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FreeRTOS scheduling
(single-core, AMP and SMP)

This page provides an overview of the FreeRTOS scheduling algorithm for single-core, asymmetric multicore (AMP), and symmetric multicore (SMP) RTOS configurations. The scheduling algorithm is the software routine that decides which RTOS task should be in the Running state.  There can only be one task in the Running state per processor core at any given time. AMP is where each processor core runs its own instance of FreeRTOS.  SMP is where there is one instance of FreeRTOS that schedules RTOS tasks across multiple cores.

The free-to-download FreeRTOS book contains a more complete description of the base FreeRTOS scheduling algorithm, with diagrams and examples.


The default RTOS scheduling policy (single-core)

By default, FreeRTOS uses a fixed-priority preemptive scheduling policy, with round-robin time-slicing of equal priority tasks:

  • "Fixed priority" means the scheduler will not permanently change the priority of a task, although it may temporarily boost the priority of a task due to priority inheritance.

  • "Preemptive" means the scheduler always runs the highest priority RTOS task that is able to run, regardless of when a task becomes able to run.  For example, if an interrupt service routine (ISR) changes the highest priority task that is able to run, the scheduler will stop the currently running lower priority task and start the higher priority task - even if that occurs within a time slice.  In this case, the lower priority task is said to have been "preempted" by the higher priority task.

  • "Round-robin" means tasks that share a priority take turns entering the Running state.

  • "Time sliced" means the scheduler will switch between tasks of equal priority on each tick interrupt - the time between tick interrupts being one time slice. (The tick interrupt is the periodic interrupt used by the RTOS to measure time.)

Using a prioritised preemptive scheduler - avoiding task starvation

A consequence of always running the highest priority task that is able to run is that a high priority task that never enters the Blocked or Suspended state will permanently starve all lower priority tasks of any execution time.  That is one reason why, normally, it is best to create tasks that are event-driven.  For example, if a high-priority task is waiting for an event, it should not sit in a loop (poll) for the event because by polling it is always running, and so never in the Blocked or Suspended state. Instead, the task should enter the Blocked state to wait for the event.  The event can be sent to the task using one of the many FreeRTOS inter-task communication and synchronisation primitives.  Receiving the event automatically removes the higher priority task from the Blocked state. Lower priority tasks will run while the higher priority task is in the Blocked state.

Configuring the RTOS scheduling policy

The following FreeRTOSConfig.h settings change the default scheduling behaviour:


    If configUSE_PREEMPTION is 0 then preemption is off and a context switch will only occur if the Running state task enters the Blocked or Suspended state, the Running state task calls taskYIELD(), or an interrupt service routine (ISR) manually requests a context switch.


    If configUSE_TIME_SLICING is 0 then time slicing is off, so the scheduler will not switch between equal priority tasks on each tick interrupt.

The FreeRTOS AMP scheduling policy

Asymmetric multiprocessing (AMP) with FreeRTOS is where each core of a multicore device runs its own independent instance of FreeRTOS.  The cores do not all need to have the same architecture, but do need to share some memory if the FreeRTOS instances need to communicate with each other.

Each core runs its own instance of FreeRTOS so the scheduling algorithm on any given core is exactly as described above for a single-core system.  You can use a stream or message buffer as the inter-core communication primitive so that tasks on one core may enter the Blocked state to wait for data or events sent from a different core.

The FreeRTOS SMP scheduling policy

Symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) with FreeRTOS is where one instance of FreeRTOS schedules RTOS tasks across multiple processor cores.  As there is only one instance of FreeRTOS running, only one port of FreeRTOS can be used at a time, so each core must have the same processor architecture and share the same memory space.

The FreeRTOS SMP scheduling policy uses the same algorithm as the single-core scheduling policy but, unlike the single-core and AMP scenarios, SMP results in more than one task being in the Running state at any given time (there is one Running state task per core).  That means the assumption no longer holds that a lower priority task will only ever run when there are no higher priority tasks that are able to run.  To understand why, consider how the SMP scheduler will select tasks to run on a dual-core microcontroller when, initially, there is one high priority task and two medium priority tasks which are all in the Ready state.  The scheduler needs to select two tasks, one for each core.  First, the high priority task is the highest priority task that is able to run, so it gets selected for the first core. That leaves two medium priority tasks as the highest priority tasks that are able to run, so one gets selected for the second core. The result is that both a high and medium priority task run simultaneously.

Configuring the SMP RTOS scheduling policy

The following configuration options help when moving code written for single-core or AMP RTOS configurations to an SMP RTOS configuration when that code relies on the assumption that a lower priority task will not run if there is a higher priority task that is able to run.


    If configRUN_MULTIPLE_PRIORITIES is set to 0 in FreeRTOSConfig.h then the scheduler will only run multiple tasks at the same time if the tasks have the same priority.  This may fix code written with the assumption that only one task will run at a time, but only at the cost of losing some of the benefits of the SMP configuration.


    If configUSE_CORE_AFFINITY is set to 1 in FreeRTOSConfig.h, then the vTaskCoreAffinitySet() API function can be used to define which cores a task can and cannot run on.  Using this, the application writer can prevent two tasks that make assumptions about their respective execution order from executing at the same time.

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