Process Preemption

As mentioned in the first chapter, Linux processes are preemptive. If a process enters the task_running state, the kernel checks whether its dynamic priority is greater than the priority of the currently running process. If it is, the execution of current is interrupted and the scheduler is invoked to select another process to run (usually the process that just became runnable). Of course, a process may also be preempted when its time quantum expires. As mentioned in Section 6.3, when this occurs, the need_resched field of the current process is set, so the scheduler is invoked when the timer interrupt handler terminates.

For instance, let's consider a scenario in which only two programs—a text editor and a compiler—are being executed. The text editor is an interactive program, so it has a higher dynamic priority than the compiler. Nevertheless, it is often suspended, since the user alternates between pauses for think time and data entry; moreover, the average delay between two keypresses is relatively long. However, as soon as the user presses a key, an interrupt is raised and the kernel wakes up the text editor process. The kernel also determines that the dynamic priority of the editor is higher than the priority of current, the currently running process (the compiler), so it sets the need_resched field of this process, thus forcing the scheduler to be activated when the kernel finishes handling the interrupt. The scheduler selects the editor and performs a process switch; as a result, the execution of the editor is resumed very quickly and the character typed by the user is echoed to the screen. When the character has been processed, the text editor process suspends itself waiting for another keypress and the compiler process can resume its execution.

Be aware that a preempted process is not suspended, since it remains in the task_running state; it simply no longer uses the CPU.

Some real-time operating systems feature preemptive kernels, which means that a process running in Kernel Mode can be interrupted after any instruction, just as it can in User Mode. The Linux kernel is not preemptive, which means that a process can be preempted only while running in User Mode; nonpreemptive kernel design is much simpler, since most synchronization problems involving the kernel data structures are easily avoided (see Section 5.2).

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