Syllabus and general information for MCS-378: Operating Systems (Fall 2005)


This course covers the basics of operating systems, as well as some material on concurrent programming, middleware, and networking. 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) 12:30-1:20 Mondays, 2:30-3:20 Tuesdays, and 1:30-2:20 on Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as 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 a preliminary edition of my forthcoming book, Operating Systems and Middleware: Supporting Controlled Interaction, but I'll also be distributing some readings that are recent conference papers. Those readings will form the basis for the student presentations, described below.


There will be four lab assignments. The due dates for the labs are shown in the syllabus below. We'll meet in the OHS 329 lab on the days shown for the first three labs and in the OHS 326 lab on the days shown for the fourth lab.

Attendance is expected for all lab days. (If you turn in a lab report early, you are excused from the remaining days devoted to that lab.) I will excuse up to two absences per student, for any reason. Use yours wisely. If you exceed this allowance, I may reduce your course grade by one letter grade.

For each lab, I will assign you a lab group. You will work with different people each lab, and with a different person for the presentation than for any of the labs. Thus, over the semester you will work with the majority of the class.


There will be seven days in the semester when I sit back and relax and let students teach the class instead. Each time, a pair of students will have a class period to lead discussion on one of the papers we read from a conference. The whole class will be expected to read the paper at least casually, but the pair 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.

Each pair of students will be responsible for setting up a meeting with me the week before their presentation to go over it with me. (You are welcome to additional consultations as well.) At that meeting, you should also give me three straightforward questions about your reading. I will distribute these to the full class. All class members will email me their answers to these three questions by 6am the day of your presentation, as a way of making sure we all have a common starting point. I will look through them and alert you immediately before your presentation if there are any common difficulties you might want to address. No late answers will be accepted for these questions, as their point is to lay the groundwork for the presentation.

I will provide a list of attributes that good presentations have. For each presentation, each student in the audience will be asked to select two of these attributes that were particular strong points, and two that particularly need work. I will summarize this feedback for the presenters. I will also use the same list of attributes to structure my own evaluation of the presentation, which will take place in a face-to-face "debriefing" with the presenters, with the grade generated as a summary of that meeting.

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 by noon Monday (September 12) so that I can make the presentation and lab group assignments in time for the lab staring at the end of that week.

The title links below point to the official versions on the main USENIX site. These will give you the abstracts of the papers, and for the older ones even the full text. For the newer ones, you can get the full text from any on-campus location by using the link labeled "on-campus version."

  1. October 19: "Energy Efficient Prefetching and Caching", Athanasios E. Papathanasiou and Michael L. Scott, USENIX 2004 Annual Technical Conference, General Track, pp. 255-268.
  2. October 28: "Live Migration of Virtual Machines", Christopher Clark, Keir Fraser, Steven Hand, Jacob Gorm Hansen, Eric Jul, Christian Limpach, Ian Pratt, and Andrew Warfield, NSDI '05: 2nd Symposium on Networked System Design and Implementation. (on-campus version)
  3. November 14: "A Transactional Flash File System for Microcontrollers", Eran Gal and Sivan Toledo, USENIX 2005 Annual Technical Conference, General Track, pp. 89-104. (on-campus version)
  4. November 15: "Designing for disasters", Kimberley Keeton, Cipriano Santos, Dirk Beyer, Jeffrey Chase, and John Wilkes, FAST '04: 3rd USENIX Conference on File and Storage Technologies, pp. 59-72.
  5. December 5: "Secure Automation: Achieving Least Privilege with SSH, Sudo and Setuid", Robert A. Napier, LISA '04: 18th Large Installation System Administration Conference, pp. 203-212. (on-campus version)
  6. December 9: "Non-Control-Data Attacks Are Realistic Threats", Shuo Chen, Jun Xu, Emre C. Sezer, Prachi Gauriar, and Ravishankar K. Iyer, Security '05: 14th USENIX Security Symposium, pp. 177-192. (on-campus version)
  7. December 13: "Finding Security Vulnerabilities in Java Applications with Static Analysis", V. Benjamin Livshits and Monica S. Lam, Security '05: 14th USENIX Security Symposium, pp. 271-286. (on-campus version)

Daily preparation assignment

Each class day (not counting lab days), you are to send me an email by 6am with your preparation assignment for that day. (Presumably this means you should send it before you go to bed.) I will look these over in order to shape the class to meet your needs. As additional incentive, they will count for a portion of your class grade, based on how many you submit. No late preparation assignments are accepted, as that would undermine their real purpose.

For classes with a student presentation of a conference paper, the preparation assignment will consist of questions provided by the presenters, as described in the section on presentations.

For all other class days, your assignment is to send me an agenda for that day's class. Is there old business from prior days that you see as needing more time? In the new topics from that day's reading, what are the main points we should cover? What illustrations, programs, or other examples from the book would you like to go over? Are there items for which you would like a different example?

Homework assignment

You are to select your own homework problems. Each of the eleven chapters in the textbook ends with exercises, programming projects, and exploration projects. You may submit any of these, subject to the restrictions listed below. If I indicate that your initial solution is inadequate, you can submit a revised version, as many times as are necessary to succeed. For each one you eventually succeed at, you will receive one percentage point toward your course grade, up to a maximum of 22%. Thus, your grade will be maximized if you average two successful problems per chapter. Other than that, the restrictions are as follows:


There will be midterm and final exams. Based on experience in past years, I have switched the midterm exam to the evening, in order to provide a less time-pressured test format. As shown in the syllabus, the midterm will be 7:00-8:30pm on November 1st. Please let me know as soon as possible if you won't be able to take the test at that time. In that case, I will be happy to set up another hour and a half time block that works for you. The final exam will be as scheduled by the registrar.


You are expected to be familiar with the college academic honesty honor code policy, and to comply with that policy. If you have any questions about it, please ask. One specific requirement of that policy is that you write the following in full and sign it on every examination and graded paper:

On my honor, I pledge that I have not given, received, nor tolerated others' use of unauthorized aid in completing this work.

For the purposes of this policy, I am defining "graded papers" to be project reports but not daily preparation assignments or homework problems. (I still expect you to comply with the honor code on homework problems, just not to write the explicit pledge on them.) When project reports are co-authored, each co-author should write and sign the pledge.

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 lab assignments

All 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 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.


If you have a learning, psychological, or physical disability for which a reasonable accommodation can be made, I would be happy to refer you to the college's disability services coordinator, and to cooperate in the accommodation process. It is generally best if this can be done as soon as possible.


In the reading column, a single number with no decimal point indicates an entire chapter. A number with three decimal points in it, such as or, refers to the material under the first or second heading within Section 8.5.1, even though those headings are not actually numbered.

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.


9/123.1-3.3Scheduling Goals
9/133.4-3.7Scheduling Mechanisms
9/14Lab Preview
9/16No class

9/194.1-4.3Mutual Exclusion
9/204.4-4.6Other Synchronization Patterns
9/21Lab 1: Scheduling
9/234.7-4.9Synchronization Pathologies

9/26Lab 1 continued
9/27Nobel conference (no class)
9/28Nobel conference (no class)
9/305.1-5.2Example Applications of Transactions

10/35.3-5.4Mechanisms for Atomicity and Durability
10/45.5-5.6Additional Transaction Mechanisms
10/5Lab 1 continued
10/7Lab 1 concludes

10/106.1-6.2Uses for Virtual Memory
10/116.3Mechanisms for Virtual Memory
10/126.4-6.5Policies for Virtual MemoryLab 1
10/14Lab 2: Virtual Memory (or Journaling)

10/17Lab 2 Continues
10/187.1-7.2POSIX Process Management
10/19paper 1Energy Efficient Prefetching

10/26Lab 2 Concludes
10/28paper 2Live Migration of Virtual machines

11/1Midterm exam, 7:00pm-8:30pm, OHS 320
11/28.1-8.3POSIX File API
11/48.4- Space AllocationLab 2

11/, Directories, and Indexes
11/8Lab Preview
11/9Lab 3: File System
11/118.7-8.9Metadata Integrity

11/14paper 3A Transactional Flash File System
11/15paper 4Designing for Disasters
11/16Lab 3 continues
11/189.1-9.3.1Socket APIs

11/2210.1-10.3Messaging and Remote Method Invocation
11/23Lab 3 concludes

11/2810.4-10.5Web Services
11/29Lab PreviewLab 3
11/30Lab 4: Communication Middleware
12/211.1-11.4Security Basics

12/5paper 5Achieving Least Privilege
12/611.5-11.8More on Security
12/7Lab 4 continues
12/9paper 6Non-Control-Data Attacks

12/12Lab 4 concludes
12/13paper 7Finding Security Vulnerabilities
12/14Review and evaluationLab 4

Course web site:
Instructor: Max Hailperin <>