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Operating Systems, 141. Practical Session 2, Signals and Assignment 1. Signals. Signals are a way of sending simple messages to processes/ threads. Used to notify a process of important events. Signals can be sent by other processes/ threads , or by the kernel.

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Operating systems 141

Operating Systems, 141

Practical Session 2,

Signals and Assignment 1



  • Signals are a way of sending simple messages to processes/ threads.

  • Used to notify a process of important events.

  • Signals can be sent by other processes/ threads, or by the kernel.

  • Signals are defined in POSIX.

  • Signals can be found in Linux but not in XV6, you can add them yourself!

Reacting to signals

Reacting to Signals

  • Signals are processed (by the kernel) after a process finished running in kernel mode, just before returning to user mode:

    • Upon returning from a system call.

    • Upon returning from a timer interrupt (interrupt sent by the hardware clock).

Signals synchronous vs asynchronous

Signals: Synchronous VS. Asynchronous

  • Programs are synchronous: executed line by line

  • Signals can be synchronous or asynchronous

    • Synchronous: occur as a direct result of the executing instruction stream. Examples: dividing by zero, segmentation fault, etc.

    • Asynchronous: external to (and in some cases unrelated to) the current execution context. A mechanism for an inter-process communication. Example: receiving a termination signal from a different process.

Signals examples


  • SIGSEGV– Segmentation Faults

  • SIGFPE – Floating Point Error

  • SIGSTOP – Causes process to suspend itself

  • SIGCONT – Causes a suspended process to resume execution

    Which are synchronous?

  • A list of signals in Linux: http://www.ucs.cam.ac.uk/docs/course-notes/unix-courses/Building/files/signals.pdf





Signal table

Signal Table

  • Each process has a signal table

  • Each signal has an entry in the table

  • Each signal has an indicator whether to ignore the signal or not (SIG_IGN)

  • Each signal has a column of what to do upon receiving the signal (if not ignoring it)

Blocking and ignoring

Blocking and Ignoring

  • Blocking: The signal is not delivered to the process. It remains pending until the block is removed.

  • Ignoring: The signal is discarded by the kernel without any action being taken. The execution of the process continues even if non-meaningful (i.e. ignoring SIGFPE or SIGSEGV).

    • According to POSIX, the behavior of a process is undefined after it ignores a SIGFPE, SIGILL, or SIGSEGV signal that was not generated by kill or raise.

Signal handlers

Signal Handlers

  • Each signal has a default action. For example:

    • SIGTERM – Terminate process.

    • SIGFPE (floating point exception) – dump core and exit.

  • The default action can be changed by the process using the signal*/ sigactionsystem call.

  • It is highly recommended to refrain from using the signal call in your code, as we will see later. Nonetheless it is important to be familiar with it since it appears in many legacy programs.

Signal handlers1

Signal Handlers

  • Five default actions:

    • Ignore: ignores the signal; no action taken.

    • Exit: forces the process to exit.

    • Core: forces the process to exit and create a core file.

    • Stop: stops the process.

    • Continue: resume execution of a stoppedprocess.

  • Some functions are not safe to call from within a signal handler, such as printf, malloc, etc. A useful technique to overcome this is to use a signal handler to set a flag and then check that flag from the main program and print a message if required. Further reading: http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/linux/library/l-reent/index.html

Signal handlers2

Signal Handlers

  • Two signals cannot be ignored or have their associated action changed:



      (Don’t confuse with SIGTSTP, which is sent when a user ^z in the shell. The default actions of both signals are similar, but the latter can be modified).

  • When calling execvp() all signals are set to their default action. The bit that specifies whether to ignore the signal or not is preserved. Why?

Scheme of signal processing

Scheme of signal processing

User Mode

Kernel Mode

Normal program flow




An event which traps to kernel

Signal handler




Return code on the stack

Sending signals

Sending Signals

  • Signals can be sent:

    • From the keyboard

    • From the command line via the shell

    • Using system calls

Keyboard signals

Keyboard Signals

  • Ctrl–C – Sends a SIGINT signal . By default this causes the process to terminate.

  • Ctrl-\ - Sends a SIGQUIT signal. Causes the process to terminate.

  • Ctrl-Z – Sends a SIGTSTP signal. By default this causes the process to suspend execution.

  • Note: not all keyboard signals are supported in all shells.

Command line signals

Command line Signals

  • kill <signal> <PID> – Sends the specified signal to the specified PID. A Negative PID specifies a whole process group.

    • Kill -9 <PID> sends a SIGKILL which terminates the process.

  • killall<args> <commands> – can be used to send multiple signals to all processes running specific commands.

    • Example: killall -9 java

  • fg –Resumes the execution of a suspended process (sends a SIGCONT).

System call signals

System call Signals

Kill(pid_t pid,int sig)

Usage example:

#include <unistd.h> /* standard unix functions, like getpid() */

#include <sys/types.h> /* various type definitions, like pid_t */

#include <signal.h> /* signal name macros, and the kill() prototype */

/* first, find my own process ID */

pid_tmy_pid = getpid();

/* now that I got my PID, send myself the STOP signal. */kill(my_pid, SIGSTOP);

Signal priority

Signal Priority

  • Each pending signal is marked by a bit in a 32 bit word.

  • Therefore there can only be one signal pending of each type.

  • A process can’t know which signal came first.

  • The process executes the signals starting at the lowest numbered signal.

  • POSIX 2001 also defines a set of Real-Time Signals which behave differently:

    • Multiple instances may be queued

    • Provide richer information (may be accompanied by an integer)

    • Delivered in guaranteed order

    • Use SIGRTMIN+n up to SIGRTMAX to refer to these signals (32 in Linux)

Manipulation of signals

Manipulation of Signals

sighandler_t signal(intsignum, sighandler_thandler)

  • Registers a new signal handler for the signal with number signum.

  • The signal handler is set to sighandler which may be a user specified function, or either SIG_IGN or SIG_DFL.

  • If the corresponding handler is set to SIG_IGN or SIG_DFL, then the signal is ignored or set do default action accordingly.

  • Return Value: previous value of the signal handler, or SIG_ERR on error.

  • Deprecated, do not use!

Manipulation of signals1

Manipulation of Signals

  • On some systems (e.g. System V Unix), if the handler is set to a function sighandlerand a signal is received, then first the handler is reset to SIG_DFL, and next sighandler is called.

  • This may result in portability issues, or unwanted signal handling.

  • One solution to this problem is demonstrated in the “ouch” signal handler function:void ouch(int sig)


    printf(“OUCH! - I got signal %d\n”, sig);

    signal(SIGINT, ouch);


  • What is the problem with this solution?

Manipulation of signals sigaction

Manipulation of Signals- sigaction

intsigaction(intsignum, const struct sigaction *act,

struct sigaction *oldact);

  • A more sophisticated (and safe) way of manipulating signals.

  • Doesn’t restore (by default) the signal handler to default when delivering a signal.

  • signum is the number of the signal.

  • act is a pointer to a struct containing much information including the new signal handler.

  • oldact if not null will receive the old signal handler.

    For more details and another example see:



Manipulation of signals sigaction1

Manipulation of Signals- sigaction

The sigaction structure is defined as something like:

structsigaction {

void (*sa_handler)(int); sigset_tsa_mask;


void (*sa_restorer)(void);


  • sa_handler specifies the action to be associated with signum and may be SIG_DFL, SIG_IGN, or a pointer to a signal handling function.

  • sa_maskspecifies a mask of signals which should be blocked during execution of the signal handler. In addition, the signal which triggered the handler will be blocked, unless the SA_NODEFER flag is used.

  • sa_flags specifies a set of flags which modify the behavior of the signal.

Manipulation of signals sigprocmask

Manipulation of Signals- sigprocmask

int sigprocmask(int how, const sigset_t *set,sigset_t *oldset);

The sigprocmask call is used to change the list of currently blocked signals. The behaviour of the call is dependent on the value of how, as follows:

  • SIG_BLOCK The set of blocked signals is the union of the current set and the set argument.

  • SIG_UNBLOCK The signals in set are removed from the current set of blocked signals. It is legal to attempt to unblock a signal which is not blocked.

  • SIG_SETMASK The set of blocked signals is set to the argument set.

Manipulation of signals sigprocmask1

Manipulation of Signals- sigprocmask

  • sigset_t is a basic data structure used to represent a signal set.

  • Initialization of sigset_tshould be done using: sigemptyset, sigfillset, sigaddset, …

  • A variable of type sigset_t should not be manipulated manually (for portability)!

  • An example of usage can be found at: http://www.linuxprogrammingblog.com/code-examples/blocking-signals-with-sigprocmask


Manipulation of signals sigpending

Manipulation of Signals- sigpending


Returns the set of signals that are pending for delivery to the calling thread (i.e., the signals which have been raised while blocked). The mask of pending signals is returned in set.

Waiting for signals

Waiting for signals

int pause(void);

Causesthe calling process (or thread) to sleep until a (any) signal is delivered that either terminates the process or causes the invocation of a signal-catching function.

intsigsuspend(constsigset_t *mask);

Temporarily replaces the signal mask of the process, and suspends the process until a signal not belonging to the waiting mask arrives.

Allows waiting for a particular signal.

The system call alarm

The system call alarm

unsigned alarm(unsigned seconds);

Requests the system to generate a SIGALRMfor the process afterseconds time have elapsed. Processor scheduling delays may prevent the process from handling the signal as soon as it is generated.

  • If seconds is 0, a pending alarm request, if any, is canceled.

  • Alarm requests are not stacked; only one SIGALRM generation can be scheduled in this manner. If the SIGALRM signal has not yet been generated, the call shall result in rescheduling the time at which the SIGALRM signal is generated.

Example 1

Example 1

#include <stdio.h> /* standard I/O functions */

#include <unistd.h> /* standard unix functions, like getpid() */

#include <sys/types.h> /* various type definitions, like pid_t*/

#include <signal.h> /* signal name macros, and the signal() prototype */

/* first, here is the signal handler */


/* reassign the signal handler again to catch_int, for next time */

signal(SIGINT, catch_int);

/* and print the message */

printf("Don't do that\n");


int main(){

/* set the INT (Ctrl-C) signal handler to 'catch_int' */

signal(SIGINT, catch_int);

/* now, lets get into an infinite loop of doing nothing */

while (true) {



Causes the process to halt execution until it receives any signal.

Example 2

Example 2

intcpid[5]; // holds the pids of the children

intj; // index to cpid

// function to activate when a signal is caught

intsigCatcher() {

signal(SIGINT, sigCatcher); // re-assign the signal catcher

printf("PID %d caught one\n", getpid());

if(j > -1)

kill(cpid[j], SIGINT); // send signal to next child in cpid

Example 2 continued

Example 2-Continued

int main() {


int zombie;



  signal(SIGINT, sigCatcher); // sets a handler for INT signal

Example 2 continued1

Example 2-Continued

for(i=0; i<5; i++){

if((pid=fork()) == 0){ // create new child

printf("PID %d ready\n", getpid());

j = i-1;

pause(); // wait for signal

exit(0); // end process (become a zombie)


else// Only father updates the cpid array.

cpid[i] = pid;


sleep(2); // allow children time to enter pause

kill(cpid[4], SIGINT); // send signal to first child

sleep(2); // wait for children to become zombies

for(i=0; i<5; i++){

zombie = wait(&status); // collect zombies

printf("%d is dead\n", zombie);






PID 22899 ready

PID 22900 ready

PID 22901 ready

PID 22902 ready

PID 22903 ready

PID 22903 caught one

PID 22902 caught one

PID 22901 caught one

PID 22900 caught one

PID 22899 caught one

22903 is dead

22901 is dead

22902 is dead

22899 is dead

22900 is dead

Security issues

Security Issues

  • Not all processes can send signals to all processes.

  • Only the kernel and super user can send signals to all processes.

  • Normal processes can only send signals to processes owned by the same user.

Process id and group id

Process ID and Group ID

  • Each process has an ID(pid).

  • A process groupis a collection of related processes.

  • Each process has a process-group identifier (pgid).

  • One process in the group is the group leaderand all member’s group ID is equal to the leaders pid. The group leader is the process group's initial member.

  • A signal can be sent to a single process or to a process group.

  • Used by the shell to control different tasks executed by it.

Process group id

Process Group ID

intgetpid() – return the process’s PID.

intgetpgrp()– return the process’s PGID.

setpgrp()– set this process’s PGID to be equal to his PID.

setpgrp(int pid1, int pid2)– set process’s pid1 PGID to be equal to pid2’s PID.

Midterm question appendix

Midterm Question (Appendix)

Question from midterm 2004

Question from midterm 2004

תלמיד קיבל משימה לכתוב תכנית שמטרתה להריץ תכנית נתונה (ברשותו רק הקובץ הבינארי) prompt ע"י שימוש ב-fork ו-execvp. בנוסף נדרש התלמיד למנוע מן המשתמש "להרוג" את התכנית ע"י הקשת ctrl-c (שים לב כי התכנית prompt אינה מסתיימת לעולם). מצורף פתרון שהוצע ע"י התלמיד (my_prog.c) וכן התכנית prompt.

  • תאר במדויק את פלט התכנית כאשר הקלט הנו:

    Good luck in the ^c midterm exam.

  • האם הפתרון המוצע עונה על הגדרת התרגיל?

  • אם תשובתך ל-ב' היא לא, כיצד היית משנה את התכנית my_prog.c (ניתן להוסיף/ לשנות שורה או שתיים בקוד לכל היותר)?

Question from midterm 20041

Question from midterm 2004



voidcntl_c_handler(int dummy){

signal(SIGINT, cntl_c_handler);


main (intargc,char **argv){

int waited;

int stat;

argv[0] = “prompt”;

signal (SIGINT, cntl_c_handler);

if (fork() == 0) { // son



else { // father

waited = wait(&stat);

printf(“My son (%d) has terminated \n”,waited);



Question from midterm 20042

Question from midterm 2004


(זכרו כי קוד זה אינו ניתן לשינוי ע"י התלמיד)

main(intargc, char** argv){

char buf[20];


printf(“Type something: “);


printf(“\nYou typed: %s\n”,buf);



Sample execution of code

Sample execution of code

  • תאר במדויק את פלט התכנית כאשר הקלט הנו:

    Good luck in the ^c midterm exam.

    Type something: Good luck

    You typed: Good luck

    Type something: in the ^c

    My son 139 has terminated

Code is incorrect

Code is incorrect

האם הפתרון המוצע עונה על הגדרת התרגיל?

  • Execvpdoesn’t preserve signal handlers.

  • Therefore prompt.c doesn’t ignore ^c.

  • This means that the process can be terminated.

Code correction

Code correction

אם תשובתך ל-ב' היא לא, כיצד היית משנה את התכנית my_prog.c (ניתן להוסיף/לשנות שורה או שתיים בקוד לכל היותר)?

  • Change

    signal (SIGINT, cntl_c_handler); in my_prog.c


    signal (SIGINT, SIG_IGN);

  • Add

    if (fork()==0){

    signal (SIGINT, SIG_IGN);


Question from midterm 2012

Question from midterm 2012

נתון קטע הקוד הבא:

voidsigchld_handler(int s) {




signal(SIGCHLD, sigchld_handler);


if (fork() != 0) {




wait ();







Question from midterm 20121

Question from midterm 2012

  • ידוע כי הפקודות signal_block וכן signal_unblockחוסמות ומשחררות חסימה לסיגנלים.

  • שרטטו גרף מכוון המתאר את הפלטים האפשריים לקוד זה. כל צומת בגרף תסמל הדפסה וכל קשת מכוונת תייצג יחס סדר מתחייב בין הדפסות.

  • לדוגמא, אם עפ"י קוד מסוים ידוע כי יודפסו X, Y ו – Z וכי ההדפסה של X תופיע בהכרח לפני ההדפסה של Y (אך Z יכול להופיע לפני או אחרי כל אחת מן ההדפסות האחרות), יתקבל הגרף הבא:




Question from midterm 20122

Question from midterm 2012

הגרף שיתקבל מהקוד:

voidsigchld_handler(int s) {




signal(SIGCHLD, sigchld_handler);


if (fork() != 0) {




wait ();












More information

More Information

  • http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/3985

  • http://www.linux-security.cn/ebooks/ulk3-html/0596005652/understandlk-CHP-11.html

  • http://cs-pub.bu.edu/fac/richwest/cs591_w1/notes/wk3_pt2.PDF

  • http://books.google.com/books?id=9yIEji1UheIC&pg=PA156&lpg=PA156&dq=linux+ret_from_intr()&source=bl&ots=JCjEvqiVM-&sig=z8CtaNgkFpa1MPQaCWjJuU5tq4g&hl=en&ei=zf3zSZsvjJOwBs-UxYkB&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=22#PPA159,M1

  • man signal, sigaction…

  • man kill…

  • Process groups:



Code examples

CODE examples

Sigaction code example

sigaction code example

#include <signal.h>

#include <stdio.h>

#include <string.h>

#include <sys/types.h>

#include <unistd.h>

sig_atomic_t sigusr1_count = 0;

void handler (intsignal_number){



int main (intargc, char ** argv){


memset (&sa, 0, sizeof (sa));

sa.sa_handler = &handler;

sigaction (SIGUSR1, &sa, NULL);

/* Do some lengthy stuff here. */

/* ... */

printf (“SIGUSR1 was raised %d times\n”, sigusr1_count);

return 0;



Sigprocmask code example

sigprocmask code example

/** This program blocks SIGTERM signal for 10 seconds using sigprocmask(2) * After that the signal is unblocked and the queued signal is handled. */

#include <signal.h>

#include <stdio.h>

#include <string.h>

#include <unistd.h>


staticvoidhdl(int sig){



intmain (intargc,char*argv[]){



structsigaction act;



Sigprocmask code example1

sigprocmask code example






sigaddset(&mask, SIGTERM);





sleep (10);  





sleep (1);

if(got_signal) puts ("Got signal");  

return0; }


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