Operating System Architecture

An Introduction to UNIX/Linux


A bit of UNIX/Linux History

  • First UNIX implementation was developed in 1969 at Bell Labs by Ken Thompson.
  • Later, C programming language by Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson
  • BSD and System V
  • Linux and the GNU Project
  • Minix by Andrew Tanenbaum

The Linux Kernel

 Do you pine for the nice days of Minix-1.1, when men were men
 and wrote their own device drivers? Are you without a nice
 project and just dying to cut your teeth on a OS you can try to
 modify for your needs? Are you finding it frustrating when
 everything works on Minix? No more all-nighters to get a nifty
 program working? Then this post might be just for you. As I
 mentioned a month ago, I’m working on a free version of a
 Minix-look-alike for AT-386 computers. It has finally reached the
 stage where it’s even usable (though may not be depending on
 what you want), and I am willing to put out the sources for wider
 distribution. It is just version 0.02 . . . but I’ve successfully run
 bash, gcc, gnu-make, gnu-sed, compress, etc. under it

Linus Torvals - 1991

File System (Devices)

A device special file corresponts to a device on the system.

A device driver is a unit of kernel code that implements a set of operations that correspond to input and output actions on an associated device.

Devices can be divided in 2 types:

  • Character devices - data on character-by-character basis. Terminals and keyboards.
  • Block devices - data as block at a time. Disks and tape drives.

File System (disks and partitions)

File System (structure)

A file system is an organized collection of regular files and directories. Some examples of filesystem are:

  • ext2, ext3, ext4, brtfs
  • Microsoft's FAT, FAT32, NTFS
  • Apple's HFS


File System (File descriptors)

When openning files for write, you'll create or discard previous contents. The system requires to do some validations to verify that you have the proper rigthts to do so.

A File descriptor is a non-negative integer that is used as a reference to the file you're working with.

All information about the file is maintained by the operating system. User will only access it through the file descriptor.

Input / Output

All system calls for performing I/O refer to open files using a file descriptor, a (usually
small) nonnegative integer.

The following are the key required system calls for I/O operations.

 fd = open(name, flags, mode)
 numread = read(fd, buffer, count)
 numwritten = write(fd, buffer, count)
 status = close(fd)

Source Code: fileio/copy.c from TLPI.

Input / Output (Universality)

Same open(), read(), write() and close() are used to perform I/O in all types of files, including devices.

 $ ./copy test test.old         # Copy a regular file
 $ ./copy a.txt /dev/tty        # Copy a regular file to this terminal
 $ ./copy /dev/tty b.txt        # Copy input from this terminal to a regular file
 $ ./copy /dev/pts/16 /dev/tty  # Copy input from another terminal

System Calls

The UNIX-based operating systems provide their services through a set of system calls,
which will be function within the Operating System where the programs are running.

int main(int argc, char *argv[])
    int f1, f2, n;
    char buf[BUFSIZ];

    if (argc != 3)
	error("usage: cp from to");
    if ((f1 = open(argv[1], O_RDONLY, 0)) == -1)
	error("cp: can't open %s", argv[1]);
    if ((f2 = creat(argv[2], PERMS)) == -1)
	error("cp: can't create %s, mode %03o", argv[2], PERMS);

    while ((n = read(f1, buf, BUFSIZ)) > 0)
	if (write(f2, buf, n) != n)
	    error("cp: write error on file %s", argv[2]);

Source code cp.c and syscalls.h

I/O System Calls - close and unlink

There's a limit (default 1024) on the number of opened files in a program. In order to open more, a program should be able to re-use file descriptors.

  • close(int fd)
    breaks the connection between the file descriptor and the opened file. exit function call or return in a program will close all files.

  • unlink(char *name)
    removes the file name from the filesystem.

Source Code: fileio/seek_io.c from TLPI.

Programs and Processes

A process is an instance pf an executing program.

A program is a file containing a range of information that describes how to contruct a process at run time. Information includes:

- Machine language instructions
- Programing entry-point address
- Data
- Symbol and relocation tables
- Shared-library and dynamic-linking information
- Other information

Typical Program's memory layout

Processes in Linux

  • htop

Errors Handling

The manual page for each system call documents the possible return values of the call, showing which value(s) indicate an error.

 fd = open(pathname, flags, mode); /* system call to open a file */
 if (fd == -1) {
    /* Code to handle the error */
 if (close(fd) == -1) {
    /* Code to handle the error */

Errors reporting functions

  • perror - #include <stdio.h>
 fd = open(pathname, flags, mode);
 if (fd == -1) {
  • strerror - #include <string.h>
 char *strerror(int errnum); // Returns pointer to error string corresponding to errnum


A signal is a notification to a process that an event has occurred. Signals are sometimes described as software interrupts.

Signals may occur when:

  • A hardware exception occured
  • The user typed one of the terminal special characters (i.e. Control-C, Control-Z)
  • A software event occurred

Source Code: signals/ouch.c and signals/intquit.c from TLPI.

Let's Code: mycat


Resources and Credits

This material is generated thanks to some extracts from following resources:

  • The C Programming Language - Brian W. Kernighan
  • The Linux Programming Interface - Michael Kerrisk


  • Obed N Muñoz Reynoso
    • Cloud Software Engineer
    • obed.n.munoz@gmail | tec | intel.com