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The kernel is a computer program at the core of a computer's operating system and generally has complete control over everything in the system. It is the portion of the operating system code that is always resident in memory and facilitates interactions between hardware and software components. A full kernel controls all hardware resources (e.g. I/O, memory, cryptography) via device drivers, arbitrates conflicts between processes concerning such resources, and optimizes the utilization of common resources e.g. CPU & cache usage, file systems, and network sockets. On most systems, the kernel is one of the first programs loaded on startup (after the bootloader). It handles the rest of startup as well as memory, peripherals, and input/output (I/O) requests from software, translating them into data-processing instructions for the central processing unit.
The critical code of the kernel is usually loaded into a separate area of memory, which is protected from access by application software or other less critical parts of the operating system. The kernel performs its tasks, such as running processes, managing hardware devices such as the hard disk, and handling interrupts, in this protected kernel space. In contrast, application programs such as browsers, word processors, or audio or video players use a separate area of memory, user space. This separation prevents user data and kernel data from interfering with each other and causing instability and slowness, as well as preventing malfunctioning applications from affecting other applications or crashing the entire operating system. Even in systems where the kernel is included in application address spaces, memory protection is used to prevent unauthorized applications from modifying the kernel.
There are different kernel architecture designs. Monolithic kernels run entirely in a single address space with the CPU executing in supervisor mode, mainly for speed. Microkernels run most but not all of their services in user space, like user processes do, mainly for resilience and modularity. MINIX 3 is a notable example of microkernel design. Instead, the Linux kernel is monolithic, although it is also modular, for it can insert and remove loadable kernel modules at runtime.
This central component of a computer system is responsible for executing programs. The kernel takes responsibility for deciding at any time which of the many running programs should be allocated to the processor or processors.
Random-access memory (RAM) is used to store both program instructions and data.[a] Typically, both need to be present in memory in order for a program to execute. Often multiple programs will want access to memory, frequently demanding more memory than the computer has available. The kernel is responsible for deciding which memory each process can use, and determining what to do when not enough memory is available.
I/O devices include such peripherals as keyboards, mice, disk drives, printers, USB devices, network adapters, and display devices. The kernel allocates requests from applications to perform I/O to an appropriate device and provides convenient methods for using the device (typically abstracted to the point where the application does not need to know implementation details of the device).
Key aspects necessary in resource management are defining the execution domain (address space) and the protection mechanism used to mediate access to the resources within a domain. Kernels also provide methods for synchronization and inter-process communication (IPC). These implementations may be located within the kernel itself or the kernel can also rely on other processes it is running. Although the kernel must provide IPC in order to provide access to the facilities provided by each other, kernels must also provide running programs with a method to make requests to access these facilities. The kernel is also responsible for context switching between processes or threads.
The kernel has full access to the system's memory and must allow processes to safely access this memory as they require it. Often the first step in doing this is virtual addressing, usually achieved by paging and/or segmentation. Virtual addressing allows the kernel to make a given physical address appear to be another address, the virtual address. Virtual address spaces may be different for different processes; the memory that one process accesses at a particular (virtual) address may be different memory from what another process accesses at the same address. This allows every program to behave as if it is the only one (apart from the kernel) running and thus prevents applications from crashing each other.
On many systems, a program's virtual address may refer to data which is not currently in memory. The layer of indirection provided by virtual addressing allows the operating system to use other data stores, like a hard drive, to store what would otherwise have to remain in main memory (RAM). As a result, operating systems can allow programs to use more memory than the system has physically available. When a program needs data which is not currently in RAM, the CPU signals to the kernel that this has happened, and the kernel responds by writing the contents of an inactive memory block to disk (if necessary) and replacing it with the data requested by the program. The program can then be resumed from the point where it was stopped. This scheme is generally known as demand paging.
Virtual addressing also allows creation of virtual partitions of memory in two disjointed areas, one being reserved for the kernel (kernel space) and the other for the applications (user space). The applications are not permitted by the processor to address kernel memory, thus preventing an application from damaging the running kernel. This fundamental partition of memory space has contributed much to the current designs of actual general-purpose kernels and is almost universal in such systems, although some research kernels (e.g., Singularity) take other approaches.
To perform useful functions, processes need access to the peripherals connected to the computer, which are controlled by the kernel through device drivers. A device driver is a computer program encapsulating, monitoring and controlling a hardware device (via its Hardware/Software Interface (HSI)) on behalf of the OS. It provides the operating system with an API, procedures and information about how to control and communicate with a certain piece of hardware. Device drivers are an important and vital dependency for all OS and their applications. The design goal of a driver is abstraction; the function of the driver is to translate the OS-mandated abstract function calls (programming calls) into device-specific calls. In theory, a device should work correctly with a suitable driver. Device drivers are used for e.g. video cards, sound cards, printers, scanners, modems, and Network cards.
For example, to show the user something on the screen, an application would make a request to the kernel, which would forward the request to its display driver, which is then responsible for actually plotting the character/pixel.
A kernel must maintain a list of available devices. This list may be known in advance (e.g., on an embedded system where the kernel will be rewritten if the available hardware changes), configured by the user (typical on older PCs and on systems that are not designed for personal use) or detected by the operating system at run time (normally called plug and play). In plug-and-play systems, a device manager first performs a scan on different peripheral buses, such as Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) or Universal Serial Bus (USB), to detect installed devices, then searches for the appropriate drivers.
As device management is a very OS-specific topic, these drivers are handled differently by each kind of kernel design, but in every case, the kernel has to provide the I/O to allow drivers to physically access their devices through some port or memory location. Important decisions have to be made when designing the device management system, as in some designs accesses may involve context switches, making the operation very CPU-intensive and easily causing a significant performance overhead.
In computing, a system call is how a process requests a service from an operating system's kernel that it does not normally have permission to run. System calls provide the interface between a process and the operating system. Most operations interacting with the system require permissions not available to a user-level process, e.g., I/O performed with a device present on the system, or any form of communication with other processes requires the use of system calls.
A system call is a mechanism that is used by the application program to request a service from the operating system. They use a machine-code instruction that causes the processor to change mode. An example would be from supervisor mode to protected mode. This is where the operating system performs actions like accessing hardware devices or the memory management unit. Generally the operating system provides a library that sits between the operating system and normal user programs. Usually it is a C library such as Glibc or Windows API. The library handles the low-level details of passing information to the kernel and switching to supervisor mode. System calls include close, open, read, wait and write.
To actually perform useful work, a process must be able to access the services provided by the kernel. This is implemented differently by each kernel, but most provide a C library or an API, which in turn invokes the related kernel functions. 2b1af7f3a8