Chapter 14. Kernel Activities

Chapter 13 demonstrated that system execution time can be split into two large and different parts: kernel mode and user mode. In this chapter, we investigate the various kernel activities and reach the conclusion that a finer-grained differentiation is required.

System calls are not the only way of switching between user and system mode. As is evident from the preceding chapters, all platforms supported by Linux employ the concept of interrupts to introduce periodic interruptions for a variety of reasons. Two types of interrupt are distinguished:

  • Hardware Interrupts—Are produced automatically by the system and connected peripherals. They support more efficient implementation of device drivers, but are also needed by the processor itself to draw attention to exceptions or errors that require interaction with the kernel code.

  • SoftIRQs—Are used to effectively implement deferred activities in the kernel itself.

In contrast to other parts of the kernel, the code for handling interrupts and system call-specific segments contains very strong interweaving between assembly language and C code to resolve several subtle problems that C could not reasonably handle on its own. This is not a Linux-specific problem. Regardless of their individual approach, most operating system developers try to hide the low-level handling of such points as deeply as possible in the kernel sources to make them invisible to the remaining code. Because of technical circumstances, this ...

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