The kernel is a computer program that constitutes the central core of a computer's operating system. It has complete control over everything that occurs in the system. As such, it is the first program loaded on startup, and then manages the remainder of the startup, as well asinput/output requests from software, translating them into data processing instructions for the central processing unit. It is also responsible for managing memory, and for managing and communicating with computing peripherals, like printers, speakers, etc. The kernel is a fundamental part of a modern computer's operating system.
A kernel connects theapplication software to the hardware of a computer
The critical code of the kernel is usually loaded into a protected area of memory, which prevents it from being overwritten by other, less frequently used parts of the operating system or byapplications. The kernel performs its tasks, such as executing processes and handling interrupts, in kernel space, whereas everything a user normally does, such as writing text in a text editor or running programs in a GUI (graphical user interface), is done in user space. This separation prevents user data and kernel data from interfering with each other and thereby diminishing performance or causing the system to become unstable (and possibly crashing).
When a process makes requests of the kernel, the request is called a system call. Various kernel designs differ in how they manage system calls and resources. For example, a monolithic kernel executes all the operating system instructions in the same address space in order to improve the performance[clarification needed] of the system. A microkernel runs most of the operating system's background processes in user space, to make the operating system more modular and, therefore, easier to maintain.[clarification needed]
Functions of the kernel
The kernel's primary function is to mediate access to the computer's resources, including
The central processing unit
This central component of a computer system is responsible forrunning or executing programs. The kernel takes responsibility for deciding at any time which of the many running programs should be allocated to the processor or processors (each of which can usually run only one program at a time).
Random-access memory is used to store both program instructions and data. Typically, both need to be present in memory in order for a program to execute. Often multiple programs will want access to memory, frequently demanding more memory than the computer has available. The kernel is responsible for deciding which memory each process can use, and determining what to do when not enough memory is available.
Input/output (I/O) devices
I/O devices include such peripherals as keyboards, mice, disk drives, printers, network adapters, and display devices. The kernel allocates requests from applications to perform I/O to an appropriate device and provides convenient methods for using the device (typically abstracted to the point where the application does not need to know implementation details of the device).
Key aspects necessary in resource management are the definitio
The kernel has full access to the system's memory and must allow processes to safely access this memory as they require it. Often the first step in doing this is virtual addressing, usually achieved bypaging and/or segmentation. Virtual addressing allows the kernel to make a given physical address appear to be another address, the virtual address. Virtual address spaces may be different for different processes; the memory that one process accesses at a particular (virtual) address may be different memory from what another process accesses at the same address. This allows every program to behave as if it is the only one (apart from the kernel) running and thus prevents applications from crashing each other.
On many systems, a program's virtual address may refer to data which is not currently in memory. The layer of indirection provided by virtual addressing allows the operating system to use other data stores, like a hard drive, to store what would otherwise have to remain in main memory (RAM). As a result, operating systems can allow programs to use more memory than the system has physically available. When a program needs data which is not currently in RAM, the CPU signals to the kernel that this has happened, and the kernel responds by writing the contents of an inactive memory block to disk (if necessary) and replacing it with the data requested by the program. The program can then be resumed from the point where it was stopped. This scheme is generally known as demand paging.
Virtual addressing also allows creation of virtual partitions of memory in two disjointed areas, one being reserved for the kernel (kernel space) and the other for the applications (user space). The applications are not permitted by the processor to address kernel memory, thus preventing an application from damaging the running kernel. This fundamental partition of memory space has contributed much to the current designs of actual general-purpose kernels and is almost universal in such systems, although some research kernels (e.g.Singularity) take other approaches.
To perform useful functions, processes need access to the peripheralsconnected to the computer, which are controlled by the kernel throughdevice drivers. A device driver is a computer program that enables the operating system to interact with a hardware device. It provides the operating system with information of how to control and communicate with a certain piece of hardware. The driver is an important and vital piece to a program application. The design goal of a driver is abstraction; the function of the driver is to translate the OS-mandated function calls (programming calls) into device-specific calls. In theory, the device should work correctly with the suitable driver. Device drivers are used for such things as video cards, sound cards, printers, scanners, modems, and LAN cards. The common levels of abstraction of device drivers are:
1. On the hardware side:
Using a high level interface (Video BIOS).
Using a lower-level device driver (file drivers using disk drivers).
Simulating work with hardware, while doing something entirely different.
2. On the software side:
Allowing the operating system direct access to hardware resources.
Implementing only primitives.
Implementing an interface for non-driver software (Example:TWAIN).
Implementing a language, sometimes high-level (ExamplePostScript).
For example, to show the user something on the screen, an application would make a request to the kernel, which would forward the request to its display driver, which is then responsible for actually plotting the character/pixel.
A kernel must maintain a list of available devices. This list may be known in advance (e.g. on an embedded system where the kernel will be rewritten if the available hardware changes), configured by the user (typical on older PCs and on systems that are not designed for personal use) or detected by the operating system at run time (normally called plug and play). In a plug and play system, a device manager first performs a scan on different hardware buses, such asPeripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) or Universal Serial Bus (USB), to detect installed devices, then searches for the appropriate drivers.
As device management is a very OS-specific topic, these drivers are handled differently by each kind of kernel design, but in every case, the kernel has to provide the I/O to allow drivers to physically access their devices through some port or memory location. Very important decisions have to be made when designing the device management system, as in some designs accesses may involve context switches, making the operation very CPU-intensive and easily causing a significant performance overhead.
Main article: System call
In computing, a system call is how a program requests a service from an operating system's kernel that it does not normally have permission to run. System calls provide the interface between a process and the operating system. Most operations interacting with the system require permissions not available to a user level process, e.g. I/O performed with a device present on the system, or any form of communication with other processes requires the use of system calls.
A system call is a mechanism that is used by the application program to request a service from the operating system. They use a machine-code instruction that causes the processor to change mode. An example would be from supervisor mode to protected mode. This is where the operating system performs actions like accessing hardware devices or the memory management unit. Generally the operating system provides a library that sits between the operating system and normal programs. Usually it is a C library such as Glibc or Windows API. The library handles the low-level details of passing information to the kernel and switching to supervisor mode. System calls include close, open, read, wait and write.