Device management

Internally haskus-system mounts a sysfs virtual file system through which the Linux kernel exposes the hardware of the machine. In this file-system each device is exposed as a sub-directory in the /devices directory and the path to the device’s directory uniquely identifies the device in the system.

Directory nesting represents the device hierarchy as the system sees it. Regular files in device directories represent device properties that can be read and sometimes written into from user-space. Sometimes, when the tree relationship between devices is not sufficient, relations between devices are represented as symbolic links.

File descriptor vs Handle

Linux allows programs in user-space to have handles on kernel objects. Suppose the kernel has an object A and a reference R_A on A. Instead of directly giving R_A to user-space processes, the kernel maintains a per-process array of kernel object references: D_pid for the process with the pid identifier. To “give” R_A to this process, the kernel finds an empty cell in D_pid, put R_A in it and gives the index of the cell to the process.

For historical reasons, the cell index is called a file descriptor and D_pid a file descriptor table even if in Linux they can be used for kernel objects that are not files (e.g., clocks, memory). User-space processes can only refer to kernel objects through theses indirect references. Note that the file descriptor table is specific to each process: sharing a file descriptor with another process does not allow to share the referred kernel object.

In haskus-system we use the term “handle” instead of “file descriptor” as we find it less misleading.

Device special files and /dev

Ideally there would be a system call to get a handle on a device by providing its unique identifier (similarly to the getDeviceHandleByName API provided by haskus-system). Sadly it’s not the case. We have to:

  1. Get the unique device triple identifier from its name

    Linux has two ways to uniquely identify devices:

    • a path in /devices in the sysfs file-system

    • a triple: a major number, a minor number and a device type (character or block).

    haskus-system retrieves the triple by reading different files the the sysfs device directory.

  2. Create and open a device special file

    With a device triple we can create a special file (using the mknod system call).

    haskus-system creates the device special file in a virtual file system (tmpfs), then opens it and finally deletes it.

Usual Linux distributions use a virtual file-system mounted in /dev and create device special files in it. They let some applications directly access device special files in /dev (e.g., X11). Access control is ensured by file permissions (user, user groups, etc.). We don’t want to do this in haskus-system: we provide high-level APIs instead.


In usual Linux distributions, udev (man 7 udev) is responsible of handling devices. It reads sysfs and listens to kernel events to create and remove device nodes in the /dev directory, following customizable rules. It can also execute custom commands (crda, etc.) to respond to kernel requests.