VxWorks is a real-time operating system (RTOS) developed as proprietary software by Wind River Systems, a wholly owned subsidiary of TPG Capital, US. First released in 1987, VxWorks is designed for use in embedded systems requiring real-time, deterministic performance and, in many cases, safety and security certification, for industries, such as aerospace and defense, medical devices, industrial equipment, robotics, energy, transportation, network infrastructure, automotive, and consumer electronics.
VxWorks comes with the kernel, middleware, board support packages, Wind River Workbench development suite and complementary third-party software and hardware technologies. In its latest release, VxWorks 7, the RTOS has been re-engineered for modularity and upgradeability so the OS kernel is separate from middleware, applications and other packages. Scalability, security, safety, connectivity, and graphics have been improved to address Internet of Things (IoT) needs.
VxWorks started in the late 1980s as a set of enhancements to a simple RTOS called VRTX sold by Ready Systems (becoming a Mentor Graphics product in 1995). Wind River acquired rights to distribute VRTX and significantly enhanced it by adding, among other things, a file system and an integrated development environment. In 1987, anticipating the termination of its reseller contract by Ready Systems, Wind River developed its own kernel to replace VRTX within VxWorks.
Published in 2003 with a Wind River copyright, "Real-Time Concepts for Embedded Systems"
describes the development environment, runtime setting, and system call families of the RTOS.
Written by Wind River employees with a foreword by Jerry Fiddler, chairman and co-founder of Wind River, the text book is an excellent tutorial on the RTOS. (It does not, however, replace Wind River documentation as might be needed by practicing engineers.)
The VxWorks consists of a set of runtime components and development tools. The run time components are an operating system (UP and SMP; 32- and 64-bit), software for applications support (file system, core network stack, USB stack and inter-process communications) and hardware support (architecture adapter, processor support library, device driver library and board support packages). VxWorks core development tools are compilers such as Diab, GNU, and Intel C++ Compiler (ICC)) and its build and configuration tools. The system also includes productivity tools such as its Workbench development suite and Intel tools and development support tools for asset tracking and host support.
The platform is a modular, vendor-neutral, open system that supports a range of third-party software and hardware. The OS kernel is separate from middleware, applications and other packages, which enables easier bug fixes and testing of new features. An implementation of a layered source build system allows multiple versions of any stack to be installed at the same time so developers can select which version of any feature set should go into the VxWorks kernel libraries.
Optional advanced technology for VxWorks provides add-on technology-related capabilities, such as:
Advanced security features to safeguard devices and data residing in and traveling across the Internet of Things (IoT)
Advanced safety partitioning to enable reliable application consolidation
Real-time advanced visual edge analytics allowing autonomous responses on VxWorks-based devices in real time without latency
Optimized embedded Java runtime engine enabling the deployment of Java applications
Virtualization capability with a real-time embedded, Type 1 hypervisor
POSIX PSE52 certified conformity in user-mode execution environment
File systems: High Reliability File System (HRFS), FAT-based file system (DOSFS), Network File System (NFS), and TFFS
Dual-mode IPv6 networking stack with IPv6 Ready Logo certification
Memory protection including real-time processes (RTPs), error detection and reporting, and IPC
Multi-OS messaging using TIPC and Wind River multi-OS IPC
In March 2014, Wind River introduced VxWorks 7, which emphasizes scalability, security, safety, connectivity, graphics, and virtualization. The following lists some of the release 7 updates. More information can be found on the Wind Rivers VxWorks website.
Modular, componentized architecture using a layered build system with the ability to update each layer of code independently
VxWorks microkernel (a full RTOS that can be as small as 20 KB)
Security features such as digitally-signed modules (X.509), encryption, password management, ability to add/delete users at runtime
SHA-256 hashing algorithm as the default password hashing algorithm
Human machine interface with Vector Graphics, and Tilcon user interface (UI)
Graphical user interface (GUI): OpenVG stack, Open GL, Tilcon UI, Frame Buffer Driver, EV Dev Interface
Updated configuration interfaces for VxWorks Source Build VSB projects and VxWorks Image Projects
Single authentication control used for Telnet, SSH, FTP, and rlogin daemons
Connectivity with Bluetooth and SocketCAN protocol stacks
Inclusion of MIPC File System (MFS) and MIPC Network Device (MND)
Networking features with 64-bit support including Wind River MACsec, Wind River's implementation of IEEE 802.1A, Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP) over L2TP, PPP over virtual local area network (VLAN) and Diameter secure key storage
New Wind River Workbench 4 for VxWorks 7 integrated development environment with new system analysis tools
Wind River Diab Compiler 5.9.4; Wind River GNU Compiler 4.8; Intel C++ Compiler 14 and Intel Integrated Performance Primitives (IPP) 8
As is common in embedded system development, cross-compiling is used with VxWorks. Development is done on a "host" system where an integrated development environment (IDE), including the editor, compiler toolchain, debugger, and emulator can be used. Software is then compiled to run on the "target" system. This allows the developer to work with powerful development tools while targeting more limited hardware. VxWorks uses the following host environments and target hardware architectures:
Supported target architectures and processor families
VxWorks supports the following target architectures:
For the latest target architecture, processors and board support packages, refer to the VxWorks Marketplace: https://marketplace.windriver.com/index.php?bsp&on=locate&type=platform
The Eclipse-based Workbench IDE that comes with VxWorks is used to configure, analyze, optimize, and debug a VxWorks-based system under development. The Tornado IDE was used for VxWorks 5.x and was replaced by the Eclipse-based Workbench IDE for VxWorks 6.x. and later. Workbench is also the IDE for the Wind River Linux, On-Chip Debugging, and Wind River Diab Compiler product lines. VxWorks 7 uses Wind River Workbench 4 which updates to the Eclipse 4 base provide full third party plug-in support and usability improvements.
Wind River Simics is a standalone simulation tool compatible with VxWorks. It simulates the full target system (hardware and software) to create a shared platform for software development. Multiple developers can share a complete virtual system and its entire state, including execution history. Simics enables early and continuous system integration and faster prototyping by utilizing virtual prototypes instead of physical prototypes.
VxWorks is used by products across a wide range of market areas: aerospace and defense, automotive, industrial such as robots, consumer electronics, medical area and networking. Several notable products also use VxWorks as the onboard operating system.
NASA Mars rovers (Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity)
The Deep Space Program Science Experiment (DSPSE) also known as Clementine (spacecraft) Clementine launched in 1994 running VxWorks 5.1 on a MIPS-based CPU responsible for the Star Tracker and image processing algorithms. The use of a commercial RTOS on board a spacecraft was considered experimental at the time
As of July 2019, a paper published by Armis exposed 11 critical vulnerabilities, including remote code execution, denial of service, information leaks, and logical flaws impacting more than two billion devices using the VxWorks RTOS. The findings are significant since this system is in use by quite a few mission-critical products. This YouTube video from Armis shows how an attacker can tunnel into an internal network using the vulnerability and hack into printers, laptops, and any other connected devices. The vulnerability can bypass firewalls as well.
Information and patches for all VxWorks versions affected by Urgent/11 vulnerability can be obtained from Wind River.
As of December 2021 there are still some CVE documented on the NIST database.
Stale Data Retention
The Wind River VxWorks operating system is used on the Boeing 787-8, 787-9 and 787-10 aircraft. As of April 2, 2020, the US Federal Aviation Administration requires the operating system to be power-cycled, or turned off and on, every fifty-one (51) days. The reason for requiring the periodic reboot of the common core system (CCS) is that its failure when continuously powered could lead to a loss of the common data network (CDN) message age validation, which filters out stale data from key flight control displays. From the FAA Air Directive: "The potential loss of the stale-data monitoring function of the CCS when continuously powered on for 51 days, if not addressed, could result in erroneous flight-critical data being routed and displayed as valid data, which could reduce the ability of the flight crew to maintain the safe flight and landing of the airplane."
^ ab"VxWorks Goes 64-bit", Electronic Design, March 25, 2011
^ abcdWind River Expands Hardware Support for VxWorks, Bloomberg News at bloomberg.com, March 24, 2010
^ ab"Wind River Announces RISC-V Support for VxWorks RTOS". www.businesswire.com. December 10, 2019. Retrieved December 11, 2019.
^ abRTOS Handles AMP and SMP, electronic design, March 2009