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The HP-UX Kernel: Basic Organization

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Chris Moore and Chris Cooper examine the basic organization of the kernel and its data structures and provide a basic overview of the kernel designer's toolkit. The authors also explain the difference between hardware dependent-layers (HDL), and hardware independent-layers (HIL).
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

The study of a modern operating system leads down many paths and requires that we consider a number of different challenges and their solutions. The HP-UX kernel is a multitasking, multiuser, multiprocessor, multithreaded, load-leveling, modular operating system with real-time scheduling extensions—to list just the highlights. To support such capabilities requires many levels of design abstraction, data tables, and lists as well as a host of subsystems, drivers, and dynamic modules.

In this chapter, we examine the basic organization of the kernel and its data structures, and we consider which are dependent on the underlying hardware platform (hardware dependent-layer, HDL) and which are independent (hardware-independent layer, HIL).

Before addressing HP-UX-specific topics, let's stop and think about what an operating system really is.

A Generic Overview

Approaching an operating system as a whole can be a bit overwhelming, so let's break it down a bit. Think of an operating system simply as a bootable piece of application code. True, it is a somewhat large piece of application code, and it employs many diverse and complex functionalities (even an abstracted form of self-modifying code), but in the final analysis it is still just an executable image!

A programmer must design and create data structures to store and manipulate data in a logical and efficient manner to support the operation and design goals of the program. An operating system designer faces the same challenge, only in spades. Understanding and identifying the resulting data structures and their interaction is a major focus of this book.

The UNIX operating system design is very simple.

This statement usually draws an assortment of looks or comments; indeed, some may question its basic premise or perhaps the qualifications of the one who spoke it! The essence that the statement is meant to draw out is that in the design of a UNIX operating system there are a few key elements (see Figure 3-1).

  • First, and most important, a UNIX operating system is responsible for the scheduling and management of individual threads of execution. Later, we discuss processes and threads, but for now let's just consider a thread of execution as an operational piece of code, something that is accomplishing "work" on behalf of a "user." Who gets to run, when, and how long are the issues under the control of the operating system.

  • UNIX is the ultimate control freak—it is prosecutor, judge, and jury for all code that attempts to circumvent its authority. The kernel manages access to all system resources. The only way executing code may make use of a system resource is to request access through well-defined programmatic kernel hooks (called system calls).

  • All I/O is file I/O. That is to say that all devices are defined by "special" device file handles and treated as if they are simple files.

  • All forms of synchronous and asynchronous interruptions are handled by kernel routines. Simply put, if it is unexpected, then let the kernel figure it out.

  • System resources should be available to all requestors in a balanced manner when possible.

03fig01.gifFigure 3-1. The Big Picture

These are the prime directives of a UNIX kernel's statement of design. While this may seem an oversimplification, it is our hope that by setting these elements as our focal points and by relating other topics and features back to them, we will stay on track.

The UNIX kernel is very modular in its design and evolution. The design was influenced in large part by the C programming language—itself a very modular language—in which the bulk of UNIX kernel code is written. A lot of the personality of the original "kernel hackers" (a term used with great respect) is still present in the heart and soul of today's UNIX incarnations.

When studying a UNIX operating system, always be vigilant for similarities between different sections of the kernel code; that is, look for variations on a theme. It will help your comprehension to compare and contrast the various programmatic tools and tricks of the trade as they come into focus during subsequent chapters.

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