Operating Systems

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2.3.5: Semaphores

Remark: Tannenbaum use the term semaphore only for blocking solutions. I will use the term for our busy waiting solutions. Others call our solutions spin locks.

P and V and Semaphores

The entry code is often called P and the exit code V. Thus the critical section problem is to write P and V so that

loop forever
  1. Mutual exclusion.
  2. No speed assumptions.
  3. No blocking by processes in NCS.
  4. Forward progress (my weakened version of Tanenbaum's last condition).

Note that I use indenting carefully and hence do not need (and sometimes omit) the braces {} used in languages like C or java.

A binary semaphore abstracts the TAS solution we gave for the critical section problem.

The above code is not real, i.e., it is not an implementation of P. It is, instead, a definition of the effect P is to have.

To repeat: for any number of processes, the critical section problem can be solved by

loop forever

The only specific solution we have seen for an arbitrary number of processes is the one just above with P(S) implemented via test and set.

Remark: Peterson's solution requires each process to know its processor number. The TAS soluton does not. Moreover the definition of P and V does not permit use of the processor number. Thus, strictly speaking Peterson did not provide an implementation of P and V. He did solve the critical section problem.

To solve other coordination problems we want to extend binary semaphores.

Both of the shortcomings can be overcome by not restricting ourselves to a binary variable, but instead define a generalized or counting semaphore.

These counting semaphores can solve what I call the semi-critical-section problem, where you premit up to k processes in the section. When k=1 we have the original critical-section problem.

initially S=k

loop forever
    SCS   <== semi-critical-section

Producer-consumer problem

Initially e=k, f=0 (counting semaphore); b=open (binary semaphore)

Producer                         Consumer

loop forever                     loop forever
    produce-item                     P(f)
    P(e)                             P(b); take item from buf; V(b)
    P(b); add item to buf; V(b)      V(e)
    V(f)                             consume-item