Virtual machines

Virtual Machines

The layered approach described in Section 2.7.2 is taken to its logical conclusion in the concept of a virtual machine. The fundamental idea behind a virtual machine is to abstract the hardware of a single computer (the CPU, memory, disk drives, network interface cards, and so forth) into several different execution environments, thereby creating the illusion that each separate execution environment is running its own private computer. By using CPU scheduling (Chapter 5) and virtual-memory techniques (Chapter 9), an operating system can create the illusion that a process has its own processor with its own (virtual) memory. Normally, a process has additional features, such as system calls and a file system, that are not provided by the bare hardware.

The virtual-machine approach does not provide any such additional functionality but rather provides an interface that is identical to the underlying bare hardware. Each process is provided with a (virtual) copy of the underlying computer (Figure 2.15).

Virtual machines

There are several reasons for creating a virtual machine, all of which are fundamentally related to being able to share the same hardware yet run several different execution environments (that is, different operating systems) concurrently. We will explore the advantages of virtual machines in more detail in Section 2.8.2.

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 Throughout much of this section, we discuss the VM operating system for IBM systems, as it provides a useful working example; furthermore IBM pioneered the work in this area. A major difficulty with the virtual-machine approach involves disk systems. Suppose that the physical machine has three disk drives but wants to support seven virtual machines. Clearly, it cannot allocate a disk drive to each virtual machine, because the virtual-machine software itself will need substantial disk space to provide virtual memory and spooling. The solution is to provide virtual disks—termed minidisks in IBM's VM operating system —that are identical in all respects except size.

The system implements each minidisk by allocating as many tracks on the physical disks as the minidisk needs. Obviously, the sum of the sizes of all minidisks must be smaller than the size of the physical disk space available. Users thus are given their own virtual machines. They can then run any of the operating systems or software packages that are available on the underlying machine. For the IBM VM system, a user normally runs CMS—a single-user interactive operating system. The virtual-machine software is concerned with multiprogramming multiple virtual machines onto a physical machine, but it does not need to consider any user-support software. This arrangement may provide a useful way to divide the problem of designing a multiuser interactive system into two smaller pieces.


Although the virtual-machine concept is useful, it is difficult to implement. Much work is required to provide an exact duplicate of the underlying machine. Remember that the underlying machine has two modes: user mode and kernel mode. The virtual-machine software can run in kernel mode, since it is the operating system. The virtual machine itself can execute in only user mode. Just as the physical machine has two modes, however, so must the virtual machine. Consequently, we must have a virtual user mode and a virtual kernel mode, both of which run in a physical user mode.

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Those actions that cause a transfer from user mode to kernel mode on a real machine (such as a system call or an attempt to execute a privileged instruction) must also cause a transfer from virtual user mode to virtual kernel mode on a virtual machine. Such a transfer can be accomplished as follows. When a system call, for example, is made by a program running on a virtual machine in virtual user mode, it will cause a transfer to the virtual-machine monitor in the real machineWhen the virtual-machine monitor gains control, it can change the register contents and program counter for the virtual machine to simulate the effect of the system call. It can then restart the virtual machine, noting that it is now in virtual kernel mode. The major difference, of course, is time. Whereas the real I/O might have taken 100 milliseconds, the virtual I/O might take less time (because it is spooled) or more time (because it is interpreted). In addition, the CPU is being multiprogrammed among many virtual machines, further slowing down the virtual machines in unpredictable ways. In the extreme case, it may be necessary to simulate all instructions to provide a true virtual machine. VM works for IBM machines because normal instructions for the virtual machines can execute directly on the hardware. Only the privileged instructions (needed mainly for I/O) must be simulated and hence execute more slowly.


 The virtual-machine concept has several advantages. Notice that, in this environment, there is complete protection of the various system resources. Each virtual machine is completely isolated from all other virtual machines, so there are no protection problems. At the same time, however, there is no direct sharing of resources. Two approaches to provide sharing have been implemented. First, it is possible to share a minidisk and thus to share files. This scheme is modeled after a physical shared disk but is implemented by software. Second, it is possible to define a network of virtual machines, each of which can send information over the virtual communications network.

Again, the network is modeled after physical communication networks but is implemented in software. Such a virtual-machine system is a perfect vehicle for operating-systems research and development. Normally, changing an operating system is a difficult task. Operating systems are large and complex programs, and it is difficult to be sure that a change in one part will not cause obscure bugs in some other part. The power of the operating system makes changing it particularly dangerous. Because the operating system executes in kernel mode, a wrong change in a pointer could cause an error that would destroy the entire file system. Thus, it is necessary to test all changes to the operating system carefully. The operating system, however, runs on and controls the entire machine. Therefore, the current system must be stopped and taken out of use while changes are made and tested. This period is commonly called systemdevelopment time.

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 Since it makes the system unavailable to users, systemdevelopment time is often scheduled late at night or on weekends, when system load is low. A virtual-machine system can eliminate much of this problem. System programmers are given their own virtual machine, and system development is done on the virtual machine instead of on a physical machine. Normal system operation seldom needs to be disrupted for system development.


 Despite the advantages of virtual machines, they received little attention for a number of years after they were first developed. Today, however, virtual machines are coming back into fashion as a means of solving system compatibility problems. In this section, we explore two popular contemporary virtual machines: VMware and the Java virtual machine. As we will see, these virtual machines typically run on top of an operating system of any of the design types discussed earlier. Thus, operating system design methods— simple layers, microkernel, modules, and virtual machines—are not nuitually exclusive.


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 VMware is a popular commercial application that abstracts Intel 80X86 hardware into isolated virtual machines. VMware runs as an application on a host operating system such as Windows or Linux and allows this host system to concurrently run several different guest operating systems as independent virtual machines. Consider the following scenario: A developer has designed an application and would like to test it on Linux, FreeBSD, Windows NT, and Windows XP. One option is for her to obtain four different computers, each running a copy of one of these operating systems. Another alternative is for her first to install Linux on a computer system and test the application, then to install FreeBSD and test the application, and so forth. This option allows her to use the same physical computer but is time-consuming, since she must install a new operating system for each test. Such testing could be accomplished concurrently on the same physical computer using VMware.

 In this case, the programmer could test the application on a host operating system and on three guest operating systems with each system running as a separate virtual machine. The architecture of such a system is shown in Figure 2.16.

Virtual machines

In this scenario, Linux is running as the host operating system; FreeBSD, Windows NT, and Windows XP are running as guest operating systems. The virtualization layer is the heart of VMware, as it abstracts the physical hardware into isolated virtual machines running as guest operating systems. Each virtual machine has its own virtual CPU, memory, disk drives, network interfaces, and so forth.

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The Java Virtual Machine 

Java is a popular object-oriented programming language introduced by Sun Microsystems in 1995. In addition to a language specification and a large API library, Java also provides a specification for a Java virtual machine—or JVM. Java objects are specified with the class construct; a Java program consists of one or more classes. For each Java class, the compiler produces an architecture-neutral bytecode output (.class) file that will run on any implementation of the JVM. The JVMis a specification for an abstract computer. It consists of a class loader and a Java interpreter that executes the architecture-neutral bytecodes, as diagrammed in Figure 2.17.

Virtual machines

 The class loader loads the compiled . class files from both the Java program and the Java API for execution by the Java interpreter. After a class is loaded, the verifier checks that the . class file is valid Java bytecode and does not overflow or underflow the stack. It also ensures that the bytecode does not perform pointer arithmetic, which could provide illegal memory access. If the class passes verification, it is run by the Java interpreter. The JVM also automatically manages memory by performing garbage collection—the practice of reclaiming memory from objects no longer in use and returning it to the system. Much research focuses on garbage collection algorithms for increasing the performance of Java programs in the virtual machine. The JVM may be implemented in software on top of a host operating system, such as Windows, Linux, or Mac OS X, or as part of a web browser. Alternatively, the JVM may be implemented in hardware on a chip specifically designed to run Java programs.

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If the JVM is implemented in software, the Java interpreter interprets the bytecode operations one at a time. A faster software technique is to use a just-in-time (JIT) compiler. Here, the first time a Java method is invoked, the bytecodes for the method are turned into native machine language for the host system. These operations are then cached so that subsequent invocations of a method are performed using the native machine instructions and the bytecode operations need not be interpreted all over again. A technique that is potentially even faster is to run the JVM in hardware on a special Java chip that executes the Java bytecode operations as native code, thus bypassing the need for either a software interpreter or a just-in-time compiler.


The .MET Framework is a collection of technologies, including a set of class libraries, and an execution environment that come together to provide a platform for developing software. This platform allows programs to be written to target the .NTT Framework instead of a specific architecture. A program written for the .NET Framework need not worry about the specifics of the hardware or the operating system on which it will run. Thus, any architecture implementing .NET will be able to successfully execute the program, This is because the execution environment abstracts these details and provides a virtual, machine as an intermediary between the executing program and the underlying a rchitecture^ At the core of the .NET Framework is the Common Language Runtime (CLR). The CLR is the implementation of the .NET virtual machine. It provides an environment for execution of programs written in any of the languages targeted at the .NET Framework. Programs written in languages such as C# (pronounced C-sharp) and VB.NET are compiled into an intermediate, architecture-independent language called i\4icrosoft Intermediate Language (MS-1L).

These compiled files, called assemblies, include MS-IL instructions and metadata. They have a file extension of either .EXE or .DLL. Upon execution of a program, the CLR loads assemblies into what is known as the Application Domain. As instructions are requested by the executing program, the CLR converts the MS-IL instructions inside the assemblies into native code that is specific to the underlying arcliitecture using just-in-time compilation. Once instructions have been converted to native code, they are kept and will continue to run as native code for the CPU. The architecture of the CLR for the .NET framework is shown in Figure 2.1.8.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Ans: Operating-System Design and Implementation In this section, we discuss problems we face in designing and implementing an operating system. There are, of course, no complete solutions to such problems, but there are approaches that have proved successful. view more..
Ans: User Operating-System Interface There are two fundamental approaches for users to interface with the operating system. One technique is to provide a command-line interface or command interpreter that allows users to directly enter commands that are to be performed by the operating system. The second approach allows the user to interface with the operating system via a graphical user interface or GUI. view more..
Ans: An operating system provides an environment for the execution of programs. It provides certain services to programs and to the users of those programs. The specific services provided, of course, differ from one operating system to another, but we can identify common classes. These operating-system services are provided for the convenience of the programmer, to make the programming task easier. services are : User interface, Program execution, I/O operations, File-system manipulation, Communications, Error detection, Resource allocation, Accounting, Protection and security view more..
Ans: Virtual Machines The layered approach described in Section 2.7.2 is taken to its logical conclusion in the concept of a virtual machine. The fundamental idea behind a virtual machine is to abstract the hardware of a single computer (the CPU, memory, disk drives, network interface cards, and so forth) into several different execution environments, thereby creating the illusion that each separate execution environment is running its own private computer. By using CPU scheduling (Chapter 5) and virtual-memory techniques (Chapter 9), an operating system can create the illusion that a process has its own processor with its own (virtual) memory. Normally, a process has additional features, such as system calls and a file system, that are not provided by the bare hardware. view more..
Ans: Deadlock Prevention As we noted in Section 7.2.1, for a deadlock to occur, each of the four necessary conditions must hold. By ensuring that at least one of these conditions cannot hold, we can prevent the occurrence of a deadlock. We elaborate on this approach by examining each of the four necessary conditions separately. view more..
Ans: Deadlock Avoidance Deadlock-prevention algorithms, as discussed in Section 7.4, prevent deadlocks by restraining how requests can be made. The restraints ensure that at least one of the necessary conditions for deadlock cannot occur and, hence, that deadlocks cannot hold. Possible side effects of preventing deadlocks by this method, however, are low device utilization and reduced system throughput. An alternative method for avoiding deadlocks is to require additional information about how resources are to be requested. For example, in a system with one tape drive and one printer, the system might need to know that process P will request first the tape drive and then the printer before releasing both resources, whereas process Q will request first the printer and then the tape drive. With this knowledge of the complete sequence of requests and releases for each process, the system can decide for each request whether or not the process should wait in order to avoid a possible future deadlock. view more..
Ans: Recovery From Deadlock When a detection algorithm determines that a deadlock exists, several alternatives are available. One possibility is to inform the operator that a deadlock has occurred and to let the operator deal with the deadlock manually. Another possibility is to let the system recover from the deadlock automatically. There are two options for breaking a deadlock. One is simply to abort one or more processes to break the circular wait. The other is to preempt some resources from one or more of the deadlocked processes. view more..
Ans: Stable-Storage Implementation We introduced the write-ahead log, which requires the availability of stable storage. By definition, information residing in stable storage is never lost. To implement such storage, we need to replicate the needed information on multiple storage devices (usually disks) with independent failure modes. We need to coordinate the writing of updates in a way that guarantees that a failure during an update will not leave all the copies in a damaged state and that, when we are recovering from a failure, we can force all copies to a consistent and correct value, even if another failure occurs during the recovery. In this section, we discuss how to meet these needs. view more..
Ans: File-System Mounting Just as a file must be opened before it is used, a file system must be mounted before it can be available to processes on the system. More specifically, the directory structure can be built out of multiple volumes, which must be mounted to make them available within the file-system name space. The mount procedure is straightforward. The operating system is given the name of the device and the mount point—the location within the file structure where the file system is to be attached. Typically, a mount point is an empty directory. view more..
Ans: Access Methods Files store information. When it is used, this information must be accessed and read into computer memory. The information in the file can be accessed in several ways. Some systems provide only one access method for files. Other systems, such as those of IBM, support many access methods, and choosing the right one for a particular application is a major design problem. view more..
Ans: Directory implementation The selection of directory-allocation and directory-management algorithms significantly affects the efficiency, performance, and reliability of the file system. In this section, we discuss the trade-offs involved in choosing one of these algorithms. view more..
Ans: Swap-Space Use Swap space is used in various ways by different operating systems, depending on the memory-management algorithms in use. For instance, systems that implement swapping may use swap space to hold an entire process image, including the code and data segments. Paging systems may simply store pages that have been pushed out of main memory. The amount of swap space needed on a system can therefore vary depending on the amount of physical memory, the amount of virtual memory it is backing, and the way in which the virtual memory is used. It can range from a few megabytes of disk space to gigabytes. view more..
Ans: Copy-on-Write we illustrated how a process can start quickly by merely demandpaging in the page containing the first instruction. However, process creation using the fork () system call may initially bypass the need for demand paging by using a technique similar to page sharing (covered in Section 8.4.4). This technique provides for rapid process creation and minimizes the number of new pages that must be allocated to the newly created process. view more..
Ans: File Replication Replication of files on different machines in a distributed file system is a useful redundancy for improving availability. Multimachine replication can benefit performance too: Selecting a nearby replica to serve an access request results in shorter service time. view more..
Ans: Special-Purpose Systems The discussion thus far has focused on general-purpose computer systems that we are all familiar with. There are, however, different classes of computer systems whose functions are more limited and whose objective is to deal with limited computation domains. view more..
Ans: Computing Environments : Traditional Computing, Client-Server Computing, Peer-to-Peer Computing, Web-Based Computing view more..
Ans: Scheduling Criteria Different CPU scheduling algorithms have different properties, and the choice of a particular algorithm may favor one class of processes over another. In choosing which algorithm to use in a particular situation, we must consider the properties of the various algorithms. Many criteria have been suggested for comparing CPU scheduling algorithms. Which characteristics are used for comparison can make a substantial difference in which algorithm is judged to be best. The criteria include the following: • CPU utilization. We want to keep the CPU as busy as possible. Conceptually, CPU utilization can range from 0 to 100 percent. In a real system, it should range from 40 percent (for a lightly loaded system) to 90 percent (for a heavily used system). view more..
Ans: Thread Scheduling we introduced threads to the process model, distinguishing between user-level and kernel-level threads. On operating systems that support them, it is kernel-level threads—not processes—that are being scheduled by the operating system. User-level threads are managed by a thread library, and the kernel is unaware of them. To run on a CPU, user-level threads must ultimately be mapped to an associated kernel-level thread, although this mapping may be indirect and may use a lightweight process (LWP). In this section, we explore scheduling issues involving user-level and kernel-level threads and offer specific examples of scheduling for Pthreads. view more..

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