Multi-level Page Tables

This lesson thoroughly explores the concept of multi-level page tables by covering an example in complete detail.

A different approach doesn’t rely on segmentation but attacks the same problem: how to get rid of all those invalid regions in the page table instead of keeping them all in memory? We call this approach a multi-level page table, as it turns the linear page table into something like a tree. This approach is so effective that many modern systems employ it (e.g., x86“Computer Systems: A Programmer’s Perspective” by Randal E. Bryant and David R. O’Hallaron. Addison-Wesley, 2010. We have yet to find a good first reference to the multi-level page table. However, this great textbook by Bryant and O’Hallaron dives into the details of x86, which at least is an early system that used such structures. It’s also just a great book to have.). We now describe this approach in detail.

Basic idea of a multi-level page table

The basic idea behind a multi-level page table is simple. First, chop up the page table into page-sized units; then, if an entire page of page-table entries (PTEs) is invalid, don’t allocate that page of the page table at all. To track whether a page of the page table is valid (and if valid, where it is in memory), use a new structure, called the page directory. The page directory thus either can be used to tell you where a page of the page table is, or that the entire page of the page table contains no valid pages.

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