts Manual

Previous Contents Index

8.2.4 User ASTs and Asynchronous Completions

OpenVMS asynchronous completions usually activate an inner-mode, a privileged mode AST to copy any results read into a user buffer, if this is a read operation, and to update the IO status block (IOSB) and set the event flag. If a use-mode AST has been specified, it is activated once all data is available and the event flag and IOSB, if requested, have been updated.

8.3 Common Mistakes in Asynchronous Programming

The following lists common asynchronous programming mistakes and suggests how to avoid them:

  • Allocating the IOSB in a routine's call frame and returning before completion of the asynchronous request that then exits. When the asynchronous operation completes, the IOSB is written, and if the call frame is no longer valid, then a data corruption of 8 bytes, the size of the IOSB, occurs.
  • Failure to specify both an event flag and an IOSB. These are, in essence, required arguments.
  • Failure to use SYS$SYNCH, or to check both for an event flag that has been set and for a nonzero IOSB. If both conditions do not hold, the operation is not yet complete.
  • Incorrect sharing of an IOSB among multiple operations that are pending in parallel, or the allocation of an IOSB in storage that is volatile while the operation is pending.
  • Failure to acquire and synchronize the use of event flags using one or more calls to the LIB$GET_EF and LIB$FREE_EF routines.
  • Attempting to access the terminal with language I/O statements using SYS$INPUT or SYS$OUTPUT may cause a redundant I/O error. You must establish another channel to the terminal by explicitly opening the terminal, or by using the SMG$ routines.

8.4 Using System Services for AST Event and Time Delivery

The following list presents system services and routines that are used to queue the AST routine that determines whether an AST is delivered after a specified event or time. Note that the system service (W) calls are synchronous. Synchronous system services can have ASTs, but the code blocks pending completion, when the AST is activated.

  • Event---The following system routines allow you to specify an AST routine to be delivered when the system routine completes:
    • LIB$SPAWN---Signals when the subprocess has been created.
    • SYS$ENQ and SYS$ENQW---Signals when the resource lock is blocking a request from another process.
    • SYS$GETDVI and SYS$GETDVIW---Indicate that device information has been received.
    • SYS$GETJPI and SYS$GETJPIW---Indicate that process information has been received.
    • SYS$GETSYI and SYS$GETSYIW---Indicate that system information has been received.
    • SYS$QIO and SYS$QIOW---Signal when the requested I/O is completed.
    • SYS$UPDSEC---Signals when the section file has been updated.
    • SYS$ABORT_TRANS and SYS$ABORT_TRANSW---Signal when a transaction is aborted.
    • SYS$AUDIT_EVENT and SYS$AUDIT_EVENTW---Signal when an event message is appended to the system security audit log file or send an alarm to a security operator terminal.
    • SYS$BRKTHRU and SYS$BRKTHRU(W)---Signal when a message is sent to one or more terminals.
    • SYS$CHECK_PRIVILEGE and SYS$CHECK_PRIVILEGEW---Signal when the caller has the specified privileges or identifier.
    • SYS$DNS and SYS$DNSW---On VAX systems, signal when client applications are allowed to store resource names and addresses.
    • SYS$END_TRANS and SYS$END_TRANSW---Signal an end to a transaction by attempting to commit it.
    • SYS$GETQUI and SYS$GETQUIW---Signal when information is returned about queues and the jobs initiated from those queues.
    • SYS$START_TRANS and SYS$START_TRANSW---Signal the start of a new transaction.
    • SYS$SETCLUEVT and SYS$SETCLUEVTW---On Alpha systems, signal a request for notification when a VMScluster configuration event occurs.
  • Event---The SYS$SETPRA system service allows you to specify an AST to be delivered when the system detects a power recovery.
  • Time---The SYS$SETIMR system service allows you to specify a time for the AST to be delivered.
  • Time---The SYS$DCLAST system service delivers a specified AST immediately. This makes it an ideal tool for debugging AST routines.

If a program queues an AST and then exits before the AST is delivered, the AST is deleted before execution. If a process is hibernating when an AST is delivered, the AST executes, and the process then resumes hibernating.

If a suspended process receives an AST, the execution of the AST depends on the AST mode and the mode at which the process was suspended, as follows:

  • If the process was suspended from a SYS$SUSPEND call at supervisor mode, user-mode ASTs are executed as soon as the process is resumed. If more than one AST is delivered, they are executed in the order in which they were delivered. Supervisor-, executive-, and kernel-mode ASTs are executed upon delivery.
  • If the process was suspended from a SYS$SUSPEND call at kernel mode, all ASTs are blocked and are executed as soon as the process is resumed.

Generally, AST routines are used with the SYS$QIO or SYS$QIOW system service for handling Ctrl/C, Ctrl/Y, and unsolicited input.

8.5 Access Modes for AST Execution

Each request for an AST is associated with the access mode from which the AST is requested. Thus, if an image executing in user mode requests notification of an event by means of an AST, the AST service routine executes in user mode.

Because the ASTs you use almost always execute in user mode, you do not need to be concerned with access modes. However, you should be aware of some system considerations for AST delivery. These considerations are described in Section 8.7.

8.6 Calling an AST

This section shows the use of the Set Time (SYS$SETIMER) system service as an example of calling an AST. When you call the Set Timer (SYS$SETIMR) system service, you can specify the address of a routine to be executed when a time interval expires or at a particular time of day. The service schedules the execution of the routine and returns; the program image continues executing. When the requested timer event occurs, the system "delivers" an AST by interrupting the process and calling the specified routine.

Example 8-1 shows a typical program that calls the SYS$SETIMR system service with a request for an AST when a timer event occurs.

Example 8-1 Calling the SYS$SETIMR System Service

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <ssdef.h>
#include <descrip.h>
#include <starlet.h>
#include <lib$routines.h>

struct {
        unsigned int lower, upper;

/* AST routine */
void time_ast(void);

main() {
        unsigned int status;
        $DESCRIPTOR(timbuf,"0 ::10.00"); /* 10-second delta */

/* Convert ASCII format time to binary format */

        status = SYS$BINTIM(&timbuf,    /* buffer containing ASCII time */
                            &daytim);   /* timadr (buffer to receive  */
                                        /* binary time) */
        if ((status & 1) != 1)
                printf("Converting time to binary format...\n");

/* Set the timer */

        status = SYS$SETIMR(0,           /* efn (event flag) */       (1)
                            &daytim,     /* expiration time */
                            &time_ast,   /* astadr (AST routine) */
                            0,           /* reqidt (timer request id) */
                            0);          /* flags */
        if ((status & 1) != 1)
                printf("Setting the timer to expire in 10 secs...\n"); (2)

/* Hibernate the process until the timer expires */

        status = SYS$HIBER();
        if ((status & 1) != 1)


void time_ast (void) {

        unsigned int status;

        status = SYS$WAKE(0,    /* process id */
                        0);     /* process name */

        if ((status & 1) != 1)

        printf("Executing AST routine to perform wake up...\n");  (3)

  1. The call to the SYS$SETIMR system service requests an AST at 10 seconds from the current time.
    The daytim argument refers to the quadword, which must contain the time in system time (64-bit) format. For details on how this is accomplished, see Chapter 27. The astadr argument refers to TIME_AST, the address of the AST service routine.
    When the call to the system service completes, the process continues execution.
  2. The timer expires in 10 seconds and notifies the system. The system interrupts execution of the process and gives control to the AST service routine.
  3. The user routine TIME_AST handles the interrupt. When the AST routine completes, it issues a RET instruction to return control to the program. The program resumes execution at the point at which it was interrupted.

8.7 Delivering ASTs

This section describes the AST service routine, some conditions affecting AST delivery, and the affect of kernel threads on AST delivery. The order of an AST delivery is not deterministic. The order the ASTs are entered into the AST queue for delivery to the process is not related to the order the particular operations that included AST notification requests were queued.

8.7.1 The AST Service Routine

An AST service routine must be a separate procedure. The AST must use the standard call procedure, and the routine must return using a RET instruction. If the service routine modifies any registers other than the standard scratch registers, it must set the appropriate bits in the entry mask so that the contents of those registers are saved.

Because you cannot know when the AST service routine will begin executing, you must take care that when you write the AST service routine it does not modify any data or instructions used by the main procedure (unless, of course, that is its function).

On entry to the AST service routine, the arguments shown in Table 8-3 are passed.

Table 8-3 AST Arguments for VAX Systems and Alpha Systems
VAX System Arguments Alpha System Arguments
AST parameter AST parameter
R0 R0
R1 R1

Registers R0 and R1, the program counter (PC), and the processor status longword (PSL) on VAX systems, or processor status (PS) on Alpha systems were saved when the process was interrupted by delivery of the AST.

The AST parameter is an argument passed to the AST service routine so that it can identify the event that caused the AST. When you call a system service requesting an AST, or when you call the SYS$DCLAST system service, you can supply a value for the AST parameter. If you do not specify a value, the parameter defaults to 0.

The following example illustrates an AST service routine. In this example, the ASTs are queued by the SYS$DCLAST system service; the ASTs are delivered to the process immediately so that the service routine is called following each SYS$DCLAST system service call.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <ssdef.h>
#include <starlet.h>
#include <lib$routines.h>

/* Declare the AST routine */

void astrtn ( int );

        unsigned int status, value1=1, value2=2;

        status = SYS$DCLAST(&astrtn,    /* astadr - AST routine */     (1)
                            value1,     /* astprm - AST parameter */
                            0);         /* acmode */
        if((status & 1) != 1)
                LIB$SIGNAL( status );
        status = SYS$DCLAST(&astrtn, value2, 0);
        if((status & 1) != 1)
                LIB$SIGNAL( status );


void astrtn (int value) {                                (2)

/* Evaluate AST parameter */
        switch (value)
                case 1: printf("Executing AST routine with value 1...\n");
                                goto handler_1;

                case 2: printf("Executing AST routine with value 2...\n");
                                goto handler_2;

                default: printf("Error\n");


/* Handle first AST */


/* Handle second AST */

  1. The program calls the SYS$DCLAST AST system service twice to queue ASTs. Both ASTs specify the AST service routine, ASTRTN. However, a different parameter is passed for each call.
  2. The first action this AST routine takes is to check the AST parameter so that it can determine if the AST being delivered is the first or second one declared. The value of the AST parameter determines the flow of execution. If a number of different values are determining a number of different paths of execution, Compaq recommends that you use the VAX MACRO instruction CASE.

8.7.2 Conditions Affecting AST Delivery

When a condition causes an AST to be delivered, the system may not be able to deliver the AST to the process immediately. An AST cannot be delivered under any of the following conditions:

  • An AST service routine is currently executing at the same or at a more privileged access mode.
    Because ASTs are implicitly disabled when an AST service routine executes, one AST routine cannot be interrupted by another AST routine declared for the same access mode. Only one AST can be running in any particular processor mode at any one time. If an AST is active in any particular processor mode, it blocks all the same and less privileged ASTs. An AST can, however, be interrupted for an AST declared for a more privileged access mode.
  • AST delivery is explicitly disabled for the access mode.
    A process can disable the delivery of AST interrupts with the Set AST Enable (SYS$SETAST) system service. This service may be useful when a program is executing a sequence of instructions that should not be interrupted for the execution of an AST routine.
    On Alpha systems, SYS$SETAST is often used in a main program that shares data with an AST routine in order to block AST delivery while the program accesses the shared data.
  • The process is executing or waiting at an access mode more privileged than that for which the AST is declared.
    For example, if a user-mode AST is declared as the result of a system service but the program is currently executing at a higher access mode (because of another system service call, for example), the AST is not delivered until the program is once again executing in user mode.

If an AST cannot be delivered when the interrupt occurs, the AST is queued until the conditions disabling delivery are removed. Queued ASTs are ordered by the access mode from which they were declared, with those declared from more privileged access modes at the front of the queue. If more than one AST is queued for an access mode, the ASTs are delivered in the order in which they are queued.

8.7.3 Kernel Threads AST Delivery (Alpha Only)

On Alpha systems with the kernel threads implementation, ASTs are associated with the kernel thread that initiates them, though it is not required that they execute on the thread that initiates them. The use of the kernel thread's PID in the asynchronous system trap control block (ACB) identifies the initiating thread. Associating an ACB with its initiating thread is required; the arrival of an AST is often the event that allows a thread, waiting on a flag or resource, to be made computable.

An AST, for example, may set a flag or make a resource available, and when the AST is completed, the thread continues its execution in non-AST mode and rechecks the wait condition. If the wait condition is satisfied, the thread continues; if not, the thread goes back into the wait queue.

On the other hand, if an AST executes on a kernel thread other than the one that initiated it, then when the AST completes, the kernel thread that initiated the AST must be made computable to ensure that it rechecks a waiting condition that may now be satisfied.

The queuing and delivery mechanisms of ASTs make a distinction between outer mode ASTs (user and supervisor modes), and inner mode ASTs (executive and kernel modes). This distinction is necessary because of the requirement to synchronize inner mode access.

With the kernel threads implementation, the standard process control block (PCB) AST queues now appear in the kernel thread block (KTB), so that each kernel thread may receive ASTs independently. These queues receive outer mode ASTs, which are delivered on the kernel thread that initiates them. The PCB has a new set of inner mode queues for inner mode ASTs that require the inner mode semaphore. With the creation of multiple kernel threads, inner mode ASTs are inserted in the PCB queues, and are delivered on whichever kernel thread holds the inner mode semaphore. Inner mode ASTs, which are explicitly declared as thread-safe, are inserted in the KTB queues, and are delivered on the kernel thread that initiates them.

If a thread manager declares a user AST callback, then user mode ASTs are delivered to the thread manager. The thread manager then is responsible for determining the context in which the AST should be executed.

There are significant programming considerations to be understood when mixing POSIX Threads Library with ASTs. For information about using POSIX Threads Library with ASTs, see the Guide to the POSIX Threads Library. Outer Mode (User and Supervisor) Non-Serial Delivery of ASTs

Before kernel threads, AST routine code of a given mode has always been able to assume the following:

  • It would be processed serially. It would not be interrupted or executed concurrently with any other AST of the same mode.
  • It would be processed without same-mode, non-AST level code executing concurrently.

Further, before kernel threads, user mode code could safely access data that it knows is only used by other user mode, non-AST level routines without needing any synchronization mechanisms. The underlying assumption is that only one thread of user mode execution exists. If the current code stream is accessing the data, then by implication no other code stream can be accessing it.

After kernel threads, this assumed behavior of AST routines and user mode code is no longer valid. Multiple user-mode, non-AST level code streams can be executing at the same time. The use of any data that can be accessed by multiple user-mode code streams must be modified to become synchronized using the load-locked (LDx_L) and store-conditional (STx_C) instructions, or by using some other synchronization mechanism.

Kernel threads assumes that multiple threads of execution can be active at one time and includes outer mode ASTs. Within any given kernel thread, outer mode ASTs will still be delivered serially. Also, the kernel thread model allows any combination of multiple outer mode threads, or multiple outer mode ASTs. However, outer-mode AST routines, as well as non-AST outer-mode code, has to be aware that any data structure that can be accessed concurrently by outer-mode code, or by any other outer-mode AST must be protected by some form of synchronization.

Before kernel threads, same-mode ASTs executed in the order that they were queued. After kernel threads and within a single kernel thread, that still is true. However, it is not true process-wide. If two ACBs are queued to two different KTBs, whichever is scheduled first, executes first. There is no attempt to schedule kernel threads in such a way to correctly order ASTs that have been queued to them. The ASTs execute in any order and can, in fact, execute concurrently. Inner Mode (Executive and Kernel) AST Delivery

Before kernel threads, OpenVMS implemented AST preemptions in inner modes as follows:

  • An executive mode AST can preempt non-AST executive mode processing.
  • A kernel mode AST can preempt non-AST kernel mode processing, or any executive mode processing.
  • A special kernel mode AST can preempt a normal kernel mode AST, non-AST kernel mode, or any executive mode.
  • No ASTs can be delivered when interrupt priority level (IPL) is raised to 2 or above. Special kernel mode ASTs execute entirely at IPL 2 or above, which is what prevents other kernel mode ASTs from executing while the special kernel mode AST is active.

After kernel threads, in contrast to the preceeding list, kernel threads deliver any non thread-safe inner mode ASTs to the kernel thread that already owns the semaphore. If no thread currently owns the semaphore when the AST is queued, then the semaphore is acquired in SCH$QAST, and the owner is set to the target kernel thread for that AST. Subsequently queued ASTs see that thread as the semaphore owner and are delivered to that thread. This allows the PALcode and the hardware architecture to process all the AST preemption and ordering rules.

8.8 ASTs and Process Wait States

A process in a wait state can be interrupted for the delivery of an AST and the execution of an AST service routine. When the AST service routine completes execution, the process is returned to the wait state, if the condition that caused the wait is still in effect.

With the exception of suspended waits (SUSP) and suspended outswapped waits (SUSPO), any wait states can be interrupted.

8.8.1 Event Flag Waits

If a process is waiting for an event flag and is interrupted by an AST, the wait state is restored following execution of the AST service routine. If the flag is set at completion of the AST service routine (for example, by completion of an I/O operation), then the process continues execution when the AST service routine completes.

Event flags are described in Section 6.6 of Chapter 6.

8.8.2 Hibernation

A process can place itself in a wait state with the Hibernate (SYS$HIBER) system service. This state can be interrupted for the delivery of an AST. When the AST service routine completes execution, the process continues hibernation. The process can, however, "wake" itself in the AST service routine or be awakened either by another process or as the result of a timer-scheduled wakeup request. Then, it continues execution when the AST service routine completes.

Process suspension is another form of wait; however, a suspended process cannot be interrupted by an AST. Process hibernation and suspension are described in Chapter 4.

Previous Next Contents Index