Syllabus and general information for MC78: Operating Systems (Fall 1996)


This course covers the basics of concurrent programming, operating systems, networking, and distributed systems. There are two principal reasons why a course on operating systems is practical to take (as opposed to just interesting), even if you never expect to be involved in the development of an operating system (which most of you won't):

Office hours

I will be available in my office (OHS 303) on Wednesdays from 8:00 to 8:50, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 to 11:20, on Mondays from 1:30 to 2:20, and by appointment. You may send me electronic mail at or call me at extension 7466. I'll try to put any temporary updates to my office hours on my web page and any long-term updates on my on-line schedule, so check there if in doubt.

World Wide Web

All course handouts will be available through my World Wide Web page, and some supplementary materials such as code to use as a starting point in assignments may be available there as well. The URL for this course is

Text and readings

The primary text for the course will be Tanenbaum's Modern Operating Systems, but I'll also be distributing some readings that are conference papers or journal articles from the last few years, in order to provide both an update on some recent interesting work and also a bit more ``meat'' than Tanenbaum, who tends to breeze through topics rather lightly. Those readings will form the basis for the student presentations, described below. Lab handouts will also typically include some non-trivial reading, and we'll spend some class time previewing each of the labs and discussing the issues that they raise.


There will be four lab assignments. Each will be available on the course web page as well as distributed in class; the on-line version will typically be somewhat preferable (other than for portability) in that it will have links and be kept up to date if any changes prove necessary (which I'll announce as well). The due dates for the labs are shown in the syllabus below.

We'll meet in the OHS 329 lab every Friday except the last day of classes, and three Mondays as well, which are indicated in the syllabus. We'll be using the PCs running Linux, which are in the right rear corner as you enter from the hallway. All the labs will be done in pairs (or a group of three in one case), and I will be assigning the lab partners such that you are working with different people for each lab and for the presentation.


There will be four days in the semester when I sit back and relax and let you guys teach the class instead. Two of those days are at the end of October and will focus on interesting recent file systems, while the other two are at the end of the semester and will focus on interesting recent distributed systems work. In each case, the class will be structured around one of the papers we read from a conference or journal. The whole class will be expected to read the paper at least casually, but the pair (or triplet) leading the class will be expected to have read it more carefully and done whatever it takes to really understand it. On each occasion I'll flip a coin at the beginning of the class to determine which partner presents the material and which answers questions. (I'll work out something for the three-person team, probably involving a die.)

I'm going to ask you to express a preference ranking for the topics, and will try to the extent possible to assign people to topics based on that. (You can also take into account in your preference rankings the fact that two of the topics will be at Halloween and two at the end of the semester.) I'll need to have the rankings Thursday morning (September 12) so that I can assign lab partners for the first lab, which starts on Friday the 13th (uh oh, bad luck), given that I'm trying to assign the presentation partners based on topic preference ranking and the lab partners based on having you working with different people each time and different from the presentation. I'll give a capsule summary of each paper at the first class to give you some basis for expressing preferences.

The file-system topics for late October are:

The distributed-system topics for December 10th and 12th are any two of the following three, chosen based on the expressed preferences:


I decided to surprise all of you who are used to my doing two intra-term tests; this course I'm just going to do a midterm and then the final. The midterm will be on October 24th and the final is as scheduled by the registrar; tentatively 1pm on December 18th. The tests will be open book and open notes, and may include problems from the book.


Students are encouraged to discuss the course, including issues raised by the assignments. However, the solutions to assignments should be individual original work unless otherwise specified. If an assignment makes you realize you don't understand the material, ask a fellow student a question designed to improve your understanding, not one designed to get the assignment done. To do otherwise is to cheat yourself out of understanding, as well as to be intolerably dishonorable.

Any substantive contribution to your solution by another person or taken from a publication should be properly acknowledged in writing. Failure to do so is plagiarism and will necessitate disciplinary action.

The same standards regarding plagiarism apply to team projects as to the work of individuals, except that the author is now the entire team rather than an individual. Anything taken from a source outside the team should be be properly cited.

One additional issue that arises from the team authorship of project reports is that all team members must stand behind all reports bearing their names. All team members have quality assurance responsibility for the entire project. If there is irreconcilable disagreement within the team it is necessary to indicate as much in the reports; this can be in the form of a ``minority opinion'' or ``dissenting opinion'' section where appropriate.

Late assignments

All homework and lab assignments are due at the beginning of class on the day indicated. Late assignments will be penalized by one ``grade notch'' (such as A to A- or A- to B+) for each weekday late or fraction thereof. However, no late assignments will be accepted after graded assignments are handed back.

If you are too sick to complete an assignment on time, you will not be penalized. Simply write ``late due to illness'' at the top of the assignment, sign your name and hand it in. Other circumstances will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Grade changes

Please point out any arithmetic or clerical error I make in grading, and I will gladly fix it. You may also request reconsideration if I have been especially unjust.


I will provide you with a letter grade on each homework and lab assignment and on each test, in addition to the mid-term and final grades, so that you may keep track of your performance. As a guideline, the course components will contribute to your final grade in the proportions indicated below:

Style guidelines

All homework and lab reports should be readily readable, and should not presuppose that I already know what you are trying to say. In particular: Be sure your assignments are always stapled together and that your name is always on them.


Please contact me immediately if you have special physical circumstances, e.g. impaired vision, which may affect the accessibility of any course components. I will do my best to facilitate necessary arrangements or resources.


In the reading column, a single number with no decimal point indicates an entire chapter. Section 0 means the material at the beginning of a chapter before the first section.

This is my best guess as to the rate at which we will cover material. However, don't be shocked if I have to pass out one or more revised syllabi.
9/12through p. 45Processes and synchronization
9/13Lab 1 (races and monitors)

9/162.2More on synchronization and IPC
9/172.3Concurrent programming examples
9/192.4Process schedulingHW 1
9/20Lab 1 (concludes)

9/23lab 2How threads and synchronization work
9/243.0-3.2Multiprogramming and swappingLab 1
9/263.3Virtual memory
9/27Lab 2 (Implementing threads and synchronization)

9/303.4-3.6Page replacementHW 2
10/4Lab 2 (continued)

10/7Lab 2 (continued) (a Monday lab)
10/84.0-4.2File system API
10/104.3.0-4.3.4File system implementationHW 3
10/11Lab 2 (concludes)

10/144.3.5-4.4Reliability, performance, security
10/154.5ProtectionLab 2
10/17lab 3Lab filesystem overview
10/18Lab 3 (A filesystem)

10/21Lab 3 (continued) (a Monday lab)

10/29LFS paperLog-structured File System (student presentation)
10/31XFS paperScalability in the XFS (student presentation)
11/1Lab 3 (continued)

11/45.0-5.3I/O and disk scheduling
11/55.4-5.6More on I/O
11/8Lab 3 (concludes)

11/116.5.4-6.8More on deadlocks
11/12lab 4Lab 4 previewLab 3
11/15Lab 4 (Deadlock detection and recovery)

11/187.4-7.6More on UnixHW 4
11/218.4-8.6More on MS-DOS
11/22Lab 4 (continued)

11/259Intro to distributed systems
11/2610.0-10.2Networking; client/server

12/210.3Remote procedure calls
12/310.4Group communications
12/511.4Atomic transactionsHW 5
12/6Lab 4 (continued)

12/9Lab 4 (concludes) (a Monday lab)
12/10paperStudent presentation
12/12paperStudent presentationLab 4

12/18Final exam, 1pm (tentative)

Course web site:
Instructor: Max Hailperin <>