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MIDI(4) Device Drivers Manual MIDI(4)

midiraw device independent interface to MIDI ports

midi* at autri?
midi* at eap?
midi* at envy?
midi* at mpu?
midi* at sb?
midi* at umidi?
midi* at ym?

The midi driver makes MIDI ports available to user applications. A midi device corresponds to 2 MIDI ports: one input port and one output port. Data received on the input port is not interpreted and is passed to the user program as-is. Similarly, data issued by the user program is sent as-is to the output port.

Only one process may hold open a midi device at a given time, although file descriptors may be shared between processes once the first open completes. If it is opened read-only (write-only) only the input (output) MIDI port is available.

A process can send raw MIDI data to the output port by using the write(2) system call. Data is queued and the system call returns immediately; the data is sent as fast as possible to the output MIDI port. However, if the in-kernel buffer is full or the requested amount is too large, then write(2) may block. The current size of the in-kernel buffer is 1024 bytes, which ensures that write(2) isn't blocking in most situations.

Data received from the input MIDI port is stored into the in-kernel buffer. A process can retrieve its contents by using the read(2) system call. If there is less data than the amount requested for reading, then a shorter amount is returned. If no data is available, then the read(2) system call will block until data is received, and then return immediately.

The MIDI protocol has been designed for real-time performance and doesn't support flow control. An application must be able to read the incoming data fast enough (the MIDI standard's maximum rate is 3125 bytes per second). The kernel can buffer up to 1024 bytes; once the buffer is full input will be silently discarded.

A process can use the poll(2) system call to poll for the following events:

The in-kernel input buffer isn't empty, i.e. at least one byte is available for reading. A subsequent call to read(2) will not be blocking.
The in-kernel output buffer is empty, thus a subsequent call to write(2) will not be blocking if a reasonable amount of data is written (currently less that 1024 bytes).

Using the poll(2) system call is the recommended way to handle multiple midi devices in a real-time MIDI application.

If the midi device is opened with the O_NONBLOCK flag (see open(2)), then subsequent calls to read(2) or write(2) will never block. The write(2) system call may write less bytes than requested, or may return EAGAIN if no data could be sent or queued. Similarly, the read(2) system call may return EAGAIN if no input is available.

Note that even if non-blocking I/O is not selected, read(2) and write(2) system calls are non-blocking when the kernel buffers permit it.

midi devices

The following command could record the memory dump of a synthesizer in a file:

$ cat -u /dev/rmidi2 >dumpfile

A MIDI keyboard could be connected to a synthesizer by the command:

$ cat -u /dev/rmidi1 >/dev/rmidi2

The input port could be connected to the output port by the command:

$ cat -u <>/dev/rmidi1 >&0

The following example reads MIDI timing events from an input device, MIDI common and voice events from another input device, and sends the result to a third (output) device.

#define BUFSIZE		0x100
#define ISTIMING(c)	((c) == 0xf8 || (c) == 0xfa || (c) == 0xfc)
#define ISCOMMON(c)	((c) < 0xf8)

int ofd;
struct pollfd ifd[2];
unsigned char ibuf[BUFSIZE], obuf[2 * BUFSIZE];
ssize_t iused, oused, i;

ifd[0].events = ifd[1].events = POLLIN;
for (;;) {
	oused = 0;
	if (poll(ifd, 2, -1) == -1)
		errx(1, "poll");
	if (ifd[0].revents & POLLIN) {
		if ((iused = read(ifd[0].fd, ibuf, BUFSIZE)) == -1)
			errx(1, "read");
		for (i = 0; i < iused; i++)
			if (ISTIMING(ibuf[i]))
				obuf[oused++] = ibuf[i];
	if (ifd[1].revents & POLLIN) {
		if ((iused = read(ifd[1].fd, ibuf, BUFSIZE)) == -1)
			errx(1, "read");
		for (i = 0; i < iused; i++)
			if (ISCOMMON(ibuf[i]))
				obuf[oused++] = ibuf[i];
	if (write(ofd, obuf, oused) == -1)
		errx(1, "write");

In the above example, unless kernel buffers are full, processing is done in real-time without any noticeable latency; as expected, the only blocking system call is poll(2).

If open(2), read(2), write(2), or poll(2) fail then errno(2) may be set to one of:

The device is opened read-only (write-only) but write(2) (read(2)) was called.
The device is being detached while a process has been trying to read or write (for instance an umidi(4) device has been unplugged).
Non-blocking I/O was selected and the output buffer is full (on writing) or the input buffer is empty (on reading).
The device is already open by another process.

autri(4), eap(4), envy(4), mpu(4), sb(4), umidi(4)

The midi driver first appeared in OpenBSD 2.5.

The midi driver was originally written by Lennart Augustsson and later largely rewritten by Alexandre Ratchov.

MIDI hardware was designed for real time performance and software using such hardware must be able to process MIDI events without any noticeable latency (typically no more than 5ms, which is the time it takes for sound to propagate 1.75 meters).

The OpenBSD midi driver processes data fast enough, however if a MIDI application tries to write data faster than the hardware is able to process it (typically 3125 bytes per second), then kernel buffers may become full and the application may be blocked.

The other common reason for MIDI data being delayed is the system load. Processes cannot be preempted while running in kernel mode. If there are too much processes running concurrently (especially if they are running a lot of expensive system calls) then the scheduling of a real-time MIDI application may be delayed. Even on low-end machines this delay hardly reaches a few milliseconds provided that the system load is reasonable.

A real-time MIDI application can avoid being swapped by locking its memory (see mlock(2) and mlockall(2)).

For a given device, even if the physical MIDI input and output ports are independent, there is no way for one process to use the input MIDI port and for another process to use the output MIDI port at the same time.

August 31, 2016 OpenBSD-6.2