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Understanding the Linux Kernel [Paperback]

Daniel P. Bovet , Marco Cesati

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Book Description

Nov. 27 2005 0596005652 978-0596005658 3

In order to thoroughly understand what makes Linux tick and why it works so well on a wide variety of systems, you need to delve deep into the heart of the kernel. The kernel handles all interactions between the CPU and the external world, and determines which programs will share processor time, in what order. It manages limited memory so well that hundreds of processes can share the system efficiently, and expertly organizes data transfers so that the CPU isn't kept waiting any longer than necessary for the relatively slow disks.

The third edition of Understanding the Linux Kernel takes you on a guided tour of the most significant data structures, algorithms, and programming tricks used in the kernel. Probing beyond superficial features, the authors offer valuable insights to people who want to know how things really work inside their machine. Important Intel-specific features are discussed. Relevant segments of code are dissected line by line. But the book covers more than just the functioning of the code; it explains the theoretical underpinnings of why Linux does things the way it does.

This edition of the book covers Version 2.6, which has seen significant changes to nearly every kernel subsystem, particularly in the areas of memory management and block devices. The book focuses on the following topics:

  • Memory management, including file buffering, process swapping, and Direct memory Access (DMA)
  • The Virtual Filesystem layer and the Second and Third Extended Filesystems
  • Process creation and scheduling
  • Signals, interrupts, and the essential interfaces to device drivers
  • Timing
  • Synchronization within the kernel
  • Interprocess Communication (IPC)
  • Program execution

Understanding the Linux Kernel will acquaint you with all the inner workings of Linux, but it's more than just an academic exercise. You'll learn what conditions bring out Linux's best performance, and you'll see how it meets the challenge of providing good system response during process scheduling, file access, and memory management in a wide variety of environments. This book will help you make the most of your Linux system.

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About the Author

Daniel P. Bovet got a Ph.D. in computer science at UCLA in 1968 and is now full Professor at the University of Rome, "Tor Vergata," Italy. He had to wait over 25 years before being able to teach an operating system course in a proper manner because of the lack of source code for modern, well-designed systems. Now, thanks to cheap PCs and to Linux, Marco and Dan are able to cover all the facets of an operating system from booting to tuning and are able to hand out tough, satisfying homework to their students. (These young guys working at home on their PCs are really spoiled; they never had to fight with punched cards.) In fact, Dan was so fascinated by the accomplishments of Linus Torvalds and his followers that he spent the last few years trying to unravel some of Linux's mysteries. It seemed natural, after all that work, to write a book about what he found.

Marco Cesati received a degree in mathematics in 1992 and a Ph.D. in computer science (University of Rome, "La Sapienza") in 1995. He is now a research assistant in the computer science department of the School of Engineering (University of Rome, "Tor Vergata"). In the past, he served as system administrator and Unix programmer for the university (as a Ph.D. student) and for several institutions (as a consultant).

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  45 reviews
82 of 86 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Messrs Bovet and Cesati's 'Core-Dump' on the LINUX kernel July 10 2011
By Reza Mostafid - Published on Amazon.com
This book deserves three stars for the following reasons:

The three stars come from:

1.) The book does walk you through from the higher level kernel
functions all the way to what happens to x86 register set
during a process switch ( ....these details constitute the
'soul' of an OS IMHO ). So you can gain some insight in how
the 'naked' iron ( x86 ) is made into a higher level
LINUX virtual machine ( using Tannenbaum's analogy ).

2.) The book contains a tremendous wealth of information, far
more than most of the other few and far between titles
on the subject

3.) The book covers the aforementioned info in far more detail
than most of the other few and far between titles on the

The remaining two stars were not given because:

4.) The information in the book is organized in _the_
most haphazard and unorganized way possible....scattered
all over the place with lot's of cross-references.

5.) There is a lack of effort ( or perhaps ability ? ) on the
part of the authors to properly explain things.
The information is presented more akin to a 'core -dump'
of their brains. It's like "here are the facts folks....
...you work it out on your own".
Complex relationships and concepts are explained without
the use of any didactics whatsoever. Each chapter is mostly
just a statement of facts following one after the other
..."here is 'struct task_struct'.. it has member 'sighand'
..." e.t.c.

Sure I worked my way through a lot of the information and `grepped`
a lot of source code and found a lot of additional detail and
info regarding the kernel all by myself..(.but I am an embedded
engineer with 18 years of experience ).

The point is when I pay for a book or pay someone to present / teach
something to me, I don't expect them to dump the information and
expect me to work it out by myself....I expect them at the very least
to put some work into organizing and presenting the material in
a way that helps the student.

I don't expect to be spoon-fed and I don't mind working hard to learn
something however I believe the author / teacher should spend some
effort as well and only after having done their part is the author
entitled to tell the student:

"O.K. I've shown you the way...the rest you go and find out on
your own...put some work and effort in and make what we have presented
you "your own".

The book is therefore extremely inefficient in conveying the
information and detail it contains. It is not easy to read!
The reader is left spending a lot of time grinding along effectively
organising the information on their own. More efficient would
be to help the reader/student to learn enough to begin exploring
and creating on their own.

Just to give others an example of a well-written book on a similar
topic which

1.) Contains lot's of detail
2.) Is very complete in its coverage of topics
3.) Is well organised with an extremely useful 'Index' section
4.) Is written in a way that gets you started on the topic and
gets you involved in doing your own research

I would like to mention

The LINUX Programming Interface
by Michael Kerrisk

I read this book in about 5 weeks and understood enough to be
able to write my own proprietary protocol on top of TCP/IP
as well as a mini-server and lots of other bits and pieces with
literally no previous LINUX programming experience.

I had enough information imparted on me by the author to even
assess the feasibility of embedding my code using u-Clibc and
to make it work on an embedded board with a footprint of
a passport sized photo.

Of course I realize that M.Kerrisk's TLPI has nothing to do
with understanding the LINUX kernel but it nevertheless
serves the purpouse to demonstrate to the authors of
the reviewed title 'Understanding the LINUX Kernel'
how to present a vast and complicated topic to an audience
at a lower technical level of expertise than yourself and
help to raise their knowledge a little closer to your level
in the process.

I believe this is why most of us pay our hard earned cash
for, when buying a technical book.

Finally for those wishing recommendations on books which are
far more readable whilst also shedding insight into the
kernel's inner workings:

- Linux Kernel Development
by Robert Love ( 3rd Ed. )

- Professional LINUX Kernel Architecture
by Wolfgang Mauerer

- LINUX Device Drivers
by J. Corbet, A. Rubini and G. Kroah-Hartman

Regardless of what book you choose to work with, understand
that you still need to browse the source of the kernel
and brush up on your grepping and reg-ex skills.
Work at it and you'll get rewarded.
47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, but not for beginners Aug. 2 2006
By J. Goudsmit - Published on Amazon.com
Understanding the Linux Kernel is an excellent guide for those who have some experience using Linux, and would like to know what's going on under the hood. It's a comprehensive guide that not only describes how Linux boots and initializes itself, and how programs call functions inside the kernel, but actually goes down to the murky depths of interrupts, process switching, inter-process communication, and even memory management down to the level of the 80x86 processor instructions, registers and features (actually if you add it all up, memory management takes up most of the book -- a good thing!). Furthermore there are chapters about essentials such as file systems and device drivers.

The book specifically and explicitly focuses only on the 80x86 PC architecture so if you're interested in Linux on different platforms or if you're looking for a generic Linux kernel book, this one's not for you. Also, if you're just starting out with Linux (whether it be as user, programmer or administrator), there's a lot of information in here that you don't really need to know.

An important part of the kernel that's missing from the book is how networking is implemented. This is understandable, because it would probably require another 900+ pages (that's how thick this one is) to cover in as much detail as what the book DOES cover.

All in all, as an intermediate Linux administrator/user and a novice Linux programmer, I thought this was an excellent addition to my collection, even though I skipped some of the truely low-level parts where the authors go into Pentium registers and stuff like that. The fact that "80x86" is consistently printed as "80 × 86" (notice the multiplication character replacing the letter "x") was not enough of a nuisance to take away any of the 5 stars that I'm giving this one.
58 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A detailed and comprehensive explanation of the inner workings of the latest 2.6 Linux kernel Feb. 10 2006
By A. Papadimitriou - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book "Undestanding the Linux Kernel",

explains clearly the inner workings of the

current 2.6 Linux kernel.

The presentation is at a considerable level of detail,

the authors fully describe the important data structures,

and the significant chunks of code.

The book is indispensable to any serious

Linux kernel developer.

However, it can be used also at the context

of an "Operating Systems Design" academic course

and the students can learn a lot from the

technologically advanced Linux 2.6 kernel implementation

and can modify/recompile and install their own version!

The level of the book is advanced and I recommend

concurrently with it, the reader to study also the


"Linux kernel development" by Robert Love

that presents the algorithms also very clearly,

but with a more academic view,

without zooming to all the implementation concerns.

I own both books and by studing them, I can have

the significant experience of customizing the source code

of the superior Linux 2.6 kernel.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Valuable Resource Nov. 30 2005
By Jerry Cooperstein - Published on Amazon.com
The third edition of this valuable resource incorporates descriptions of the latest changes in the 2.6 Linux kernel series. There is simply nothing else out there resembling this work in either depth or breadth, and as such every developer active in Linux kernel work (or trying to understand how it all fits together) needs to have this book.

While there are a few other books out there that describe the Linux kernel on a conceptual level (a very few of which have quality), there is really nothing (recently) that examines the actual code at this level of detail (each edition keeps getting fatter.)

As academics the authors are interested in presenting a complete snapshot of the Linux kernel, and unravelling how it works. This is unlike in method (but complementary to) the engineer's approach of its excellent companion book from O'Reilly, Linux Device Drivers, by Corbet, Rubini and Kroah-Hartmann. They also focus more on the x86 architecture in order to be definite. Because of its focus on being an entire picture, understanding this book doesn't require extensive pre-knowledge of the Linux kernel, only a good general grasp of principles.

I have used the earlier editions as companion textbooks for classes on the Linux kernel, and intend on using this edition in the same fashion. Don't miss out on this unique book.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Greatly Detailed and Very Comprehensive Sept. 23 2008
By Patrick Madden - Published on Amazon.com
I had originally intended to read this book to knock out two birds with one stone. I wanted to learn Operating System theory and specifically how it was implemented in Linux. I quickly learned, however, that I would of been much better suited if I already had a good OS theory background. But I pressed on and finally couldn't take it anymore and had to put it down and pick up Linux Kernel Development by Robert Love. I began reading Linux Kernel Development concurrently with this book and it is definitely what I would recommend for those new to OS internals.

After using both of those books I started to get a good foothold on the kernel. And Understanding the Linux Kernel quickly becomes like a good novel you can't put down. I did like how it was x86-centric because abstract is nice and all but sometimes it helps to see how things actually are done. However some might not like that. I did not like how it threw a bunch of detail at you without completely unifying everything.. But thats why I read Linux Kernel Development concurrently. All and all this book is definitely worth it for those who want to know about the Linux kernel and now as I use my GNU/Linux operating system I can't help and point out to myself whats going on under the hood.

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