Operating Systems

Start Lecture #13

4.3.5 Log-Structured File Systems

This research project of the early 1990s was inspired by the key observation that systems are becoming limited in speed by small writes. The factors contributing to this phenomenon were (and still are).

  1. The CPU speed increases have far surpassed the disk speed increases so the system has become I/O limited.
  2. The large buffer cache found on modern systems has led to fewer read requests actually requiring I/Os.
  3. A disk I/O requires almost 10ms of preparation before any data is transferred, and then can transfer a block in less than 1ms. Thus, a one block transfer spends most of its time getting ready to transfer.

The goal of the log-structured file system project was to design a file system in which all writes are large and sequential (most of the preparation is eliminated when writes are sequential). These writes can be thought of as being appended to a log, which gave the project its name.

Despite the advantages given, log-structured file systems have not caught on. They are incompatible with existing file systems and the cleaner has proved to be difficult.

4.3.6 Journaling File Systems

Many seemingly simple I/O operations are actually composed of sub-actions. For example, deleting a file on an i-node based system (really this means deleting the last link to the i-node) requires removing the entry from the directory, placing the i-node on the free list, and placing the file blocks on the free list.

What happens if the system crashes during a delete and some, but not all three, of the above actions occur?

A journaling file system prevents these problems by using an idea from database theory, namely transaction logs. To ensure that the multiple sub-actions are all performed, the larger I/O operation (delete in the example) is broken into 3 steps.

  1. Write a log stating what has to be done and ensure it is written to disk.
  2. Start doing the sub-actions.
  3. When all sub-actions complete, mark the log entry as complete (and eventually erase it)..

After a crash, the log (called a journal) is examined and if there are pending sub-actions, they are done before the system is made available to users.

Since sub-actions may be repeated (once before the crash, and once after), it is required that they all be idempotent (applying the action twice is the same as applying it once).

Some history.

4.3.7 Virtual File Systems


A single operating system needs to support a variety of file systems. The software support for each file system would have to handle the various I/O system calls defined.

Not surprisingly the various file systems often have a great deal in common and large parts of the implementations would be essentially the same. Thus for software engineering reasons one would like to abstract out the common part.

This was done by Sun Microsystems when they introduced NFS the Network File System for Unix and by now most unix-like operating systems have adopted this idea. The common code is called the VFS layer and is illustrated on the right.

The original motivation for Sun was to support NFS (Network File System), which permits a file system residing on machine A to be mounted onto a file system residing on machine B. The result is that by cd'ing to the appropriate directory on machine B, a user with sufficient privileges can read/write/execute the files in the machine A file system.

Note that mounting one file system onto another (whether they are on different machines or not) does not require that the two file systems be the same type. For example, I routinely mount FAT file systems (from MP3 players, cameras, ets) on to my Linux inode file system. The involvement of multiple file system software components for a single operation is another point in VFS's favor.

Nonetheless, I consider the idea of VFS to be mainly good (perhaps superb) software engineering more than OS design. The details are naturally OS specific.

4.4 File System Management and Optimization

Since I/O operations can dominate the time required for complete user processes, considerable effort has been expended to improve the performance of these operations.

4.4.1 Disk Space Management

All general purpose file systems use a (non-demand) paging algorithm for file storage (read-only systems, which often use contiguous allocation, are the major exception). Files are broken into fixed size pieces, called blocks that can be scattered over the disk. Note that although this is paging, it is not called paging (and may not have an explicit page table).

Actually, it is more complicated since various optimizations are performed to try to have consecutive blocks of a single file stored consecutively on the disk. This is discussed below.

Note that all the blocks of the file are stored on the disk, i.e., it is not demand paging.

One can imagine systems that do utilize demand-paging-like algorithms for disk block storage. In such a system only some of the file blocks would be stored on disk with the rest on tertiary storage (some kind of tape, or holographic storage perhaps). NASA might do this with their huge datasets.

Choice of Block Size

We discussed a similar question before when studying page size.

There are two conflicting goals, performance and efficiency.

  1. We will learn next chapter that large disk transfers achieve much higher total bandwidth than small transfers due to the comparatively large startup time required before any bytes are transferred. This favors a large block size.
  2. Internal fragmentation favors a small block size. This is especially true for small files, which would use only a tiny fraction of a large block and thus waste much more than the 1/2 block average internal fragmentation found for random sizes.

For some systems, the vast majority of the space used is consumed by the very largest files. For example, it would be easy to have a few hundred gigabytes of video. In that case the space efficiency of small files is largely irrelevant since most of the disk space is used by very large files.

Typical block sizes today are 4KB and 8KB.

Keeping Track of Free Blocks

There are basically two possibilities, a bit map and a linked list.

Free Block Bitmap

A region of kernel memory is dedicated to keeping track of the free blocks. One bit is assigned to each block of the file system. The bit is 1 if the block is free.

If the block size is 8KB the bitmap uses 1 bit for every 64 kilobits of disk space. Thus a 64GB disk would require 1MB of RAM to hold its bitmap.

One can break the bitmap into (fixed size) pieces and apply demand paging. This saves RAM at the cost of increased I/O.

Linked List of Free Blocks

A naive implementation would simply link the free blocks together and just keep a pointer to the head of the list. This simple scheme has poor performance since it requires an extra I/O for every acquisition or return of a free block.

In the naive scheme a free disk block contains just one pointer; whereas it could hold around a thousand of them. The improved scheme, shown on the right, has only a small number of the blocks on the list. Those blocks point not only to the next block on the list, but also to many other free blocks that are not directly on the list.

As aresult only one in about 1000 requests for a free block requires an extra I/O, a great improvement.

Unfortunately, a bad case still remains. Assume the head block on the list is exhausted, i.e. points only to the next block on the list. A request for a free block will receive this block, and the next one on the list is brought it. It is full of pointers to free blocks not on the list (so far so good).

If a free block is now returned we repeat the process and get back to the in-memory block being exhausted. This can repeat forever, with one extra I/O per request.

Tanenbaum shows an improvement where you try to keep the one in-memory free block half full of pointers. Similar considerations apply when splitting and coalescing nodes in a B-tree.

Disk Quotas

Two limits can be placed on disk blocks owned by a given user, the so called soft and hard limits. A user is never permitted to exceed the hard limit. This limitation is enforced by having system calls such as write return failure if the user is already at the hard limit.

A user is permitted to exceed the soft limit during a login session provided it is corrected prior to logout. This limitation is enforced by forbidding logins (or issuing a warning) if the user is above the soft limit.

Often files on directories such as /tmp are not counted towards either limit since the system is permitted to deleted these files when needed.

4.4.2 File System Backups (a.k.a. Dumps)

A physical backup simply copies every block in order onto a tape (or other backup media). It is simple and useful for disaster protection, but not useful for retrieving individual files.

We will study logical backups, i.e., dumps that are file and directory based not simply block based.

Tanenbaum describes the (four phase) unix dump algorithm.

All modern systems support full and incremental dumps.

An interesting problem is that tape densities are increasing slower than disk densities so an ever larger number of tapes are needed to dump a full disk. This has lead to disk-to-disk dumps; another possibility is to utilize raid, which we study next chapter.

4.4.3 File System Consistency

Modern systems have utility programs that check the consistency of a file system. A different utility is needed for each file system type in the system, but a wrapper program is often created so that the user is unaware of the different utilities.

The unix utility is called fsck (file system check) and the windows utility is called chkdsk (check disk).

Bad blocks on disks

Not so much of a problem now. Disks are more reliable and, more importantly, disks and disk controllers take care most bad blocks themselves.

4.4.4 File System Performance


Demand paging again!

Demand paging is a form of caching: Conceptually, the process resides on disk (the big and slow medium) and only a portion of the process (hopefully a small portion that is heavily access) resides in memory (the small and fast medium).

The same idea can be applied to files. The file resides on disk but a portion is kept in memory. The area in memory used to for those file blocks is called the buffer cache or block cache.

Some form of LRU replacement is used.

The buffer cache is clearly good and simple for blocks that are only read.

What about writes?

Homework: 27.

Block Read Ahead

When the access pattern looks sequential, read ahead is employed. This means that after completing a read() request for block n of a file, the system guesses that a read() request for block n+1 will shortly be issued and hence automatically fetches block n+1.

Reducing Disk Arm Motion

The idea is to try to place near each other blocks that are likely to be accessed sequentially.

  1. If the system uses a bitmap for the free list, it can allocate a new block for a file close to the previous block (guessing that the file will be accessed sequentially).
  2. The system can perform allocations in super-blocks, consisting of several contiguous blocks.
    • The block cache and I/O requests are still in blocks not super-blocks.
    • If the file is accessed sequentially, consecutive blocks of a super-block will be accessed in sequence and these are contiguous on the disk.
  3. For a unix-like file system, the i-nodes can be placed in the middle of the disk, instead of at one end, to reduce the seek time needed to access an i-node followed by a block of the file.
  4. The system can logically divide the disk into cylinder groups, each of which is a consecutive group of cylinders.
    • Each cylinder group has its own free list and, for a unix-like file system, its own space for i-nodes.
    • If possible, the blocks for a file are allocated in the same cylinder group as the i-node.
    • This reduces seek time if consecutive accesses are for the same file.

4.4.5 Defragmenting Disks

If clustering is not done, files can become spread out all over the disk and a utility (defrag on windows) should be run to make the files contiguous on the disk.

4.5 Example File Systems

4.5.A The CP/M File System

CP/M was a very early and simple OS. It ran on primitive hardware with very little ram and disk space. CP/M had only one directory in the entire system. The directory entry for a file contained pointers to the disk blocks of the file. If the file contained more blocks than could fit in a directory entry, a second entry was used.

4.5.1 CD-ROM File Systems

File systems on cdroms do not need to support file addition or deletion and as a result have no need for free blocks. A CD-R (recordable) does permit files to be added, but they are always added at the end of the disk. The space allocated to a file is not recovered even when the file is deleted, so the (implicit) free list is simply the blocks after the last file recorded.

The result is that the file systems for these devices are quite simple.

The ISO9660 File System

This international standard forms the basis for essentially all file systems on data cdroms (music cdroms are different and are not discussed). Most Unix systems use iso9660 with the Rock Ridge extensions, and most windows systems use iso9660 with the Joliet extensions.

The ISO9660 standard permits a single physical CD to be partitioned and permits a cdrom file system to span many physical CDs. However, these features are rarely used and we will not discuss them.

Since files do not change, they are stored contiguously and each directory entry need only give the starting location and file length.

File names are 8+3 characters (directory names just 8) for iso9660-level-1 and 31 characters for -level-2. There is also a -level-3 in which a file is composed of extents which can be shared among files and even shared within a single file (i.e. a single physical extent can occur multiple times in a given file).

Directories can be nested only 8 deep.

Rock Ridge Extensions

The Rock Ridge extensions were designed by a committee from the unix community to permit a unix file system to be copied to a cdrom without information loss.

These extensions included.

  1. The unix rwx bits for permissions.
  2. Major and Minor numbers to support special files, i.e. including devices in the file system name structure.
  3. Symbolic links.
  4. An alternate (long) name for files and directories.
  5. A somewhat kludgy work around for the limited directory nesting levels.
  6. Unix timestamps (creation, last access, last modification).

Joliet Extensions

The Joliet extensions were designed by Microsoft to permit a windows file system to be copied to a cdrom without information loss.

These extensions included.

  1. Long file names.
  2. Unicode.
  3. Arbitrary depth of directory nesting.
  4. Directory names with extensions.

4.5.2 The MS-DOS (and Windows FAT) File System

We discussed this linked-list, File-Allocation-Table-based file system previously. Here we add a little history.

MS-DOS and Early Windows

The FAT file system has been supported since the first IBM PC (1981) and is still widely used. Indeed, considering the number of cameras and MP3 players, it is very widely used.

Unlike CP/M, MS-DOS always had support for subdirectories and metadata such as date and size.

File names were restricted in length to 8+3.

As described above, the directory entries point to the first block of each file and the FAT contains pointers to the remaining blocks.

The free list was supported by using a special code in the FAT for free blocks. You can think of this as a bitmap with a wide bit.

The first version FAT-12 used 12-bit block numbers so a partition could not exceed 212 blocks. A subsequent release went to FAT-16.

The Windows 98 File System

Two changes were made: Long file names were supported and the file allocation table was switched from FAT-16 to FAT-32. These changes first appeared in the second release of Windows 95.

Long File Names

The hard part of supporting long names was keeping compatibility with the old 8+3 naming rule. That is, new file systems created with windows 98 using long file names must be accessible if the file system is subsequently used with an older version of windows that supported only 8+3 file names. The ability for old systems to read data from new systems was important since users often had both new and old systems and kept many files on floppy disks that were used on both systems. This abiliity called backwards compatibility.

The solution was to permit a file to have two names: a long one and an 8+3 one. The primary directory entry for a file in windows 98 is the same format as it was in MS-DOS and contains the 8+3 file name. If the long name fits the 8+3 format, the story ends here.

If the long name does not fit in 8+3, an 8+3 version is produce via an algorithm that works but produces names with severely limited aesthetic value. The long name is stored in one or more axillary directory entries adjacent to the main entry. These axillary entries are set up to appear invalid to the old OS, which therefore ignores them.


FAT-32 used 32 bit words for the block numbers (actually, it used 28 bits) so the FAT could be huge (228 entries). Windows 98 kept only a portion of the FAT-32 table in memory at a time.

4.5.3 The Unix V7 File System

I presented the inode system in some detail above. Here we just describe a few properties of the filesystem beyond the inode structure itself.

4.6 Research on File Systems


4.6 Summary


Chapter 5 Input/Output

5.1 Principles of I/O Hardware

5.1.1 I/O Devices

The most noticeable characteristic of current ensemble of I/O devices is their great diversity.

5.1.2 Device Controllers

These are the devices as far as the OS is concerned. That is, the OS code is written with the controller specification in hand not with the device specification.

5.1.3 Memory-Mapped I/O (vs I/O Space Instructions)

Consider a disk controller processing a read request. The goal is to copy data from the disk to some portion of the central memory. How is this to be accomplished?

The controller contains a microprocessor and memory, and is connected to the disk (by wires). When the controller requests a sector from the disk, the sector is transmitted to the control via the wires and is stored by the controller in its memory.

The separate processor and memory on the controller gives rise to two questions.

  1. How does the OS request that the controller, which is running on another processor, perform an I/O and how are the parameters of the request transmitted to the controller?
  2. How is the data read from the disk moved from the controller's memory to the general system memory? Similarly, how is data that is to be written to the disk moved from the system memory to the controller's memory?

Typically the interface the OS sees consists of some several registers located on the controller.

So the first question above becomes, how does the OS read and write the device register?

5.1.4: Direct Memory Access (DMA)

We now address the second question, moving data between the controller and the main memory. Recall that (independent of the issue with respect to DMA) the disk controller, when processing a read request pulls the desired data from the disk to its own buffer (and pushes data from the buffer to the disk when processing a write).

Without DMA, i.e., with programmed I/O (PIO), the cpu then does loads and stores (assuming the controller buffer is memory mapped, or uses I/O instructions if it is not) to copy the data from the buffer to the desired memory locations.

A DMA controller, instead writes the main memory itself, without intervention of the CPU.

Clearly DMA saves CPU work. But this might not be important if the CPU is limited by the memory or by system buses.

An important point is that there is less data movement with DMA so the buses are used less and the entire operation takes less time. Compare the two blue arrows vs. the single red arrow.

Since PIO is pure software it is easier to change, which is an advantage.

DMA does need a number of bus transfers from the CPU to the controller to specify the DMA. So DMA is most effective for large transfers where the setup is amortized.

A serious conceptual difference with DMA is that the bus now has multiple masters and hence requires arbitration, which leads to issues we faced with critical sections.

Why have the buffer? Why not just go from the disk straight to the memory?

  1. Speed matching.
    The disk supplies data at a fixed rate, which might exceed the rate the memory can accept it. In particular the memory might be busy servicing a request from the processor or from another DMA controller.
    Alternatively, the disk might supply data at a slower rate than the memory (and memory bus) can handle thus under-utilizing an important system resource.
  2. Error detection and correction.
    The disk controller verifies the checksum written on the disk.

Homework: 12

5.1.5 Interrupts Revisited

Precise and Imprecise Interrupts

5.2 Principles of I/O Software

As with any large software system, good design and layering is important.

5.2.1 Goals of the I/O Software

Device Independence

We want to have most of the OS to be unaware of the characteristics of the specific devices attached to the system. (This principle of device independence is not limited to I/O; we also want the OS to be largely unaware of the CPU type itself.)

This objective has been accomplished quite well for files stored on various devices. Most of the OS, including the file system code, and most applications can read or write a file without knowing if the file is stored on a floppy disk, an internal SATA hard disk, an external USB SCSI disk, an external USB Flash Ram, a tape, or (for reading) a CD-ROM.

This principle also applies for user programs reading or writing streams. A program reading from ``standard input'', which is normally the user's keyboard can be told to instead read from a disk file with no change to the application program. Similarly, ``standard output'' can be redirected to a disk file. However, the low-level OS code dealing with disks is rather different from that dealing keyboards and (character-oriented) terminals.

One can say that device independence permits programs to be implemented as if they will read and write generic or abstract devices, with the actual devices specified at run time. Although writing to a disk has differences from writing to a terminal, Unix cp, DOS copy, and many programs we compose need not be aware of these differences.

However, there are devices that really are special. The graphics interface to a monitor (that is, the graphics interface presented by the video controller—often called a ``video card'') does not resemble the ``stream of bytes'' we see for disk files.

Homework: What is device independence?

Uniform naming

We have already discussed the value of the name space implemented by file systems. There is no dependence between the name of the file and the device on which it is stored. So a file called IAmStoredOnAHardDisk might well be stored on a floppy disk.

More interesting once a device is mounted on (Unix) directory, the device is named exactly the same as the directory was. So if a CD-ROM was mounted on (existing) directory /x/y, a file named joe on the CD-ROM would now be accessible as /x/y/joe.

Error handling

There are several aspects to error handling including: detection, correction (if possible) and reporting.

  1. Detection should be done as close to where the error occurred as possible before more damage is done (fault containment). Moreover, the error may be obvious at the low level, but harder to discover and classify if the erroneous data is passed to higher level software.

  2. Correction is sometimes easy, for example ECC memory does this automatically (but the OS wants to know about the error so that it can request replacement of the faulty chips before unrecoverable double errors occur).

    Other easy cases include successful retries for failed ethernet transmissions. In this example, while logging is appropriate, it is quite reasonable for no action to be taken.

  3. Error reporting tends to be awful. The trouble is that the error occurs at a low level but by the time it is reported the context is lost.

Creating the illusion of synchronous I/O

I/O must be asynchronous for good performance. That is the OS cannot simply wait for an I/O to complete. Instead, it proceeds with other activities and responds to the interrupt that is generated when the I/O has finished.

Users (mostly) want no part of this. The code sequence

    Read X
    Y = X+1
    Print Y
should print a value one greater than that read. But if the assignment is performed before the read completes, the wrong value can easily be printed.

Performance junkies sometimes do want the asynchrony so that they can have another portion of their program executed while the I/O is underway. That is, they implement a mini-scheduler in their application code.
See this message from linux kernel developer Ingo Molnar for his take on asynchronous IO and kernel/user threads/processes. You can find the entire discussion here.


Buffering is often needed to hold data for examination prior to sending it to its desired destination.

Since this involves copying the data, which can be expensive, modern systems try to avoid as much buffering as possible. This is especially noticeable in network transmissions, where the data could conceivably be copied many times.

  1. From user space to kernel space as part of the write system call.
  2. From kernel space to a kernel I/O buffer.
  3. From the I/O buffer to a buffer on the network adaptor.
  4. From the adapter on the source to the adapter on the destination.
  5. From the destination adapter to an I/O buffer.
  6. From the I/O buffer to kernel space.
  7. From kernel space to user space as part of the read system call.

I am not sure if any systems actually do all seven.

Sharable vs. Dedicated Devices

For devices like printers and CD-ROM drives, only one user at a time is permitted. These are called serially reusable devices, which we studied in the deadlocks chapter. Devices such as disks and ethernet ports can, on the contrary, be shared by concurrent processes without any deadlock risk.

5.2.2 Programmed I/O

As mentioned just above, with programmed I/O the main processor (i.e., the one on which the OS runs) moves the data between memory and the device. This is the most straightforward method for performing I/O.

One question that arises is how does the processor know when the device is ready to accept or supply new data.

In the simplest implementation, the processor, when it seeks to use a device, loops continually querying the device status, until the device reports that it is free. This is called polling or busy waiting.

        if device-available then exit loop

If we poll infrequently (and do useful work in between), there can be a significant delay from when the previous I/O is complete to when the OS detects the device availability.

If we poll frequently (and thus are able to do little useful work in between) and the device is (sometimes) slow, polling is clearly wasteful.

The extreme case is where the process does nothing between polls. For a slow device this can take the CPU out of service for a significant period. This bad situation leads us to ... .

5.2.3 Interrupt-Driven (Programmed) I/O

As we have just seen, a difficulty with polling is determining the frequency with which to poll. Another problem is that the OS must continually return to the polling loop, i.e., we must arrange that do-useful-work takes the desired amount of time. Really we want the device to tell the CPU when it is available, which is exactly what an interrupt does.

The device interrupts the processor when it is ready and an interrupt handler (a.k.a. an interrupt service routine) then initiates transfer of the next datum.

Normally interrupt schemes perform better than polling, but not always since interrupts are expensive on modern machines. To minimize interrupts, better controllers often employ ...

5.2.4 I/O Using DMA

We discussed DMA above.

An additional advantage of dma, not mentioned above, is that the processor is interrupted only at the end of a command not after each datum is transferred. Many devices receive a character at a time, but with a dma controller, an interrupt occurs only after a buffer has been transferred.

5.3 I/O Software Layers

Layers of abstraction as usual prove to be effective. Most systems are believed to use the following layers (but for many systems, the OS code is not available for inspection).

  1. User-level I/O routines.
  2. Device-independent (kernel-level) I/O software.
  3. Device drivers.
  4. Interrupt handlers.

We will give a bottom up explanation.

5.3.1 Interrupt Handlers

We discussed the behavior of an interrupt handler before when studying page faults. Then it was called assembly-language code. A difference is that page faults are caused by specific user instructions, whereas interrupts just occur. However, the assembly-language code for a page fault accomplishes essentially the same task as the interrupt handler does for I/O.

In the present case, we have a process blocked on I/O and the I/O event has just completed. So the goal is to make the process ready and then call the scheduler. Possible methods are.

Once the process is ready, it is up to the scheduler to decide when it should run.

5.3.2 Device Drivers

Device drivers form the portion of the OS that is tailored to the characteristics of individual controllers. They form the dominant portion of the source code of the OS since there are hundreds of drivers. Normally some mechanism is used so that the only drivers loaded on a given system are those corresponding to hardware actually present.

Indeed, modern systems often have loadable device drivers, which are loaded dynamically when needed. This way if a user buys a new device, no changes to the operating system are needed. When the device is installed it will be detected during the boot process and the corresponding driver is loaded.

Sometimes an even fancier method is used and the device can be plugged in while the system is running (USB devices are like this). In this case it is the device insertion that is detected by the OS and that causes the driver to be loaded.

Some systems can dynamically unload a driver, when the corresponding device is unplugged.

The driver has two parts corresponding to its two access points. Recall the figure at the upper right, which we saw at the beginning of the course.

  1. The driver is accessed by the main line OS via the envelope in response to an I/O system call. The portion of the driver accessed in this way is sometimes called the top part.
  2. The driver is also accessed by the interrupt handler when the I/O completes (this completion is signaled by an interrupt). The portion of the driver accessed in this way is sometimes call the bottom part.

In some system the drivers are implemented as user-mode processes. Indeed, Tannenbaum's MINIX system works that way, and in previous editions of the text, he describes such a scheme. However, most systems have the drivers in the kernel itself and the 3e describes this scheme. I previously included both descriptions, but have eliminated the user-mode process description (actually I greyed it out).

Driver in a self-service paradigm

The numbers in the diagram to the right correspond to the numbered steps in the description that follows. The bottom diagram shows the state of processes A and B at steps 1, 6, and 9 in the execution sequence described.

What follows is the Unix-like view in which the driver is invoked by the OS acting in behalf of a user process (alternatively stated, the process shifts into kernel mode). Thus one says that the scheme follows a self-service paradigm in that the process itself (now in kernel mode) executes the driver.

  1. The user (A) issues an I/O system call.

  2. The main line, machine independent, OS prepares a generic request for the driver and calls (the top part of) the driver.
    1. If the driver was idle (i.e., the controller was idle), the driver writes device registers on the controller ending with a command for the controller to begin the actual I/O.
    2. If the controller was busy (doing work the driver gave it previously), the driver simply queues the current request (the driver dequeues this request below).

  3. The driver jumps to the scheduler indicating that the current process should be blocked.

  4. The scheduler blocks A and runs (say) B.

  5. B starts running.

  6. An interrupt arrives (i.e., an I/O has been completed) and the handler is invoked.

  7. The interrupt handler invokes (the bottom part of) the driver.
    1. The driver informs the main line perhaps passing data and surely passing status (error, OK).
    2. The top part is called to start another I/O if the queue is nonempty. We know the controller is free. Why?
      Answer: We just received an interrupt saying so.

  8. The driver jumps to the scheduler indicating that process A should be made ready.

  9. The scheduler picks a ready process to run. Assume it picks A.

  10. A resumes in the driver, which returns to the main line, which returns to the user code.

Driver as a Process (Less Detailed Than Above)

Actions that occur when the user issues an I/O request.

  1. The main line OS prepares a generic request (e.g. read, not read using Buslogic BT-958 SCSI controller) for the driver and the driver is awakened. Perhaps a message is sent to the driver to do both jobs.
  2. The driver wakes up.
    1. If the driver was idle (i.e., the controller is idle), the driver writes device registers on the controller ending with a command for the controller to begin the actual I/O.
    2. If the controller is busy (doing work the driver gave it), the driver simply queues the current request (the driver dequeues this below).
  3. The driver blocks waiting for an interrupt or for more requests.

Actions that occur when an interrupt arrives (i.e., when an I/O has been completed).

  1. The driver wakes up.
  2. The driver informs the main line perhaps passing data and surely passing status (error, OK).
  3. The driver finds the next work item or blocks.
    1. If the queue of requests is non-empty, dequeue one and proceed as if just received a request from the main line.
    2. If queue is empty, the driver blocks waiting for an interrupt or a request from the main line.

5.3.3 Device-Independent I/O Software

The device-independent code cantains most of the I/O functionality, but not most of the code since there are very many drivers. All drivers of the same class (say all hard disk drivers) do essentially the same thing in slightly different ways due to slightly different controllers.

Uniform Interfacing for Device Drivers

As stated above the bulk of the OS code is made of device drivers and thus it is important that the task of driver writing not be made more difficult than needed. As a result each class of devices (e.g. the class of all disks) has a defined driver interface to which all drivers for that class of device conform. The device independent I/O portion processes user requests and calls the drivers.

Naming is again an important O/S functionality. In addition it offers a consistent interface to the drivers. The Unix method works as follows

Protection. A wide range of possibilities are actually done in real systems. Including both extreme examples of everything is permitted and nothing is (directly) permitted.


Buffering is necessary since requests come in a size specified by the user and data is delivered by reads and accepted by writes in a size specified by the device. It is also important so that a user process using getchar() is not blocked and unblocked for each character read.

The text describes double buffering and circular buffers, which are important programming techniques, but are not specific to operating systems.

Error Reporting

Allocating and Releasing Dedicated Devices

The system must enforce exclusive access for non-shared devices like CD-ROMs.

5.3.4 User-Space Software

A good deal of I/O software is actually executed by unprivileged code running in user space. This code includes library routines linked into user programs, standard utilities, and daemon processes.

If one uses the strict definition that the operating system consists of the (supervisor-mode) kernel, then this I/O code is not part of the OS. However, very few use this strict definition.

Library Routines

Some library routines are very simple and just move their arguments into the correct place (e.g., a specific register) and then issue a trap to the correct system call to do the real work.

I think everyone considers these routines to be part of the operating system. Indeed, they implement the published user interface to the OS. For example, when we specify the (Unix) read system call by

    count = read (fd, buffer, nbytes)
as we did in chapter 1, we are really giving the parameters and accepting the return value of such a library routine.

Although users could write these routines, it would make their programs non-portable and would require them to write in assembly language since neither trap nor specifying individual registers is available in high-level languages.

Other library routines, notably standard I/O (stdio) in Unix, are definitely not trivial. For example consider the formatting of floating point numbers done in printf and the reverse operation done in scanf.

In unix-like systems the graphics libraries and the gui itself are outside the kernel. Graphics libraries are quite large and complex. In windows, the gui is inside the kernel.

Utilities and Daemons

Printing to a local printer is often performed in part by a regular program (lpr in Unix) that copies (or links) the file to a standard place, and in part by a daemon (lpd in Unix) that reads the copied files and sends them to the printer. The daemon might be started when the system boots.

Note that this implementation of printing uses spooling, i.e., the file to be printed is copied somewhere by lpr and then the daemon works with this copy. Mail uses a similar technique (but generally it is called queuing, not spooling).

5.3.A Summary

IO layers

The diagram on the right shows the various layers and some of the actions that are performed by each layer.

The arrows show the flow of control. The blue downward arrows show the execution path made by a request from user space eventually reaching the device itself. The red upward arrows show the response, beginning with the device supplying the result for an input request (or a completion acknowledgement for an output request) and ending with the initiating user process receiving its response.

Homework: 11, 13.