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8.3 Protection and I/O

Two mechanisms provide protection for I/O functions:
  1. The IOPL field in the EFLAGS register defines the right to use I/O-related instructions.
  2. The I/O permission bit map of a 80386 TSS segment defines the right to use ports in the I/O address space.
These mechanisms operate only in protected mode, including virtual 8086 mode; they do not operate in real mode. In real mode, there is no protection of the I/O space; any procedure can execute I/O instructions, and any I/O port can be addressed by the I/O instructions.

8.3.1 I/O Privilege Level

Instructions that deal with I/O need to be restricted but also need to be executed by procedures executing at privilege levels other than zero. For this reason, the processor uses two bits of the flags register to store the I/O privilege level (IOPL). The IOPL defines the privilege level needed to execute I/O-related instructions.

The following instructions can be executed only if CPL <= IOPL:

  • IN -- Input
  • INS -- Input String
  • OUT -- Output
  • OUTS -- Output String
  • CLI -- Clear Interrupt-Enable Flag
  • STI -- Set Interrupt-Enable
These instructions are called "sensitive" instructions, because they are sensitive to IOPL.

To use sensitive instructions, a procedure must execute at a privilege level at least as privileged as that specified by the IOPL (CPL <= IOPL). Any attempt by a less privileged procedure to use a sensitive instruction results in a general protection exception.

Because each task has its own unique copy of the flags register, each task can have a different IOPL. A task whose primary function is to perform I/O (a device driver) can benefit from having an IOPL of three, thereby permitting all procedures of the task to perform I/O. Other tasks typically have IOPL set to zero or one, reserving the right to perform I/O instructions for the most privileged procedures.

A task can change IOPL only with the POPF instruction; however, such changes are privileged. No procedure may alter IOPL (the I/O privilege level in the flag register) unless the procedure is executing at privilege level 0. An attempt by a less privileged procedure to alter IOPL does not result in an exception; IOPL simply remains unaltered.

The POPF instruction may be used in addition to CLI and STI to alter the interrupt-enable flag (IF); however, changes to IF by POPF are IOPL-sensitive. A procedure may alter IF with a POPF instruction only when executing at a level that is at least as privileged as IOPL. An attempt by a less privileged procedure to alter IF in this manner does not result in an exception; IF simply remains unaltered.

8.3.2 I/O Permission Bit Map

The I/O instructions that directly refer to addresses in the processor's I/O space are IN, INS, OUT, OUTS. The 80386 has the ability to selectively trap references to specific I/O addresses. The structure that enables selective trapping is the I/O Permission Bit Map in the TSS segment (see Figure 8-2). The I/O permission map is a bit vector. The size of the map and its location in the TSS segment are variable. The processor locates the I/O permission map by means of the I/O map base field in the fixed portion of the TSS. The I/O map base field is 16 bits wide and contains the offset of the beginning of the I/O permission map. The upper limit of the I/O permission map is the same as the limit of the TSS segment.

In protected mode, when it encounters an I/O instruction (IN, INS, OUT, or OUTS), the processor first checks whether CPL <= IOPL. If this condition is true, the I/O operation may proceed. If not true, the processor checks the I/O permission map. (In virtual 8086 mode, the processor consults the map without regard for IOPL . Refer to Chapter 15.)

Each bit in the map corresponds to an I/O port byte address; for example, the bit for port 41 is found at I/O map base + 5, bit offset 1. The processor tests all the bits that correspond to the I/O addresses spanned by an I/O operation; for example, a doubleword operation tests four bits corresponding to four adjacent byte addresses. If any tested bit is set, the processor signals a general protection exception. If all the tested bits are zero, the I/O operation may proceed.

It is not necessary for the I/O permission map to represent all the I/O addresses. I/O addresses not spanned by the map are treated as if they had one bits in the map. For example, if TSS limit is equal to I/O map base + 31, the first 256 I/O ports are mapped; I/O operations on any port greater than 255 cause an exception.

If I/O map base is greater than or equal to TSS limit, the TSS segment has no I/O permission map, and all I/O instructions in the 80386 program cause exceptions when CPL > IOPL.

Because the I/O permission map is in the TSS segment, different tasks can have different maps. Thus, the operating system can allocate ports to a task by changing the I/O permission map in the task's TSS.

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