Syllabus and general information for MCS-378: Operating Systems (Fall 1999)


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) 11:30-12:20 Tuesdays, 2:30-3:20 Wednesdays, 9:00-9:50 Thursdays, 1:30-2:20 Fridays, and by appointment. Or try your luck: just stop by and see whether my door is open. You may send me electronic mail at or call me at extension 7466. I'll try to put any updates to my office hours on my web page, so check there if in doubt.

World Wide Web

All course materials will be available through my World Wide Web page. The URL for this course is After this syllabus I will give hardcopy handouts only to those students who want them.

Text and readings

The primary text for the course will be Siberschatz, Galvin, and Gagne's Applied Operating System Concepts, first edition, but I'll also be distributing some readings that are recent conference papers or journal articles, in order to provide both an update on some recent interesting work and also a bit more ``meat.' Those readings will form the basis for the student presentations, described below. Lab handouts may also include some non-trivial reading.


There will be four lab assignments. The due dates for the labs are shown in the syllabus below. We'll meet in the OHS 326 lab every Monday and two Fridays as well, which are indicated in the syllabus.


There will be nine days in the semester when I sit back and relax and let one of you guys teach the class instead. 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 person leading the class will be expected to have read it more carefully and done whatever it takes to really understand it, which may involve additional background reading, talking with me, etc.

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 timing of the presentations.) I'll need to have you email me the rankings tomorrow morning (September 9) so that I can get the assignments out to you Friday, thereby leaving some preparation time for whoever gets the first paper.

The topics are:

  1. September 22: "Implementing Lottery Scheduling: Matching the Specializations in Traditional Schedulers," David Petrou, John W. Milford, and Garth A. Gibson, 1999 USENIX Annual Technical Conference, pp. 1-14.
  2. October 13: "Improving Application Performance Through Swap Compression," R. Cervera, T. Cortes, and Y. Bercerra, FREENIX Track, 1999 USENIX Annual Technical Conference, pp. 207-218.
  3. October 20: "Soft Updates: A Technique for Eliminating Most Synchronous Writes in the Fast Filesystem," Marshall Kirk McKusick and Gregory R. Ganger, FREENIX Track, 1999 USENIX Annual Technical Conference, pp. 1-17.
  4. October 26: "The Design and Implementation of a DCD Device Driver for UNIX," Tycho Nightingale, Yiming Hu, and Qing Yang, 1999 USENIX Annual Technical Conference, pp. 295-307.
  5. November 5: "Why Does File System Prefetching Work?," Elizabeth Shriver, Christopher Small, and Keith A. Smith, 1999 USENIX Annual Technical Conference, pp. 71-84.
  6. November 16: "Flash: An Efficient and Portable Web Server," Vivek S. Pai, Peter Druschel, and Willy Zwaenepoel, 1999 USENIX Annual Technical Conference, pp. 199-212.
  7. November 17: "A Scalable and Explicit Event Delivery Mechanism for UNIX," Gaurav Banga, Jeffrey C. Mogul, and Peter Druschel, 1999 USENIX Annual Technical Conference, pp. 253-265.
  8. November 30: "Experience with a Distributed File System Implementation," Randolph Y. Wang, Thomas E. Anderson, and Michael D. Dahlin, UCB Tech Report CSD-98-986, 1998.
  9. December 3: "A Role Based Access Control Model and Reference Implementation within a Corporate Intranet," David F. Ferraiolo, John F. Barkley and D. Richard Kuhn, ACM Transactions on Information and System Security, volume 2, number 1, 1999, pp. 34-64.


There will be midterm and final exams, as shown on the syllabus below. (Note that the final exam will be as scheduled by the registrar. The date and time shown in the syllabus are the tentative projection from the registrar's office, but are subject to change by that office.)


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, on your presentation, 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. Use full English sentences where appropriate (namely almost everywhere) and clear diagrams, programs, etc. Remember that your goal is to communicate clearly, and that the appearance of these technical items plays a role in this communication process. Be sure your assignments are always stapled together and that your name is always on them.


Please contact me immediately if you have a learning or physical disability requiring accommodation.


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.
9/102Computer-system structures

9/13Lab 1: Scheduling experiments
9/143Operating-system structures

9/20Lab 1 (concludes)HW 1
9/216CPU scheduling
9/22paper 1Hybrid lottery scheduling
9/247.0-7.6Process synchronizationLab 1

9/27Lab 2: Fixing sched_yield
9/287.7-7.10More on process synchronization
10/19Memory managementHW 2

10/4Lab 2 (continued)
10/810.0-10.5Virtual memory

10/11Lab 2 (continued)
10/1210.6-10.8More on virtual memory
10/13paper 2Swap compressionHW 3
10/1511.0-11.5File systems

10/18Lab 2 (concludes)
10/1911.6-11.11More on file systems
10/20paper 3Soft updatesLab 2

10/26paper 4Disk Caching Disk (DCD)
10/29mid-term exam

11/1Lab 3: Filesystem locality
11/212I/O systems
11/313Mass storage
11/5paper 5Prefetching performance

11/8Lab 3 (continued)
11/914Network structures
11/1015Distributed communicationHW 4
11/12Lab 3 (continued) (a Friday lab)

11/15Lab 3 (concludes)
11/16paper 6Web server architecture
11/17paper 7Scalable event deliveryLab 3
11/19Lab 4: Distributed communication (a Friday lab)

11/22Lab 4 (continued)
11/2316Distributed coordination
11/2417Distributed file systems

11/29Lab 4 (continued)
11/30paper 8Experience with xFS implementation
12/3paper 9Role Based Access ControlHW 5

12/6Lab 4 (concludes)
12/8Infrastructure tour
12/10review/catch-up/evaluationLab 4

12/15final exam, 1:00pm (tentative)

Course web site:
Instructor: Max Hailperin <>