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Understanding the Linux Kernel, 3rd Edition by Marco Cesati, Daniel P. Bovet

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Processes, Lightweight Processes, and Threads

The term "process" is often used with several different meanings. In this book, we stick to the usual OS textbook definition: a process is an instance of a program in execution. You might think of it as the collection of data structures that fully describes how far the execution of the program has progressed.

Processes are like human beings: they are generated, they have a more or less significant life, they optionally generate one or more child processes, and eventually they die. A small difference is that sex is not really common among processes — each process has just one parent.

From the kernel's point of view, the purpose of a process is to act as an entity to which system resources (CPU time, memory, etc.) are allocated.

When a process is created, it is almost identical to its parent. It receives a (logical) copy of the parent's address space and executes the same code as the parent, beginning at the next instruction following the process creation system call. Although the parent and child may share the pages containing the program code (text), they have separate copies of the data (stack and heap), so that changes by the child to a memory location are invisible to the parent (and vice versa).

While earlier Unix kernels employed this simple model, modern Unix systems do not. They support multithreaded applications — user programs having many relatively independent execution flows sharing a large portion of the application data ...

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