General Information

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.

Course outline

This course makes no attempt to cover all the interesting topics in operating systems. Instead, we will cover a few topics in depth.

The course is divided into the following general topic areas.


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, reading questions, and two exams, and one or two labs. There are also office hours available outside of class (it is optional but you are encouraged to come and discuss the papers). The two most important things to know about the class: (1) the main goal is to have interesting 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. 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 to 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. The class is graded on a rough curve.

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 course website along with the paper. Students should submit their answers as a PDF to the Gradescope/Canvas.

Our goal is to get you to think deeply about the paper and to prepare you for exams. You will be graded on the correctness of your answer, but will generally also get partial credit for making a submission.


There will be two exams. They will be open book (class materials including papers) but no electronic devices. The final exam is cumulative. Sample exams with solutions are available on sites from previous years.