General Information Updated March 27, 2017

About This Course

Students will study advanced operating system topics and be exposed to recent developments in operating systems research. This course involves readings and lectures on classic and new papers. Topics include virtual memory management, synchronization and communication, file systems, protection and security, operating system structure and extension techniques, fault tolerance, and history and experience of systems programming.


The prerequisite for this class is CS140 or the equivalent. It is necessary to have this background before taking the class as we’ll read a lot papers quickly without much time for catching up on the basics. The course assumes an understanding of topics in operating systems such as synchronization, virtual memory management, scheduling, and file systems.

Course Organization and Workload

The course consists of lectures, readings, pre-lecture questions, labs, and two exams. The two most important things to know about the class: (1) the main goal is to have interesting in-class discussions and (2) we recommend you read each paper at least two times: once very carefully, then once more, focusing on the hard parts. For any artifact the paper describes you should draw a picture. This should all be done more than a day in advance so that it sinks in.

Most of the work in this course consists of reading journal and conference papers. We will cover one paper for each class meeting. This class will be primarily discussion based rather than organized around lectures. Active discussion will (hopefully) give you a non-trivial understanding of the material. The only way this approach can work is if you read the papers carefully. To encourage this, a substantial portion (detailed next) of your class grade will come from class participation. This includes talking in class, submitting answers to pre-lecture questions, as well as asking questions. Class time will not be used to rehash the material in the papers. Instead, it will be used to highlight the important points and discuss some of the more interesting features. There will be as much as 10 - 15 hours of reading per week. Do not take this course unless you are willing and able to do a lot of reading.

Grading Policy

Your grade will be a function of your class ranking and where we set the thresholds for letter grades. Your class ranking will be based 50% on the midterm and cumulative final, 30% on the two lab assignments, and 20% on participation and reading questions. Our decision on grade thresholds will factor in class participation a second time.

Participation and Attendance

Attendance is a necessary but not sufficient condition for good class participation. The general policy is that a student will automatically receive a deduction of one letter grade for missing more than 3 lectures. We will not take official roll during lecture, but because we make the effort to know everyone in the class, we will notice if a student is frequently absent. If you are a non-SCPD student and have any concerns about not being able to regularly attend class (e.g., you will have to miss several classes during the quarter) please discuss this as soon as possible with the course staff.

Beyond attendance, we evaluate class participation largely by observing how prepared students are to discuss the covered paper when they come to class. This is not a trivial requirement because we expect papers to have been read thoroughly prior to lecture. Your response to reading questions are a good opportunity to show that you understood the paper well. Although you will be graded only on whether you respond to the reading questions, a thoughtful response can only work in your favor.

Reading Questions

With some exceptions, each paper will be accompanied with a question that you are required to respond to. The question will be posted on the reading list in the syllabus at least one day prior to the lecture devoted to that paper. Your response should be in the form of a brief paragraph written or typed on a sheet of paper that you turn in prior to the beginning of each lecture. Make sure the sheet of paper includes your name so that you receive credit.

SCPD students will submit responses via the submissions page. Responses will be accepted until one week after the questions’s corresponding lecture. Each question will contain specific instructions for SCPD submissions.

Responses should be short and pithy. Our goal is to get you to think deeply about the paper, not to test you. You won’t be graded on the correctness of your answer but simply on whether you attempted to answer the question at all with some understanding.


There will be two exams. They will be open book (but not open laptop). The final exam is cumulative. Sample exams with solutions are available on sites from previous years.


There will be two labs. The intent is to (1) practice advanced operating systems concepts and (2) add new tools to your systems programming toolset. You will be given at least two weeks to complete each lab. We expect that each lab will take a total of 6 hours to complete, or 3 hours per week.

Due Dates

Reading questions are due at the start of lecture. No extensions are possible, but missing only one or two questions should minimally impact your final grade.

SCPD midterm and final exams MUST be returned to cs240-staff by 10am the morning after the exam. You can take the exam anytime beginning at the originally scheduled time so long as your proctor emails the exam back to cs240-staff before 10am the next day.

Contacting the Course Staff

You may email the staff directly at email. If the matter is general in nature, you may prefer to address it via the CS240 Google group.


Mondays and Wednesdays
1:30pm - 2:50pm
Skilling 80


Join the CS240 Google group.

Staff List


David Mazières
Gates 290
(415) 490-9451
Office Hours:
Friday 3:30pm-5:30pm

Sergio Benitez
Gates 288
(650) 723-8777
Office Hours:
Monday 5pm-6pm
Wednesday 5pm-6pm

Matthew Volk
Course Assistant
Office Hours:
Wednesday 6:15-8:15pm
Thursday 1:45-3:45pm
Lathrop Tech Lounge
Google Hangout

Previous Terms

Spring 2016
Spring 2015
Spring 2014
Winter 2013
Spring 2013
Spring 2012
Spring 2011
Spring 2010