Computer multitasking

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Modern desktop operating systems are capable of handling large numbers of different processes at the same time. This screenshot shows Linux Mint running simultaneously Xfce desktop environment, Firefox, a calculator program, the built-in calendar, Vim, GIMP, and VLC media player. Desktop-Linux-Mint.png
Modern desktop operating systems are capable of handling large numbers of different processes at the same time. This screenshot shows Linux Mint running simultaneously Xfce desktop environment, Firefox, a calculator program, the built-in calendar, Vim, GIMP, and VLC media player.
Multitasking capabilities of Microsoft Windows 1.01 released in 1985, here shown running the MS-DOS Executive and Calculator programs Microsoft Windows 1.01 multitasking.png
Multitasking capabilities of Microsoft Windows 1.01 released in 1985, here shown running the MS-DOS Executive and Calculator programs

In computing, multitasking is the concurrent execution of multiple tasks (also known as processes) over a certain period of time. New tasks can interrupt already started ones before they finish, instead of waiting for them to end. As a result, a computer executes segments of multiple tasks in an interleaved manner, while the tasks share common processing resources such as central processing units (CPUs) and main memory. Multitasking automatically interrupts the running program, saving its state (partial results, memory contents and computer register contents) and loading the saved state of another program and transferring control to it. This "context switch" may be initiated at fixed time intervals (pre-emptive multitasking), or the running program may be coded to signal to the supervisory software when it can be interrupted (cooperative multitasking).

Contents

Multitasking does not require parallel execution of multiple tasks at exactly the same time; instead, it allows more than one task to advance over a given period of time. [1] Even on multiprocessor computers, multitasking allows many more tasks to be run than there are CPUs.

Multitasking is a common feature of computer operating systems. It allows more efficient use of the computer hardware; where a program is waiting for some external event such as a user input or an input/output transfer with a peripheral to complete, the central processor can still be used with another program. In a time-sharing system, multiple human operators use the same processor as if it was dedicated to their use, while behind the scenes the computer is serving many users by multitasking their individual programs. In multiprogramming systems, a task runs until it must wait for an external event or until the operating system's scheduler forcibly swaps the running task out of the CPU. Real-time systems such as those designed to control industrial robots, require timely processing; a single processor might be shared between calculations of machine movement, communications, and user interface. [2]

Often multitasking operating systems include measures to change the priority of individual tasks, so that important jobs receive more processor time than those considered less significant. Depending on the operating system, a task might be as large as an entire application program, or might be made up of smaller threads that carry out portions of the overall program.

A processor intended for use with multitasking operating systems may include special hardware to securely support multiple tasks, such as memory protection, and protection rings that ensure the supervisory software cannot be damaged or subverted by user-mode program errors.

The term "multitasking" has become an international term, as the same word is used in many other languages such as German, Italian, Dutch, Danish and Norwegian.

Multiprogramming

In the early days of computing, CPU time was expensive, and peripherals were very slow. When the computer ran a program that needed access to a peripheral, the central processing unit (CPU) would have to stop executing program instructions while the peripheral processed the data. This was usually very inefficient.

The first computer using a multiprogramming system was the British Leo III owned by J. Lyons and Co. During batch processing, several different programs were loaded in the computer memory, and the first one began to run. When the first program reached an instruction waiting for a peripheral, the context of this program was stored away, and the second program in memory was given a chance to run. The process continued until all programs finished running.[ citation needed ]

The use of multiprogramming was enhanced by the arrival of virtual memory and virtual machine technology, which enabled individual programs to make use of memory and operating system resources as if other concurrently running programs were, for all practical purposes, non-existent and invisible to them.[ citation needed ]

Multiprogramming doesn't give any guarantee that a program will run in a timely manner. Indeed, the very first program may very well run for hours without needing access to a peripheral. As there were no users waiting at an interactive terminal, this was no problem: users handed in a deck of punched cards to an operator, and came back a few hours later for printed results. Multiprogramming greatly reduced wait times when multiple batches were being processed. [3] [4]

Cooperative multitasking

Early multitasking systems used applications that voluntarily ceded time to one another. This approach, which was eventually supported by many computer operating systems, is known today as cooperative multitasking. Although it is now rarely used in larger systems except for specific applications such as CICS or the JES2 subsystem, cooperative multitasking was once the only scheduling scheme employed by Microsoft Windows and Classic Mac OS to enable multiple applications to run simultaneously. Cooperative multitasking is still used today on RISC OS systems. [5]

As a cooperatively multitasked system relies on each process regularly giving up time to other processes on the system, one poorly designed program can consume all of the CPU time for itself, either by performing extensive calculations or by busy waiting; both would cause the whole system to hang. In a server environment, this is a hazard that makes the entire environment unacceptably fragile.

Preemptive multitasking

Preemptive multitasking allows the computer system to more reliably guarantee to each process a regular "slice" of operating time. It also allows the system to deal rapidly with important external events like incoming data, which might require the immediate attention of one or another process. Operating systems were developed to take advantage of these hardware capabilities and run multiple processes preemptively. Preemptive multitasking was implemented in the PDP-6 Monitor and MULTICS in 1964, in OS/360 MFT in 1967, and in Unix in 1969, and was available in some operating systems for computers as small as DEC's PDP-8; it is a core feature of all Unix-like operating systems, such as Linux, Solaris and BSD with its derivatives, [6] as well as modern versions of Windows.

At any specific time, processes can be grouped into two categories: those that are waiting for input or output (called "I/O bound"), and those that are fully utilizing the CPU ("CPU bound"). In primitive systems, the software would often "poll", or "busywait" while waiting for requested input (such as disk, keyboard or network input). During this time, the system was not performing useful work. With the advent of interrupts and preemptive multitasking, I/O bound processes could be "blocked", or put on hold, pending the arrival of the necessary data, allowing other processes to utilize the CPU. As the arrival of the requested data would generate an interrupt, blocked processes could be guaranteed a timely return to execution.[ citation needed ]

The earliest preemptive multitasking OS available to home users was Sinclair QDOS on the Sinclair QL, released in 1984, but very few people bought the machine. Commodore's Amiga, released the following year, was the first commercially successful home computer to use the technology, and its multimedia abilities make it a clear ancestor of contemporary multitasking personal computers. Microsoft made preemptive multitasking a core feature of their flagship operating system in the early 1990s when developing Windows NT 3.1 and then Windows 95. It was later adopted on the Apple Macintosh by Mac OS X that, as a Unix-like operating system, uses preemptive multitasking for all native applications.

A similar model is used in Windows 9x and the Windows NT family, where native 32-bit applications are multitasked preemptively. [7] 64-bit editions of Windows, both for the x86-64 and Itanium architectures, no longer support legacy 16-bit applications, and thus provide preemptive multitasking for all supported applications.

Real time

Another reason for multitasking was in the design of real-time computing systems, where there are a number of possibly unrelated external activities needed to be controlled by a single processor system. In such systems a hierarchical interrupt system is coupled with process prioritization to ensure that key activities were given a greater share of available process time.[ citation needed ]

Multithreading

As multitasking greatly improved the throughput of computers, programmers started to implement applications as sets of cooperating processes (e. g., one process gathering input data, one process processing input data, one process writing out results on disk). This, however, required some tools to allow processes to efficiently exchange data.[ citation needed ]

Threads were born from the idea that the most efficient way for cooperating processes to exchange data would be to share their entire memory space. Thus, threads are effectively processes that run in the same memory context and share other resources with their parent processes, such as open files. Threads are described as lightweight processes because switching between threads does not involve changing the memory context. [8] [9] [10]

While threads are scheduled preemptively, some operating systems provide a variant to threads, named fibers , that are scheduled cooperatively. On operating systems that do not provide fibers, an application may implement its own fibers using repeated calls to worker functions. Fibers are even more lightweight than threads, and somewhat easier to program with, although they tend to lose some or all of the benefits of threads on machines with multiple processors. [11]

Some systems directly support multithreading in hardware.

Memory protection

Essential to any multitasking system is to safely and effectively share access to system resources. Access to memory must be strictly managed to ensure that no process can inadvertently or deliberately read or write to memory locations outside the process's address space. This is done for the purpose of general system stability and data integrity, as well as data security.

In general, memory access management is a responsibility of the operating system kernel, in combination with hardware mechanisms that provide supporting functionalities, such as a memory management unit (MMU). If a process attempts to access a memory location outside its memory space, the MMU denies the request and signals the kernel to take appropriate actions; this usually results in forcibly terminating the offending process. Depending on the software and kernel design and the specific error in question, the user may receive an access violation error message such as "segmentation fault".

In a well designed and correctly implemented multitasking system, a given process can never directly access memory that belongs to another process. An exception to this rule is in the case of shared memory; for example, in the System V inter-process communication mechanism the kernel allocates memory to be mutually shared by multiple processes. Such features are often used by database management software such as PostgreSQL.

Inadequate memory protection mechanisms, either due to flaws in their design or poor implementations, allow for security vulnerabilities that may be potentially exploited by malicious software.

Memory swapping

Use of a swap file or swap partition is a way for the operating system to provide more memory than is physically available by keeping portions of the primary memory in secondary storage. While multitasking and memory swapping are two completely unrelated techniques, they are very often used together, as swapping memory allows more tasks to be loaded at the same time. Typically, a multitasking system allows another process to run when the running process hits a point where it has to wait for some portion of memory to be reloaded from secondary storage. [12]

Programming

Processes that are entirely independent are not much trouble to program in a multitasking environment. Most of the complexity in multitasking systems comes from the need to share computer resources between tasks and to synchronize the operation of co-operating tasks.[ citation needed ]

Various concurrent computing techniques are used to avoid potential problems caused by multiple tasks attempting to access the same resource.[ citation needed ]

Bigger systems were sometimes built with a central processor(s) and some number of I/O processors, a kind of asymmetric multiprocessing.[ citation needed ]

Over the years, multitasking systems have been refined. Modern operating systems generally include detailed mechanisms for prioritizing processes, while symmetric multiprocessing has introduced new complexities and capabilities. [13]

See also

Related Research Articles

In computing, a context switch is the process of storing the state of a process or thread, so that it can be restored and resume execution at a later point. This allows multiple processes to share a single CPU, and is an essential feature of a multitasking operating system.

Operating system Software that manages computer hardware resources

An operating system (OS) is system software that manages computer hardware, software resources, and provides common services for computer programs.

A real-time operating system (RTOS) is an operating system (OS) intended to serve real-time applications that process data as it comes in, typically without buffer delays. Processing time requirements are measured in tenths of seconds or shorter increments of time. A real-time system is a time-bound system which has well-defined, fixed time constraints. Processing must be done within the defined constraints or the system will fail. They either are event-driven or time-sharing. Event-driven systems switch between tasks based on their priorities, while time-sharing systems switch the task based on clock interrupts. Most RTOSs use a pre-emptive scheduling algorithm.

Process (computing) particular execution of a computer program

In computing, a process is the instance of a computer program that is being executed by one or many threads. It contains the program code and its activity. Depending on the operating system (OS), a process may be made up of multiple threads of execution that execute instructions concurrently.

Thread (computing) smallest sequence of programmed instructions that can be managed independently by a scheduler

In computer science, a thread of execution is the smallest sequence of programmed instructions that can be managed independently by a scheduler, which is typically a part of the operating system. The implementation of threads and processes differs between operating systems, but in most cases a thread is a component of a process. Multiple threads can exist within one process, executing concurrently and sharing resources such as memory, while different processes do not share these resources. In particular, the threads of a process share its executable code and the values of its dynamically allocated variables and non-thread-local global variables at any given time.

Multiprocessing is the use of two or more central processing units (CPUs) within a single computer system. The term also refers to the ability of a system to support more than one processor or the ability to allocate tasks between them. There are many variations on this basic theme, and the definition of multiprocessing can vary with context, mostly as a function of how CPUs are defined.

In computing, scheduling is the method by which work is assigned to resources that complete the work. The work may be virtual computation elements such as threads, processes or data flows, which are in turn scheduled onto hardware resources such as processors, network links or expansion cards.

In computer operating systems, paging is a memory management scheme by which a computer stores and retrieves data from secondary storage for use in main memory. In this scheme, the operating system retrieves data from secondary storage in same-size blocks called pages. Paging is an important part of virtual memory implementations in modern operating systems, using secondary storage to let programs exceed the size of available physical memory.

A barrel processor is a CPU that switches between threads of execution on every cycle. This CPU design technique is also known as "interleaved" or "fine-grained" temporal multithreading. Unlike simultaneous multithreading in modern superscalar architectures, it generally does not allow execution of multiple instructions in one cycle.

Micro-Controller Operating Systems is a real-time operating system (RTOS) designed Jean J. Labrosse in 1991. It is a priority-based preemptive real-time kernel for microprocessors, written mostly in the programming language C. It is intended for use in embedded systems.

In computer science, asynchronous I/O is a form of input/output processing that permits other processing to continue before the transmission has finished.

The RC 4000 Multiprogramming System is a discontinued operating system developed for the RC 4000 minicomputer in 1969.

In computing, preemption is the act of temporarily interrupting a task being carried out by a computer system, without requiring its cooperation, and with the intention of resuming the task at a later time. Such changes of the executed task are known as context switches. It is normally carried out by a privileged task or part of the system known as a preemptive scheduler, which has the power to preempt, or interrupt, and later resume, other tasks in the system.

Cooperative multitasking, also known as non-preemptive multitasking, is a style of computer multitasking in which the operating system never initiates a context switch from a running process to another process. Instead, processes voluntarily yield control periodically or when idle or logically blocked in order to enable multiple applications to be run concurrently. This type of multitasking is called "cooperative" because all programs must cooperate for the entire scheduling scheme to work. In this scheme, the process scheduler of an operating system is known as a cooperative scheduler, having its role reduced down to starting the processes and letting them return control back to it voluntarily.

SymbOS operating system

SYmbiosis Multitasking Based Operating System (SymbOS) is a multitasking operating system for Zilog Z80-based 8-bit computer systems.

In computer programming, green threads are threads that are scheduled by a runtime library or virtual machine (VM) instead of natively by the underlying operating system (OS). Green threads emulate multithreaded environments without relying on any native OS abilities, and they are managed in user space instead of kernel space, enabling them to work in environments that do not have native thread support.

Multithreading (computer architecture) ability of a central processing unit (CPU) or a single core in a multi-core processor to execute multiple processes or threads concurrently

In computer architecture, multithreading is the ability of a central processing unit (CPU) to provide multiple threads of execution concurrently, supported by the operating system. This approach differs from multiprocessing. In a multithreaded application, the threads share the resources of a single or multiple cores, which include the computing units, the CPU caches, and the translation lookaside buffer (TLB).

A process is a program in execution. An integral part of any modern-day operating system (OS). The OS must allocate resources to processes, enable processes to share and exchange information, protect the resources of each process from other processes and enable synchronization among processes. To meet these requirements, the OS must maintain a data structure for each process, which describes the state and resource ownership of that process, and which enables the OS to exert control over each process.

In computing, a hang or freeze occurs when either a process or system ceases to respond to inputs. A typical example is when computer's graphical user interface no longer responds to the user typing on the keyboard or moving the mouse. The term covers a wide range of behaviors in both clients and servers, and is not limited to graphical user interface issues.

In operating systems, memory management is the function responsible for managing the computer's primary memory.

References

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