Assignment #1: Process Management



ECSE 427/COMP 310 (version 1.1)
Programming Assignment #1: Process Management

Description of the Assignment
Lets start with a tiny shell that has minimal functionality. The tiny shell works like the following. We
read a line of input, if the input is valid (longer than a single newline character), we run the command.
Otherwise, the tiny shell quits.
while (1) {
line = get_a_line();
if length(line) > 1
Note that in the above pseudo code we use a Linux library function called system() and functions
supplied by you such as get_a_line() and length(), which are expected to read a line from the
terminal and compute the length of a string, respectively. The system() function is responsible for
creating a process and running the command in that process. You get the tiny shell working with this
library function. Once it is working, run some commands that successfully run and run others that do
not work. That is, try commands that crash or prematurely terminate as well as commands that
complete their execution. What happens to your shell? Does your shell crash when a command crash?
Your tiny shell is an interactive program. It reads from the terminal. Such a program can be run noninteractively by redirecting the required input from an input file. For instance, suppose the tiny shell is
named tshell and we have an input file name input.txt. The input.txt file has all the commands
you want to run in the tiny shell. Then, issue the following command.
tshell < input.txt
You should be able to run the shell and it should terminate assuming your tiny shell is detecting the
end-of-file condition (input lines with just the new line character) and terminating itself.
You can use ltrace or strace to trace a program and detect all the library routines or system calls that
are used by the program. For instance, the following command should give the library routines that are
called by the tiny shell.
ltrace tshell < input.txt
Similarly, you can find the system calls used by the tiny shell using strace.
Now, can you identify how the library routine system() could be implemented? That is, determine the
system calls that are used in implementing the system() library function.
In the next phase of the assignment, replace the system() library function with your own
implementations. You need to implement my_system() using fork(), vfork(), and clone() system
ECSE 427/COMP 310 (version 1.1) Fall 2018
calls. That is, implement version F using fork(), version V using vfork(), and version C using
To create the different implementations of my_system(), you need to understand what that function
needs to do. my_system() is a function that spawns (i.e., creates) a child process and runs the
command you passed as the argument to the call, assuming the command you requested to run is a
valid one and is present in the machine. For example, if you specify ‘/bin/ls’ it is going to execute
the directory lister command. You could program so that absolute path names of the commands are not
necessary. That is you can just specify ‘ls’ and it should do the same run as the previous one. It is
important that your implementation makes the tiny shell fault tolerant. That is, if the executable
crashes, the process (i.e., the tiny shell) that is calling the my_system() function does not crash as
An implementation that uses fork() reflects the semantics of the fork() system call or library
function (note that fork() is available as both). Because you cannot do much to change the behavior of
fork(), the my_system() implementation will exhibit a behavior that is dictated by the fork()
With fork(), after a successful call, we have two processes and both continue the execution from the
point where fork() returns in the program.
The implementation of my_system() function is completely up to you. However, you need to ensure
that my_system() completes an ongoing execution before it launches the next command. That is, it
does not put the command in the background. In order, to ensure that my_system() waits for an
ongoing execution, you need to use the wait() system call. Here is a brief description of the call. You
can always get more information by consulting the man page.
ECSE 427/COMP 310 (version 1.1) Fall 2018
Once you have the my_system() implementation, run the tiny shell version with your my_system()
again and see whether it behaves the same way as the implementation that used the system() from
Linux. If there are differences, you need to explain those differences and why they are so.
Next, you create another version of my_system(). This time, you use only vfork() in implementing
my_system(). The vfork() system call was created to make the process creation more efficient. It was
realized that copying all the memory pages while creating a clone is a waste of work. So, vfork()
shares the memory between the parent and child until the child loads a new program via exec() or one
of its variants. The problem we could run into is that the changes made in the child before it loads
a new program can get reflected back in the parent. For instance, if the child goes ahead and
changes a variable, it could get reflected in the parent.
Two things are important to note with regarding to vfork():
• It does not copy the memory while cloning like fork() does. So the child does not have its own
memory until it does exec().
• The parent is stopped until the child does exec().
With the vfork() semantics, the child is guaranteed to execute before the parent after the vfork().
At vfork() execution, the child gets its own file descriptors.
Implement the my_system() using vfork() and measure the execution time for starting certain number
of commands. Compare the time taken for executing the same commands with the previous
ECSE 427/COMP 310 (version 1.1) Fall 2018
implementations. Report this timing in the report you handover with the code. At the end of this
handout we describe how you could measure the execution time in Linux.
Next, we want to implement my_system() using the clone() system call. The clone() is a Linux
specific lower-level system call for creating processes. You pass the appropriate flags to get different
behaviors from the clone() system call.
The syntax of the clone() system call is shown below.
Like the fork() call, the clone() makes another replica of the calling process. However, the sharing
between the caller (parent) and child can be precisely controlled by the flags. Also, the child runs the
func specified in the call and the parameters can be passed to this function. We need to specify a stack
for the child as well. The various flags we could use in the clone() call and their descriptions are
shown in the table below.
ECSE 427/COMP 310 (version 1.1) Fall 2018
Below we explain the operation of some of the important flags in the clone() system call. You can
consult the man page for a complete description.
If CLONE_FILES is set, the calling process and the child process share the same file descriptor table.
Any file descriptor created by the calling process or by the child process is also valid in the other
process. Similarly, if one of the processes closes a file descriptor, or changes its associated flags
the other process is also affected. If CLONE_FILES is not set, the child process inherits a copy of all
file descriptors opened in the calling process at the time of clone(). Subsequent operations that open
or close file descriptors, or change file descriptor flags, performed by either the calling process or the
child process do not affect the other process.
If CLONE_FS is set, the caller and the child process share the same filesystem information. This
includes the root of the filesystem, the current working directory, and the umask. If CLONE_FS is not
set, the child process works on a copy of the filesystem information of the calling process at the time
of the clone() call.
If CLONE_VM is set, the calling process and the child process run in the same memory space. In
particular, memory writes performed by the calling process or by the child process are also visible in
the other process. If CLONE_VM is not set, the child process runs in a separate copy of the memory
space of the calling process at the time of clone().
Meant for containers
ECSE 427/COMP 310 (version 1.1) Fall 2018
If CLONE_VFORK is set, the execution of the calling process is suspended until the child releases
its virtual memory resources via a call to execve(2) or _exit(2) (as with vfork()). If
CLONE_VFORK is not set, then both the calling process and the child are schedulable after the call,
and an application should not rely on execution occurring in any particular order.
You are strongly encouraged to read the man page for a full description of all the flags. One
interesting aspect is that clone() is much more general than fork() or vfork(). It can be used to create
containers – pseudo virtual machines. See the *NEW* flags in the above list.
Here are some code snippets for using the clone() system call. First you need to allocate a stack.
Notice the need to get stackTop because the stack grows downwards.
The clone command uses the childFunc as the starting function. The child terminates when the
childFunc terminates.
Before the above clone() call is executed, we need to setup the flags. The fd parameter is part of the
example. In this example, a file is opened by the parent and the child (i.e., the childFunc) is closing it.
The above code snippet is just an example that illustrates how the clone() could be used.
You can have the childFunc doing something totally different like running the exec() and launching
another program. The key is the fine-grained control the clone() system call offers in determining
what is shared between the parent and child.
Next, we need to wait for the child process to terminate. Here, cloned children are treated slightly
differently. Check the wait() man page for more details.
ECSE 427/COMP 310 (version 1.1) Fall 2018
Implement the my_system() using clone() and measure the execution time for starting certain number
of commands. Compare the time taken for executing the same commands with the previous
implementations. Report this timing in the report you handover with the code.
While designing the my_system() using clone() you don’t need to completely emulate fork() or
vfork(). You can set the flags for maximum performance. What would that be? However, it is still
necessary to obtain isolation like parent proceeding while child crashing.
How would you set the flags if you want to execute a command like cd (change directory) in the child
and parent be affected by it? If you want subsequent commands executed by the parent to run in a
specific directory that was changed into by a previous cd command, what should the cloning do? That
is, what kind of sharing should be performed while cloning? Your design needs to work with this use
case. However, the files opened by the child or parent after cloning should not be available in the
The last part of the assignment is working with FIFOs. FIFOs are named pipes. We have already seen
anonymous pipes in the lectures. They are one way to perform inter-process communication. FIFOs
create the same but the name of the pipe is left in the filesystem. This allow two arbitrary processes to
communicate using a FIFO. Like the pipe, a FIFO has a reading end and writing end. You create a
FIFO using a command like the following.
After running this command, you should see a FIFO with the given name in the file system (i.e., in the
current working directory).
You need to modify the tiny shell so that a FIFO can be used as the argument in the shell. Use the
version F (my_system() implemented using fork()) in this part of the assignment. If the command
running in the tiny shell is outputting data to the terminal, it should go into the FIFO. Similarly, if the
command is reading data from the terminal, it should come from the FIFO. Here we are considering
commands that are not even written by us. For example, commands such as ls (directory listing)
output the list of files to the terminal. When you run the command ls the tiny shell is responsible for
redirecting the output to the FIFO.
ECSE 427/COMP 310 (version 1.1) Fall 2018
Similarly, in another tiny shell instance we could run wc to count the number of characters, words, or
lines. By connecting the second tiny shell instance to the reading end of the FIFO we can make the wc
running there to count the output from ls.
This command piping could be achieved in many different ways. We want to do that piping using
Modify the tiny shell to carry out the command piping. It should work for any two commands. That is,
the ls and wc are just illustration purposes.
Helpful Functions for Timing Your Program
You can use the following clock_gettime() library function to get a high resolution time difference.
The clockid should be set to CLOCK_REALTIME to measure wall clock times.
ECSE 427/COMP 310 (version 1.1) Fall 2018
Turn-in and Marking Scheme
The programming assignment should be submitted via My Courses. Other submissions (including
email) are not acceptable. Your programming assignment should compile and run in Linux.
Otherwise, the TAs can refuse to grade them. Here is the mark distribution for the different
components of the assignment.
What Should be Turned In?
1. Tiny shell based on Linux system().
2. My_system() implementations using fork(), vfork(), and clone(); a tiny shell version based on
each version.
3. Documentation of testing and timing results.
4. Extension of tiny shell to use FIFO.
5. Testing results that show the tiny shell working with FIFO.
A marking scheme will be posted very soon.


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