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Operating System Memory Protection in a Paged Environment


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Memory protection in a paged environment is accomplished by protection bits associated with each frame. Normally, these bits are kept in the page table.

One bit can define a page to be read-write or read-only. Every reference to memory goes through the page table to find the correct frame number. At the same time that the physical address is being computed, the protection bits can be checked to verify that no writes are being made to a read-only page. An attempt to write to a read-only page causes a hardware trap to the operating system (or memory-protection violation).

We can easily expand this approach to provide a finer level of protection. We can create hardware to provide read-only, read-write, or execute-only protection; or, by providing separate protection bits for each kind of access, we can allow any combination of these accesses. Illegal attempts will be trapped to the operating system.

One additional bit is generally attached to each entry in the page table: a valid-invalid bit. When this bit is set to valid, the associated page is in the process's logical address space and is thus a legal (or valid) page. When the bit is set to invalid, the page is not in the process's logical address space. Illegal addresses are trapped by use of the valid-invalid bit. The operating system sets this bit for each page to allow or disallow access to the page.

Suppose, for example, that in a system with a 14-bit address space (0 to 16383), we have a program that should use only addresses 0 to 10468. Given a page size of 2 KB, we have the situation shown in Figure 9.13. Addresses in pages 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 are mapped normally through the page table. Any attempt to generate an address in pages 6 or 7, however, will find that the valid-invalid bit is set to invalid, and the computer will trap to the operating system (invalid page reference).

Notice that this scheme has created a problem. Because the program extends only to address 10468, any reference beyond that address is illegal. However, references to page 5 are classified as valid, so accesses to addresses up to 12287 are valid. Only the addresses from 12288 to 16383 are invalid. This problem is a result of the 2-KB page size and reflects the internal fragmentation of paging.

Rarely does a process use all its address range. In fact, many processes use only a small fraction of the address space available to them. It would be wasteful in these cases to create a page table with entries for every page in the address range. Most of this table would be unused but would take up valuable memory space. Some systems provide hardware, in the form of a page-table length register (PTLR), to indicate the size of the page table. This value is checked against every logical address to verify that the address is in the valid range for the process. Failure of this test causes an error trap to the operating system.

About the Authors

Abraham Silberschatz is the Sidney J. Weinberg Professor of Computer Science at Yale University. Prior to joining Yale, he was the Vice President of the Information Sciences Research Center at Bell Laboratories. Prior to that, he held a chaired professorship in the Department of Computer Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin.

Professor Silberschatz is a Fellow of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), a Fellow of Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and a member of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering.

Greg Gagne is chair of the Computer Science department at Westminster College in Salt Lake City where he has been teaching since 1990. In addition to teaching operating systems, he also teaches computer networks, parallel programming, and software engineering.


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The tenth edition of Operating System Concepts has been revised to keep it fresh and up-to-date with contemporary examples of how operating systems function, as well as enhanced interactive elements to improve learning and the student's experience with the material. It combines instruction on concepts with real-world applications so that students can understand the practical usage of the content. End-of-chapter problems, exercises, review questions, and programming exercises help to further reinforce important concepts. New interactive self-assessment problems are provided throughout the text to help students monitor their level of understanding and progress. A Linux virtual machine (including C and Java source code and development tools) allows students to complete programming exercises that help them engage further with the material.

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