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School of Computer Science & Engineering
University of New South Wales

 Advanced Operating Systems 
 COMP9242 2003/S2 


To provide students with a deep understanding of modern operating system technology, implementation techniques and research issues.



Provide in-depth coverage of modern operating system issues, such as:





Course Pre- and Co-requisites

  1. a credit grade in COMP3231 or COMP9201 Operating Systems (pre-requisite)
  2. COMP9211 or COMP3211 Computer Architecture (co-requisite)



A rough outline of the lectures is (subject to change):

Introduction and Overview

Introduction to the L4 Microkernel
L4 system calls and usage (to get you started on the project)

A close look at selected OS issues

Microkernels and User-level Servers
History and motivation for microkernel systems, Hydra, Mach, discussion, experiences; second-generation microkernel systems, L4, Exokernel, Spin; design and implementation of microkernel-based systems, including user-level page fault handling and device drivers

Microkernel Implementation
A detailed look at the internals of a real microkernel (L4Ka::Pistachio).

Persistent systems and Single-address-space operating systems
Concepts and examples; UNSW Mungi project


Lab work forms a major component of the course. This will be carried out in the Advanced Systems Teaching (ASysT) Lab, commencing from Week 2. The lab features locally developed U4600 computers based on a 64-bit MIPS R4600 processor. These nodes are set up to run L4Ka::Pistachio, which has been ported to the MIPS architecture by Carl van Schaik at UNSW. The U4600's are connected to Linux hosts running an L4 development environment. OS code is developed and compiled there and then downloaded to the 64-bit systems, which present a minimum environment ideally suited for low-level systems programming exercises. Documentation as well as sample code will be provided.

Students will also be able to run their system on simulated MIPS hardware, thanks to the locally developed CPU simulator Sulima. This supports limited work outside the ASysT Lab, including at home. Sulima doesn't presently emulate enough of a full system to be able to use a network driver (but feel free to add the missing pieces). Furthermore, any project demonstrations must be done on actual hardware, not on a simulator.

After some ``warm-up'' experiments students will work in groups of two on a project, which constructs various OS components, with the ultimate aim of producing a small (and very efficient) operating system. A series of milestones will be defined to aid the implementation.

Milestones and the final project will be demonstrated to School staff and the code submitted for assessment. Complete system documentation will form the final deliverable.

Details will be published in due course. Milestones must be demonstrated (and the code submitted) during the week in which they are due. Milestone deadlines missed by less than one week will cause a loss of 25% of the mark for that particular milestone, if missed by more that one week the penalty is 50%, up to a maximum of two weeks. No submissions/demos will be accepted later than two weeks after the deadline. Cheating will be severely dealt with.

Alternative projects may be given to some students by special arrangements. The main criteria for this is that the project is at least as challenging as the standard project, and that I am convinced that the student(s) are up to it.

Final Exam

There will be a final exam, in the form of a 24h take-home. Students will be given one day to read and analyse two recent research papers relevant to the material covered in the course, and submit a critical report on it. See the 2002 Exam for an example.

Supplementary assessments

Supplementary exams will only be awarded in well justified cases, in accordance with School policy, not as a second chance for poorly performing students. In particular, it is unlikely that a supplementary will be awarded to students who have actually sat the proper exam. Make up your mind whether or not you are sick before attempting the exam!

Supplementary exams will have the same format as the normal exam, and will be probably be on the day after the written supplementary exams held for other courses.


Project work counts for 65%, the exam for 35% of the final mark. A minimum mark of 14 (i.e., 40% of the maximum) is required in the exam to receive a passing grade.



There is no textbook for this course, as no published book covers the material in sufficient depth. Plenty of handouts will be provided.

Reference Books

Reference manuals for labs

To be done.

Other material

Lecture notes and other information can be found under the course's WWW home page at URL


Lecturer-in-charge is Gernot Heiser. He and Kevin Elphinstone will deliver most of the lectures.

Some lectures may be delivered by visitors or research students.

Last modified: 25 Jul 2003.