Jan 10, 2012
I'm working on a project which will entail multiple devices, each with an embedded (ARM) processor, communicating. One development approach which I have found useful in the past with projects that only entailed a single embedded processor was develop the code using Visual Studio, divided into three portions:[code]Feeding the embedded compiler/linker the code from parts 1 and 3 yields a hex file that can run on the target system. Running parts 1 and 2 together yields code which can run on the PC, with the benefit of better debugging tools and more precise control over I/O behavior (e.g. I can make the simulation code introduce certain types of random hiccups more easily than I can induce controlled hiccups on real hardware). Target code is written in C, but the simulation environment uses C++ so as to simulate I/O registers. For example, I have a PortArray data structure; the header file for the embedded compiler includes a line like unsigned char LATA @ 0xF89; and my header file for simulation includes #define LATA _IOBIT(f89,1) which in turn invokes a macro that accesses a suitable property of an I/O object, so a statement like LATA |= 4; will read the simulated latch, "or" the read value with 4, and write the new value. To make this work, the target code has to compile under C++ as well as under C, but this mostly isn't a problem. The biggest annoyance is probably with enum types (which behave as integers in C, but have to be coaxed to do so in C++).
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Previously, I've used two approaches to making the simulation interactive:Compile and link a DLL with target-application and simulation code, and have VB code in the same project which interacts with it.Compile the target-application code and some simulation code to an EXE with instance of Visual Studio, and use a second instance of Visual Studio for the simulation-UI. Have the two programs communicate via TCP, so nearly all "real" I/O logic is in the simulation program. For example, the aforementioned `LATA |= 4;` would send a "read port 0xF89" command to the TCP port, get the response, process the received value, and send a "write port 0xF89" command with the result.I've found the latter approach to run a tiny bit slower than the former in some cases, but it seems much more convenient for debugging, since I can suspend execution of the unmanaged simulation code while the simulation UI remains responsive. Indeed, for simulating a single target device at a time, I think the latter approach works extremely well. My question is how I should best go about simulating a plurality of target devices (e.g. 16 of them).The difficulty I have is figuring out how to make each simulated instance get its own set of global variables. If I were to compile to an EXE and run one instance of the EXE for each simulated target device, that would work, but I don't know any practical way to maintain debugger support while doing that. Another approach would be to arrange the target code so that everything would compile as one module joined together via #include. For simulation purposes, everything could then be wrapped into a single C++ class, with global variables turning into class-instance variables. That would be a bit more object-oriented, but I really don't like the idea of forcing all the application code to live in one compiled and linked module.What would perhaps be ideal would be if the code could load multiple instances of the DLL, each with its own set of global variables. I have no idea how to do that, however, nor do I know how to make things interact with the debugger. I don't think it's really necessary that all simulated target devices actually execute code simultaneously; it would be perfectly acceptable for simulation instances to use cooperative multitasking. If there were some way of finding out what range of memory holds the global variables, it might be possible to have the 'task-switch' method swap out all of the global variables used by the previously-running instance and swap in the contents applicable to the instance being switched in. Although I'd know how to do that in an embedded context, though, I'd have no idea how to do that on the PC.
Is there any nicer way to allow simulation logic to be paused and examined in VS2010 debugger, while keeping a responsive UI for the simulator front-end, than running the simulator front end and the simulator logic in separate instances of VS2010, if the simulation logic must be written in C and the simulation front end in managed code? For example, is there a way to tell the debugger that when a breakpoint is hit, some or all other threads should be allowed to keep running while the thread that had hit the breakpoint sits paused?If the bulk of the simulation logic must be source-code compatible with an embedded system written in C (so that the same source files can be compiled and run for simulation purposes under VS2010, and then compiled by the embedded-systems compiler for use in real hardware), is there any way to have the VS2010 debugger interact with multiple simulated instances of the embedded device? Assume performance is not likely to be an issue, but the number of instances will be large enough that creating a separate project for each instance would be likely be annoying in the absence of any way to automate the process. I can think of three somewhat-workable approaches, but don't know how to make any of them work really nicely. There's also an approach which would be better if it's possible, but I don't know how to make it work.Wrap all the simulation code within a single C++ class, such that what would be global variables in the target system become class members. I'm leaning toward this approach, but it would seem to require everything to be compiled as a single module, which would annoyingly affect the design of the target system code. Is there any nice way to have code access class instance members as though they were globals, without requiring all functions using such instances to be members of the same module?Compile a separate DLL for each simulated instance (so that e.g. if I want to run up to 16 instances, I would include 16 DLL's in the project, all sharing the same source files). This could work, but every change to the project configuration would have to be repeated 16 times.Compile the simulation logic to an EXE, and run an appropriate number of instances of that EXE. This could work, but I don't know of any convenient way to do things like set a breakpoint common to all instances. Is it possible to have multiple running instances of an EXE attached to a single debugger instance?Load multiple instances of a DLL in such a way that each instance gets its own global variables, while still being accessible in the debugger. This would be nicest if it were possible, but I don't know any way to do so.If I use one VS2010 instance for the front-end, and another for the simulation logic, is there any way to arrange things so that starting code in one will automatically launch the code in the other?