Linux-Input & output

Input and Output

To the user, the I/O system in Linux looks much like that in any UNIX system. That is, to the extent possible, all device drivers appear as normal files. A user can open an access channel to a device in the same way she opens any other file—devices can appear as objects within the file system.

 The system administrator can create special files within a file system that contain references to a specific device driver, and a user opening such a file will be able to read from and write to the device referenced. By using the normal file-protection system, which determines who can access which file, the administrator can set access permissions for each device. Linux splits all devices into three classes: block devices, character devices, and network devices.

Linux-Input & output

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Figure 21.10 illustrates the overall structure of the device-driver system. Block devices include all devices that allow random access to completely independent, fixed-sized blocks of data, including hard disks and floppy disks, CD-ROMs, and flash memory. Block devices are typically used to store file systems, but direct access to a block device is also allowed so that programs can create and repair the file system that the device contains.

Applications can also access these block devices directly if they wish; for example, a database application may prefer to perform its own, fine-tuned laying out of data onto the disk, rather than using the general-purpose file system. Character devices include most other devices, such as mice and keyboards. The fundamental difference between block and character devices is random access—block devices may be accessed randomly, while character devices are only accessed serially.

 For example, seeking to a certain position in a file might be supported for a DVD but makes no sense to a pointing device such as a mouse. Network devices are dealt with differently from block and character devices. Users cannot directly transfer data to network devices; instead, they must communicate indirectly by opening a connection to the kernel's networking subsystem. We discuss the interface to network devices separately in Section 21.10.

Block Devices

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Block devices provide the main interface to all disk devices in a system. Performance is particularly important for disks, and the block-device system must provide functionality to ensure that disk access is as fast as possible. This functionality is achieved through the scheduling of I/O operations In the context of block devices, a block represents the unit with which the kernel performs I/O. When a block is read into memory, it is stored in a buffer. The request manager is the layer of software that manages the reading and writing of buffer contents to and from a block-device driver. A separate list of requests is kept for each block-device driver. Traditionally, these requests have been scheduled according to a unidirectional-elevator (C-SCAN) algorithm that exploits the order in which requests are inserted in and removed from the per-device lists. The request lists are maintained in sorted order of increasing starting-sector number. When a request is accepted for processing by a block-device driver, it is not removed from the list. It is removed only after the I/O is complete, at which point the driver continues with the next request in the list, even if new requests have been inserted into the list before the active request. As new I/O requests are made, the request manager attempts to merge requests in the per-device lists. The scheduling of I/O operations changed somewhat with version 2.6 of the kernel. The fundamental problem with the elevator algorithm is that I/O operations concentrated in a specific region of the disk can result in starvation of requests that need to occur in other regions of the disk.

The deadline I/O scheduler used in version 2.6 works similarly to the elevator algorithm except that it also associates a deadline with each request, thus addressing the starvation issue. By default, the deadline for read requests is 0.5 second and that for write requests is 5 seconds. The deadline scheduler maintains a sorted queue of pending I/O operations sorted by sector number. However, it also maintains two other queues—a read queue for read operations and a write queue for write operations. These two queues are ordered according to deadline.

Every I/O request is placed in both the sorted queue and either the read or the write queue, as appropriate. Ordinarily, I/O operations occur from the sorted queue. However, if a deadline expires for a request in either the read or the write queue, I/O operations are scheduled from the queue containing the expired request. This policy ensures that an I/O operation will wait no longer than its expiration time

 Character Devices

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 A character-device driver can be almost any device driver that does not offer random access to fixed blocks of data. Any character-device drivers registered to the Linux kernel must also register a set of functions that implement the file I/O operations that the driver can handle. The kernel performs almost no preprocessing of a file read or write request to a character device; it simply passes the request to the device in question and lets the device deal with the request.

The main exception to this rule is the special subset of character-device drivers that implement terminal devices. The kernel maintains a standard interface to these drivers by means of a set of tty_struc t structures. Each of these structures provides buffering and flow control on the data stream from the terminal device and feeds those data to a line discipline.

 A line discipline is an interpreter for the information from the terminal device. The most common line discipline is the tt y discipline, which glues the terminal's data stream onto the standard input and output streams of a user's running processes, allowing those processes to communicate directly with user's terminal. This job is complicated by the fact that several such processes may be running simultaneously, and the tt y line discipline is responsible for attaching and detaching the terminal's input and output from the various processes connected to it as those processes are suspended or awakened by the user.

Other line disciplines also are implemented that have nothing to do with I/O to a user process. The PPP and SLIP networking protocols are ways of encoding a networking connection over a terminal device such as a serial line. These protocols are implemented under Linux as drivers that at one end appear to the terminal system as line disciplines and at the other end appear to the networking system as network-device drivers. After one of these line disciplines has been enabled on a terminal device, any data appearing on that terminal will be routed directly to the appropriate network-device driver.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Ans: Robustness A distributed system may suffer from various types of hardware failure. The failure of a link, the failure of a site, and the loss of a message are the most common types. To ensure that the system is robust, we must detect any of these failures, reconfigure the system so that computation can continue, and recover when a site or a link is repaired. view more..
Ans: Input and Output To the user, the I/O system in Linux looks much like that in any UNIX system. That is, to the extent possible, all device drivers appear as normal files. A user can open an access channel to a device in the same way she opens any other file—devices can appear as objects within the file system. The system administrator can create special files within a file system that contain references to a specific device driver, and a user opening such a file will be able to read from and write to the device referenced. By using the normal file-protection system, which determines who can access which file, the administrator can set access permissions for each device. Linux splits all devices into three classes: block devices, character devices, and network devices. view more..
Ans: Communication Protocols When we are designing a communication network, we must deal with the inherent complexity of coordinating asynchronous operations communicating in a potentially slow and error-prone environment. In addition, the systems on the network must agree on a protocol or a set of protocols for determining host names, locating hosts on the network, establishing connections, and so on. view more..
Ans: Naming and Transparency Naming is a mapping between logical and physical objects. For instance, users deal with logical data objects represented by file names, whereas the system manipulates physical blocks of data stored on disk tracks. Usually, a user refers to a file by a textual name. view more..
Ans: Stateful Versus Stateless Service There are two approaches for storing server-side information when a client accesses remote files: Either the server tracks each file being accessed byeach client, or it simply provides blocks as they are requested by the client without knowledge of how those blocks are used. In the former case, the service provided is stateful; in the latter case, it is stateless. view more..
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Ans: Application I/O interface In this section, we discuss structuring techniques and interfaces for the operating system that enable I/O devices to be treated in a standard, uniform way. We explain, for instance, how an application can open a file on a disk without knowing what kind of disk it is and how new disks and other devices can be added to a computer without disruption of the operating system. Like other complex software-engineering problems, the approach here involves abstraction, encapsulation, and software layering. Specifically we can abstract away the detailed differences in I/O devices by identifying a fewgeneral kinds. Each general kind is accessed through a standardized set of functions—an interface. The differences are encapsulated in kernel modules called device drivers that internally are custom-tailored to each device but that export one of the standard interfaces. view more..
Ans: Transforming I/O Requests to Hardware Operations Earlier, we described the handshaking between a device driver and a device controller, but we did not explain how the operating system connects an application request to a set of network wires or to a specific disk sector. Let's consider the example of reading a file from disk. The application refers to the data by a file name. Within a disk, the file system maps from the file name through the file-system directories to obtain the space allocation of the file. For instance, in MS-DOS, the name maps to a number that indicates an entry in the file-access table, and that table entry tells which disk blocks are allocated to the file. In UNIX, the name maps to an inode number, and the corresponding inode contains the space-allocation information. How is the connection made from the file name to the disk controller (the hardware port address or the memory-mapped controller registers)? First, we consider MS-DOS, a relatively simple operating system. The first part of an MS-DOS file name, preceding the colon, is a string that identifies a specific hardware device. For example, c: is the first part of every file name on the primary hard disk view more..
Ans: STREAMS UNIX System V has an interesting mechanism, called STREAMS, that enables an application to assemble pipelines of driver code dynamically. A stream is a full-duplex connection between a device driver and a user-level process. It consists of a stream head that interfaces with the user process, a driver end that controls the device, and zero or more stream modules between them. view more..
Ans: Performance I/O is a major factor in system performance. It places heavy demands on the CPU to execute device-driver code and to schedule processes fairly and efficiently as they block and unblock. The resulting context switches stress the CPU and its hardware caches. I/O also exposes any inefficiencies in the interrupt-handling mechanisms in the kernel. view more..
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Ans: Linux History Linux looks and feels much like any other UNIX system; indeed, UNIX compatibility has been a major design goal of the Linux project. However, Linux is much younger than most UNIX systems. Its development began in 1991, when a Finnish student, Linus Torvalds, wrote and christened Linux, a small but self-contained kernel for the 80386 processor, the first true 32-bit processor in Intel's range of PC-compatible CPUs. Early in its development, the Linux source code was made available free on the Internet. view more..
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