pchapin's CIS-4020 Operating Systems, Fall 2016


Peter C. Chapin. Office: BLP-414 on the Williston campus. Office hours are by appointment. Phone: 802-879-2367 (voice mail active). Email: PChapin@vtc.vsc.edu. I will respond to email within 24 hours, not including weekends or holidays. Email is the best way to contact me. I may also be on the FreeNode IRC network under the nickname pcc or on Skype under the ID pchapin.

Course Description

This is a course on operating system internals. The focus is on practical topics that are important in real systems. Results of purely theoretical interest will not be emphasized although some theory will be included in the course to help put the practical issues into their proper perspective. To make the topics more concrete we will look at the specifics of a real life operating system: Linux. A secondary goal of this course is to give you experience browsing and reading a large code base written by others, such as the Linux kernel. In the lab there will be a significant amount of programming, mostly in plain C. Some labs will also require you to draw on your system management skills and on your networking knowledge.

The official course outline lists high level course objectives and content. The working course outline and lab summary documents are more detailed than the official outline but they are works in progress and subject to frequent changes throughout the semester.


I assume you have some familiarity with operating system concepts such as processes, virtual memory, file systems, and device drivers. These concepts are introduced in, for example, CIS-2010 (Computer Organization) and CIS-2230 (System Administration). In this course we will explore these topics in more detail but it will be helpful if you have at least heard of them already.

In addition you should know about the classic data structures such as lists, binary trees, and hash tables. Some of the labs will require you to be familiar with some networking topics. You should also have an understanding of basic hardware topics such as interrupts, buses, and memory organization. Finally you should be comfortable programming in C. Some assembly language is also required but it will be introduced as needed.


The text is Linux Kernel Development by Robert Love. Copyright 2010. Published by Addison-Wesley. ISBN=0-67-232946-8. Although this book focuses on the design and architecture of the Linux kernel (as we also will), it includes a significant amount of general operating systems theory as well. It thus makes a good text for this course.

In this class we will be looking at three different systems:

I have created an email distribution list for the class. I will use this list to distribute announcements and other supplementary materials. Be sure to check your mail regularly (daily) or you might miss something important. If you send a question in email directly to me, I may reply to my distribution list if I think that others would benefit from my answer. If you would rather I did not reply to the list you should say so in your message.

My home page contains various documents of interest. You will find my schedule with office hours posted there.

Grading Policy

I grade on a point system. Each assignment is worth a certain number of points. At the end of the semester I total all the points you earned and compare that to the total number of possible points. There are three components to your grade in this course.

  1. Homework. 10 pts/each. There will be approximately ten assignments during the semester for a total of about 100. You will usually have one week to do each assignment.

  2. Labs. About 160 points total. There will be about eight labs during the course with each lab normally worth 20 points. The exact number of points and the exact requirements for each lab will depend on the lab.
  3. Final. 50 pts. There will be an in-class final exam at the end of the semester. That exam will be closed everything.

Late Policy

Late submissions are not accepted. If something comes up that prevents you from handing in an assignment on time, contact me before the deadline to discuss your issue. Under some circumstances I may be willing to grant an extension.

Copying Policy

I encourage you to share ideas with your fellow students so I won't be shocked to learn that you've been talking with someone about an assignment. In fact if you worked closely with someone else you should make a note on your submission that mentions the names of your associates.

However, I do ask you to do your own work in your final submissions. If two submissions exhibit what I feel to be "excessive similarity" I will grade the submissions based on merit and then divide the grade by two, assigning half the grade to each submission. If I receive more than two excessively similar submissions I will divide the grade by the number of such submissions and distribute the result accordingly.

Since "excessive similarity" is a bit subjective, I may only give you a warning if the similarity is not too excessive—especially for a first offense. However, I do keep records on when I find excessive similarity and I will be much less inclined to be forgiving if I discover it again. If you are concerned about the possibility of submitting something that might be too similar to another student's work, don't hesitate to speak with me first.

If you find material on the Internet or in a book that seems to answer questions I ask in an assignment, you may include such material in your submission provided you properly reference it. If I discover that you have included unreferenced material from such sources, I may not give you any credit for the question(s) answered by such material. You do not need to provide a reference to our text book or to materials I specifically provide in class.

Other Matters

Students with disabilities may request accommodation as provided within federal law. All such requests should be made by first contacting Robin Goodall, Learning Specialist, in the Center for Academic Success on the Randolph campus. She can be reached by phone at 728-1278 or by email at rgoodall@vtc.edu.

Last Revised: 2016-07-13
© Copyright 2016 by Peter C. Chapin <PChapin@vtc.vsc.edu>