Android Design Lessons: HAL plugin architecture

The Problem

Android OS has a clean separation between framework code and the Hardware Abstract Layer (HAL) code. The former is written by Google and is open source; the later is written by chip vendors and is usually proprietary. The design challenge is how to link them together, without both build time and link time dependency.  

Additional Constraint:
1. The interface is C
2. It is user mode interface not for user/kernel

To make the introduction more specific,  I will use Audio hardware as an example.

The Solution

Use dlopen to load libraries from designated location and use dlsyml to return a module instance, which inherit a common hw module.
Android HAL plugin architecture 

Solution Detail

1. Where to load the library? 

The easies way to fix the path and name of the library to be loaded for each type of module. But that will be too rigid an approach. Instead,Android use a more flexible solution. The library to load follows below conversion:

   lib_dir = {/vendor/lib/hw , /system/lib/hw}
   the hw module name, audio in this case
   it is a property fixed for each build configuration but can be retrieved dynamically

2. How to load the library and create the specific module instance?

Once we know which library to use, we can call dlopen to load the library. But in order to create create an module instance , we need to know which symbol to open. As a contract, every module must have an entry symbol called HAL_MODULE_INFO_SYM, with the type of a concrete hw module type, that is audio_module_t  in our example.

struct audio_module_t HAL_MODULE_INFO_SYM {
     common: {
            tag: HARDWARE_MODULE_TAG,
            methods: &gralloc_module_methods
        start: audio_start,

where audio_module_t  is a subclass of hw_module_t .

typedef struct hw_module_t {
    const char *id;
    const char *name;
    struct hw_module_methods_t* methods;

typedef struct audio_module_t {
    struct hw_module_t common;  // must be the first member, so we can uppercast from derived to based 
    // module specific methods and attributions
   void (*start)(struct audio_module_t const *module); 
Using dlsym to load the address of the HAL_MODULE_INFO_SYM, we get an instance of audio_module_t . We can up-cast the returned instance to of hw_module_t, as the first member of  gralloc_module_t is of type hw_module_t, that make a audio_module_t is a subclass of hw_module_t.

Turning what we describe above as the code: 

static int load(const char *id,
        const char *path,
        const struct hw_module_t **pHmi)
    int status = -EINVAL;
    void *handle = NULL;
    struct hw_module_t *hmi = NULL;

    handle = dlopen(path, RTLD_NOW);

   /* Get the address of the struct hal_module_info. */
    const char *sym = HAL_MODULE_INFO_SYM_AS_STR;
    hmi = (struct hw_module_t *)dlsym(handle, sym);

    /* Check that the id matches */
    if (strcmp(id, hmi->id) != 0) {
        ALOGE("load: id=%s != hmi->id=%s", id, hmi->id);
        status = -EINVAL;
        goto done;

   *pHmi = hmi;

    return status;

This is a simple but powerful plug-in architecture. In practice, it can be expand it a little bit by introduce another object called device. A device can be created from a module , by calling open method of the module. This is actually a perfect analogy of Linux device driver programming model, where we have a driver installed as a module, and we can open it, through device node, to get a device to work with.