An operating system provides an environment for the execution of programs. It provides certain services to programs and to the users of those programs. The specific services provided, of course, differ from one operating system to another, but we can identify common classes. These operating system services are provided for the convenience of the programmer, to make the programming task easier
One set of operating system services provides functions that are helpful to the user
- User interface Almost all operating systems have a user interface (UI). This interface can take several forms. One is a command-line interface (CLI), which uses text commands and a method for entering them (say, a keyboard for typing in commands in a specific format with specific options). Another is a batch interface, in which commands and directives to control those commands are entered into files, and those files are executed. Most commonly, a graphical user interface (GUI) is used. Here, the interface is a window system with a pointing device to direct I/O, choose from menus, and make selections and a keyboard to enter text. Some systems provide two or all three of these variations
- Program execution. The system must be able to load a program into memory and to run that program. The program must be able to end its execution, either normally or abnormally (indicating error).
- I/O operations. A running program may require I/O, which may involve a file or an I/O device. For specific devices, special functions may be desired (such as recording to a CD or DVD drive or blanking a display screen). For efficiency and protection, users usually cannot control I/O devices directly. Therefore, the operating system must provide a means to do I/O
- File-system manipulation. The file system is of particular interest. Obviously, programs need to read and write files and directories. They also need to create and delete them by name, search for a given file, and list file information. Finally, some operating systems include permissions management to allow or deny access to files or directories based on file ownership. Many operating systems provide a variety of file systems, sometimes to allow personal choice and sometimes to provide specific features or performance characteristics
- Communications. There are many circumstances in which one process needs to exchange information with another process. Such communication may occur between processes that are executing on the same computer or between processes that are executing on different computer systems tied together by a computer network. Communications may be implemented via shared memory, in which two or more processes read and write to a shared section of memory, or message passing, in which packets of information in predefined formats are moved between processes by the operating system
- Error detection. The operating system needs to be detecting and correcting errors constantly. Errors may occur in the CPU and memory hardware (such as a memory error or a power failure), in I/O devices (such as a parity error on disk, a connection failure on a network, or lack of paper in the printer), and in the user program (such as an arithmetic overflow, an attempt to access an illegal memory location, or a too-great use of CPU time). For each type of error, the operating system should take the appropriate action to ensure correct and consistent computing. Sometimes, it has no choice but to halt the system. At other times, it might terminate an error-causing process or return an error code to a process for the process to detect and possibly correct.