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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

All I/O Is File I/O

Continuing with the theme of simplification, let's think about the fundamentals of process I/O and the UNIX kernel. The UNIX kernel is charged with policing all forms of I/O as part of its resource management duties. To simplify this task, UNIX has reduced all types of I/O to the level of file I/O. By representing all external devices as files, the system needs only one type of access-control mechanism. This is the infamous "rwx rwx rwx," user group and other (or UGO) security model presented in all introductory-level UNIX training courses and books. UNIX basically follows the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle of design.

Abstraction: A Fundamental of Kernel Design

How is an external tape drive or the key on a keyboard reduced to a file path? Through the use of abstraction, a filename (known as a device file or special file) references a driver in the kernel and passes operational parameters to it (more on this in Chapter 10, "I/O and Device Management." For now, suffice it to say that things are often not what they appear to be at first glance. The kernel contains many layers of abstraction and indirection—smoke and mirrors, my friend, smoke and mirrors. Our challenge is to blow away the smoke and study the reflections in the mirrors.

Is It Real or Is It Virtual?

A major portion of the UNIX operating system is devoted to the management of and translation between "real" and "virtual" addressing modes. From the viewpoint of a process, all possible memory locations fall within a logical address range: 32-bit applications are called narrow, and 64-bit applications are called wide. The kernel also comes in both narrow and wide versions, usually dictated by the width of the processor architecture on which it is running.

When a program's source code is compiled, references to individual execution modules, library routines, and data elements are stored as symbolic names. This type of code module is called an object module. A symbol table is required to define the name and attributes of each item in the table.

When all the related modules of a program have been collected, a linking-loader is used to create the final executable image. The loader orders all the individual items within the executable image, and the linker replaces all the symbolic references with the logical addresses of the objects that have been loaded. The resulting "image" is fixed within the process's logical address range. As the kernel and all of its processes must share the available physical, or "real," memory, some type of translation must be performed between the process's logical address and the system's physical address. To facilitate this abstraction, an address translation scheme is used.

Most UNIX operating systems employ a concept known as virtual addressing. In a virtual memory system, the kernel maintains and manages an address space that is many times larger than the physical memory size addressable by the hardware. This address space exists only as an organizational definition and requires constant translation to true physical addresses during program execution. A virtual memory system requires hardware support as well as implementation in kernel code.

The major advantage of a virtual memory system implementation is that it allows many processes to coexist within the virtual address space (VAS). Each process is allowed its own logical view. Some regions of the virtual space are kept private for a single process; others may be maintained by the kernel as shared regions (see Figure 3-2). This is the basis for shared code and data objects, and is the focus of an entire chapter later in this book (Chapter 10, "Memory Management").

03fig02.gifFigure 3-2. Virtual Memory Objects, Private and Shared

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