5.36 Supervisor calls

The SVC instruction generates an SVC. A typical use for SVCs is to request privileged operations or access to system resources from an operating system.

The SVC instruction has a number embedded within it, often referred to as the SVC number. On most ARM processors, the SVC number indicates the service that is being requested. On microcontroller profiles, the processor saves the argument registers to the stack on the initial exception entry.

A late-arriving exception, taken before the first instruction of the SVC handler executes, might corrupt the copy of the arguments still held in R0 to R3. This means that the stack copy of the arguments must be used by the SVC handler. Any return value must also be passed back to the caller by modifying the stacked register values. In order to do this, a short piece of assembly code must be implemented at the start of the SVC handler. This identifies where the registers are saved, extracts the SVC number from the instruction, and passes the number, and a pointer to the arguments, to the main body of the handler written in C.

The following example shows an example SVC handler. This code tests the EXC_RETURN value set by the processor to determine which stack pointer was in use when the SVC was called. This can be useful for reentrant SVCs, but is unnecessary on most systems because in a typical system design, SVCs are only called from user code that uses the process stack. In such cases, the assembly code can consist of a single MSR instruction followed by a tail calling branch (B instruction) to the C body of the handler.

Example SVC Handler

__asm void SVCHandler(void)
    IMPORT SVCHandler_main
    TST lr, #4
    ITE EQ
    B SVCHandler_main
void SVCHandler_main(unsigned int * svc_args)
    unsigned int svc_number;
    * Stack contains:
    * R0, R1, R2, R3, R12, R14, the return address and xPSR
    * First argument (R0) is svc_args[0]
    svc_number = ((char *)svc_args[6])[-2];
        case SVC_00:
            /* Handle SVC 00 */
        case SVC_01:
            /* Handle SVC 01 */
            /* Unknown SVC */

The following example shows how you can make different declarations for a number of SVCs. __svc is a compiler keyword that replaces a function call with an SVC instruction containing the specified number.

Example of calling an SVC from C code

#define SVC_00 0x00
#define SVC_01 0x01
void __svc(SVC_00) svc_zero(const char *string);
void __svc(SVC_01) svc_one(const char *string);
int call_system_func(void)
    svc_zero("String to pass to SVC handler zero");
    svc_one("String to pass to a different OS function");
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