Implementing Historical Algorithms

This lesson analyzes the method of adding hardware support to implement historical algorithms.

As you can see, an algorithm such as LRU can generally do a better job than simpler policies like FIFO or Random, which may throw out important pages. Unfortunately, historical policies present us with a new challenge: how do we implement them?

Requirements for implementation

Let’s take, for example, LRU. To implement it perfectly, we need to do a lot of work. Specifically, upon each page access (i.e., each memory access, whether an instruction fetch or a load or store), we must update some data structure to move this page to the front of the list (i.e., the MRU side). Contrast this to FIFO, where the FIFO list of pages is only accessed when a page is evicted (by removing the first-in page) or when a new page is added to the list (to the last-in side). To keep track of which pages have been least- and most-recently used, the system has to do some accounting work on every memory reference. Clearly, without great care, such accounting could greatly reduce performance.

Adding hardware support

One method that could help speed this up is to add a little bit of hardware support. For example, a machine could update, on each page access, a time field in memory (for example, this could be in the per-process page table, or just in some separate array in memory, with one entry per physical page of the system). Thus, when a page is accessed, the time field would be set, by hardware, to the current time. Then, when replacing a page, the OS could simply scan all the time fields in the system to find the least-recently-used page.

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