Winows NT Architecture

Discussion in 'Computer Science and IT Students' started by Guest, Jul 5, 2010.

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    INTRODUCTION

    The Architecture of Windows NT, a line of operating systems produced and sold by Microsoft, is a layered design that consists of two main components, user mode and kernel mode. It is a preemptive, reentrant operating system, which has been designed to work with uniprocessor and symmetrical multi processor (SMP)-based computers. To process input/output (I/O) requests, they use packet-driven I/O, which utilizes I/O request packets (IRPs) and asynchronous I/O. Starting with Windows 2000, Microsoft began making 64-bit versions of Windows available—before this, these operating systems only existed in 32-bit versions.

    The Windows NT kernel is known as a hybrid kernel. The architecture comprises a simple kernel, hardware abstraction layer (HAL), drivers, and a range of services (collectively named Executive), which all exist in kernel mode.

    User mode in Windows NT is made of subsystems capable of passing I/O requests to the appropriate kernel mode software drivers by using the I/O manager. Two subsystems make up the user mode layer of Windows NT: the Environment subsystem (which runs applications written for many different types of operating systems), and the Integral subsystem (operates system specific functions on behalf of the environment subsystem). Kernel mode in Windows NT has full access to the hardware and system resources of the computer. The kernel mode stops user mode services and applications from accessing critical areas of the operating system that they should not have access to.

    The Executive interfaces, with all the user mode subsystems, deals with I/O, object management, security and process management. The kernel sits between the Hardware Abstraction Layer and the Executive to provide multiprocessor synchronization, thread and interrupt scheduling and dispatching, and trap handling and exception dispatching. The kernel is also responsible for initializing device drivers at bootup. Kernel mode drivers exist in three levels: highest level drivers, intermediate drivers and low level drivers. Windows Driver Model (WDM) exists in the intermediate layer and was mainly designed to be binary and source compatible between Windows 98 and Windows 2000. The lowest level drivers are either legacy Windows NT device drivers that control a device directly or can be a PnP hardware bus.

    NT KERNEL
    The best known example of a hybrid kernel is the Microsoft NT kernel that powers Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008 and Windows 7. NT-based Windows is classified as a hybrid kernel (or a macrokernel) rather than a monolithic kernel because the emulation subsystems run in user-mode server processes, rather than in kernel mode as on a monolithic kernel, and further because of the large number of design goals which resemble design goals of Mach (in particular the separation of OS personalities from a general kernel design). Conversely, the reason NT is not a microkernel system is because most of the system components run in the same address space as the kernel, as would be the case with a monolithic design (in a traditional monolithic design, there would not be a microkernel per se, but the kernel would implement broadly similar functionality to NT's microkernel and kernel-mode subsystems).

    USER MODE
    The user mode is made up of subsystems which can pass I/O requests to the appropriate kernel mode drivers via the I/O manager (which exists in kernel mode).Two subsystems make up the user mode layer of Windows NT: the Environment subsystem and the Integral subsystem.
    The environment subsystem was designed to run applications written for many different types of operating systems. None of the environment subsystems can directly access hardware, and must request access to memory resources through the Virtual Memory Manager that runs in kernel mode. Also, applications run at a lower priority than kernel mode processes.

    There are three main environment subsystems: the Win32 subsystem, an OS/2 subsystem and a POSIX subsystem.
    • The Win32 environment subsystem can run 32-bit Windows applications. It contains the console as well as text window support, shutdown and hard-error handling for all other environment subsystems. It also supports Virtual DOS Machines (VDMs), which allow MS-DOS and 16-bit Windows (Win16) applications to run on Windows NT. There is a specific MS-DOS VDM which runs in its own address space and which emulates an Intel 80486 running MS-DOS 5.0. Win16 programs, however, run in a Win16 VDM. Each program, by default, runs in the same process, thus using the same address space, and the Win16 VDM gives each program its own thread to run on. However, Windows NT does allow users to run a Win16 program in a separate Win16 VDM, which allows the program to be preemptively multitasked as Windows NT will pre-empt the whole VDM process, which only contains one running application. The Win32 environment subsystem process (csrss.exe) also includes the window management functionality, sometimes referred to as a "window manager". It handles input events (such as from the keyboard and mouse), then passes messages to the applications that need to receive this input. Each application is responsible for drawing or refreshing its own windows and menus, in response to these messages.
    • The OS/2 environment subsystem supports 16-bit character-based OS/2 applications and emulates OS/2 1.x, but not 32-bit or graphical OS/2 applications as used with OS/2 2.x or later.
    • The POSIX environment subsystem supports applications that are strictly written to either the POSIX.1 standard or the related ISO/IEC standards. The POSIX subsystem has been an area of recent active development and is a major feature of Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003.
    The integral subsystem looks after operating system specific functions on behalf of the environment subsystem.It consists of a security subsystem, a workstation service and a server service. The security subsystem deals with security tokens, grants or denies access to user accounts based on resource permissions, handles login requests and initiates login authentication, and determines which system resources need to be audited by Windows NT. It also looks after Active Directory.The workstation service is an API to the network redirector, which provides the computer access to the network.The server service is an API that allows the computer to provide network services.

    KERNEL MODE
    Windows NT kernel mode has full access to the hardware and system resources of the computer and runs code in a protected memory area.It controls access to scheduling, thread prioritization, memory management and the interaction with hardware. The kernel mode stops user mode services and applications from accessing critical areas of the operating system that they should not have access to; user mode processes must ask the kernel mode to perform such operations on their behalf.
    While the x86 architecture supports four different privilege levels (numbered 0 to 3), only the two extreme privilege levels are used. Usermode programs are run with CPL 3, and the kernel runs with CPL 0. These two levels are often referred to as "ring 3" and "ring 0", respectively. Such a design decision had been done to achieve code portability to RISC platforms that only support two privilege levels, though this breaks compatibility with OS/2 applications that contain I/O privilege segments that attempt to directly access hardware.
    Kernel mode consists of executive services, which is itself made up on many modules that do specific tasks, kernel drivers, a kernel and a Hardware Abstraction Layer, or HAL

    HARDWARE ABSTRACTION LAYER
    The Windows NT hardware abstraction layer, or HAL, is a layer between the physical hardware of the computer and the rest of the operating system. It was designed to hide differences in hardware and therefore provide a consistent platform on which the kernel is run. The HAL includes hardware-specific code that controls I/O interfaces, interrupt controllers and multiple processors.

    • The architecture of Windows NT is robust and is evolving continuously with technologies like core parking etc.
    • With the Intel and Microsoft working closely to build the future we anticipate a bright future for the NT line of OS.

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