Chapter 19. Process Communication

This chapter explains how User Mode processes can synchronize their actions and exchange data. We already covered several synchronization topics in Chapter 5, but the actors there were kernel control paths, not User Mode programs. We are now ready, after having discussed I/O management and filesystems at length, to extend the discussion to User Mode processes. These processes must rely on the kernel to facilitate interprocess synchronization and communication.

As we saw in the section "Linux File Locking" in Chapter 12, a form of synchronization among User Mode processes can be achieved by creating a (possibly empty) file and using suitable VFS system calls to lock and unlock it. While processes can similarly share data via temporary files protected by locks, this approach is costly because it requires accesses to the filesystem on disk. For this reason, all Unix kernels include a set of system calls that supports process communication without interacting with the filesystem; furthermore, several wrapper functions were developed and inserted in suitable libraries to expedite how processes issue their synchronization requests to the kernel.

As usual, application programmers have a variety of needs that call for different communication mechanisms. Here are the basic mechanisms that Unix systems offer to allow interprocess communication:

Pipes and FIFOs (named pipes)

Best suited to implement producer/consumer interactions among processes. Some processes ...

Get Understanding the Linux Kernel, 3rd Edition now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.