CSCI 6411, Fall 2013: Advanced Operating Systems

Professor: Gabriel Parmer (gparmer at gwu)
Office hours: W 2:30-3:30, R 10:30-11:30, Philips 720E
Research interests: Embedded systems, component-based OSes (see Composite), multi-core OSes

Class Schedule: Tuesday 6:10-8:45

This course covers the fundamental concepts of operating systems, focusing on resource management and abstraction. This includes OS structure, processes and thread management, communication with peripherals (I/O), synchronization, deadlocks, memory management, Virtual Machines, cloud infrastructures, and abstractions for cloud computation.

The workload for this class is heavy and programming intensive.

  • 8/28: First day of class. Your TODO list:
    1. Sign up for the Piazza message board.
    2. Do you remember/know C?
      Spend a few minutes writing a linked list that supports:
      void add(struct linked_list *ll, void *value),
      int length(struct linked_list *ll),
      void *remove_first(struct linked_list *ll), and
      int contains(struct linked_list *ll, void *value).

      If you have any problems with this, you need to take action now. See the Essential C pdfs in the Course Material section below (esp. the practice problems).

      If you don't become comfortable with C soon, you will not do well in this class. You will profit later from having a firm grasp on C!
    3. Consider installing VMWare player on your personal machine. We will use virtual machines for all development in this class.
    4. Gear up for a challenging, but satisfying semester! Get ready to demystify how computers work!

Please click on any section below to see its contents.

Objectives and Structure

Objectives - In completing this class, students will...
  • understand key concepts involving system resource management, organization, and abstraction
  • understand how an OS manages and interfaces with hardware
  • understand fundamental trade-offs integral to system design
  • experience both development and experimentation in a real OS
Structure - This class has lectures broken into two main activities: lectures and code discussion.
  • Lectures will discuss the main concepts in systems with reference to implementation details where beneficial. A series of written homeworks and exams (midterm and final) test student's understanding of the lecture's concepts. We will also devote part of lecture time to learn specifics about code relevant to the lecture topics.

Course Prerequisites and Student Responsibilities

  • Computer Architecture
  • Assignments for this class will be done in C, and will require kernel-level programming. Though we do not assume that you have kernel experience, if you aren't somewhat comfortable with C, you will have a very difficult time. Thus, a familiarity with C or a willingness to quickly learn and practice it is required.

    If you are not comfortable with C, at least go through Essential C and the exercises in the Course Material Section.

Responsibilities - Students must
  1. Attend all classes unless you are sick or there is an emergency.
  2. Interact, ask questions, and generally participate in class discussions.
  3. Complete programming problems assigned, and all written assignments individually.
  4. Work productively as a group on an extended and difficult project.

Course Material

Required Text:

  • Operating Systems Concepts, 8th edition, by Silberschatz, Galvin, and Gagne
If you have trouble understanding the Linux source code, I recommend the following books:
  • Linux Kernel Development by Robert Love
  • Professional Linux Kernel Architecture by Wolfgang Mauerer (free pdf should be available)
For kernel development, we will be using VMWare. If you can't install it on your home computer and want to, post on Piazza.

If you're having trouble with C, here is a list of references:

It is your responsibility to get up to speed in C, so please use these resources.

Once you are more advanced in C, it will be useful to read the style guide for Composite, our research OS here at GWU.


Events are in bold. Note that this schedule is subject to change.




Grades will be assigned with the following proportions:

Homeworks and Quizes: 70%
Class and Lab Participation: 30%

If I decide that students aren't paying attention in class, or understanding course material, I will change the course to have this format:

Homeworks and Quizes: 50%
Midterm: 20%
Final: 20%
Class and Lab Participation: 10%

Homeworks include smaller programming assignment, written responses, and a long final programming project.

Participation will be graded not only on attendance (33%), but also on interactivity and involvement (66%).

If needs be, there will be short quizzes at the beginning of classes.

Late Policy:

  • 66% credit: up to 24 hours late
  • 33% credit: up to 48 hours late
  • 0% credit: later than that

Academic Honesty

Just as you can do a google search for code online, it is trivial for us to do the same. We have caught numerous people cheating in the past in this way. If you feel pressured about an assignment, please come see me instead of cheating.

You are not allowed to collaborate on the homeworks and the lab assignments. The group projects require collaboration amidst each group, but no collaboration between teams is permitted. Please refer to the academic integrity policy linked from the course web page. This policy will be strictly enforced. If you're having significant trouble with an assignment, please contact me.
Academic Integrity Policy
Credit: I'd like to thank Prof. Narahari for the first versions of this academic honesty policy.

Additional Material

If you're interested in Composite, the OS we are developing here at GW, don't hesitate to contact me.

In addition to the contents of the class, what follows is a list of resources that will allow you to go beyond what you've learned. This material is not mandatory for the class and is meant to give you a springboard if you wish to pursue the ideas further. Many of these are blog posts or articles for easy reading. However, because of the informal format, please take the contents with a grain of salt. I can point you to more thorough content if you want it. If you find an website/article/tool that you think is worthy of being in this list, let me know.

Websites geared toward systems topics (or that have subsections on systems):

  • Linux Weekly News: Free content is that which is at least a week old (see the Archives).
  • Two brilliant classes on microkernel construction.
  • Arstechnica: geek news, often with a high-level overview of systems/architectural topics.
  • OKLabs videos. A microkernel company. Specifically, see the series titled, "Advanced OS with Gernot Heiser".
  • OSDev Wiki: the resource on practical OS construction and hardware manipulation.
  • Agner's blog: What's happening in those processors of ours? See more architecture discussions at real world tech.
  • From low-level embedded system hacking, to robotics, to hacking! Hackaday!

Blogs and articles (remember that these are not authoritative sources!):

Really. cool. tools:

  • DynamoRIO: Because it rocks to modify a program as it's executing.
  • SQLite: a small, well written, data-base. Use it, read it, and be merry.
  • Lua: a tiny language with a runtime of about 10K LOC. If you want to know what a language does under the wraps, here's a good place to find out (just ignore some of the syntax oddities).
  • Valgrind: Ever wonder what your program's been doing in its spare time? This will tell you. Required for debugging large C/C++ programs.
  • LLVM: A beautiful compiler backend. If you want to write a language, this will make your life so much easier.
  • FUSE: Want to write a file-system, but aren't sure about all of that kernel programming? And what if you need to use high-level libraries? No problem; do it is user-space!
  • Daikon: Because who doesn't want to use machine learning to infer their own program's behavior?
  • More powerful link-time optimization!
  • A great C library for simple machine learning operations such as classification.