Memory Area Management

This section deals with memory areas—that is, with sequences of memory cells having contiguous physical addresses and an arbitrary length.

The buddy system algorithm adopts the page frame as the basic memory area. This is fine for dealing with relatively large memory requests, but how are we going to deal with requests for small memory areas, say a few tens or hundreds of bytes?

Clearly, it would be quite wasteful to allocate a full page frame to store a few bytes. A better approach instead consists of introducing new data structures that describe how small memory areas are allocated within the same page frame. In doing so, we introduce a new problem called internal fragmentation. It is caused by a mismatch between the size of the memory request and the size of the memory area allocated to satisfy the request.

A classical solution (adopted by early Linux versions) consists of providing memory areas whose sizes are geometrically distributed; in other words, the size depends on a power of 2 rather than on the size of the data to be stored. In this way, no matter what the memory request size is, we can ensure that the internal fragmentation is always smaller than 50 percent. Following this approach, the kernel creates 13 geometrically distributed lists of free memory areas whose sizes range from 32 to 131, 056 bytes. The buddy system is invoked both to obtain additional page frames needed to store new memory areas and, conversely, to release page frames that no longer contain memory areas. A dynamic list is used to keep track of the free memory areas contained in each page frame.

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