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

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Chapter 6. Timing Measurements

Countless computerized activities are driven by timing measurements , often behind the user's back. For instance, if the screen is automatically switched off after you have stopped using the computer's console, it is due to a timer that allows the kernel to keep track of how much time has elapsed since you pushed a key or moved the mouse. If you receive a warning from the system asking you to remove a set of unused files, it is the outcome of a program that identifies all user files that have not been accessed for a long time. To do these things, programs must be able to retrieve a timestamp identifying its last access time from each file. Such a timestamp must be automatically written by the kernel. More significantly, timing drives process switches along with even more visible kernel activities such as checking for time-outs.

We can distinguish two main kinds of timing measurement that must be performed by the Linux kernel:

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