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12.3.6 Static versus Dynamic Structures

Operating system designers are constantly forced to choose between static and dynamic data structures. Static ones are always simpler to understand, easier to program, and faster in use; dynamic ones are more flexible. An obvious example is the process table. Early systems simply allocated a fixed array of per-process structures. If the process table consisted of 256 entries, then only 256 processes could exist at any one instant. An attempt to create a 257th one would fail for lack of table space. Similar considerations held for the table of open files (both per user and system wide), and many other kernel tables.

An alternative strategy is to build the process table as a linked list of minit-ables, initially just one. If this table fills up, another one is allocated from a global storage pool and linked to the first one. In this way, the process table cannot fill up until all of kernel memory is exhausted.

On the other hand, the code for searching the table becomes more complicated. For example, the code for searching a static process table to see if a given PID, pid, is given in Fig. 12-3. It is simple and efficient. Doing the same thing for a linked list of minitables is more work.

Figure 12-3. Code for searching the process table for a given PID.

Static tables are best when there is plenty of memory or table utilizations can be guessed fairly accurately. For example, in a single-user system, it is unlikely that the user will start up more than 32 processes at once and it is not a total disaster if an attempt to start a 33rd one fails.

Yet another alternative is to use a fixed-size table, but if it fills up, allocate a new fixed-size table, say, twice as big. The current entries are then copied over to the new table and the old table is returned to the free storage pool. In this way, the table is always contiguous rather than linked. The disadvantage here is that some storage management is needed and the address of the table is now a variable instead of a constant.

A similar issue holds for kernel stacks. When a thread switches to kernel mode, or a kernel-mode thread is run, it needs a stack in kernel space. For user threads, the stack can be initialized to run down from the top of the virtual address space, so the size need not be specified in advance. For kernel threads, the size must be specified in advance because the stack takes up some kernel virtual address space and there may be many stacks. The question is: how much space should each one get? The trade-offs here are similar to those for the process table.

Another static-dynamic trade-off is process scheduling. In some systems, especially real-time ones, the scheduling can be done statically in advance. For example, an airline knows what time its flights will leave weeks before their departure. Similarly, multimedia systems know when to schedule audio, video, and other processes in advance. For general-purpose use, these considerations do not hold and scheduling must be dynamic.

Yet another static-dynamic issue is kernel structure. It is much simpler if the kernel is built as a single binary program and loaded into memory to run. The consequence of this design, however, is that adding a new I/O device requires a relinking of the kernel with the new device driver. Early versions of UNIX worked this way, and it was quite satisfactory in a minicomputer environment when adding new I/O devices was a rare occurrence. Nowadays, most operating systems allow code to be added to the kernel dynamically, with all the additional complexity that entails.

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