Introduction to Paging

Get a brief introduction to the concept of paging in this lesson.

It is sometimes said that the operating system takes one of two approaches when solving most any space-management problem. The first approach is to chop things up into variable-sized pieces, as we saw with segmentation in virtual memory. Unfortunately, this solution has inherent difficulties. In particular, when dividing a space into different-size chunks, the space itself can become fragmented, and thus allocation becomes more challenging over time.

Thus, it may be worth considering the second approach: to chop up space into fixed-sized pieces. In virtual memory, we call this idea paging, and it goes back to an early and important system, the Atlas1. “One-level Storage System” by T. Kilburn, D.B.G. Edwards, M.J. Lanigan, F.H. Sumner. IRE Trans. EC-11, 2, 1962. Reprinted in Bell and Newell, “Computer Structures: Readings and Examples”. McGraw-Hill, New York, 1971. The Atlas pioneered the idea of dividing memory into fixed-sized pages and in many senses was an early form of the memory-management ideas we see in modern computer systems. 2. “The Manchester Mark I and Atlas: A Historical Perspective” by S. H. Lavington. Communications of the ACM, Volume 21:1, January 1978. This paper is a great retrospective of some of the history of the development of some important computer systems. As we sometimes forget in the US, many of these new ideas came from overseas.. Instead of splitting up a process’s address space into some number of variable-sized logical segments (e.g., code, heap, stack), we divide it into fixed-sized units, each of which we call a page. Correspondingly, we view physical memory as an array of fixed-sized slots called page frames; each of these frames can contain a single virtual-memory page. Our challenge:


How can we virtualize memory with pages, so as to avoid the problems of segmentation? What are the basic techniques? How do we make those techniques work well, with minimal space and time overheads?

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