Syllabus and general information for MCS-378: Operating Systems (Fall 2007)


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) from 10:30-11:20 on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays*, 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. (*Exception: on September 20th, the time will be 2:30-3:20.)

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 is Operating Systems and Middleware: Supporting Controlled Interaction by Max Hailperin. Recent conference papers serve as additional required readings; you have access to these through the syllabus on the web. Those conference papers 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 326 lab on the days shown in the syllabus as lab days.

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.


There will be seven days in the semester when I sit back and relax and let students teach the class instead. Each time, a student 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 student 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 student 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 10am 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 presenter. 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 presenter, 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 10).

Six out of the seven papers are from USENIX conferences; for these, 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 most of them even the full text. For a couple of the newer ones, the full text on the USENIX site is temporarily restricted to members; for these, you can get the full text from any on-campus location by using the link labeled "on-campus version." The one non-USENIX paper's title is directly linked to an author's copy of the paper.

  1. September 25: "Flux: A Language for Programming High-Performance Servers", Brendan Burns, Kevin Grimaldi, Alexander Kostadinov, Emery D. Berger, and Mark D. Corner, 2006 USENIX Annual Technical Conference, pp. 129-142.
  2. October 5: "Lock Free Data Structures using STMs in Haskell", Anthony Discolo, Tim Harris, Simon Marlow, Simon Peyton-Jones, and Satnam Singh, FLOPS '06: Proceedings of the Eighth International Symposium on Functional and Logic Programming.
  3. October 18: "CRAMM: Virtual Memory Support for Garbage-Collected Applications", Ting Yang, Emery D. Berger, Scott F. Kaplan, and J. Eliot B. Moss, OSDI '06: Proceedings of the Seventh USENIX Symposium on Operating System Design and Implementation, pp. 103-116. (on-campus version)
  4. October 30: "Evaluating SFI for a CISC Architecture", Stephen McCamant and Greg Morrisett, 15th USENIX Security Symposium, 2006, pp. 209-224.
  5. November 12: "Rethink the Sync", Edmund B. Nightingale, Kaushik Veeraraghavan, Peter M. Chen, and Jason Flinn, OSDI '06: Proceedings of the Seventh USENIX Symposium on Operating System Design and Implementation, pp. 1-14.
  6. November 27: "Do Incentives Build Robustness in BitTorrent?", Michael Piatek, Tomas Isdal, Thomas Anderson, Arvind Krishnamurthy, and Arun Venkataramani, NSDI '07: Fourth USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation, pp. 1-14.
  7. December 13: "Dynamic Spyware Analysis", Manuel Egele, Christopher Kruegel, Engin Kirda, Heng Yin, and Dawn Song, 2007 USENIX Annual Technical Conference, pp. 233-246. (on-campus version)

Daily preparation assignment

Each class day (not counting lab days), you are to send me an email by 10am with your preparation assignment for that day. 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? If you have no particular items you want covered, you can always fall back on giving me an outline of the reading, as a last resort.

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 two intra-term exams and a final exam, which is scheduled by the registrar. Please let me know as soon as possible if you won't be able to take one of the tests at its scheduled time.


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 report; this can be in the form of a “minority opinion” or “dissenting opinion” section where appropriate.

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.

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.

9/73.1-3.3Scheduling Goals

9/103.4-3.7Scheduling Mechanisms
9/11Scheduling, Lab Preview, and Energy
9/13Lab 1: Exploring Scheduling
9/144.1-4.3Mutual Exclusion

9/17Lab 1 continued
9/184.4-4.6Other Synchronization Patterns
9/20Lab 1 concludes
9/214.7-4.9Synchronization Pathologies

9/24Lab 2: Deadlock PreventionLab 1
9/25paper 1Programming High-Performance Servers
9/275.1-5.2Example Applications of Transactions
9/285.3-5.4Mechanisms for Atomicity and Durability

10/1Lab 2 concludes
10/2No class (attend Nobel conference)
10/45.5-5.6Additional Transaction MechanismsLab 2
10/5paper 2Software Transactional Memory

10/8ReviewHW rewrites (1-5)
10/9Intra-term exam 1
10/116.1-6.2Uses for Virtual Memory
10/126.3Mechanisms for Virtual Memory

10/156.4-6.5Policies for Virtual Memory
10/16Lab 3: Prepaging Performance
10/18paper 3Virtual Memory and Garbage Collection
10/19Lab 3 Continues

10/22No class (reading day)
10/23No class (reading day)
10/257.1-7.2POSIX Process Management

10/29Lab 3 Concludes
10/30paper 4Software-based Fault Isolation
11/18.1-8.3POSIX File API
11/28.4- Space AllocationLab 3

11/, Directories, and Indexes
11/6Lab 4: Programming a Shell
11/88.7-8.9Metadata Integrity
11/9Lab 4 continues

11/12paper 5Exernal Synchrony
11/13ReviewHW rewrites (6-8)
11/15Intra-term exam 2
11/169.1-9.3.1Socket APIs

11/20Lab 4 concludes
11/22No class (Thanksgiving)
11/23No class (Thanksgiving)

11/26More on Networking
11/27paper 6Robustness of BitTorrent Incentives
11/2910.1-10.3Messaging and Remote Method InvocationLab 4
11/3010.4-10.5Web Services

12/3Lab Preview
12/4Lab 5: Communication Middleware
12/611.1-11.4Security Basics
12/7Lab 5 continues

12/10Lab 5 concludes
12/1111.5-11.8More on Security
12/13paper 7Dynamic Spyware Analysis
12/14Review and evaluationLab 5, HW rewrites (9-11)

Course web site:
Instructor: Max Hailperin <>