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7. How do input devices and interrupts work?

Your keyboard is a very simple input device; simple because it generates small amounts of data very slowly (by a computer's standards). When you press or release a key, that event is signalled up the keyboard cable to raise a hardware interrupt.

It's the operating system's job to watch for such interrupts. For each possible kind of interrupt, there will be an interrupt handler, a part of the operating system that stashes away any data associated with them (like your keypress/keyrelease value) until it can be processed.

What the interrupt handler for your keyboard actually does is post the key value into a system area near the bottom of memory. There, it will be available for inspection when the operating system passes control to whichever program is currently supposed to be reading from the keyboard.

More complex input devices like disk or network cards work in a similar way. Above, we referred to a disk controller using the bus to signal that a disk request has been fulfilled. What actually happens is that the disk raises an interrupt. The disk interrupt handler then copies the retrieved data into memory, for later use by the program that made the request.

Every kind of interrupts has an associated priority level. Lower-priority interrupts (like keyboard events) have to wait on higher-priority interrupts (like clock ticks or disk events). Unix is designed to give high priority to the kinds of events that need to be processed rapidly in order to keep the machine's response smooth.

In your OS's boot-time messages, you may see references to IRQ numbers. You may be aware that one of the common ways to misconfigure hardware is to have two different devices try to use the same IRQ, without understanding exactly why.

Here's the answer. IRQ is short for "Interrupt Request". The operating system needs to know at startup time which numbered interrupts each hardware device will use, so it can associate the proper handlers with each one. If two different devices try use the same IRQ, interrupts will sometimes get dispatched to the wrong handler. This will usually at least lock up the device, and can sometimes confuse the OS badly enough that it will flake out or crash.

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