Operating-System Structure

A system as large and complex as a modern operating system must be engineered carefully if it is to function properly and be modified easily. A common approach is to partition the task into small components, or modules, rather than have one monolithic system. Each of these modules should be a well-defined portion of the system, with carefully defined inputs, outputs, and functions

Simple Structure

Many operating systems do not have well-defined structures. Frequently, such systems started as small, simple, and limited systems and then grew beyond their original scope. MS-DOS is an example of such a system. It was originally designed and implemented by a few people who had no idea that it would become so popular. It was written to provide the most functionality in the least space, so it was not carefully divided into modules.

In MS-DOS, the interfaces and levels of functionality are not well separated. For instance, application programs are able to access the basic I/O routines to write directly to the display and disk drives. Such freedom leaves MS-DOS vulnerable to errant (or malicious) programs, causing entire system crashes when user programs fail. Of course, MS-DOS was also limited by the hardware of its era. Because the Intel 8088 for which it was written provides no dual mode and no hardware protection, the designers of MS-DOS had no choice but to leave the base hardware accessible.

Layered Approach

With proper hardware support, operating systems can be broken into pieces that are smaller and more appropriate than those allowed by the original MS-DOS and UNIX systems. The operating system can then retain much greater control over the computer and over the applications that make use of that computer.

Implementers have more freedom in changing the inner workings of the system and in creating modular operating systems. Under a top down approach, the overall functionality and features are determined and are separated into components.

Information hiding is also important, because it leaves programmers free to implement the low-level routines as they see fit, provided that the external interface of the routine stays unchanged and that the routine itself performs the advertised task.


This method structures the operating system by removing all nonessential components from the kernel and implementing them as system and user-level programs. The result is a smaller kernel. There is little consensus regarding which services should remain in the kernel and which should be implemented in user space. Typically, however, microkernels provide minimal process and memory management, in addition to a communication facility


Perhaps the best current methodology for operating-system design involves using loadable kernel modules. Here, the kernel has a set of core components and links in additional services via modules, either at boot time or during run time. This type of design is common in modern implementations of UNIX, such as Solaris, Linux, and Mac OS X, as well as Windows

Hybrid Systems

In practice, very few operating systems adopt a single, strictly defined structure. Instead, they combine different structures, resulting in hybrid systems that address performance, security, and usability issues. For example, both Linux and Solaris are monolithic, because having the operating system in a single address space provides very efficient performance.


iOS is a mobile operating system designed by Apple to run its smartphone, the iPhone, as well as its tablet computer, the iPad. iOS is structured on the Mac OS X operating system, with added functionality pertinent to mobile devices, but does not directly run Mac OS X applications


The Android operating system was designed by the Open Handset Alliance (led primarily by Google) and was developed for Android smartphones and tablet computers. Whereas iOS is designed to run on Apple mobile devices and is close-sourced, Android runs on a variety of mobile

Leave a Comment