Let’s Build an Own Operating System (PrimitiveOS)

Sachin Tharaka
11 min readAug 6, 2021


Part 3- Implement inputs and outputs

Welcome Back!…

In this article, I am going to explain how to display text on the console as well as writing data to the serial port. we will create our first driver, that is, code that acts as a layer between the kernel and the hardware, providing a higher abstraction than communicating directly with the hardware.

The first part of this this article is about creating a driver for the framebuffer to be able to display text on the console.

The second part shows how to create a driver for the serial port. Bochs can store output from the serial port in a file, effectively creating a logging mechanism for the operating system.

Before entering this Please read Part 1 and 2 if you haven’t already done so



Let’'s Go

1. Interacting with the Hardware

There are usually two different ways to interact with the hardware,

  1. memory-mapped I/O
  2. I/O ports

If the hardware uses memory-mapped I/O then you can write to a specific memory address and the hardware will be updated with the new data. One example of this is the framebuffer.

For example, if you write the value 0x410F to address 0x000B8000, you will see the letter A in white color on a black background.

If the hardware uses I/O ports then the assembly code instructions out and in must be used to communicate with the hardware. The instruction out takes two parameters: the address of the I/O port and the data to send.The instruction in takes a single parameter, the address of the I/O port, and returns data from the hardware. One can think of I/O ports as communicating with hardware the same way as you communicate with a server using sockets. The cursor (the blinking rectangle) of the framebuffer is one example of hardware controlled via I/O ports on a PC.

What is the Framebuffer?

A framebuffer (or sometimes framestore) is a portion of random-access memory (RAM) containing a bitmap that drives a video display. It is a memory buffer containing data representing all the pixels in a complete video frame.. The framebuffer has 80 columns and 25 rows, and the row and column indices start at 0 (so rows are labeled 0–24).

Writing Text

Writing text to the console via the framebuffer is done with memory-mapped I/O. The starting address of the memory-mapped I/O for the framebuffer is 0x000B8000 . The memory is divided into 16-bit cells, where the 16 bits determine both the character, the foreground color, and the background color. The highest eight bits is the ASCII value of the character, bit 7 - 4 the background, and bit 3 - 0 the foreground, as can be seen in the following figure:

Bit:     | 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 | 7 6 5 4 | 3 2 1 0 |
Content: | ASCII | FG | BG |

The first cell corresponds to row zero, column zero on the console. Using an ASCII table, one can see that A corresponds to 65 or 0x41. Therefore, to write the character A with a green foreground (2) and dark grey background (8) at the place (0,0), the following assembly code instruction is used:

mov [0x000B8000], 0x4128

The second cell then corresponds to row zero, column one and its address is, therefore:

0x000B8000 + 16 = 0x000B8010

Writing to the framebuffer can also be done in C by treating the address 0x000B8000 as a char pointer, char *fb = (char *) 0x000B8000. Then, writing A at the place (0,0) with green foreground and dark grey background becomes:

fb[0] = 'A';
fb[1] = 0x28;

The following code shows how this can be wrapped into a function:

/** fb_write_cell:
* Writes a character with the given foreground and background to position i
* in the framebuffer.
* @param i The location in the framebuffer
* @param c The character
* @param fg The foreground color
* @param bg The background color
void fb_write_cell(unsigned int i, char c, unsigned char fg, unsigned char bg)
fb[i] = c;
fb[i + 1] = ((fg & 0x0F) << 4) | (bg & 0x0F)

The function can then be used as follows:

#define FB_GREEN     2
#define FB_DARK_GREY 8 fb_write_cell(0, 'A', FB_GREEN, FB_DARK_GREY);

Moving the Cursor

Moving the cursor of the framebuffer is done via two different I/O ports. The cursor’s position is determined with a 16 bits integer: 0 means row zero, column zero; 1 means row zero, column one; 80 means row one, column zero, and so on.

Since the position is 16 bits large, and the out assembly code instruction argument is 8 bits, the position must be sent in two turns, first 8 bits then the next 8 bits. The framebuffer has two I/O ports, one for accepting the data, and one for describing the data being received. Port 0x3D4is the port that describes the data and port 0x3D5is for the data itself.

To set the cursor at row one, column zero (position 80 = 0x0050), one would use the following assembly code instructions:

out 0x3D4, 14      ; 14 tells the framebuffer to expect the highest 8 bits of the position
out 0x3D5, 0x00 ; sending the highest 8 bits of 0x0050
out 0x3D4, 15 ; 15 tells the framebuffer to expect the lowest 8 bits of the position
out 0x3D5, 0x50 ; sending the lowest 8 bits of 0x0050

The out assembly code instruction can’t be executed directly in C. Therefore it is a good idea to wrap out in a function in assembly code that can be accessed from C via the cdecl calling standard:

global outb             ; make the label outb visible outside this file    ; outb - send a byte to an I/O port
; stack: [esp + 8] the data byte
; [esp + 4] the I/O port
; [esp ] return address
mov al, [esp + 8] ; move the data to be sent into the al register
mov dx, [esp + 4] ; move the address of the I/O port into the dx register
out dx, al ; send the data to the I/O port
ret ; return to the calling function

By storing this function in a file called io.s and also creating a header io.h, the out assembly code instruction can be conveniently accessed from C:

#ifndef INCLUDE_IO_H
#define INCLUDE_IO_H
/** outb:
* Sends the given data to the given I/O port. Defined in io.s
* @param port The I/O port to send the data to
* @param data The data to send to the I/O port
void outb(unsigned short port, unsigned char data);
#endif /* INCLUDE_IO_H */

Moving the cursor can now be wrapped in a C function:

#include "io.h"    /* The I/O ports */
#define FB_COMMAND_PORT 0x3D4
#define FB_DATA_PORT 0x3D5
/* The I/O port commands */
/** fb_move_cursor:
* Moves the cursor of the framebuffer to the given position
* @param pos The new position of the cursor
void fb_move_cursor(unsigned short pos)
outb(FB_DATA_PORT, ((pos >> 8) & 0x00FF));
outb(FB_DATA_PORT, pos & 0x00FF);

What else do we need?

The Driver

The driver should provide an interface that the rest of the OS code will use to interact with the framebuffer. There is no right or wrong in what functionality the interface should provide, but a suggestion is to have a write function with the following declaration:

int write(char *buf, unsigned int len);

The write function writes the contents of the buffer buf of length len to the screen. The write function should automatically advance the cursor after a character has been written and scroll the screen if necessary.

The Serial Ports

The serial port is an interface for communicating between hardware devices and although it is available on almost all motherboards, it is seldom exposed to the user in the form of a DE-9 connector nowadays.

2. Configuring the Process

2.1 — Configuring the Serial Port

Configuration data is the first thing that has to be transmitted to the serial port. Two hardware devices must agree on a few things before they may communicate with one another. These are some of them

  • The speed used for sending data (bit or baud rate)
  • If any error checking should be used for the data (parity bit, stop bits)
  • The number of bits that represent a unit of data (data bits)

2.2 — Configuring the Line

Configuring the line means configuring how data is being sent over the line. The serial port has an I/O port, the line command port, that is used for configuration.

First, the speed for sending data will be set. The serial port has an internal clock that runs at 115200 Hz. Setting the speed means sending a divisor to the serial port, for example sending 2 results in a speed of 115200 / 2 = 57600 Hz.

The divisor is a 16-bit number but we can only send 8 bits at a time. We must therefore send an instruction telling the serial port to first expect the highest 8 bits, then the lowest 8 bits. This is done by sending 0x80 to the line command port. An example is shown below:

#include "io.h" /* io.h is implement in the section "Moving the cursor" */    /* The I/O ports */    /* All the I/O ports are calculated relative to the data port. This is because
* all serial ports (COM1, COM2, COM3, COM4) have their ports in the same
* order, but they start at different values.
*/ #define SERIAL_COM1_BASE 0x3F8 /* COM1 base port */ #define SERIAL_DATA_PORT(base) (base)
#define SERIAL_FIFO_COMMAND_PORT(base) (base + 2)
#define SERIAL_LINE_COMMAND_PORT(base) (base + 3)
#define SERIAL_MODEM_COMMAND_PORT(base) (base + 4)
#define SERIAL_LINE_STATUS_PORT(base) (base + 5) /* The I/O port commands */ /* SERIAL_LINE_ENABLE_DLAB:
* Tells the serial port to expect first the highest 8 bits on the data port,
* then the lowest 8 bits will follow
#define SERIAL_LINE_ENABLE_DLAB 0x80 /** serial_configure_baud_rate:
* Sets the speed of the data being sent. The default speed of a serial
* port is 115200 bits/s. The argument is a divisor of that number, hence
* the resulting speed becomes (115200 / divisor) bits/s.
* @param com The COM port to configure
* @param divisor The divisor
void serial_configure_baud_rate(unsigned short com, unsigned short divisor)
(divisor >> 8) & 0x00FF);
divisor & 0x00FF);

The way that data should be sent must be configured. This is also done via the line command port by sending a byte. The layout of the 8 bits looks like the following:

Bit:     | 7 | 6 | 5 4 3 | 2 | 1 0 |
Content: | d | b | prty | s | dl |

We will use the most standard value 0x03 , meaning a length of 8 bits, no parity bit, one stop bit and break control disabled. This is sent to the line command port, as seen in the following example:

/** serial_configure_line:
* Configures the line of the given serial port. The port is set to have a
* data length of 8 bits, no parity bits, one stop bit and break control
* disabled.
* @param com The serial port to configure
void serial_configure_line(unsigned short com)
/* Bit: | 7 | 6 | 5 4 3 | 2 | 1 0 |
* Content: | d | b | prty | s | dl |
* Value: | 0 | 0 | 0 0 0 | 0 | 1 1 | = 0x03
outb(SERIAL_LINE_COMMAND_PORT(com), 0x03);

2.3 — Configuring the Buffers

When data is transmitted via the serial port, it is placed in buffers when receiving and sending data. This way, if you send data to the serial port faster than it can send it over the wire, it will be buffered. However, if you send too much data too fast the buffer will be full and data will be lost. In other words, the buffers are FIFO queues. The FIFO queue configuration byte looks like the following figure:

Bit:     | 7 6 | 5  | 4 | 3   | 2   | 1   | 0 |
Content: | lvl | bs | r | dma | clt | clr | e |

We use the value 0xC7 = 11000111 that:

  • Enables FIFO
  • Clear both receiver and transmission FIFO queues
  • Use 14 bytes as the size of the queue

2.4 — Configuring the Modem

The modem control register is used for very simple hardware flow control via the Ready To Transmit (RTS) and Data Terminal Ready (DTR) pins. When configuring the serial port we want RTS and DTR to be 1, which means that we are ready to send data.

The modem configuration byte is shown in the following figure:

Bit:     | 7 | 6 | 5  | 4  | 3   | 2   | 1   | 0   |
Content: | r | r | af | lb | ao2 | ao1 | rts | dtr |

We don’t need to enable interrupts, because we won’t handle any received data. Therefore we use the configuration value 0x03 = 00000011 (RTS = 1 and DTS = 1).

2.5 — Writing Data to the Serial Port

Writing data to the serial port is done via the data I/O port. However, before writing, the transmit FIFO queue has to be empty (all previous writes must have finished). The transmit FIFO queue is empty if bit 5 of the line status I/O port is equal to one.

Reading the contents of an I/O port is done via the in assembly code instruction. There is no way to use the in assembly code instruction from C, therefore it has to be wrapped (the same way as the out assembly code instruction):

global inb    ; inb - returns a byte from the given I/O port
; stack: [esp + 4] The address of the I/O port
; [esp ] The return address
mov dx, [esp + 4] ; move the address of the I/O port to the dx register
in al, dx ; read a byte from the I/O port and store it in the al register
ret ; return the read byte/* in file io.h */ /** inb:
* Read a byte from an I/O port.
* @param port The address of the I/O port
* @return The read byte
unsigned char inb(unsigned short port);

Checking if the transmit FIFO is empty can then be done from C:

#include "io.h"    /** serial_is_transmit_fifo_empty:
* Checks whether the transmit FIFO queue is empty or not for the given COM
* port.
* @param com The COM port
* @return 0 if the transmit FIFO queue is not empty
* 1 if the transmit FIFO queue is empty
int serial_is_transmit_fifo_empty(unsigned int com)
/* 0x20 = 0010 0000 */
return inb(SERIAL_LINE_STATUS_PORT(com)) & 0x20;

Writing to a serial port means spinning as long as the transmit FIFO queue isn’t empty, and then writing the data to the data I/O port.

2.6 — Configuring Bochs

To save the output from the first serial port the Bochs configuration file bochsrc.txt must be updated. The com1 configuration instructs Bochs how to handle the first serial port:

com1: enabled=1, mode=file, dev=com1.out

Now you can give command make run in the terminal and you can see the boch is working.Now type continue in the terminal and you can see your string with given colors and given cursor position..

The output from serial port one will now be stored in the file com1.out.

We are done! Congratulations!

Important notes..

I recommend that you implement a write function for the serial port similar to the write function in the driver for the framebuffer. To avoid name clashes with the write function for the framebuffer it is a good idea to name the functions fb_write and serial_write to distinguish them.

A final recommendation is that you create some way of distinguishing the severeness of the log messages, for example by prepending the messages with DEBUG, INFO or ERROR.

My experience so far

This part is the most challenging one so far I had. Its very interesting that finding more knowledge when I got an fault in the process. My advice is you should always follow many resources as you can for this type of challenging processes.

Reference: https://littleosbook.github.io/

Following the Github repository for check any issue with file configurations.(branch- implement_inputs_outputs)



We will meet soon in next week with the next article of this article series. #staysafe #stayconnected



Sachin Tharaka

Software Engineering, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka