Processes, Implementation, Signals & Threads

by Vincent Van, Angie Yen, and Iverin Hui

Process vs. Thread Descriptors

Descriptor Characteristics New Process New Thread
pid D S
ppid D S
accounting* C S/C
       -name*, priority* C C
memory state C S
stack* C D
register* C D
state* C D
event handler C S
file table C S
file structure S S

D = different, S = same / shared, C = copied

* = included in Thread Descriptor


Process Implementation

How does the OS multiplex the machine among application processes?
--->"hardware process" (book lingo)
  • "Most" of the time, the CPU is running application code
  • System calls give the OS control; trap instructions (interrupt-like)
  • Interrupts give OS control; timer interrupt goes off periodically
  • Hardware saves register state on a stack
  • OS moves register state into the process descriptor
  • OS code executes
  • OS decides next process to run
  • Restore memory state
  • Restore the registers
  • Process runs
  • **Process States Diagram attached**

    Signals & Asynchronous Events

    Signal: notifies a process of an asynchronous event

    Asynchronous: an event that happens independently of the process's code

    Examples: killing uncooperative process (infinite loop), sleeping indefinitely

    How should we implement signals?
    With files? *NO*

    But let's try...
  • Every process has a file called /proc/pid/signal
  • Process periodically checks this file for data
  • If the file is nonempty, exit()

    Problem with this implementation:
    (If the process goes into an infinite loop, it can't check the file.
    Since this puts the process in charge of checking for signals : BAD)
    We're looking for a way to kill a process that's out of control. So we can't use anything the process is in charge of.

    Signal syscalls

    int sigaction (int sig, struct sigaction *sa, ...)
    ==>this function sets up a handler for a signal in the current process

    The struct sigaction *sa:
    struct sigaction {
        void(*sa_handler) (int);
        // func in your code that should be called when the sig happens

    Signal Keywords:
    sig =
  • SIGKILL - kill process
  • SIGSTOP - make process sleep
  • SIGSEGV - dereferenced a NULL pointer or other memory error ("segmentation violation")
  • SIGHUP - output file closed
  • SIGCHLD - a child process exited (default is ignored)

    int kill (pid_t, int sig)
    ==>sends a signal

    Why use a signal for a SEGV?
    Hardware knows an error occured, but software does not.

    Want to clear up zombie processes?
    A. Wait for all children
    B. OR design a SIGCHLD handler

    An example handler:
    void handle_child (int sig) {
        NO -malloc
                -write (because the memory state cannot be changed)

    int main() {
        struct sigaction sa;
        sa sa_handler = handle child...;
        sigaction(SIGCHLD, &sa, ..)

    Suppose that process A calls kill(p, SIGHUP); and process B also calls kill(p, SIGHUP);?
    We need a struct sigaction to guarantee delivery (even if 2 signals are very close in time)
    Old way: race condition, unreliable, success depends on how close signals are in time


  • Processes are isolated (self-contained)
  • Threads are like non-isolated processes
  • Threads decouple processing
        - execution - from state - memory/files
  • Multiple virtual processors in the same program & memory space simultaneously

    Processes: independent memory state and run state
    Threads: share memory state

    + share common data -> less copying overhead
    + share memory (easier communication, work on shared data structures)
    + take advantage of multiple CPUs' power

    - synchronization (multiple execution engines changing the same memory state simultaneously)
    - race conditions!
    - locking, makes programming instantly harder

    Generally, threads are used...
  • to deal with lots of data
  • because I/O is so slow! (overlap I/O wake)