CS240: Advanced Topics in Operating Systems

Spring 2006 -- Dawson Engler


Class Abstract

Students will study advanced operating system topics and be exposed to recent developments in operating systems research. This course involves readings and lectures on classic and new papers. Topics: virtual memory management, synchronization and communication, file systems, protection and security, operating system structure and extension techniques, fault tolerance, and history and experience of systems programming.

Class Times

MWF 1:15PM - 2:05PM in Skilling 193

Course Staff


Dawson Engler
Office: 314 Gates
Telephone: (650) 723-0762
E-mail: engler@cs.stanford.edu
Office hours: By appointment

Teaching Assistant

Ted Kremenek
E-mail: kremenek@cs.stanford.edu
Office hours: Immediately after class or by appointment.
Location: Gates 326
Extra office hours before exams

Course Secretary

Mirella Machuca
Office: 291 Gates
Phone: (650) 723-5741
E-mail: mirella@cs.stanford.edu


To contact the staff, please send email to cs240-spr0506-staff@lists.stanford.edu and prefix the subject line with "CS240" for a prompt response. Announcements from the staff will be sent via the cs240-spr0506-students@lists.stanford.edu mailing list to which any registered student will automatically be added.


The prerequisite for this class is CS 140 (previously CS 240A) or the equivalent. It is necessary to have this background before taking the class, as we'll read a lot papers quickly without much time for catching up on the basics. The course assumes an understanding of topics in operating systems such as synchronization, virtual memory management, scheduling, and file systems.

The other requirement is that students be able to send and receive email, access the class newsgroup, access the class web page, and download and print postscript from the class web page. There will be very few handouts in the course, since most of the notes and other materials will be available only on the class web page.

Course Organization and Workload

The course consists of lectures, readings, and three exams. As the quarter progresses there may be ways to get extra credit. The two most important things to know about the class: (1) the main goal is to have interesting in-class discussions and (2) we recommend you read each paper at least twice, preferably more than a day in advance so that it sinks in.

Most of the work in this course consists of reading journal and conference papers. We will cover one paper for each class meeting. This class will be primarily discussion based (rather than organized around lectures). Active discussion will (hopefully) give you a non-trivial understanding of the material. The only way this approach can work is if you read the papers carefully. To encourage this, 40% of your class grade will come from class participation: this includes talking in class, as well as how you do on pop quizzes and (possibly) pop presentations. Class time will not be used to rehash the material in the papers. Instead, it will be used to highlight the important points and discuss some of the more interesting features. There will be as much as 10-15 hours of reading per week. Do not take this course unless you are willing and able to do a lot of reading.


There is no textbook for this course. The course is based on a collection of journal and conference papers that describe the history and state of the art in operating systems. Papers will be discussed in class in approximately the order that they appear on the reading list. You must read the papers before class. At a minimum we recommend two close readings. We will provide most papers online; those that are only available in hardcopy will be provided about a week before they are needed.

Grading Policy

The class is graded on a rough curve. 40% of your grade will come from class participation, the other 60% will be based on two midterm exam scores and the final exam score. All three exams count. SCPD students will be graded just on exams (and any homeworks).

Grading FAQ


Two midterm exams and a final exam will be given in class. They will be open book (but not open laptop). The midterm exams are not cumulative, but the final exam is cumulative. A sample exam will be available along with sample solutions. Review sessions will be held before each exam.


There is a class newsgroup, su.class.cs240, that can be used by members of the class to converse with each other. All course announcements will be put on to the class web page. The news group is a good place to advertise for study groups, ask questions of other students, etc.

Course Outline

This course makes no attempt to cover all the interesting topics in operating systems. Instead, we will cover a few topics in depth. The course is divided into the following general topic areas:

Virtual memory management
Discussions of virtual memory management implementations and recent work in virtual memory for multiprocessors, NUMA machines, large virtual address spaces, and other topics.
Synchronization and communication
Discussions of synchronization with an emphasis on monitors. Communication using remote procedure call.
File systems
Discussions of file system interfaces and disk storage management techniques.
Protection and security
Discussions of data security and authentication.
Extensions and fault tolerance
Discussions of mechanisms for implementing OS services at user level, OS structure and performance, reliability and availability of OS services.
History and experience
Historically important papers and experience reports by senior researchers in the field.

Reading List

Category/Date Title Author(s)
(W 4/5) The Rise of "Worse is Better" Richard Gabriel
Conc. (F 4/7) An Investigation of the Therac-25 Accidents Leveson and Turner
Conc. (M 4/10) Eraser: A Dynamic Data Race Detector for Multithreaded Programs Stefan Savage
Conc. (W 4/12) Experience with Processes and Monitors in Mesa Butler Lampson
Conc. (W 4/14) Capriccio: Scalable Threads for Internet Services Rob von Behren, Jeremy Condit, Feng Zhou, George C. Necula, and Eric Brewer
Why Threads Are a Bad Idea (for most purposes) John Ousterhout
Cooperative Task Management without Manual Stack Management (up to and including Section 3) Atul Adya, Jon Howell, Marvin Theimer, William J. Bolosky, John R. Douceur
Conc. (M 4/17) Threads cannot be implemented as a library AHans-J. Boehm
VM (W 4/19) Virtual Memory Management in the VAX/VMS Operating System Levy and Lipman
VM (F 4/21) Practical, Transparent, Operating System Support for Superpages Navarro, Iyer, Druschel, and Cox
VM (M 4/24) Memory Resource Management in VMware ESX Server Waldspurger
(W 4/26) Improving the Reliability of Commodity Operating Systems [Nooks] Swift, Bershad, Levy
(F 4/28) A Dynamic Technique for Eliminating Buffer Overflow Vulnerabilities (and Other Memory Errors) Rinard, Cadar, Dumitran, Roy, Leu
Enhancing Server Availability and Security Through Failure-Oblivious Computing Rinard, Cadar, Dumitran, Roy, Leu, Beebee
(M 4/1) Quiz 1 Review
(W 4/3) Quiz 1 (Midterm)
N/W (F 4/5) Eliminating Receive Livelock in an Interrupt-Driven Kernel Mogul and Ramakrishnan
N/W (M 4/8) The End to End Argument in System Design Saltzer, Reed, Clark
FS (W 4/10) Design and Implementation of the SUN Network Filesystem Sandberg et al.
FS (F 4/12) Leases: An Efficient Fault-Tolerant Mechanism for Distributed File Cache Consistency Gray and Cheriton
FS (M 4/15) A Low-Bandwidth Network File System Muthitacharoen, Chen, and Mazieres
(W 4/17) MapReduce: Simplified Data Processing on Large Clusters Dean and Ghemawat
FS (F 4/19) The Design and Implementation of a Log-Structured File System Rosenblum and Ousterhout
FS (4/22) Soft Updates: A Solution to the Metadata Update Problem in File Systems McKusick, Ganger
(W 4/24) A Case for Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks (RAID) Patterson, Gibson, and Katz
(F 4/26) Quiz 2 (Midterm)
(M 5/29) No Class (Memorial Day)
(W 5/31) Xen and the Art of Virtualization Barham et. al
Exp. (F 6/2) Application Performance and Flexibility on Exokernel Systems Kaashoek et. al
Exp. (M 6/5) Hints for Computer System Design Butler W. Lampson
(W 6/7) Quiz 3 (Final)

Class Websites from Previous Quarters

Webpage maintained by Ted Kremenek