Spread Knowledge

CS604 - Operating Systems - Lecture Handout 23

User Rating:  / 0

Related Content: CS604 - VU Lectures, Handouts, PPT Slides, Assignments, Quizzes, Papers & Books of Operating Systems


  • Busy waiting
  • New definition of semaphore
  • Process synchronization
  • Problems with the use of semaphore: deadlock, starvation, and violation of mutual exclusion


The main disadvantage of the semaphore discussed in the previous section is that they all require busy waiting. While a process is in its critical section, any other process that tries to enter its critical section must loop continuously in the entry code. This continual looping is clearly a problem in a real multiprogramming system, where a single CPU is shared among many processes. Busy waiting wastes CPU cycles that some other process may be able to use productively. This type of semaphore is also called a spinlock (because the process spins while waiting for the lock). Spinlocks are useful in multiprocessor systems. The advantage of a spinlock is that no context switch is required when a process must wait on a lock, and a context switch may take considerable time.
This, when locks are expected to be held for short times, spinlocks are useful.
To overcome the need for busy waiting, we can modify the definition of semaphore and the wait and signal operations on it. When a process executes the wait operation and finds that the semaphore value is not positive, it must wait. However, rather than busy waiting, the process can block itself. The block operation places a process into a waiting queue associated with the semaphore, and the state of the process is switched to the waiting state. Then, control is transferred to the CPU scheduler, which selects another process to execute.
A process that is blocked, waiting on a semaphore S, should be restarted when some other process executes a signal operation. The process is restarted by a wakeup operation, which changes the process from the waiting state to the ready state. The process is then placed in the ready queue. (The CPU may or may not be switched from the running process to the newly ready process, depending on the CPU scheduling algorithm.)
Such an implementation of a semaphore is as follows


Each semaphore has an integer value and a list of processes. When a process must wait on a semaphore; it is added to the list of processes. A signal operation removes one process from the list of the waiting processes and awakens that process. The wait operation can be defined as:

wait operation

The signal semaphore operation can be defined as

signal semaphore operation

The block operation suspends the process that invokes it. The wakeup(P) operation resumes the execution of a blocked process P. These two operations are provided by the operating system as basic system calls. The negative value of S.value indicates the number of processes waiting for the semaphore. A pointer in the PCB needed to maintain a queue of processes waiting for a semaphore. As mentioned before, the busy-waiting version is better when critical sections are small and queue-waiting version is better for long critical sections (when waiting is for longer periods of time).

Process Synchronization

You can use semaphores to synchronize cooperating processes. Consider, for example, that you want to execute statement B in Pj only after statement A has been executed in Pi.
You can solve this problem by using a semaphore S initialized to 0 and structuring the codes for Pi and Pj as follows:

Process Synchronization

Pj will not be able to execute statement B until Pi has executed its statements A and signal(S).
Here is another synchronization problem that can be solved easily using semaphores.
We want to ensure that statement S1 in P1 executes only after statement S2 in P2 has executed, and statement S2 in P2 should execute only after statement S3 in P3 has executed. One possible semaphore-based solution uses two semaphores, A and B. Here is the solution.

semaphore A=0, B=0;

semaphore-based solution

Problems with Semaphores

Here are some key points about the use of semaphores:

  • Semaphores provide a powerful tool for enforcing mutual exclusion and coordinating processes.
  • The wait(S) and signal(S) operations are scattered among several processes.
    Hence, it is difficult to understand their effects.
  • Usage of semaphores must be correct in all the processes.
  • One bad (or malicious) process can fail the entire system of cooperating processes.

Incorrect use of semaphores can cause serious problems. We now discuss a few of these problems.

Deadlocks and Starvation

A set of processes are said to be in a deadlock state if every process is waiting for an event that can be caused only by another process in the set. Here are a couple of examples of deadlocks in our daily lives.

  • Traffic deadlocks
  • One-way bridge-crossing

Starvation is infinite blocking caused due to unavailability of resources. Here is an example of a deadlock.

Deadlocks and Starvation

P0 and P1 need to get two semaphores, S and Q, before executing their critical sections.
The following code structures can cause a deadlock involving P0 and P1. In this example, P0 grabs semaphore S and P1 obtains semaphore Q. Then, P0 waits for Q and P1 waits for S. P0 waits for P1 to execute signal(Q) and P1 waits for P0 to execute signal(S).

Neither process will execute the respective instruction—a typical deadlock situation. The following diagram shows the situation pictorially.

situation pictorially

Here is an example of starvation. The code structures are self-explanatory.


Violation of Mutual Exclusion

In the following example, the principle of mutual exclusion is violated. Again, the code structures are self-explanatory. If you have any questions about them, please see the lecture video.

Violation of Mutual Exclusion

These problems are due to programming errors because of the tandem use of the wait and signal operations. The solution to these problems is higher-level language constructs such as critical region (region statement) and monitor. We discuss these constructs and their use to solve the critical section and synchronization problems in the next lecture.