Hybrid Kernel - Examples - NT Kernel - Description


The Windows NT design included many of the same objectives as Mach, the archetypal microkernel system, one of the most important being its structure as a collection of modules that communicate via well-known interfaces, with a small microkernel limited to core functions such as first-level interrupt handling, thread scheduling and synchronization primitives. This allows for the possibility of using either direct procedure calls or interprocess communication (IPC) to communicate between modules, and hence for the potential location of modules in different address spaces (for example in either kernel space or server processes). Other design goals shared with Mach included support for diverse architectures, a kernel with abstractions general enough to allow multiple operating system personalities to be implemented on top of it and an object-oriented organisation.

The reason NT is not a micro-kernel system is that nearly all of the subsystems providing system services, including the entire Executive, run in kernel mode (in the same address space as the microkernel itself), rather than in user-mode server processes, as would be the case with a microkernel design. This is an attribute NT shares with early versions of Mach, as well as all commercial systems based on Mach, and stems from the superior performance offered by using direct procedure calls in a single memory space, rather than IPC, for communication amongst subsystems.

In describing NT, the list of which subsystems do not run in kernel mode is far shorter than the list of those that do. The user-mode subsystems on NT include one or more emulation subsystems, each of which provides an operating system personality to applications, the Session Manager Subsystem (smss.exe), which starts the emulation subsystems during system startup and the Local Security Authority Subsystem Service (lsass.exe), which enforces security on the system. The subsystems are not written to a particular OS personality, but rather to the native NT API (or Native API).

The primary operating system personality on Windows is the Windows API, which is always present. The emulation subsystem which implements the Windows personality is called the Client/Server Runtime Subsystem (csrss.exe). On versions of NT prior to 4.0, this subsystem process also contained the window manager, graphics device interface and graphics device drivers. For performance reasons, however, in version 4.0 and later, these modules (which are often implemented in user mode even on monolithic systems, especially those designed without internal graphics support) run as a kernel-mode subsystem.

As of 2007, one other operating system personality, UNIX, is offered as an optionally installed system component on certain versions of Windows Vista and Windows Server 2003 R2. The associated subsystem process is the Subsystem for UNIX-Based Applications (psxss.exe), which was formerly part of a Windows add-on called Windows Services for UNIX. An OS/2 subsystem (os2ss.exe) was supported in older versions of Windows NT, as was a very limited POSIX subsystem (psxss.exe). The POSIX subsystem was supplanted by the UNIX subsystem, hence the identical executable name.

Applications that run on NT are written to one of the OS personalities (usually the Windows API), and not to the native NT API for which documentation is not publicly available (with the exception of routines used in device driver development). An OS personality is implemented via a set of user-mode DLLs (see Dynamic-link library), which are mapped into application processes' address spaces as required, together with an emulation subsystem server process (as described previously). Applications access system services by calling into the OS personality DLLs mapped into their address spaces, which in turn call into the NT run-time library (ntdll.dll), also mapped into the process address space. The NT run-time library services these requests by trapping into kernel mode to either call kernel-mode Executive routines or make Local Procedure Calls (LPCs) to the appropriate user-mode subsystem server processes, which in turn use the NT API to communicate with application processes, the kernel-mode subsystems and each other.

Read more about this topic:  Hybrid Kernel, Examples, NT Kernel

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