CS-343 Operating Systems
Fall 2004

[Communication | Announcements | Homework | Projects | Outline | Lectures| Materials]

Syllabus (PDF)

New: CTEC Course Evaluation

Administrative Information


Fabián E. Bustamante
1890 Maple Ave, Room 334
+1 847 491-2745
Office Hours: By appointment only - email me!


Stefan Birrer
1890 Maple Ave, Room 246
+1 847 491-7060
Office Hours: Tuesdays 3:30-4:30PM

Yi Qiao
1890 Maple Ave, Room 246
+1 847 491-7060
Office Hours: Thursdays 3:30-4:30PM

Final Exam

Tue. Dec. 7, 3-5PM, in the classroom.

Course Description

Operating systems control all of a computer's resources and present users with the equivalent of virtual machines that are easier to program than their underlying hardware. This course provides an overview of fundamental operating system principles, complemented with discussions of concrete modern systems to help you understand how these principles are applied in real OSs. Topics covered include an overview of the components of an operating system, mutual exclusion and synchronization, implementation of processes, scheduling algorithms, memory management and file systems.

Although the main learning objective of the course is to understand the requirements, design and implementation of modern operating systems, at a higher level the course aims to provide you with a good grasp of basic abstractions employed in system-level software (such as processes, threads, virtual memory, caching, etc.), while uncovering the ``magic'' that happens inside the box.

The course has a strong project component intended to provide essential experience in designing and implementing complex systems and working as part of a team. In designing the projects and estimating their required effort/hours, I am assuming you are (1) familiar with basic computer organization and data structures and (2) capable of programming in C in UNIX (or UNIX-like) systems (experienced with pointers, explicit dynamic memory allocation, multi-file projects, etc.).

Location and Time

In compliance with Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Northwestern University is committed to providing equal access to all programming. Students with disabilities seeking accommodations are encouraged to contact the office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) at +1 847 467-5530 or ssd@northwestern.edu. SSD is located in the basement of Scott Hall. Additionally, I am available to discuss disability-related needs during office hours or by appointment.

Course Prerequisites

Communication Channels

There are a number of communication channels set up for this class:

Textbook and Other Readings

Optional Readings

CTEC Course Evaluation

You have the opportunity to register your opinions of this class. Please do so. I will use your comments for improving the course and your fellow students will refer to them when selecting classes and instructors.

The evaluations for the class will be completely anonymous; there will collected electronically and you may enter them from the computer in your room, the library or the labs.

When evaluating the TAs please use the following codes:

You may access the CTEC online page anytime between Nov. 22 and Dec. 12 at midnight.


Remember to check this regularly

Course Organization

The course is organized as a series of lectures, TA sessions, reading, homework, projects and exams:


There will be two kinds of homework assignments given throughout the class: reading assignments and textbook-style questions. You should have finished the assigned reading before coming to lecture. In addition, there will be a set of written homework assignments that must be done alone and turned in at the end of class on the due date (see course policies below).

To upload your homework solutions please use this url.

Help on reading a research paper and writing a summary
You may find the following brochure useful: Efficient reading of papers in Science and Technology by Michael J. Hanson, 1990, revised 2000 Dylan McNamee.

Your summary should include at least:

  1. Paper title and its author(s).
  2. Brief one-line summary.
  3. A paragraph of the most important ideas: perhaps a combination of their motivations, observations, interesting parts of the design, or clever parts of their implementation.
  4. A paragraph of the largest flaws; maybe an experiment was poorly designed or the main idea had a narrow scope or applicability. Being able to assess weaknesses as well as strengths is an important skill for this course and beyond.
  5. A last paragraph where you state the relevance of the ideas today, potential future research suggested by the article, etc.


As you can deduce from the allocation of weights for grading, programming projects make up a major portion of this class. There will be four (4) projects. Except for the first ``warm-up'' assignment on which you will work by yourself, all other projects are to be done by teams of two (2) people. Both partners should work cooperatively on the design, implementation, and testing of their solution.

To upload your projects please use this url.


There will be a midterm and a final exam. Exams will be in-class, closed-book (except for one page of notes you are allowed to bring in), and will cover materials from lecture, required readings and projects. The final exam will not be cumulative.


I use a criterion-referenced method to assign your grade; in other words, your grade will be based on how well you do relative to predetermined performance levels, instead of in comparison with the rest of the class. Thus, if a test has 100 possible points, anyone with a score of 90 or greater will get an A, those with scores of 80 or greater will get a B, those with scores of 70 or greater will get a C, and so on. Notice that this means that if everyone works hard and gets >90, everyone gets an A.

Total scores (between 0 and 100) will be determined, roughly, as follows:

A note about class participation: while not explicitly included as an item in the previous list, your participation in class will be taken into consideration throughout the quarter and when granting partial and final scores/grades.

Course Outline and Approximate Dates

Because one has to be an optimist to begin an ambitious project, it is not surprising that underestimation of completion time is the norm.
-- Fernando J. Corbató, ``On Building Systems that Will Fail'', 1990 Turing Award Lecture.

09/23/04 Introduction 1.1-1.3
09/28/04 Operating Systems Components and Structure 1.5-1.7
09/30/04 Processes 1.4,2.1
10/05/04 Processes 2.1
10/07/04 Threads 2.2
10/12/04 IPC 2.3
10/14/04 Classical IPC Problems 2.4
10/19/04 Scheduling 2.5
10/21/04 Deadlock 3
10/26/04 Midterm -
10/28/04 Memory Management 4.1-4.2
11/02/04 Virtual Memory 4.3
11/04/04 VM - Design and Implementation 4.4-4.6
11/09/04 VM - Design and Implementation 4.4-4.6
11/11/04 I/O 5.1-5.4
11/16/04 File Systems- Interface 6.2
11/18/04 File Systems - Implementation and Examples 6.3-6.4
11/23/04 Introduction to Distributed Systems 8
11/25/04 Thanksgiving -
11/30/04 Security 9
12/02/04 Research in Operating Systems/Review for final TBD
12/07/04 Exam -


Late policy:

Unless otherwise indicated, homework assignments and projects are due by the end of lecture on their due date. If you hand in an assignment late, we will take off 10% for each day (or portion thereof) it is late.

Cheating vs. Collaboration:

Collaboration is a really good thing and we encourage it. On the other hand, cheating is considered a very serious offense. When in doubt, remember that it's OK to meet with colleagues, study exams together, and discuss assignments with them. However, what you turn in must be your own (or for group projects, your group's own) work. Copying code, solution sets, etc. from other people or any other sources is strictly prohibited.

Last modified: Thu Nov 6 13:28:06 CST 2008