Operating Systems

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1.6A Addendum on Transfer of Control

The transfer of control between user processes and the operating system kernel can be quite complicated, especially in the case of blocking system calls, hardware interrupts, and page faults. Before tackling these issues later, we begin with the familiar example of a procedure call within a user-mode process.

An important OS objective is that, even in the more complicated cases of page faults and blocking system calls requiring device interrupts, simple procedure call semantics are observed from a user process viewpoint. The complexity is hidden inside the kernel itself, yet another example of the operating system providing a more abstract, i.e., simpler, virtual machine to the user processes.

More details will be added when we study memory management (and know officially about page faults) and more again when we study I/O (and know officially about device interrupts).

A number of the points below are far from standardized. Such items as where to place parameters, which routine saves the registers, exact semantics of trap, etc, vary as one changes language/compiler/OS. Indeed some of these are referred to as calling conventions, i.e. their implementation is a matter of convention rather than logical requirement. The presentation below is, we hope, reasonable, but must be viewed as a generic description of what could happen instead of an exact description of what does happen with, say, C compiled by the Microsoft compiler running on Windows XP.

1.6A.1 User-mode procedure calls

Procedure f calls g(a,b,c) in process P. An example is above where a user program calls read(fd,buffer,nbytes).

Actions by f Prior to the Call

  1. Save the registers by pushing them onto the stack (in some implementations this is done by g instead of f).

  2. Push arguments c,b,a onto P's stack.
    Note: Stacks usually grow downward from the top of P's segment, so pushing an item onto the stack actually involves decrementing the stack pointer, SP.
    Note: Some compilers store arguments in registers not on the stack.

Executing the Call Itself

  1. Execute PUSHJUMP <start-address of g>.
    This instruction pushes the program counter PC onto the stack, and then jumps to the start address of g. The value pushed is actually the updated program counter, i.e., the location of the next instruction (the instruction to be executed by f when g returns).

Actions by g upon Being Called

  1. Allocate space for g's local variables by suitably decrementing SP.

  2. Start execution from the beginning of the program, referencing the parameters as needed. The execution may involve calling other procedures, possibly including recursive calls to f and/or g.

Actions by g When Returning to f

  1. If g is to return a value, store it in the conventional place.

  2. Undo step 4: Deallocate local variables by incrementing SP.

  3. Undo step 3: Execute POPJUMP, i.e., pop the stack and set PC to the value popped, which is the return address pushed in step 4.

Actions by f upon the Return from g:

  1. (We are now at the instruction in f immediately following the call to g.)
    Undo step 2: Remove the arguments from the stack by incrementing SP.

  2. Undo step 1: Restore the registers while popping them off the stack.

  3. Continue the execution of f, referencing the returned value of g, if any.

Properties of (User-Mode) Procedure Calls

1.6A.2 Kernel-mode procedure calls

We mean one procedure running in kernel mode calling another procedure, which will also be run in kernel mode. Later, we will discuss switching from user to kernel mode and back.

There is not much difference between the actions taken during a kernel-mode procedure call and during a user-mode procedure call. The procedures executing in kernel-mode are permitted to issue privileged instructions, but the instructions used for transferring control are all unprivileged so there is no change in that respect.

One difference is that often a different stack is used in kernel mode, but that simply means that the stack pointer must be set to the kernel stack when switching from user to kernel mode. But we are not switching modes in this section; the stack pointer already points to the kernel stack. Often there are two stack pointers one for kernel mode and one for user mode.

1.6A.3 The Trap instruction

The trap instruction, like a procedure call, is a synchronous transfer of control: We can see where, and hence when, it is executed. In this respect, there are no surprises. Although not surprising, the trap instruction does have an unusual effect, processor execution is switched from user-mode to kernel-mode. That is, the trap instruction normally itself is executed in user-mode (it is naturally an UNprivileged instruction), but the next instruction executed (which is NOT the instruction written after the trap) is executed in kernel-mode.

Process P, running in unprivileged (user) mode, executes a trap. The code being executed is written in assembler since there are no high level languages that generate a trap instruction. There is no need to name the function that is executing. Compare the following example to the explanation of f calls g given above.

Actions by P prior to the trap

  1. Save the registers by pushing them onto the stack.

  2. Store any arguments that are to be passed. The stack is not normally used to store these arguments since the kernel has a different stack. Often registers are used.

Executing the trap itself

  1. Execute TRAP <trap-number>.
    This instruction switch the processor to kernel (privileged) mode, jumps to a location in the OS determined by trap-number, and saves the return address. For example, the processor may be designed so that the next instruction executed after a trap is at physical address 8 times the trap-number.
    The trap-number can be thought of as the name of the code-sequence to which the processor will jump rather than as an argument to trap.

Actions by the OS upon being TRAPped into

  1. Jump to the real code.
    Recall that trap instructions with different trap numbers jump to locations very close to each other. There is not enough room between them for the real trap handler. Indeed one can think of the trap as having an extra level of indirection; it jumps to a location that then jumps to the real start address. If you learned about writing jump tables in assembler, this is very similar.

  2. Check all arguments passed. The kernel must be paranoid and assume that the user mode program is evil and written by a bad guy.

  3. Allocate space by decrementing the kernel stack pointer.
    The kernel and user stacks are separate.

  4. Start execution from the jumped-to location.

Actions by the OS when returning to user mode

  1. Undo step 6: Deallocate space by incrementing the kernel stack pointer.

  2. Undo step 3: Execute (in assembler) another special instruction, RTI or ReTurn from Interrupt, which returns the processor to user mode and transfers control to the return location saved by the trap. The word interrupt appears because an RTI is also used when the kernel is returning from an interrupt as well as the present case when it is returning from an trap.

Actions by P upon the return from the OS

  1. We are now in at the instruction right after the trap
    Undo step 1: Restore the registers by popping the stack.

  2. Continue the execution of P, referencing the returned value(s) of the trap, if any.

Properties of TRAP/RTI

Remark: A good way to use the material in the addendum is to compare the first case (user-mode f calls user-mode g) to the TRAP/RTI case line by line so that you can see the similarities and differences.

1.7 Operating System Structure

I must note that Tanenbaum is a big advocate of the so called microkernel approach in which as much as possible is moved out of the (supervisor mode) kernel into separate processes. The (hopefully small) portion left in supervisor mode is called a microkernel.

In the early 90s this was popular. Digital Unix (now called True64) and Windows NT/2000/XP/Vista are examples. Digital Unix is based on Mach, a research OS from Carnegie Mellon university. Lately, the growing popularity of Linux has called into question the belief that all new operating systems will be microkernel based.

1.7.1 Monolithic approach

The previous picture: one big program

The system switches from user mode to kernel mode during the poof and then back when the OS does a return (an RTI or return from interrupt).

But of course we can structure the system better, which brings us to.

1.7.2 Layered Systems

Some systems have more layers and are more strictly structured.

An early layered system was THE operating system by Dijkstra and his students at Technische Hogeschool Eindhoven. This was a simple batch system so the operator was the user.

  1. The operator process
  2. User programs
  3. I/O mgt
  4. Operator console—process communication
  5. Memory and drum management

The layering was done by convention, i.e. there was no enforcement by hardware and the entire OS is linked together as one program. This is true of many modern OS systems as well (e.g., linux).

The multics system was layered in a more formal manner. The hardware provided several protection layers and the OS used them. That is, arbitrary code could not jump into or access data in a more protected layer.

1.7.3 Microkernels

The idea is to have the kernel, i.e. the portion running in supervisor mode, as small as possible and to have most of the operating system functionality provided by separate processes. The microkernel provides just enough to implement processes.

This does have advantages. For example an error in the file server cannot corrupt memory in the process server since they have separate address spaces (they are after all separate process). Confining the effect of errors makes them easier to track down. Also an error in the ethernet driver can corrupt or stop network communication, but it cannot crash the system as a whole.

But the microkernel approach does mean that when a (real) user process makes a system call there are more processes switches. These are not free.

Related to microkernels is the idea of putting the mechanism in the kernel, but not the policy. For example, the kernel would know how to select the highest priority process and run it, but some user-mode process would assign the priorities. One could envision changing the priority scheme being a relatively minor event compared to the situation in monolithic systems where the entire kernel must be relinked and rebooted.

Microkernels Not So Different In Practice

Dennis Ritchie, the inventor of the C programming language and co-inventor, with Ken Thompson, of Unix was interviewed in February 2003. The following is from that interview.

What's your opinion on microkernels vs. monolithic?

Dennis Ritchie: They're not all that different when you actually use them. "Micro" kernels tend to be pretty large these days, and "monolithic" kernels with loadable device drivers are taking up more of the advantages claimed for microkernels.

I should note, however, that the Minix microkernel (excluding the processes) is quite small, about 4000 lines.

1.7.4 Client-Server

When implemented on one computer, a client-server OS often uses the microkernel approach in which the microkernel just handles communication between clients and servers, and the main OS functions are provided by a number of separate processes.

A distributed system can be thought of as an extension of the client server concept where the servers are remote.

Today with plentiful memory, each machine would have all the different servers. So the only reason am OS-internal message would go to another computer is if the originating process wished to communicate with a specific process on that computer (for example wanted to access a remote disk).

Distributes systems are becoming increasingly important for application programs. Perhaps the program needs data found only on certain machine (no one machine has all the data). For example, think of (legal, of course) file sharing programs.

Homework: 24