SPARTA Publications

All accepted publications from SPARTA partners under its funding.

Minimal Virtual Machines on IoT Microcontrollers: The Case of Berkeley Packet Filters with rBPF

K. Zandberg, E. Baccelli


Virtual machines (VM) are widely used to host and isolate software modules. However, extremely small memory and low-energy budgets have so far prevented wide use of VMs on typical microcontroller-based IoT devices. In this paper, we explore the potential of two minimal VM approaches on such low-power hardware. We design rBPF, a register-based VM based on extended Berkeley Packet Filters (eBPF). We compare it with a stack-based VM based on WebAssembly (Wasm) adapted for embedded systems. We implement prototypes of each VM, hosted in the IoT operating system RIOT. We perform measurements on commercial off-the-shelf IoT hardware. Unsurprisingly, we observe that both Wasm and rBPF virtual machines yield execution time and memory overhead, compared to not using a VM. We show however that this execution time overhead is tolerable for low-throughput, low-energy IoT devices. We further show that, while using a VM based on Wasm entails doubling the memory budget for a simple networked IoT application using a 6LoWPAN/CoAP stack, using a VM based on rBPF requires only negligible memory overhead (less than 10% more memory). rBPF is thus a promising approach to host small software modules, isolated from OS software, and updatable on-demand, over low-power networks.

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