Process Concept

  • Early computer systems allowed only one program to be executed at a time.
  • This program had complete control of the system and had access to all the system's resources.
  • In contrast, current-day computer systems allow multiple programs to be loaded into memory and executed concurrently.
  • This evolution required firmer control and more compartmentalization of the various programs; and these needs resulted in the notion of a process/ which is a program in execution.
  • A process is the unit of work in a modern time-sharing system.
  • The more complex the operating system is, the more it is expected to do on behalf of its users. Although its main concern is the execution of user programs, it also needs to take care of various system tasks that are better left outside the kernel itself.
  • A system therefore consists of a collection of processes: operating system processes executing system code and user processes executing user code.
  • Potentially, all these processes can execute concurrently, with the CPU (or CPUs) multiplexed among them.
  • By switching the CPU between processes, the operating system can make the computer more productive.
  • A question that arises in discussing operating systems involves what to call all the CPU activities.
  • A batch system executes jobs, whereas a time-shared system has user-programs, or tasks.
  • Even on a single-user system such as Microsoft Windows, a user may be able to run several programs at one time: a word processor, a Web browser, and an e-mail package.
  • And even if the user can execute only one program at a time, the operating system may need to support its own internal programmed activities, such as memory management.
  • In many respects, all these activities are similar, so we call all of them processes.
  • The term job and process are used almost interchangeably in this text.
  • Although we personally prefer the term process, much of operating-system theory and terminology was developed during a time when the major activity of operating systems was job processing.
  • It would be misleading to avoid the use of commonly accepted terms that include the word job (such as job scheduling) simply because process has superseded job.
2.1.1 The Process

  • Informally, as mentioned earlier, a process is a program in execution. A process is more than the program code, which is sometimes known as the text section.
  • It also includes the current activity, as represented by the value of the program counter and the contents of the processor's registers.
  • A process generally also includes the process stack, which contains temporary data (such as function parameters, return addresses, and local variables), and a data section, which contains global variables.
  • A process may also include a heap, which is memory that is dynamically allocated during process run time.
  • The structure of a process in memory is shown in Figure 2.1

Figure 2.1 Process in memory

  • We emphasize that a program by itself is not a process; a program is a passive entity, such as a file containing a list of instructions stored on disk (often called an executable file), whereas a process is an active entity, with a program counter specifying the next instruction to execute and a set of associated resources.
  • A program becomes a process when an executable file is loaded into memory.
  • Two common techniques for loading executable files are double-clicking an icon representing the executable file and entering the name of the executable file on the command line (as in prog. exe or a. out.)
  • Although two processes may be associated with the same program, they are nevertheless considered two separate execution sequences.
  • For instance, several users may be running different copies of the mail program, or the same user may invoke many copies of the Web browser program.

Figure 2.2 Diagram of process state

  • Each of these is a separate process; and although the text sections are equivalent, the data, heap, and stack sections vary.
  • It is also common to have a process that spawns many processes as it runs.

2.1.2 Process State

  • As a process executes, it changes state. The state of a process is defined in part by the current activity of that process.
  • Each process may be in one of the following states:
    • New. The process is being created.
    • Running. Instructions are being executed.
    • Waiting. The process is waiting for some event to occur (such as an I/0 completion or reception of a signal).
    • Ready. The process is waiting to be assigned to a processor.
    • Terminated. The process has finished execution.
  • These names are arbitrary, and they vary across operating systems.
  • The states that they represent are found on all systems, however.
  • Certain operating systems also more finely delineate process states. It is important to realize that only one process can be running on any processor at any instant.
  • Many processes may be ready and waiting, however. The state diagram corresponding to these states is presented in Figure 2.2.
2.1.3 Process Control Block

Figure 2.3 Process Control Block (PCB)

  • Each process is represented in the operating system by a process control block (PCB) -also called a task control block.
  • A PCB is shown in figure 2.3. It contains many pieces of information associated with a specific process, including these:
    • Process state. The state may be new, ready, running, waiting, halted, and so on.
    • Program counter. The counter indicates the address of the next instruction to be executed for this process.

Figure 2.4 Diagram showing CPU switch from process to process.

    • CPU registers. The registers vary in number and type, depending on the computer architecture.
    • They include accumulators, index registers, stack pointers, and general-purpose registers, plus any condition-code information. Along with the program counter, this state information must be saved when an interrupt occurs, to allow the process to be continued correctly afterward (Figure 2.4).
    • CPU-scheduling information. This information includes a process priority pointers to scheduling queues, and any other scheduling parameters.
    • Memory-management information. This information may include such information as the value of the base and limit registers, the page tables, or the segment tables, depending on the memory system used by the operating system.
    • Accounting information. This information includes the amount of CPU and real time used, time limits, account numbers, job or process numbers, and so on.
    • I/O status information. This information includes the list of I/O devices allocated to the process, a list of open files, and so on.
  • In brief the PCB simply serves as the repository for any information that may vary from process to process.

2.1.4 Threads

  • The process model discussed so far has implied that a process is a program that performs a single thread of execution.
  • For example, when a process is running a word-processor program, a single thread of instructions is being executed.
  • This single thread of control allows the process to perform only one task at one time.
  • The user cannot simultaneously type in characters and run the spell checker within the same process, for example.
  • Many modern operating systems have extended the process concept to allow a process to have multiple threads of execution and thus to perform more than one task at a time.
  • On a system that supports threads, the PCB is expanded to include information for each thread.
  • Other changes throughout the system are also needed to support threads.


  1. MODERN OPERATING SYSTEMS by Andrew S. Tanenbaum, Second Edition
  2. The Operating System Concepts by Silberschatz, Galvin, Gagne, 8th Edition

Last modified: Sunday, 19 November 2017, 11:29 AM