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A critical section that works everywhere!

When writing software for embedded systems, it’s common to use a “critical section” as a basic primitive to control concurrency. A critical section is essentially a mutex global to the whole process, that can be acquired by only one thread at a time. This can be used to protect data behind mutexes, to emulate atomics in targets that don’t support them, etc.

There’s a wide range of possible implementations depending on the execution environment:

  • For bare-metal single core, disabling interrupts globally.
  • For bare-metal multicore, acquiring a hardware spinlocks and disabling interrupts globally.
  • For bare-metal using a RTOS, it usually provides library functions for acquiring a critical section, often named “scheduler lock” or “kernel lock”.
  • For bare-metal running in non-privileged mode, usually some system call is needed.
  • For std targets, acquiring a global std::sync::Mutex.

Libraries often need to use critical sections, but there’s no universal API for this in core. This leads library authors to hardcode them for their target, or at best add some cfgs to support a few targets. This doesn’t scale since there are many targets out there, and in the general case it’s impossible to know which critical section impl is needed from the Rust target alone. For example, the thumbv7em-none-eabi target could be cases 1-4 from the above list.

This crate solves the problem by providing this missing universal API.

  • It provides functions acquire, release and free that libraries can directly use.
  • It provides some built-in impls for well-known targets, so in many cases it Just Works.
  • It provides a way for any crate to supply a “custom impl” that overrides the built-in one. This allows environment-support crates such as RTOS bindings or HALs for multicore chips to supply the correct impl so that all the crates in the dependency tree automatically use it.

Built-in impls

thumbv[6-8]cpsid / cpsie.Only sound in single-core privileged mode.
riscv32*set/clear mstatus.mieOnly sound in single-core privileged mode.
std targetsGlobal std::sync::Mutex

Providing a custom impl

  • Enable the Cargo feature custom-impl in the critical-section crate.
  • Define it like the following:
struct CriticalSection;

unsafe impl critical_section::Impl for CriticalSection {
    unsafe fn acquire() -> u8 {
        // TODO
        return token;

    unsafe fn release(token: u8) {
        // TODO

If you’re writing a library crate that provides a custom impl, it is strongly recommended that you only provide it if explicitly enabled by the user via a Cargo feature critical-section-impl. This allows the user to opt out from your impl to supply their own.

Why not generics?

An alternative solution would be to use a CriticalSection trait, and make all code that needs acquiring the critical section generic over it. This has a few problems:

  • It would require passing it as a generic param to a very big amount of code, which would be quite unergonomic.
  • It’s common to put Mutexes in static variables, and statics can’t be generic.
  • The user can mix different critical section implementations in the same program, which would be unsound.


This work is licensed under either of

  • Apache License, Version 2.0 (LICENSE-APACHE or http://www.apache.org/licenses/LICENSE-2.0)
  • MIT license (LICENSE-MIT or http://opensource.org/licenses/MIT)

at your option.


Unless you explicitly state otherwise, any contribution intentionally submitted for inclusion in the work by you, as defined in the Apache-2.0 license, shall be dual licensed as above, without any additional terms or conditions.



Set the custom critical section implementation.


Critical section token.



Methods required for a custom critical section implementation.


Acquire a critical section in the current thread.

Release the critical section.

Execute closure f in a critical section.