Memory Allocation

Pintos contains two memory allocators, one that allocates memory in units of a page, and one that can allocate blocks of any size.

Page Allocator

The page allocator declared in include/threads/palloc.h allocates memory in units of a page. It is most often used to allocate memory one page at a time, but it can also allocate multiple contiguous pages at once.

The page allocator divides the memory it allocates into two pools, called the kernel and user pools. By default, each pool gets half of system memory above 1MB, but the division can be changed with the ul kernel command line option. An allocation request draws from one pool or the other. If one pool becomes empty, the other may still have free pages. The user pool should be used for allocating memory for user processes and the kernel pool for all other allocations. This will only become important starting with project 3. Until then, all allocations should be made from the kernel pool.

Each pool's usage is tracked with a bitmap, one bit per page in the pool. A request to allocate n pages scans the bitmap for n consecutive bits set to false, indicating that those pages are free, and then sets those bits to true to mark them as used. This is a "first fit" allocation strategy.

The page allocator is subject to fragmentation. That is, it may not be possible to allocate n contiguous pages even though n or more pages are free, because the free pages are separated by used pages. In fact, in pathological cases it may be impossible to allocate 2 contiguous pages even though half of the pool's pages are free. Single-page requests can't fail due to fragmentation, so requests for multiple contiguous pages should be limited as much as possible.

Pages may not be allocated from interrupt context, but they may be freed.

When a page is freed, all of its bytes are cleared to 0xcc, as a debugging aid (see Debugging Tips).

Page allocator types and functions are described below.

void *palloc_get_page (enum palloc_flags flags)
void *palloc_get_multiple (enum palloc_flags flags, size_t page_cnt)

Obtains and returns one page, or page_cnt contiguous pages, respectively. Returns a null pointer if the pages cannot be allocated.

The flags argument may be any combination of the following flags:


    If the pages cannot be allocated, panic the kernel. This is only appropriate during kernel initialization. User processes should never be permitted to panic the kernel.


    Zero all the bytes in the allocated pages before returning them. If not set, the contents of newly allocated pages are unpredictable.


    Obtain the pages from the user pool. If not set, pages are allocated from the kernel pool.

void palloc_free_page (void *page)
void palloc_free_multiple (void *pages, size_t page_cnt)

Frees one page, or page cnt contiguous pages, respectively, starting at pages. All of the pages must have been obtained using palloc_get_page() or palloc_get_multiple().

Block Allocator

The block allocator, declared in threads/malloc.h, can allocate blocks of any size. It is layered on top of the page allocator described in the previous section. Blocks returned by the block allocator are obtained from the kernel pool.

The block allocator uses two different strategies for allocating memory. The first strategy applies to blocks that are 1 kB or smaller (one-fourth of the page size). These allocations are rounded up to the nearest power of 2, or 16 bytes, whichever is larger. Then they are grouped into a page used only for allocations of that size.

The second strategy applies to blocks larger than 1 kB. These allocations (plus a small amount of overhead) are rounded up to the nearest page in size, and then the block allocator requests that number of contiguous pages from the page allocator.

In either case, the difference between the allocation requested size and the actual block size is wasted. A real operating system would carefully tune its allocator to minimize this waste, but this is unimportant in an instructional system like Pintos.

As long as a page can be obtained from the page allocator, small allocations always succeed. Most small allocations do not require a new page from the page allocator at all, because they are satisfied using part of a page already allocated. However, large allocations always require calling into the page allocator, and any allocation that needs more than one contiguous page can fail due to fragmentation, as already discussed in the previous section. Thus, you should minimize the number of large allocations in your code, especially those over approximately 4 kB each.

When a block is freed, all of its bytes are cleared to 0xcc, as a debugging aid (see Debugging Tips).

The block allocator may not be called from interrupt context.

The block allocator functions are described below. Their interfaces are the same as the standard C library functions of the same names.

void *malloc (size_t size)

Obtains and returns a new block, from the kernel pool, at least size bytes long. Returns a null pointer if size is zero or if memory is not available.

void *calloc (size_t a, size_t b)

Obtains a returns a new block, from the kernel pool, at least a * b bytes long. The block's contents will be cleared to zeros. Returns a null pointer if a or b is zero or if insufficient memory is available.

void *realloc (void *block, size_t new_size)

Attempts to resize block to new_size bytes, possibly moving it in the process. If successful, returns the new block, in which case the old block must no longer be accessed. On failure, returns a null pointer, and the old block remains valid. A call with block null is equivalent to malloc(). A call with new size zero is equivalent to free().

void free (void *block)

Frees block, which must have been previously returned by malloc(), calloc(), or realloc() (and not yet freed).

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