Operating Systems - CSCI 402, Spring 2018, All Sections

This is an undergraduate course on computer operating systems. (Although this course is for graduate students! USC undergraduate students must take CS 350 in order to get credit for OS. If you are an undergraduate student, you cannnot be in this class!) In addition to exploring concepts such as synchronization, virtual memory, processes, file systems and virtualization. Students will develop elements of a fairly complete operating system during the course of the semester.
My actual CS 402 class web site for Spring 2018 is not ready yet. Since many students are registering now, I felt that I should post some important rules about my sections so students can know what to expect and register accordingly. I tend to be a stickler to rules, so there will be no exceptions. (In general, I'm bound by my own written rules and I have to stick to them.)


  • I do not sign D-clearances and I will not sign anything to put one student ahead of everyone else. Please see your adviser to get your D-clearance.

DEN Videos

  • DEN lecture videos will be made accessiable to all of the non-DEN sections.


  • You must take all the exams in the section for which you are registered.

  • The dates and times for the final exams are deteremined by the university and there is absolutely no way to change them for you. If you know that you cannot come to the final exam for a particular section, do not register for that section because I will not change the date or time of your final exam.


  • This class is very demanding and the last programming assignment is extremely difficult and very very time-consuming. The coverage of this class is very vast. There is really no time for me to explain every topic to the point where every student in the class understands everything perfectly because we have to move along quickly to get you ready for the kernel programming assignments. So, please do not expect "spoon feeding" in this class and you need to be prepared to figure things out on your own. Of course, you are welcome to come talk to me about anything related to the course material. So, you are not completely on your own. You will also be expected to learn certain things completely on your own.

    This class can also be very rewarding. If you work super hard for 15 weeks and implement all the programming assignments yourself, you will realized that you have learned so much when the course is over.

Kernel Teams

  • Up to 4 students per team will be permitted but no more.

  • You can form a kernel team with students registered in any section. Since not every grader grades identically, I will track which student is graded by which grader. When I calculate your final class grade at the end of the semester, I will "normalize" each team assignment grade according to the average and standard deviation for each grader and extrapolate your grade according to the overall class average and standard deviation. For example, if the average for a particular grader is 85 and standard deviation is 10 and your team got a score of 87.5 (i.e., average plus half a standard deviation), your "normalized" score will be the overall class average plus half of the overall class standard deviation. This means that if you were graded by an "easy grader", your normalized score may be lower than your original score. If you were graded by a "harsh grader", your normalized score may be higher than your original score. This is not a perfect system. But I think it's a big improvement over not normalizing your scores and it's done this way so that you can have flexibility when you choose which section to enroll.

Late Registration

  • Even though you are on the wait list and there is no guarantee that you will get in, if you intend to take this class, you are expected to attend every lecture and submit all assignments on time (i.e., same deadlines as students who are already registered). So, even if you get in on Friday of the 3rd week of classes, you will be expected to turn in warmup #1 by late night that Friday.


  • You can earn up to 4% extra credit for class participation. But you will only earn extra credit if you attend the lectures and discussion sections for which you are registered. (It's perfectly fine if you sit in another lecture or discussion section and you don't need prior approval. You just won't get class participation extra credit if you do that.) For students registered in the "remote DEN section" (i.e., section 29946D), you get the participation extra credit automatically (i.e., without signing roll sheets).


  • The recommended preparation for this class are (1) CSCI 201L or CSCI 455x, and (2) EE 357 or EE 352L. Basically, you should know how to program and you should know what's inside a processor/CPU and how it works (i.e., how it executes machine instructions).

  • The programming assignments of this class will be very demanding (kernel 3 will be extremely difficult and very very time-consuming). You will be required to write C code. Since C is a proper subset of C++, knowing C++ well would give you enough background. However, some of the things that available in C++, such as strings and streams, are not be available in C. So, you need to know how to do things such as manipulating C-strings (i.e., null-terminated array of characters) using functions such as strchr, strrchr, strlen, strcmp, strncpy, etc. You also need to know how to perform console and file I/O in C using functions such as read/write, printf/snprintf, fread/fwrite, fgets, etc. No other programming language will be accepted. We will not teach C in this class. You are expected to pick up C on your own if you are not familiar with it.

    If you are not good with programming in C and you want to get prepared for this class, you can start by implementing some basic data structures and algorithms. For example, read a file of integers, sort them in a linked list, and sort the linked list using selection sort, bubble sort, insertion sort, merge sort, and quick sort is a good place to start. To practice file I/O and string manipulation, you can change the file of integers to lines of text and parse the lines into fields (e.g., separated by semi-colons or tabs) then sort the lines based on a particular field and print the sorted records. You must understand what a memory address is and what it means to store the address of a data structure into a pointer data type (e.g., in forming a linked list). You then need to be able to follow pointers to traverse a linked list. Please take a look at my review on pointers and make sure you understand everything there. Finally, you need to learn to use gdb to examine memory locations and debug your program.

  • You must know how to use Unix/Linux. If you are not familiar with Unix/Linux, you must learn it on your own. We will not teach you how to use Unix/Linux in this class. If you are not familiar with Unix/Linux, I strongly urge you to read Unix for the Beginning Mage (by Joe Topjian) before the course starts. You should also get familiar with the Unix/Linux development environment (vi/pico/emacs, cc/gcc, make, etc.)

    If you don't have access to a Unix/Linux machine, you can install your own. Our kernel programming assignments must run on Ubuntu 14.04 (if your machine is slow or has less than 4GB memory, Ubuntu 12.04 is also acceptable). Therefore, you might as well install Ubuntu 14.04 on your laptop or desktop as soon as possible. If you do not have a personal laptop or desktop that runs Windows or Mac OS X, please contact the instructor as soon as possible.

    You should learn how to use the Terminal program to compile, run, and debug programs. It's probably a good idea to also learn how to use a text editor (such as vi, emacs, or nano) to create and edit C program source code.

Important Dates

  • (Jan 8/9, 2018) - first day of class
  • (Jan 15, 2018) - Martin Luther King Day, university holiday
  • (Jan 26, 2018) - warmup1 due
  • (Feb 16, 2018) - warmup2 due
  • (Feb 19, 2018) - Presidents' Day, university holiday
  • (Mar 9, 2018) - kernel1 due
  • (Mar 12-16, 2018) - Spring recess
  • (Mar 21, 2018) - midterm for DEN and PM sections (firm)
  • (Mar 22, 2018) - midterm for TT section (firm)
  • (Apr 6, 2018) - kernel2 due
  • (Apr 27, 2018) - kernel3 due
  • (May 4, 2018) - DEN section final exam, 8am - 10am (firm)
  • (May 4, 2018) - PM section final exam, 11am - 1pm (firm)
  • (May 8, 2018) - TT section final exam, 8am - 10am (firm)
Please note that "DEN section" means sections 29945D and print 29946D (with lecture time on MW starting at 9:30am). "PM section" means section 29971D (with lecture time on MW starting at 12pm), and "TT section" means section 30331D (with lecture time on TuTh starting at 9:30am).

[Last updated Sat Sep 19 2020]    [Please see copyright regarding copying.]