CS 537 Notes, Section #21: Working Sets
Chapter 9, Sections 9.6 and 9.7 in Operating Systems Concepts.
Working Sets are a solution proposed by Peter Denning. An
informal definition is "the collection of pages that a process is
working with, and which must thus be resident if the process is to
The idea is to use the recent needs of a process to predict its future needs.
Choose τ (tau), the working set parameter. At any given time,
all pages referenced by a process in its last τ seconds
of execution are considered to comprise its working set.
A process will never be executed unless its working set
is resident in main memory. Pages outside the working set
may be discarded at any time.
Working sets are not enough by themselves to make sure memory does not get
overcommitted. We must also introduce the idea of a balance set:
If the sum of the working sets of all runnable processes is
greater than the size of memory, then refuse to run
some of the processes (for a while).
Divide runnable processes up into two groups: active and
inactive. When a process is made active its working set is
loaded, when it is made inactive its working set is allowed
to migrate back to disk. The collection of active processes
is called the balance set.
Some algorithm must be provided for moving processes into and
out of the balance set. What happens if the balance set
changes too frequently?
As working sets change, corresponding changes will have to be
made in the balance set.
Problem with the working set: must constantly be updating working set
One of the initial plans was to store some sort of a capacitor
with each memory page. The capacitor would be charged on each
reference, then would discharge slowly if the page was not
referenced. Tau would be determined by the size of the
capacitor. This was not actually implemented. One problem
is that we want separate working sets for each process, so
the capacitor should only be allowed to discharge when a
particular process executes. What if a page is shared?
Actual solution: take advantage of use bits
OS maintains idle time value for each page: amount
of CPU time received by process since last access to page.
Every once in a while, scan all pages of a process. For
each use bit on, clear page's idle time. For use bit off,
add process' CPU time (since last scan) to idle time.
Turn all use bits off during scan.
Scans happen on order of every few seconds.
This actual solution is an approximation algorithm known as
Other questions about working sets and memory management in general:
What should τ be?
What if it is too large?
What if it is too small?
What algorithms should be used to determine which processes
are in the balance set?
How do we compute working sets if pages are shared?
How much memory is needed in order to keep the CPU busy?
Note than under working set methods the CPU may occasionally
sit idle even though there are runnable processes.
THIS ENDS THE SECTION ON MEMORY MANAGEMENT
Copyright © 2008, 2013 Barton P. Miller
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