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Chapter: Operating Systems : I/O System

System Administration

In its overall design, Linux resembles other traditional, nonmicrokernel UNIX implementations. It is a multiuser, preemptively multitasking system with a full set of UNIX-compatible tools.



v In its overall design, Linux resembles other traditional, nonmicrokernel UNIX implementations. It is a multiuser, preemptively multitasking system with a full set of UNIX-compatible tools. Linux’s file system adheres to traditional UNIX semantics, and the standard UNIX networking model is fully implemented. The internal details of Linux’s design have been influenced heavily by the history of this operating system’s development.


v Although Linux runs on a wide variety of platforms, it was originally developed exclusively on PC architecture. A great deal of that early development was carried out by individual enthusiasts rather than by well-funded development or research facilities, so fromthe start Linux attempted to squeeze as much functionality as possible from limited resources. Today, Linux can run happily on a multiprocessor machine with many gigabytes of main memory and many terabytes of disk space, but it is still capable of operating usefully in under 16 MB of RAM.


1.           Components of a Linux System


   The Linux system is composed of three main bodies of code, in line with most traditional UNIX implementations:


         Kernel. The kernel is responsible for maintaining all the important abstractions of the operating system, including such things as virtualmemory and processes.


          System libraries. The system libraries define a standard set of functions through which applications can interact with the kernel. These functions implement much of the operating-system functionality that does not need the full privileges of kernel code. The most important system library is the C library, known as libc. In addition to providing the standard C library, libc implements the user mode side of the Linux system call interface, as well as other critical system-level interfaces.


         System utilities. The system utilities are programs that perform individual, specialized management tasks. Some system utilities are invoked just once to initialize and configure some aspect of the system. Others known as daemons in UNIX terminologyrun permanently, handling such tasks as responding to incoming network connections, accepting logon requests from terminals, and updating log files.


2.         Kernel Modules


   The Linux kernel has the ability to load and unload arbitrary sections of kernel code on demand. These loadable kernel modules run in privileged kernel mode and as a consequence have full access to all the hardware capabilities of the machine on which they run. In theory, there is no restriction on what a kernel module is allowed to do. Among other things, a kernel module can implement a device driver, a file system, or a networking protocol.


Kernel modules are convenient for several reasons. Linux’s source code is free, so anybody wanting to write kernel code is able to compile a modified kernel and to reboot into that new functionality. However, recompiling, relinking, and reloading the entire kernel is a cumbersome cycle to undertake when you are developing a new driver. If you use kernel modules, you do not have to make a new kernel to test a new driverthe driver can be compiled on its own and loaded into the already running kernel. Of course, once a new driver is written, it can be distributed as a module so that other users can benefit from it without having to rebuild their kernels.


ü The module support under Linux has four components:


1.  The module-management system allows modules to be loaded into memory and to communicate with the rest of the kernel.


2.   The module loader and unloader, which are user-mode utilities, work with the module-management system to load a module into memory.


3. The driver-registration system allows modules to tell the rest of the kernel that a new driver has become available.


4. A conflict-resolution mechanism allows different device drivers to reserve hardware resources and to protect those resources from accidental use by another driver.


1. Module Management


v Loading a module requires more than just loading its binary contents into kernel memory. The system must also make sure that any references the correct locations in the kernel’s address space. Linux deals with this reference updating by splitting the job of module loading into two separate sections: the management of sections of module code in kernel memory and the handling of symbols that modules are allowed to reference.


v Linux maintains an internal symbol table in the kernel. This symbol table does not contain the full set of symbols defined in the kernel during the latter’s compilation; rather, a symbol must be explicitly exported. The set of exported symbols constitutes a well-defined interface by which a module can interact with the kernel.


2.     Driver Registration


v Once a module is loaded, it remains no more than an isolated region of memory until it lets the rest of the kernel know what new functionality it provides. The kernel maintains dynamic tables of all known drivers and provides a set of routines to allow drivers to be added to or removed from these tables at any time. The kernel makes sure that it calls a module’s startup routine when that module is loaded and calls the module’s cleanup routine before that module is unloaded. These routines are responsible for registering the module’s functionality.


v A module may register many types of functionality; it is not limited to only one type. For example, a device driver might want to register two separate mechanisms for accessing the device. Registration tables include, among others, the following items:


    Device drivers. These drivers include character devices (such as printers, terminals, and mice), block devices (including all disk drives), and network interface devices.

File systems. The file system may be anything that implements Linux’s virtual file system calling routines. It might implement a format for storing files on a disk, but it might equally well be a network file system, such as NFS, or a virtual file system whose contents are generated on demand, such as Linux’s /proc file system.


      Network protocols. A module may implement an entire networking protocol, such as TCP or simply a new set of packet-filtering rules for a network firewall.


       Binary format. This format specifies a way of recognizing, loading, and executing a new type of executable file.


(3) Conflict Resolution


   Commercial UNIX implementations are usually sold to run on a vendor’s own hardware. One advantage of a single-supplier solution is that the software vendor has a good idea about what hardware configurations are possible. PC hardware, however, comes in a vast number of configurations, with large numbers of possible drivers for devices such as network cards and video display adapters. The problem of managing the hardware configuration becomes more severe when modular device drivers are supported, since the currently active set of devices becomes dynamically variable.


   Linux provides a central conflict-resolution mechanism to help arbitrate access to certain hardware resources. Its aims are as follows:


     To prevent modules from clashing over access to hardware resources


      To prevent autoprobesdevice-driver probes that auto-detect device configuration from interfering with existing device drivers


     To resolve conflicts among multiple drivers trying to access the same hardwareas, for example, when both the parallel printer driver and the parallel line IP (PLIP) network driver try to talk to the parallel port.


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