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Chapter: Operating Systems - I/O System

Linux System - Basic Concepts

Basic Concepts, The Linux System, Linux Distributions, Linux Licensing.



Basic Concepts


ü Linux looks and feels much like any other UNIX system; indeed, UNIX compatibility has been a major design goal of the Linux project. However, Linux is much younger than most UNIX systems. Its development began in1991, when a Finnish university student, Linus Torvalds, began developing a small but self-contained kernel for the 80386 processor, the first true 32-bitprocessor in Intel’s range of PC-compatible CPUs. of arbitrary files (but only read-only memory mapping was implemented in 1.0).

A range of extra hardware support was included in this release. Although still restricted to the Intel PC platform, hardware support had grown to include floppy-disk and CD-ROM devices, as well as sound cards, a range of mice, and international keyboards. Floating-point emulation was provided in the kernel for 80386 users who had no 80387 math coprocessor. System V UNIX-style interprocess communication (IPC), including shared memory, semaphores, and message queues, was implemented.


ü At this point, development started on the 1.1 kernel stream, but numerous bug-fix patches were released subsequently for 1.0. A pattern was adopted as the standard numbering convention for Linux kernels. Kernels with an odd minor-version number, such as 1.1 or 2.5, are development kernels; even numbered minor-version numbers are stable production kernels. Updates for the stable kernels are intended only as remedial versions, whereas the development kernels may include newer and relatively untested functionality.



ü As we will see, this pattern remained in effect until version 3.was given a major version-number increment because of two major new capabilities: support for multiple architectures, including a 64-bit native Alpha port, and symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) support. Additionally, the memory management code was substantially improved to provide a unified cache for file-system data independent of the caching of block devices.


ü As a result of this change, the kernel offered greatly increased file-system and virtual memory performance. For the first time, file-system caching was extended to networked file systems, and writable memory-mapped regions were also supported. Other major improvements included the addition of internal kernel threads, a mechanism exposing dependencies between loadable modules, support for the automatic loading of modules on demand, file-system quotas, and POSIX-compatible real-time process-scheduling classes.



ü Improvements continued with the release of Linux 2.2 in 1999. A port to Ultra SPARC systems was added. Networking was enhanced with more flexible firewalling, improved routing and traffic management, and support for TCP large window and selective acknowledgement. Acorn, Apple, and NT disks could now be read, and NFS was enhanced with a new kernel-mode NFS daemon. Signal handling, interrupts, and some I/O were locked at a finer level than before to improve symmetric multiprocessor (SMP) performance.


The Linux System


ü Linux kernel is composed entirely of code written from scratch specifically for the Linux project, much of the supporting software that makes up the Linux system is not exclusive to Linux but is common to a number of UNIX-like operating systems. In particular, Linux uses many tools developed as part of Berkeley’s BSD operating system, MIT’s X Window System, and the Free Software Foundation’s GNU project.


ü This sharing of tools has worked in both directions. The main system libraries of Linux were originated by the GNU project, but the Linux community greatly improved the libraries by addressing omissions, inefficiencies, and bugs. Other components, such as the GNU C compiler (gcc), were already of sufficiently high quality to be used directly in Linux. The network administration tools under Linux were derived from code first developed for 4.3 BSD, but more recent BSD derivatives, such as FreeBSD, have borrowed code from Linux in return. Examples of this sharing include the Intel floating-point-emulation math library and the PC sound-hardware device drivers.

   The Linux system as a whole is maintained by a loose network of developers collaborating over the Internet, with small groups or individuals having responsibility for maintaining the integrity of specific components.


   A small number of public Internet file-transfer-protocol (FTP) archive sites act as de facto standard repositories for these components. The File System Hierarchy Standard document is also maintained by the Linux community as a means of ensuring compatibility across the various system components.


   This standard specifies the overall layout of a standard Linux file system; it determines under which directory names configuration files, libraries, system binaries, and run-time data files should be stored.


Linux Distributions


   In theory, anybody can install a Linux system by fetching the latest revisions of the necessary system components from the FTP sites and compiling them. In Linux’s early days, this is precisely what a Linux user had to do. As Linux has matured, however, various individuals and groups have attempted to make this job less painful by providing standard, precompiled sets of packages for easy installation.


   These collections, or distributions, include much more than just the basic Linux system. They typically include extra system-installation and management utilities, as well as precompiled and ready-to-install packages of many of the common UNIX tools, such as news servers, web browsers, text-processing and editing tools, and even games.


   The first distributions managed these packages by simply providing a means of unpacking all the files into the appropriate places. One of the important contributions of modern distributions, however, is advanced package management. Todays Linux distributions include a package-tracking database that allows packages to be installed, upgraded, or removed painlessly.

Linux Licensing


   The Linux kernel is distributed under version 2.0 of the GNU General Public License (GPL), the terms of which are set out by the Free Software Foundation. Linux is not public-domain software. Public domain implies that the authors have waived copyright rights in the software, but copyright rights in Linux code are still held by the codes various authors. Linux is free software, however, in the sense that people can copy it, modify it, use it in any manner they want, and give away (or sell) their own copies.


   The main implication of Linux’s licensing terms is that nobody using Linux, or creating a derivative of Linux (a legitimate exercise), can distribute the derivative without including the source code. Software released under the GPL cannot be redistributed as a binary-only product.


ü If you release software that includes any components covered by the GPL, then, under the GPL, you must make source code available alongside any binary distributions. (This restriction does not prohibit makingor even sellingbinary software distributions, as long as anybody who receives binaries is also given the opportunity to get the originating source code for a reasonable distribution charge.)


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