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Operating System Memory Allocation Methods


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One of the simplest methods of allocating memory is to assign processes to variably sized partitions in memory, where each partition may contain exactly one process. In this variable-partition scheme, the operating system keeps a table indicating which parts of memory are available and which are occupied. Initially, all memory is available for user processes and is considered one large block of available memory, a hole. Eventually, as you will see, memory contains a set of holes of various sizes.

Figure 9.7 depicts this scheme. Initially, the memory is fully utilized, containing processes 5, 8, and 2. After process 8 leaves, there is one contiguous hole. Later on, process 9 arrives and is allocated memory. Then process 5 departs, resulting in two noncontiguous holes.

As processes enter the system, the operating system takes into account the memory requirements of each process and the amount of available memory space in determining which processes are allocated memory. When a process is allocated space, it is loaded into memory, where it can then compete for CPU time. When a process terminates, it releases its memory, which the operating system may then provide to another process.

What happens when there isn't sufficient memory to satisfy the demands of an arriving process? One option is to simply reject the process and provide an appropriate error message. Alternatively, we can place such processes into a wait queue. When memory is later released, the operating system checks the wait queue to determine if it will satisfy the memory demands of a waiting process.

In general, as mentioned, the memory blocks available comprise a set of holes of various sizes scattered throughout memory. When a process arrives and needs memory, the system searches the set for a hole that is large enough for this process. If the hole is too large, it is split into two parts. One part is allocated to the arriving process; the other is returned to the set of holes. When a process terminates, it releases its block of memory, which is then placed back in the set of holes. If the new hole is adjacent to other holes, these adjacent holes are merged to form one larger hole.

This procedure is a particular instance of the general dynamic storage allocation problem, which concerns how to satisfy a request of size n from a list of free holes. There are many solutions to this problem. The first-fit, best-fit, and worst-fit strategies are the ones most commonly used to select a free hole from the set of available holes.

• First fit. Allocate the first hole that is big enough. Searching can start either at the beginning of the set of holes or at the location where the previous first-fit search ended. We can stop searching as soon as we find a free hole that is large enough.

• Best fit. Allocate the smallest hole that is big enough. We must search the entire list, unless the list is ordered by size. This strategy produces the smallest leftover hole.

• Worst fit. Allocate the largest hole. Again, we must search the entire list, unless it is sorted by size. This strategy produces the largest leftover hole, which may be more useful than the smaller leftover hole from a best-fit approach.

Simulations have shown that both first fit and best fit are better than worst fit in terms of decreasing time and storage utilization. Neither first fit nor best fit is clearly better than the other in terms of storage utilization, but first fit is generally faster.

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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