Catching the Signal

If a handler has been established for the signal, the do_signal( ) function must enforce its execution. It does this by invoking handle_signal( ) :

handle signal(signr, ka, &info, oldset, regs); return 1;

Notice how do_signal( ) returns after having handled a single signal. Other pending signals won't be considered until the next invocation of do_signal( ). This approach ensures that real-time signals will be dealt with in the proper order.

Executing a signal handler is a rather complex task because of the need to juggle stacks carefully while switching between User Mode and Kernel Mode. We explain exactly what is entailed here.

Signal handlers are functions defined by User Mode processes and included in the User Mode code segment. The handle_signal( ) function runs in Kernel Mode while signal handlers run in User Mode; this means that the current process must first execute the signal handler in User Mode before being allowed to resume its "normal" execution. Moreover, when the kernel attempts to resume the normal execution of the process, the Kernel Mode stack no longer contains the hardware context of the interrupted program because the Kernel Mode stack is emptied at every transition from User Mode to Kernel Mode.

An additional complication is that signal handlers may invoke system calls. In this case, after the service routine executes, control must be returned to the signal handler instead of to the code of the interrupted program.

The solution adopted in Linux consists of copying the hardware context saved in the Kernel Mode stack onto the User Mode stack of the current process. The User Mode stack is also modified in such a way that, when the signal handler terminates, the sigreturn( ) system call is automatically invoked to copy the hardware context back on the Kernel Mode stack and restore the original content of the User Mode stack.

Figure 10-2 illustrates the flow of execution of the functions involved in catching a signal. A

nonblocked signal is sent to a process. When an interrupt or exception occurs, the process switches into Kernel Mode. Right before returning to User Mode, the kernel executes the do_signal( ) function, which in turn handles the signal (by invoking handle_signal(

)) and sets up the User Mode stack (by invoking setup_frame( ) or setup_rt_frame( )). When the process switches again to User Mode, it starts executing the signal handler because the handler's starting address was forced into the program counter. When that function terminates, the return code placed on the User Mode stack by the setup_frame( ) or setup_rt_frame( ) function is executed. This code invokes the sigreturn( ) system call, whose service routine copies the hardware context of the normal program in the Kernel Mode stack and restores the User Mode stack back to its original state (by invoking restore_sigcontext( )). When the system call terminates, the normal program can thus resume its execution.

Figure 10-2. Catching a signal

Figure 10-2. Catching a signal

Let's now examine in detail how this scheme is carried out. Setting up the frame

To properly set the User Mode stack of the process, the handle_signal( ) function invokes either setup_frame( ) (for signals that do not require a siginfo_t table; see Section 10.4 later in this chapter) or setup_rt_frame( ) (for signals that do require a siginfo_t table). To choose among these two functions, the kernel checks the value of the sa_siginfo flag in the sa_flags field of the sigaction table associated with the signal.

The setup_frame( ) function receives four parameters, which have the following meanings:

Signal number ka oldset

Address of a bit mask array of blocked signals regs

Address in the Kernel Mode stack area where the User Mode register contents are saved

The setup_frame( ) function pushes onto the User Mode stack a data structure called a frame, which contains the information needed to handle the signal and to ensure the correct return to the sys_sigreturn( ) function. A frame is a sigframe table that includes the following fields (see Figure 10-3):


Return address of the signal handler function; it points to the retcode field (later in this list) in the same table.

The signal number; this is the parameter required by the signal handler.

Structure of type sigcontext containing the hardware context of the User Mode process right before switching to Kernel Mode (this information is copied from the Kernel Mode stack of current). It also contains a bit array that specifies the blocked regular signals of the process.


Structure of type _fpstate that may be used to store the floating point registers of the User Mode process (see Section 3.3.4).


Bit array that specifies the blocked real-time signals.


Eight-byte code issuing a sigreturn( ) system call; this code is executed when returning from the signal handler.

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