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Power Management for USB
Alan Stern <>
December 11, 2009
What is Power Management?
Power Management (PM) is the practice of saving energy by suspending
parts of a computer system when they aren't being used. While a
component is "suspended" it is in a nonfunctional low-power state; it
might even be turned off completely. A suspended component can be
"resumed" (returned to a functional full-power state) when the kernel
needs to use it. (There also are forms of PM in which components are
placed in a less functional but still usable state instead of being
suspended; an example would be reducing the CPU's clock rate. This
document will not discuss those other forms.)
When the parts being suspended include the CPU and most of the rest of
the system, we speak of it as a "system suspend". When a particular
device is turned off while the system as a whole remains running, we
call it a "dynamic suspend" (also known as a "runtime suspend" or
"selective suspend"). This document concentrates mostly on how
dynamic PM is implemented in the USB subsystem, although system PM is
covered to some extent (see Documentation/power/*.txt for more
information about system PM).
Note: Dynamic PM support for USB is present only if the kernel was
built with CONFIG_USB_SUSPEND enabled (which depends on
CONFIG_PM_RUNTIME). System PM support is present only if the kernel
was built with CONFIG_SUSPEND or CONFIG_HIBERNATION enabled.
What is Remote Wakeup?
When a device has been suspended, it generally doesn't resume until
the computer tells it to. Likewise, if the entire computer has been
suspended, it generally doesn't resume until the user tells it to, say
by pressing a power button or opening the cover.
However some devices have the capability of resuming by themselves, or
asking the kernel to resume them, or even telling the entire computer
to resume. This capability goes by several names such as "Wake On
LAN"; we will refer to it generically as "remote wakeup". When a
device is enabled for remote wakeup and it is suspended, it may resume
itself (or send a request to be resumed) in response to some external
event. Examples include a suspended keyboard resuming when a key is
pressed, or a suspended USB hub resuming when a device is plugged in.
When is a USB device idle?
A device is idle whenever the kernel thinks it's not busy doing
anything important and thus is a candidate for being suspended. The
exact definition depends on the device's driver; drivers are allowed
to declare that a device isn't idle even when there's no actual
communication taking place. (For example, a hub isn't considered idle
unless all the devices plugged into that hub are already suspended.)
In addition, a device isn't considered idle so long as a program keeps
its usbfs file open, whether or not any I/O is going on.
If a USB device has no driver, its usbfs file isn't open, and it isn't
being accessed through sysfs, then it definitely is idle.
Forms of dynamic PM
Dynamic suspends occur when the kernel decides to suspend an idle
device. This is called "autosuspend" for short. In general, a device
won't be autosuspended unless it has been idle for some minimum period
of time, the so-called idle-delay time.
Of course, nothing the kernel does on its own initiative should
prevent the computer or its devices from working properly. If a
device has been autosuspended and a program tries to use it, the
kernel will automatically resume the device (autoresume). For the
same reason, an autosuspended device will usually have remote wakeup
enabled, if the device supports remote wakeup.
It is worth mentioning that many USB drivers don't support
autosuspend. In fact, at the time of this writing (Linux 2.6.23) the
only drivers which do support it are the hub driver, kaweth, asix,
usblp, usblcd, and usb-skeleton (which doesn't count). If a
non-supporting driver is bound to a device, the device won't be
autosuspended. In effect, the kernel pretends the device is never
We can categorize power management events in two broad classes:
external and internal. External events are those triggered by some
agent outside the USB stack: system suspend/resume (triggered by
userspace), manual dynamic resume (also triggered by userspace), and
remote wakeup (triggered by the device). Internal events are those
triggered within the USB stack: autosuspend and autoresume. Note that
all dynamic suspend events are internal; external agents are not
allowed to issue dynamic suspends.
The user interface for dynamic PM
The user interface for controlling dynamic PM is located in the power/
subdirectory of each USB device's sysfs directory, that is, in
/sys/bus/usb/devices/.../power/ where "..." is the device's ID. The
relevant attribute files are: wakeup, control, and autosuspend.
(There may also be a file named "level"; this file was deprecated
as of the 2.6.35 kernel and replaced by the "control" file.)
This file is empty if the device does not support
remote wakeup. Otherwise the file contains either the
word "enabled" or the word "disabled", and you can
write those words to the file. The setting determines
whether or not remote wakeup will be enabled when the
device is next suspended. (If the setting is changed
while the device is suspended, the change won't take
effect until the following suspend.)
This file contains one of two words: "on" or "auto".
You can write those words to the file to change the
device's setting.
"on" means that the device should be resumed and
autosuspend is not allowed. (Of course, system
suspends are still allowed.)
"auto" is the normal state in which the kernel is
allowed to autosuspend and autoresume the device.
(In kernels up to 2.6.32, you could also specify
"suspend", meaning that the device should remain
suspended and autoresume was not allowed. This
setting is no longer supported.)
This file contains an integer value, which is the
number of seconds the device should remain idle before
the kernel will autosuspend it (the idle-delay time).
The default is 2. 0 means to autosuspend as soon as
the device becomes idle, and negative values mean
never to autosuspend. You can write a number to the
file to change the autosuspend idle-delay time.
Writing "-1" to power/autosuspend and writing "on" to power/control do
essentially the same thing -- they both prevent the device from being
autosuspended. Yes, this is a redundancy in the API.
(In 2.6.21 writing "0" to power/autosuspend would prevent the device
from being autosuspended; the behavior was changed in 2.6.22. The
power/autosuspend attribute did not exist prior to 2.6.21, and the
power/level attribute did not exist prior to 2.6.22. power/control
was added in 2.6.34.)
Changing the default idle-delay time
The default autosuspend idle-delay time is controlled by a module
parameter in usbcore. You can specify the value when usbcore is
loaded. For example, to set it to 5 seconds instead of 2 you would
modprobe usbcore autosuspend=5
Equivalently, you could add to /etc/modprobe.conf a line saying:
options usbcore autosuspend=5
Some distributions load the usbcore module very early during the boot
process, by means of a program or script running from an initramfs
image. To alter the parameter value you would have to rebuild that
If usbcore is compiled into the kernel rather than built as a loadable
module, you can add
to the kernel's boot command line.
Finally, the parameter value can be changed while the system is
running. If you do:
echo 5 >/sys/module/usbcore/parameters/autosuspend
then each new USB device will have its autosuspend idle-delay
initialized to 5. (The idle-delay values for already existing devices
will not be affected.)
Setting the initial default idle-delay to -1 will prevent any
autosuspend of any USB device. This is a simple alternative to
disabling CONFIG_USB_SUSPEND and rebuilding the kernel, and it has the
added benefit of allowing you to enable autosuspend for selected
The USB specification states that all USB devices must support power
management. Nevertheless, the sad fact is that many devices do not
support it very well. You can suspend them all right, but when you
try to resume them they disconnect themselves from the USB bus or
they stop working entirely. This seems to be especially prevalent
among printers and scanners, but plenty of other types of device have
the same deficiency.
For this reason, by default the kernel disables autosuspend (the
power/control attribute is initialized to "on") for all devices other
than hubs. Hubs, at least, appear to be reasonably well-behaved in
this regard.
(In 2.6.21 and 2.6.22 this wasn't the case. Autosuspend was enabled
by default for almost all USB devices. A number of people experienced
problems as a result.)
This means that non-hub devices won't be autosuspended unless the user
or a program explicitly enables it. As of this writing there aren't
any widespread programs which will do this; we hope that in the near
future device managers such as HAL will take on this added
responsibility. In the meantime you can always carry out the
necessary operations by hand or add them to a udev script. You can
also change the idle-delay time; 2 seconds is not the best choice for
every device.
If a driver knows that its device has proper suspend/resume support,
it can enable autosuspend all by itself. For example, the video
driver for a laptop's webcam might do this, since these devices are
rarely used and so should normally be autosuspended.
Sometimes it turns out that even when a device does work okay with
autosuspend there are still problems. For example, there are
experimental patches adding autosuspend support to the usbhid driver,
which manages keyboards and mice, among other things. Tests with a
number of keyboards showed that typing on a suspended keyboard, while
causing the keyboard to do a remote wakeup all right, would
nonetheless frequently result in lost keystrokes. Tests with mice
showed that some of them would issue a remote-wakeup request in
response to button presses but not to motion, and some in response to
The kernel will not prevent you from enabling autosuspend on devices
that can't handle it. It is even possible in theory to damage a
device by suspending it at the wrong time -- for example, suspending a
USB hard disk might cause it to spin down without parking the heads.
(Highly unlikely, but possible.) Take care.
The driver interface for Power Management
The requirements for a USB driver to support external power management
are pretty modest; the driver need only define
methods in its usb_driver structure, and the reset_resume method is
optional. The methods' jobs are quite simple:
The suspend method is called to warn the driver that the
device is going to be suspended. If the driver returns a
negative error code, the suspend will be aborted. Normally
the driver will return 0, in which case it must cancel all
outstanding URBs (usb_kill_urb()) and not submit any more.
The resume method is called to tell the driver that the
device has been resumed and the driver can return to normal
operation. URBs may once more be submitted.
The reset_resume method is called to tell the driver that
the device has been resumed and it also has been reset.
The driver should redo any necessary device initialization,
since the device has probably lost most or all of its state
(although the interfaces will be in the same altsettings as
before the suspend).
If the device is disconnected or powered down while it is suspended,
the disconnect method will be called instead of the resume or
reset_resume method. This is also quite likely to happen when
waking up from hibernation, as many systems do not maintain suspend
current to the USB host controllers during hibernation. (It's
possible to work around the hibernation-forces-disconnect problem by
using the USB Persist facility.)
The reset_resume method is used by the USB Persist facility (see
Documentation/usb/persist.txt) and it can also be used under certain
circumstances when CONFIG_USB_PERSIST is not enabled. Currently, if a
device is reset during a resume and the driver does not have a
reset_resume method, the driver won't receive any notification about
the resume. Later kernels will call the driver's disconnect method;
2.6.23 doesn't do this.
USB drivers are bound to interfaces, so their suspend and resume
methods get called when the interfaces are suspended or resumed. In
principle one might want to suspend some interfaces on a device (i.e.,
force the drivers for those interface to stop all activity) without
suspending the other interfaces. The USB core doesn't allow this; all
interfaces are suspended when the device itself is suspended and all
interfaces are resumed when the device is resumed. It isn't possible
to suspend or resume some but not all of a device's interfaces. The
closest you can come is to unbind the interfaces' drivers.
The driver interface for autosuspend and autoresume
To support autosuspend and autoresume, a driver should implement all
three of the methods listed above. In addition, a driver indicates
that it supports autosuspend by setting the .supports_autosuspend flag
in its usb_driver structure. It is then responsible for informing the
USB core whenever one of its interfaces becomes busy or idle. The
driver does so by calling these six functions:
int usb_autopm_get_interface(struct usb_interface *intf);
void usb_autopm_put_interface(struct usb_interface *intf);
int usb_autopm_get_interface_async(struct usb_interface *intf);
void usb_autopm_put_interface_async(struct usb_interface *intf);
void usb_autopm_get_interface_no_resume(struct usb_interface *intf);
void usb_autopm_put_interface_no_suspend(struct usb_interface *intf);
The functions work by maintaining a usage counter in the
usb_interface's embedded device structure. When the counter is > 0
then the interface is deemed to be busy, and the kernel will not
autosuspend the interface's device. When the usage counter is = 0
then the interface is considered to be idle, and the kernel may
autosuspend the device.
(There is a similar usage counter field in struct usb_device,
associated with the device itself rather than any of its interfaces.
This counter is used only by the USB core.)
Drivers need not be concerned about balancing changes to the usage
counter; the USB core will undo any remaining "get"s when a driver
is unbound from its interface. As a corollary, drivers must not call
any of the usb_autopm_* functions after their diconnect() routine has
Drivers using the async routines are responsible for their own
synchronization and mutual exclusion.
usb_autopm_get_interface() increments the usage counter and
does an autoresume if the device is suspended. If the
autoresume fails, the counter is decremented back.
usb_autopm_put_interface() decrements the usage counter and
attempts an autosuspend if the new value is = 0.
usb_autopm_get_interface_async() and
usb_autopm_put_interface_async() do almost the same things as
their non-async counterparts. The big difference is that they
use a workqueue to do the resume or suspend part of their
jobs. As a result they can be called in an atomic context,
such as an URB's completion handler, but when they return the
device will generally not yet be in the desired state.
usb_autopm_get_interface_no_resume() and
usb_autopm_put_interface_no_suspend() merely increment or
decrement the usage counter; they do not attempt to carry out
an autoresume or an autosuspend. Hence they can be called in
an atomic context.
The simplest usage pattern is that a driver calls
usb_autopm_get_interface() in its open routine and
usb_autopm_put_interface() in its close or release routine. But other
patterns are possible.
The autosuspend attempts mentioned above will often fail for one
reason or another. For example, the power/control attribute might be
set to "on", or another interface in the same device might not be
idle. This is perfectly normal. If the reason for failure was that
the device hasn't been idle for long enough, a timer is scheduled to
carry out the operation automatically when the autosuspend idle-delay
has expired.
Autoresume attempts also can fail, although failure would mean that
the device is no longer present or operating properly. Unlike
autosuspend, there's no idle-delay for an autoresume.
Other parts of the driver interface
Drivers can enable autosuspend for their devices by calling
usb_enable_autosuspend(struct usb_device *udev);
in their probe() routine, if they know that the device is capable of
suspending and resuming correctly. This is exactly equivalent to
writing "auto" to the device's power/control attribute. Likewise,
drivers can disable autosuspend by calling
usb_disable_autosuspend(struct usb_device *udev);
This is exactly the same as writing "on" to the power/control attribute.
Sometimes a driver needs to make sure that remote wakeup is enabled
during autosuspend. For example, there's not much point
autosuspending a keyboard if the user can't cause the keyboard to do a
remote wakeup by typing on it. If the driver sets
intf->needs_remote_wakeup to 1, the kernel won't autosuspend the
device if remote wakeup isn't available or has been disabled through
the power/wakeup attribute. (If the device is already autosuspended,
though, setting this flag won't cause the kernel to autoresume it.
Normally a driver would set this flag in its probe method, at which
time the device is guaranteed not to be autosuspended.)
If a driver does its I/O asynchronously in interrupt context, it
should call usb_autopm_get_interface_async() before starting output and
usb_autopm_put_interface_async() when the output queue drains. When
it receives an input event, it should call
usb_mark_last_busy(struct usb_device *udev);
in the event handler. This sets udev->last_busy to the current time.
udev->last_busy is the field used for idle-delay calculations;
updating it will cause any pending autosuspend to be moved back. Most
of the usb_autopm_* routines will also set the last_busy field to the
current time.
Asynchronous operation is always subject to races. For example, a
driver may call one of the usb_autopm_*_interface_async() routines at
a time when the core has just finished deciding the device has been
idle for long enough but not yet gotten around to calling the driver's
suspend method. The suspend method must be responsible for
synchronizing with the output request routine and the URB completion
handler; it should cause autosuspends to fail with -EBUSY if the
driver needs to use the device.
External suspend calls should never be allowed to fail in this way,
only autosuspend calls. The driver can tell them apart by checking
the PM_EVENT_AUTO bit in the message.event argument to the suspend
method; this bit will be set for internal PM events (autosuspend) and
clear for external PM events.
Mutual exclusion
For external events -- but not necessarily for autosuspend or
autoresume -- the device semaphore (udev->dev.sem) will be held when a
suspend or resume method is called. This implies that external
suspend/resume events are mutually exclusive with calls to probe,
disconnect, pre_reset, and post_reset; the USB core guarantees that
this is true of autosuspend/autoresume events as well.
If a driver wants to block all suspend/resume calls during some
critical section, the best way is to lock the device and call
usb_autopm_get_interface() (and do the reverse at the end of the
critical section). Holding the device semaphore will block all
external PM calls, and the usb_autopm_get_interface() will prevent any
internal PM calls, even if it fails. (Exercise: Why?)
Interaction between dynamic PM and system PM
Dynamic power management and system power management can interact in
a couple of ways.
Firstly, a device may already be autosuspended when a system suspend
occurs. Since system suspends are supposed to be as transparent as
possible, the device should remain suspended following the system
resume. But this theory may not work out well in practice; over time
the kernel's behavior in this regard has changed.
Secondly, a dynamic power-management event may occur as a system
suspend is underway. The window for this is short, since system
suspends don't take long (a few seconds usually), but it can happen.
For example, a suspended device may send a remote-wakeup signal while
the system is suspending. The remote wakeup may succeed, which would
cause the system suspend to abort. If the remote wakeup doesn't
succeed, it may still remain active and thus cause the system to
resume as soon as the system suspend is complete. Or the remote
wakeup may fail and get lost. Which outcome occurs depends on timing
and on the hardware and firmware design.