Introduction to Files and Directories

This lesson presents an introduction to the module on persistent storage that we will now be covering.

Thus far we have seen the development of two key operating system abstractions: the process, which is a virtualization of the CPU, and the address space, which is a virtualization of memory. In tandem, these two abstractions allow a program to run as if it is in its own private, isolated world; as if it has its own processor (or processors) and memory. This illusion makes programming the system much easier and thus is prevalent today not only on desktops and servers but increasingly on all programmable platforms including mobile phones and the like.

In this section, we add one more critical piece to the virtualization puzzle: persistent storage. A persistent-storage device, such as a classic hard disk drive or a more modern solid-state storage device, stores information permanently (or at least, for a long time). Unlike memory, whose contents are lost when there is a power loss, a persistent-storage device keeps such data intact. Thus, the OS must take extra care with such a device: this is where users keep data that they really care about.


How should the OS manage a persistent device? What are the APIs? What are the important aspects of the implementation?

Thus, in the next few chapters, we will explore critical techniques for managing persistent data, focusing on methods to improve performance and reliability. We begin, however, with an overview of the API: the interfaces you’ll expect to see when interacting with a UNIX file system.

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