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Virtual memory

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In computing, virtual memory is a memory management technique developed for multitasking kernels; this technique virtualizes a computer architecture's various hardware memory devices (such as RAM modules and disk storage drives), allowing a program to be designed as though:

  • there is only one hardware memory device and this "virtual" device acts like a RAM module.
  • the program has, by default, sole access to this virtual RAM module as the basis for a contiguous working memory (an address space).

Systems that employ virtual memory:

  • use hardware memory more efficiently than systems without virtual memory.
  • make the programming of applications easier by:

Memory virtualization is a generalization of the concept of virtual memory.

Virtual memory is an integral part of a computer architecture; all implementations (excluding[dubious ] emulators and virtual machines) require hardware support, typically in the form of a memory management unit built into the CPU. Consequently, older operating systems (such as DOS[1] of the 1980s or those for the mainframes of the 1960s) generally have no virtual memory functionality, though notable exceptions include the Atlas, B5000, IBM System/360 Model 67, IBM System/370 mainframe systems of the early 1970s, and the Apple Lisa project circa 1980.

Embedded systems and other special-purpose computer systems which require very fast and/or very consistent response times may opt not to use virtual memory due to decreased determinism; virtual memory systems trigger unpredictable interrupts that may produce unwanted "jitter" during I/O operations. This is because embedded hardware costs are often kept low by implementing all such operations with software (a technique called bit-banging) rather than with dedicated hardware. In any case, embedded systems usually have little use for multitasking features or complicated memory hierarchies.


In the 1940s and 1950s, before the development of virtual memory, all larger programs had to contain logic for managing two levels of storage (primary and secondary); one such management technique is overlaying. The main reason for introducing virtual memory was therefore not simply to extend primary memory, but to make such an extension as easy as possible for programmers to use.[2]

To allow for multiprogramming and multitasking, many early systems already had the ability to divide the memory between multiple programs even without providing virtual memory; for instance, early models of the PDP-10 provided memory access through what are called base and bounds registers.

Paging was first developed at the University of Manchester as a cheap way to extend the Atlas Computer's working memory by transparently supplementing its 16 thousand words of primary core memory with the additional 96 thousand words of secondary drum memory. Although the first Atlas was commissioned in 1962, working prototypes of paging had reportedly been developed by 1959.[2](p2)[3][4] Also, Burroughs independently released in 1961 the first commercial computer with virtual memory, the B5000,[5][6] which used segmentation rather than paging.

Like many technologies in the history of computing, virtual memory was not accepted without challenge. Before it could be implemented in mainstream operating systems, many models, experiments, and theories had to be developed to overcome numerous problems. Dynamic address translation required expensive specialized hardware that was difficult to build. Moreover, initial implementations slightly slowed down access to memory.[2] There were also worries that new system-wide algorithms utilizing secondary storage would be less effective than previously used application-specific algorithms.

By 1969 the debate over virtual memory for commercial computers was over.[2] An IBM research team led by David Sayre showed that their virtual memory overlay system consistently worked better than the best manually controlled systems.Template:Cite

Possibly the first minicomputer to introduce virtual memory was the Norwegian NORD-1. During the 1970s, other minicomputers implemented virtual memory, notably VAX models running VMS.

Virtual memory was introduced to the x86 architecture with the protected mode of the Intel 80286 processor; however, its segment swapping technique was discovered to scale poorly to larger segment sizes. The Intel 80386 introduced support for paging underneath the existing segmentation layer, and the page fault exception could be chained with other exceptions without causing a double fault. The 80386 did not have a Translation Lookaside Buffer (TLB), which made loading segment descriptors expensive and caused operating system designers to rely strictly on paging rather than a combination of paging and segmentation.

Paged virtual memory

Almost all implementations of virtual memory divide the virtual address space of an application program into pages; a page is a block of contiguous virtual memory addresses. Pages are usually at least 4 KiB (4×1024 bytes) in size, and systems with large virtual address ranges or large amounts of real memory generally use larger page sizes.

Page tables

Almost all implementations use page tables to translate the virtual addresses seen by the application program into physical addresses (also referred to as "real addresses") used by the hardware to process instructions. Each entry in the page table contains a mapping for a virtual page to either the real memory address at which the page is stored, or an indicator that the page is currently held in a disk file. (Although most do, some systems may not support use of a disk file for virtual memory.)

Systems can have one page table for the whole system, a separate page table for each application, a separate page table for each segment, a tree of page tables for large segments or some combination of these. If there is only one, different applications which are running at the same time share a single virtual address space, i.e. they use different parts of a single range of virtual addresses. Systems which use multiple page tables provide multiple virtual address spaces—concurrent applications think they are using the same range of virtual addresses, but their separate page tables redirect to different real addresses.

Dynamic address translation

If, while executing an instruction, a CPU fetches an instruction located at a particular virtual address, or fetches data from a specific virtual address or stores data to a particular virtual address, the virtual address must be translated to the corresponding physical address. This is done by a hardware component, sometimes called a memory management unit, which looks up the real address (from the page table) corresponding to a virtual address and passes the real address to the parts of the CPU which execute instructions. If the page tables indicate that the virtual memory page is not currently in real memory, the hardware raises a page fault exception (special internal signal) which invokes the paging supervisor component of the operating system (see below).

Paging supervisor

This part of the operating system creates and manages page tables. If the address translation hardware raises a page fault exception, the paging supervisor accesses secondary storage, returns the page containing the required virtual address, updates the page tables to reflect the physical location of the virtual address and finally tells the dynamic address translation mechanism to restart the request. When all physical memory is already in use as is typical, the paging supervisor must free an area in primary storage to hold the swapped-in page. Freeing memory minimally requires updating the paging table to say that the page is in secondary storage. The supervisor saves time by not re–swapping pages that are already present in secondary storage.

Paging supervisors generally choose the page that has been least recently used, guessing that such pages are less likely to be requested. Every time the dynamic address translation hardware matches a virtual address with a real physical memory address, it time-stamps the page table entry for that virtual address.

Permanently resident pages

Operating Systems have memory areas that are "pinned" — i.e, never swapped to secondary storage. For example:

  • Interrupt mechanisms generally rely on an array of pointers to their handlers (I/O completion, timer event, program error, page fault, etc.). If the pages containing these pointers or the code that they invoke were pageable, interrupt-handling would become far more complex and time-consuming; particularly in the case of page fault interrupts.
  • Page table pages are usually not pageable.[dubious ]
  • Data buffers that are accessed directly, for example by peripheral devices that use direct memory access (DMA) or by I/O channels. Usually such devices and the buses (connection paths) to which they are attached use physical memory addresses rather than virtual memory addresses. Even on buses with an IOMMU, which is a special memory management unit that can translate virtual addresses used on an I/O bus to physical addresses, the transfer cannot be stopped if a page fault occurs and then restarted when the page fault has been processed. So pages containing locations to which or from which a peripheral device is transferring data are either permanently pinned down or pinned down while the transfer is in progress.
  • Timing-dependent kernel/application areas cannot tolerate the varying response time caused by paging. In particular the paging supervisor code or drivers for secondary storage devices must not be swapped out.

Virtual=real operation

In OS/VS1, OS/VS2 (SVS), MVS, z/OS, and similar OSes, some parts of systems memory are managed in virtual=real mode, where every virtual address corresponds to a real address. Those are:

  • interrupt mechanisms
  • paging supervisor and page tables, in older systems
  • application programs that use non-standard methods of managing I/O, e.g., reading into an active channel program.

IBM's z/OS has 3 modes, V=V (virtual=virtual; fully pageable), V=R and V=F (virtual = fixed, i.e. "pinned down" but with DAT operating).[7]Template:Pn

Segmented virtual memory

Some systems, such as Burroughs B5500[8], do not use paging to implement virtual memory. Instead, they use segmentation, that divide virtual address spaces into variable-length segments. A virtual address consists of a segment number and an offset within the segment.

Notably, the Intel 80286 supports a similar segmentation scheme as an option, but it is little used.

It is possible to combine segmentation and paging, dividing each segment into pages. In systems that combine them, such as Multics, IBM System/38 and IBM System i machines, virtual memory is usually implemented with paging, with segmentation providing memory protection.[9][10][11]

In the Intel 80386 and later IA-32 processors, the segments reside in a 32-bit linear, paged address space. Segments can be moved in and out of that space, and pages in that space can "page" in and out of main memory, providing two levels of virtual memory; however, few if any operating systems do so. Instead, they use only paging. Early x86 virtualization solutions (non-hardware-assisted) combined paging and segmentation because x86 paging offers only two protection domains, whereas a VMM / guest OS / guest applications stack (typically running on rings 0 / 1 / 3) needs three memory protection domains.[12]:22

The difference between paging and segmentation systems is not only about memory division. In Multics, System/38 and Prime machines, segmentation is visible to user processes, as part of memory model semantics. In other words, instead of memory that looks like a single large vector, memory is structured into multiple spaces.

This difference has important consequences; a segment isn't just a "page with a variable length", or a simple way to lengthen the address space (as in Intel 80286). In Multics, segmentation that can provide a single-level memory model, in which there is no differentiation between "process memory" and "file system". I.e., a process's active address space for both code and data consists of only a list of segments (files) which are mapped into the process's potential address space.[13]

This is not the same as the later mmap function in Unix, because inter-file pointers don't work when mapping files into semi-arbitrary places. However, Multics has such an addressing mode built into most instructions; it could perform relocated inter-segment references, thus eliminating the need for a linker completely.[2] This also works when different processes map the same file into different places in their private address spaces.[14]

Avoiding thrashing

A potential problem called "thrashing" can occur, in which the computer spends a disproportionate amount of its capacity swapping pages to and from a backing store and therefore performs useful work more slowly. Adding real memory is the simplest response, although improving application design, scheduling, and memory usage can help. <Sachin>

See also


  1. "Windows Version History". Microsoft. Last Review: July 19, 2005. Retrieved 2008-12-03. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Denning, Peter (1997). "Before Memory Was Virtual" (PDF). In the Beginning: Recollections of Software Pioneers. 
  3. R. J. Creasy, "The origin of the VM/370 time-sharing system", IBM Journal of Research & Development, Vol. 25, No. 5 (September 1981), p. 486
  4. Atlas design includes virtual memory
  5. Ian Joyner on Burroughs B5000
  6. Cragon, Harvey G. (1996). Memory Systems and Pipelined Processors. Jones and Bartlett Publishers. pp. 113. ISBN 0867204745. 
  7. "z/OS Basic Skills Information Center: z/OS Concepts" (PDF). 
  8. Template:Cite manual
  9. (PDF) GE-645 System Manual. January 1968. pp. 21–30. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  10. Corbató, F.J.; and Vyssotsky, V. A.. "Introduction and Overview of the Multics System". Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  11. Glaser, Edward L.; Couleur, John F.; and Oliver, G. A.. "System Design of a Computer for Time Sharing Applications". 
  12. J. E. Smith, R. Uhlig (August 14, 2005) Virtual Machines: Architectures, Implementations and Applications, HOTCHIPS 17, Tutorial 1, part 2
  13. Bensoussan, André; Clingen, Charles T.; Daley, Robert C. (May 1972). "The Multics Virtual Memory: Concepts and Design". Communications of the ACM 15 (5): 308–318. doi:10.1145/355602.361306. 
  14. Organick, Elliott I. (1972). The Multics System: An Examination of Its Structure. MIT Press. 

Further reading

  • Hennessy, John L.; and Patterson, David A.; Computer Architecture, A Quantitative Approach (ISBN 1-55860-724-2)

you can call at 9136663842 (followed by indian code and then delhi) for further response. Thanks for reading this section.

External links

This article is based on material taken from the Free On-line Dictionary of Computing prior to 1 November 2008 and incorporated under the "relicensing" terms of the GFDL, version 1.3 or later.

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