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Naveenraja S




1. Introduction

2. What is Kernel?

2.1. Definition

2.2. Categories of Kernel

2.2.1. Monolithic

2.2.2. Microkernel

2.2.3. Hybrid Kernel

2.2.4. Exo Kernel

3. Features of Linux Kernel

4. Linux Kernel Structure

5. Linux Kernel System Data Structures

5.1 Task List

5.2 Memory Map

5.3 I-nodes

5.4 Data Connection

6. Conclusion
Linux is one of the most widely used Open Source operating system in the
world. It meets the current demands like Multi tasking, Multi-User Process,
Architecture independence, Paging, Different file systems etc., with the best
architecture of the kernel, Linux has been successfully adopted by many users.
This paper describes the general outline of the Linux kernel Architecture. Linux
kernel is monolithic and it consists of more than 5 million lines of codes. Linux kernel
is designed in a manner that every function of the kernel has been repeatedly altered
and expanded.
Linux kernel source consists of more than ten directories and it can be loaded
in any architecture computers. These directories are factors of success behind the
overall system.
1. Introduction
Linux is a member of the large family of Unix-like operating systems. Linux
was initially developed by Linus Torvalds in 1991 as an operating system for IBM
compatible personal computers based on the Intel 80386 microprocessor. Linus
remains deeply involved with improving Linux, keeping it up-to-date with various
hardware developments and coordinating the activity of hundreds of Linux developers
around the world. Over the years, developers have worked to make Linux available on
other architectures, including Alpha, SPARC, Motorola MC680x0, PowerPC, and
IBM System/390.
One of the more appealing benefits to Linux is that it isn't a commercial
operating system: its source code under the GNU Public License is open and available
to anyone to study.
Technically speaking, Linux is a true UNIX kernel, although it is not a full
UNIX operating system, because it does not include all the applications such as
filesystem utilities, windowing systems and graphical desktops, system administrator
commands, text editors, compilers, and so on. However, since most of these programs
are freely available under the GNU General Public License, they can be installed into
one of the filesystems supported by Linux.
Since Linux is a kernel, many Linux users prefer to rely on commercial distributions,
available on CD-ROM, to get the code included in a standard Unix system.
Alternatively, the code may be obtained from several different FTP sites.
2. What is Kernel?
2.1. Definition
The kernel is a program that constitutes the central core of a
computer operating system. It has complete control over everything that occurs in the
system. The kernel is the first part of the operating system to load into memory
during booting (i.e., system startup), and it remains there for the entire duration of the
computer session because its services are required continuously. Thus it is important
for it to be as small as possible while still providing all the essential services needed
by the other parts of the operating system and by the various application programs.
However, larger kernels can provide more functionality.
2.2. Categories of Kernel
Kernels can be classified into four broad categories::
2.2.1. Monolithic
Monolithic kernels, which have traditionally been used by Unix-like operating
systems, contain all the operating system core functions and the device drivers (small
programs that allow the operating system to interact with hardware devices, such as
disk drives, video cards and printers). Modern monolithic kernels, such as those of
Linux and FreeBSD, both of which fall into the category of Unix-like operating
systems, feature the ability to load modules at runtime, thereby allowing easy
extension of the kernel's capabilities as required, while helping to minimize the
amount of code running in kernel space.
2.2.2. Microkernel
A microkernel usually provides only minimal services, such as defining memory
address spaces, interprocess communication (IPC) and process management. All other
functions, such as hardware management, are implemented as processes running
independently of the kernel. Examples of microkernel operating systems are AIX,
BeOS, Hurd, Mach, Mac OS X, MINIX and QNX.
2.2.3. Hybrid Kernel
Hybrid kernels are similar to microkernels, except that they include additional
code in kernel space so that such code can run more swiftly than it would were it in
user space. Most modern operating systems use hybrid kernels, including Microsoft
Windows NT, 2000 and XP. Dragonfly BSD, a recentfork (i.e., variant) of FreeBSD,
is the first non-Mach based BSD operating system to employ a hybrid kernel
2.2.4. Exo Kernel
Exo type kernel is not yet stabilized. It's under design and research. The user
mode processes running in this type of kernel has the ability to access kernel
resources like process tables, etc directly.
3. Features of Linux Kernel
By itself, the Linux kernel is not very innovative. When Linus Torvalds wrote
the first kernel, he referred to some classical books on UNIX internals, like Maurice
Bach's The Design of the Unix Operating System (Prentice Hall, 1986). Actually,
Linux still has some bias toward the UNIX baseline described in Bach's book (i.e.,
SVR4). However, Linux doesn't stick to any particular variant. Instead, it tries to
adopt good features and design choices of several different UNIX kernels. Linux
kernel consists of following features.
1. The Linux kernel is monolithic. It is a large, complex do-it-yourself
program, composed of several logically different components. In
this, it is quite conventional; most commercial UNIX variants are
2. Linux Kernel Supports Modules, since it is able to automatically
load and unload modules on demand.
3. Linux uses kernel threads in a very limited way to execute a few
kernel functions periodically; since Linux kernel threads cannot
execute user programs, they do not represent the basic execution
context abstraction.
4. Multithreaded application support.
5. Linux is a non-preemptive kernel. This means that Linux cannot
arbitrarily interleave execution flows while they are in privileged
mode. Several sections of kernel code assume they can run and
modify data structures without fear of being interrupted and having
another thread alter those data structures.
6. Linux kernel supports most of the available file systems.Eg: VFS,
JFS etc.
4. Linux Kernel Structure
1. Process management
The scheduler handles all the active, waiting, and blocked processes.
2. Memory management
It is responsible for allocating memory to each process and for
protecting allocated memory against access by other processes.
3. File system
In UNIX, almost everything is handled over the file system interface.
Device drivers can be addressed as files. /proc file system allows us to
access data and parameters in the kernel
4. Device drivers
Abstract from the underlying hardware and allow us to access the
hardware with well-defined APIs
5. Networks
Incoming packets are asynchronous events and have o be collected and
identified, before a process can handle them. Most network operations
cannot be allocated to a specific process.
The given below illustration shows that the above described kernel structure.

Kernel Applications and tools User Space

System Calls Component

Process Memory File Device

Management Management Systems Drivers

Multitasking Virtual Memory Files,Directories Device Access Network Functionality

System Network Software
Scheduler Support
Architecture Memory Character Protocols
Specific Manager Devices
Block Hardware
Code Devices Network support

Hard disk, Network Hardware

CPU RAM CD,floppy Terminals Adapter
Figure 1: Linux Kernel Structure (General Diagram)
5. Linux Kernel System Data Structures
5.1 Task List
The process scheduler maintains a block of data for each process that is active.
These blocks of data are stored in a linked list called the task list; the process
scheduler always maintains a current pointer that indicates the current process that is
5.2 Memory Map
The memory manager stores a mapping of virtual to physical addresses on a
per-process basis, and also stores additional information on how to fetch and replace
particular pages. This information is stored in a memory-map data structure that is
stored in the process scheduler's task list.
5.3 I-nodes
The Virtual File System uses index-nodes (i-nodes) to represent files on a
logical file system. The I-node data structure stores the mapping of file block numbers
to physical device addresses. I-node data structures can be shared across processes if
two processes have the same file open. This sharing is accomplished by both task data
blocks pointing to the same I-node.
5.4 Data Connection
All of the data structures are rooted at the task list of the process scheduler.
Each process on the system has a data structure containing a pointer to its memory
mapping information, and also pointers to the I-nodes representing all of the opened
files. Finally, the task data structure also contains pointers to data structures
representing the entire opened network connections associated with each task.
6. Conclusion
Linux is a modular, UNIX-like monolithic kernel. Kernel is the heart of the
OS that executes with special hardware permission (kernel mode). “Core kernel”
provides framework, data structures, and support for drivers, modules, subsystems.
Kernel designers must consider many competing goals.
Linux source tree mirrors kernel structure. All the architecture dependent
source sub trees live in /arch. The “main” source of kernel lives in /kernel/init.c.
lxr.linux.no is a nice web-based source browser.