Kernel - Processes and threads - Management#

Processes are created in Phoenix-RTOS using forking technique. When new process is created the current process forks into two processes - parent (process which initializes fork) and child. There are two forking functions used for process creation in Phoenix-RTOS - each of them should be used depending on the platform and MMU presence. The differences between these functions and circumstances of their usage are discussed in this chapter.

Creating new process using fork()#

The well-known method of creating new process in general purpose operating systems (e.g. UN*X) is a forking. The explanation of this method is quite simple. In the certain point of time a thread within a process calls fork() system call which creates a new process (child process) based on linear address space and operating system resources used by process calling fork() (parent process) and launches the thread within a child process. From this point of time processes are separated, and they operate on their own address spaces. It means that all modifications of process memory are visible only within them. For example, let’s consider process A forking into processes A and B. After forking, one of the threads of process A modifies variable located at address addr and stores their value 1 and thread of process B modifies the same variable at address addr and stores there 2. The modification is specific for the forked processes, and operating system assures that process A sees the variable located at addr as 1 and process B sees it as 2.

This technique can be only implemented when processors are equipped with MMU providing mechanisms for memory virtualization (e.g. paging) which enables programs to use the same linear address to access different segments of physical memory. On processors lacked of MMU the fork() method is unavailable, and it is replaced by vfork().

Creating new process using vfork()#

Historically vfork() is designed to be used in the specific case where the child will exec() another program, and the parent can block until this happens. A traditional fork() requires duplicating all the memory of the parent process in the child which leads to significant overhead. The goal of the vfork() function was to reduce this overhead by preventing unnecessary memory copying when new process is created. Usually, after process creation using fork() function a new program is executed. In such case, traditional fork before exec() leads to unnecessary overhead (memory is copied to the child process and then is freed and replaced by new memory objects as the result of exec()).

In UN*X operating system history “The Mach VM system” added Copy On Write (COW), which made the fork() much cheaper, and in BSD 4.4, vfork() was made synonymous to fork().

vfork() function has another important repercussion for non-MMU architectures. Because of semantics, it allows launching a new process in the same way as using fork() which enables application portability.

Some consider the semantics of vfork() to be an architectural blemish and POSIX.1-2008 removed vfork() from the standard and replaced it with posix_spawn(). The POSIX rationale for the posix_spawn() function notes that that function, which provides functionality equivalent to fork()+exec(), is designed to be implementable on systems that lack an MMU.

Process termination#

Process can be terminated abnormally - as the consequence of receiving signal or normally after executing exit() function. When process exits all of its threads are terminated, all memory objects are unmapped and all resource handles are freed/closed. The parent process receives SIGCHLD signal notifying it about the child termination. SIGCHLD signal plays another important role in process termination sequence. It allows to safe remove the remaining child process resources which are not able to be removed during the process runtime (e.g. last thread kernel stack).

Program execution#

To execute a new program the binary object representing it should be mapped into the process linear address space and control have to be passed to the program entry point. This is the responsibility of exec() family functions.

On non-MMU architectures, there is one important step performed after a binary object is mapped and before control is passed to the program entry point. This step is the program relocation which recalculates some program structures (e.g. GOT) used for accessing variables during the runtime. The relocation depends on the current memory location of program.

Thread management#

While process represents a memory space and operating system resources devoted for particular executed program the thread represents the program instruction stream executed concurrently to other threads in the process context (using defined linear address space and associated operating system resources). To manage threads beginthread(), endthread() functions should be used.

beginthread() function starts a new thread using function address and stack allocated by a calling thread. The kernel stacks for all of desired thread execution modes are allocated. endthread() function terminates calling thread and releases allocated kernel stacks.

See also#

  1. Kernel - Processes and threads

  2. Kernel - Processes and threads - Scheduler

  3. Kernel - Processes and threads - Synchronization primitives

  4. Kernel - Processes and threads - Message passing

  5. Kernel - Processes and threads - Namespace

  6. Table of Contents