Operating Systems Architecture

Operating Systems Architecture

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The Kernel

Learning objective: Explain the role of the kernel

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The bridge between applications and hardware

In computing, the kernel is the central component of most computer operating systems; it is a bridge between applications and the actual data processing done at the hardware level. The kernel's responsibilities include managing the system's resources (the communication between hardware and software components). Usually as a basic component of an operating system, a kernel can provide the lowest-level abstraction layer for the resources (especially processors and I/O devices) that application software must control to perform its function. It typically makes these facilities available to application processes through inter-process communication mechanisms and system calls. [Wikipedia]

Monolithic and micro kernels

Operating system tasks are done differently by different kernels, depending on their design and implementation. While monolithic kernels will try to achieve these goals by executing all the operating system code in the same address space to increase the performance of the system, microkernels run most of the operating system services in user space as servers, aiming to improve maintainability and modularity of the operating system. A range of possibilities exists between these two extremes. [Wikipedia]

Kernels are very complex

Kernel development is considered one of the most complex and difficult tasks in programming. Its central position in an operating system implies the necessity for good performance, which defines the kernel as a critical piece of software and makes its correct design and implementation difficult. For various reasons, a kernel might not even be able to use the abstraction mechanisms it provides to other software. Such reasons include memory management concerns (for example, a user-mode function might rely on memory being subject to demand paging, but as the kernel itself provides that facility it cannot use it, because then it might not remain in memory to provide that facility) and lack of reentrancy, thus making its development even more difficult for software engineers. [Wikipedia]

The most popular kernels are NT for Microsoft operating systems, Linux for operating systems like Android, and BSD for Apples OS X operating system. The latter two are both variations of Unix. Thus, the most common two operating systems kernels are NT and Unix.

✏ Self Quiz!

Select the best response(s) for each question/statement. Use this opportunity to test *your* knowledge and not just move on...

1) Which is true about kernels?
They manage processes
They manage memory
All kernels work the same

2) Which of the following are popular kernels?


Thinking: Should all kernels be open sourced?

Key terms: kernel, process

To maximize your learning, please visit these Web sites and review their content to help reinforce the concepts presented in this section.

Quick links:
Kernel @ Wikipedia

Embedded Resources

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