Syllabus and general information for MC78: Operating Systems (Fall 1998)


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) 8:00-8:50 Tuesdays, 10:30-12:20 Wednesdays, 1:30-2:20 Fridays, 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 Siberschatz and Galvin's Operating System Concepts, fifth edition, 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 Siberschatz and Galvin, who tend 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 326 lab every Monday and two Fridays as well, which are indicated in the syllabus. 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 six days in the semester when I sit back and relax and let you guys teach the class instead. Two of those days are in October and will focus on interesting recent file systems, two more are around Thanksgiving and focus on web performance improvement techniques, and the final two are at the end of the semester and will focus on interesting recent (internet-based) security 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 timing of the presentations.) I'll need to have the rankings tomorrow morning (September 11) so that I can assign lab partners for the first lab, 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 are:

The distributed-system (web performance) topics are

The security topics are


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 27th and the final is as scheduled by the registrar; tentatively 3:30-5:30pm on December 17th. 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, 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. 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.
9/112Computer-system structures

9/14Lab 1
9/153Operating-system structures
9/185CPU scheduling

9/21Lab 1 (concludes)HW 1
9/226.0-6.5Process synchronization
9/246.6-6.10More on process synchronization
9/25lab 2Lab 2 previewLab 1

9/28Lab 2
10/18.0-8.5.3Memory management
10/28.5.4-8.8More on memory managementHW 2

10/5Lab 2 (continued)
10/89.0-9.5Virtual memory
10/99.6-9.10More on virtual memory

10/12Lab 2 (continued)HW 3
10/1310File-system interface
10/1511File-system implementation
10/16paperA log-structured file system

10/19Lab 2 (concludes)
10/20paperThe XFS file system
10/22review/catch-upLab 2

10/27mid-term exam
10/29lab 3Lab 3 preview
10/30Lab 3 (a Friday lab)

11/2Lab 3 (continued)
11/312I/O systems
11/615Network structures

11/9Lab 3 (continued)
11/1016Distributed system structures
11/1217.0-17.6.2Distributed file systemsHW 4
11/1317.6.3-17.7More on distributed file systems

11/16Lab 3 (concludes)
11/1718Distributed coordination
11/19lab 4Lab 4 previewLab 3
11/20Lab 4 (a Friday lab)

11/23Lab 4 (continued)
11/24paperSuppressing replicated data

11/30Lab 4 (continued)
12/1paperScalable kernel performance for servers
12/420SecurityHW 5

12/7Lab 4 (concludes)
12/8paperThe CRISIS wide area security architecture
12/10paperSecurity of web browser scripting languages
12/11review/catch-up/evaluationLab 4

12/17final exam, 3:30pm (tentative)

Course web site:
Instructor: Max Hailperin <>