System Calls

In the view of user programs, the kernel is a transparent system layer — it is always present but never really noticed. Processes don't know whether the kernel is running or not. Neither do they know which virtual memory contents are currently in RAM or which contents have been swapped out or perhaps not even read in. Nevertheless, processes are engaged in permanent interaction with the kernel to request system resources, access peripherals, communicate with other processes, read in files, and much more. For these purposes, they use standard library routines that, in turn, invoke kernel functions — ultimately, the kernel is responsible for sharing resources and services fairly and, above all, smoothly between requesting processes.

Applications therefore see the kernel as a large collection of routines that perform a wide variety of system functions. The standard library is an intermediate layer to standardize and simplify the management of kernel routines across different architectures and systems.

In the view of the kernel, the situation is, of course, a bit more complicated especially as there are several major differences between user and kernel mode, some of which were discussed in earlier chapters. Of particular note are the different virtual address spaces of the two modes and the different ways of exploiting various processor features. Also of interest is how control is transferred backward and forward between applications and the kernel, and how parameters and return values are passed. This chapter discusses such questions.

As described in previous chapters, system calls are used to invoke kernel routines from within user applications in order to exploit the special capabilities of the kernel. We have already examined the implementation of a number of system calls from a wide range of kernel subsystems.

First, let's take a brief look at system programming to distinguish clearly between library routines of the standard library and the corresponding system calls. We then closely examine the kernel sources in order to describe the mechanism for switching from userspace to kernel space. The infrastructure used to implement system calls is described, and special implementation features are discussed.

Continue reading here: Basics of System Programming

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