Dynamic Memory

In order to unleash the full potential of Rust type system, Drone OS provides a global allocator. This might seem paradoxical, but addition of some run-time dynamism helps with compile-time checks. Consider the signature of thread::spawn function from libstd:

# #![allow(unused_variables)]
#fn main() {
pub fn spawn<F, T>(f: F) -> JoinHandle<T> where
    F: FnOnce() -> T,
    F: Send + 'static,
    T: Send + 'static;

This means that in std applications to spawn a new OS thread, one need to call the thread::spawn function in the run-time, passing it a closure of type F. An interesting aspect here is the F: Send + 'static bound. This guarantees that the data captured by the closure is also Send and 'static. 'static rejects references that has a narrower scope than the entire program. And Send rejects thread-unsafe types. A nice thing here is that all of these properties are checked in the compile-time. Naturally, equivalent functions in Drone OS have similar signatures.

An allocator for embedded systems should meet the following conditions:

  1. Determinism. For real-time systems, it is important that allocation, deallocation, and reallocation operations have predictable timing.

  2. Small code size. For example jemalloc can add hundreds of kilobytes to the binary size, while some supported MCUs have 64 KB of flash memory or even less.

Drone OS ships with a simple and predictable allocator, which fulfills the above conditions. It splits the whole heap memory region into a number of fixed-sized memory pools:

Memory Pools

The pools are configured at the compile-time in the Drone.toml. For example:

size = "10K"
pools = [
    { block = "4", capacity = 118 },
    { block = "8", capacity = 148 },
    { block = "20", capacity = 82 },
    { block = "56", capacity = 34 },
    { block = "116", capacity = 16 },
    { block = "208", capacity = 8 },
    { block = "336", capacity = 3 },
    { block = "512", capacity = 1 },

In result, the Drone allocator achieves all its operations to be constant-time and entirely atomic. However, a disadvantage of this approach is that in order to use the memory efficiently, the pools need to be tuned for each particular application. Drone provides tools to make it as easy as possible, which we will cover in the next chapter.

By providing a global allocator, a Drone application can use not only the Rust's core crate, but also the alloc crate. It enables one to use the following Rust types: String, Vec, Box, Rc, Arc, and more.