CS240: Advanced Topics in Operating Systems

Spring 2007 -- 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

Tu-Th 1:15PM - 2:30PM 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

Jeremy Sugerman
E-mail: cs240-spr0607-staff@lists.stanford.edu
Office hours: Immediately after class or by appointment.
Location: Gates 376
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-spr0607-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-spr0607-students@lists.stanford.edu mailing list to which any registered student will automatically be added.


The prerequisite for this class is CS 140 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 scores on two in-class exams. SCPD students will be graded just on exams (and any homeworks).

Grading FAQ


There will be two in-class exams. They will be open book (but not open laptop). The final exam is cumulative. A sample exam will be available along with sample solutions. Review sessions will be held before each exam.

Note: This is a change from prior quarters, which had three 50 minute exams. Due to the different class schedule, this quarter will have two 75 minute exams.


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)
(Tu 4/3) The Rise of "Worse is Better" Richard Gabriel
(Th 4/5) Rethink the Sync (slides) Nightingale, Veeraraghavan, Chen, and Flinn
Disks from the Perspective of a File System Marshall Kirk McKusick
(Tu 4/10) Eraser: A Dynamic Data Race Detector for Multithreaded Programs Savage, Burrows, Nelson, Sobalvarro, and Anderson
(Th 4/12) Experience with Processes and Monitors in Mesa Butler Lampson
Threads cannot be implemented as a library Hans-J. Boehm
(Tu 4/17) An Introduction to Programming with Threads Andrew D. Birrell
(Th 4/19) Virtual Memory Management in the VAX/VMS Operating System Levy and Lipman
Virtual Memory Primitives for User Programs Appel and Li
(Tu 4/24) Practical, Transparent, Operating System Support for Superpages Navarro, Iyer, Druschel, and Cox
(Th 4/26) Virtual Machine Monitors: Current Technology and Future Trends (Optional slides) Rosenblum and Garfinkel
A Comparison of Software and Hardware Techniques for x86 Virtualization Adams and Agesen
(Tu 5/1) Memory Resource Management in VMware ESX Server Waldspurger
(Th 5/3) Exam 1 (Midterm)
(Tu 5/8) The necC Language: A Holistic Approach to Networked Embedded Systems Gay, Levis, von Behren, Welsh, Brewer, Culler
(Th 5/10) The Design and Implementation of a Log-Structured File System Rosenblum and Ousterhout
(Tu 5/15) Eliminating Receive Livelock in an Interrupt-Driven Kernel Mogul and Ramakrishnan
The End to End Argument in System Design Saltzer, Reed, Clark
(Th 5/17) Design and Implementation of the SUN Network Filesystem Sandberg et al.
Leases: An Efficient Fault-Tolerant Mechanism for Distributed File Cache Consistency Gray and Cheriton
(Tu 5/22) A Low-Bandwidth Network File System Muthitacharoen, Chen, and Mazieres
(Th 5/24) Exokernel: An Operating System Architecture for Application Level Resource Management Engler, Kaashoek, and O'Toole
(Tu 5/29) Bigtable: A Distributed Storage System for Structured Data Chang et al.
(Th 5/31) Making Information Flow Explicit in HiStar Zeldovich, Boyd-Wickizer, Kohler, and Mazieres
(Tu 6/5) Secure Untrusted Data Repository (SUNDR) Li, Krohn, Mazieres, and Shasha

Class Websites from Previous Quarters

Webpage maintained by Jeremy Sugerman