The AVR C library, avr-libc, provide an ATOMIC_BLOCK macro that you can use to wrap critical sections of your code to ensure that interrupts are disabled while the code executes. At high level, the ATOMIC_BLOCK macro (when called using ATOMIC_FORCEON) does something like this:


...your code here...


But it’s more than that. If you read the documentation for the macro, it says:

Creates a block of code that is guaranteed to be executed atomically. Upon entering the block the Global Interrupt Status flag in SREG is disabled, and re-enabled upon exiting the block from any exit path.

I didn’t really think much about the bit that I’ve highlighted until I wrote some code that looked something like this:

      while(some_condition) {
        if (something_failed)
          goto fail;


  return false;

There’s a goto statement there; that’s an unconditional jump to the fail label outside the ATOMIC_BLOCK block. There isn’t really any opportunity there for anything to re-enable interrupts, and yet, my code worked just fine. What’s going on?

It turns out that this is due to GCC magic. If you look at the expansion of the ATOMIC_BLOCK macro, it looks like this:

#define ATOMIC_BLOCK(type) for ( type, __ToDo = __iCliRetVal(); \
                           __ToDo ; __ToDo = 0 )

It accepts a type parameter which can be one of ATOMIC_RESTORESTATE or ATOMIC_FORCEON, which look like this:

#define ATOMIC_RESTORESTATE uint8_t sreg_save \
    __attribute__((__cleanup__(__iRestore))) = SREG

And this:

#define ATOMIC_FORCEON uint8_t sreg_save \
    __attribute__((__cleanup__(__iSeiParam))) = 0

The magic is the __attribute__ keyword: GCC supports custom attributes on variables that can change the way the variable is stored or used. In this case, the code is using the __cleanup__ attribute, which:

…runs a function when the variable goes out of scope.

So when we write:


That becomes:

for ( uint8_t sreg_save __attribute__((__cleanup__(__iSeiParam))) = 0, __ToDo = __iCliRetVal(); __ToDo ; __ToDo = 0 ) {

Which instructs GCC to ensure that the iSeiParam function is run whenever the sreg_save variable goes out of scope. The iSeiParam() method looks like:

static __inline__ void __iSeiParam(const uint8_t *__s)
  __asm__ __volatile__ ("sei" ::: "memory");
  __asm__ volatile ("" ::: "memory");

In other words, this is very much like a try/finally block in Python, although the cleanup action is attached to a particular variable rather than to the block of code itself. I think that’s pretty neat.