Learning Operating Systems and Rediscovering C

A Ruby dev's rambling journey deeper down the stack


Open facing Operating Systems in Three Easy Pieces and closed The Linux Programming Interface books

I’m going to be experimenting a bit with this post. It’s currently a work in progress that I plan on fleshing out over the coming months as I learn more about the topic and stumble upon new resources. I always intend on blogging about my OMSCS coursework after a particularly interesting class ends, but never actually get around to doing it (KBAI I’m looking at you 👀). It should end up being on the longer side of my posts and I anticipate wrapping it up in May or June.

Update (2018-02-09): Just completed a week-long Linux training and the first project in GIOS. Updated this post with my thoughts on the training and added some learning strategies for GIOS.

Update (2018-02-25): Just finished up the midterm and have added notes on my note-taking approach which I’ve found to be useful.

Update (2018-05-07): Finished the course and earned my A. 😊 Added a few closing remarks, but overall I’m done updating this post. I think overall writing this up helped focus my efforts in the course so I’m going to do something similar for Machine Learning this Fall and likely for Machine Learning For Trading (maybe I’ll combine them into one super-post) this Summer.

Motivation Behind Learning OS Concepts

One of my goals this year is to learn more of the underlying concepts and theory of operating systems and improve my systems programming skills. Consequentially, I’ve enrolled in Graduate Introduction to Operating Systems (CS 6200) (referred to as GIOS from here on out) through Georgia Tech’s OMSCS program this semester to help meet this goal. However, it’s been a few years since I’ve written any C and I never had the opportunity to take an Operating Systems course in undergrad so I’ve got some ground to cover. This post is currently a work in progress, but I’ll add to it over time to document my learning journey and include links to any resources that proved helpful along the way.

If you’re intrested in the course the recorded lectures are available to anyone via Udacity.

Approach Toward Succeeding in CS6200

I’m now finished with the course and feel like I’ve learned a lot!

If you’re currently taking this course and are interested, this is the approach I’ve taken so far. If not, feel free to skip ahead to the learning resources section of this post.

Lecture Videos

The lectures for the course are all pre-recorded and available through Udacity. However, I generally try to find time to squeeze them in and watch them in places where I don’t typically have unlimited internet access: such as on the BART during my commute or in the gym.

Fortunately, Udacity lets you download the videos in bulk so I just toss them on to my Kindle Fire tablet that I picked up for about thirty bucks during Black Friday. I watch them using VLC media player since it allows me to adjust the playback speed.

Doing well on the exams requires a thorough understanding of the lectures, so I typically watched each one multiple times. First time through I would do ~1.25x speed and then subsequent watches I’d cruise through at 2x for this course to jog my memory.

Office Hours

Office hours with the professor and TAs typically occur during Eastern time since the program is based out of Atlanta, GA which means I usually can’t attend them live. The professor usually uploads them to Youtube, however, so I download and watch them after the fact. It’s not ideal since I can’t ask questions while the office hours are being held, but it does mean I can fast forward any questions that aren’t personally relevant.

Piazza and Slack

The TAs and classmates in this course are super active in the class Slack.

I ended up spending a decent amount of time goofing off in Slack, but overall it was incredibly helpful and a great way to meet fellow classmates.


The course doesn’t have a required textbook this semester, but I bought one of the recommendations: Operating Systems: Three Easy Pieces. It’s available for free online, but a hardcover copy was only around thirty dollars.

Update: Even though I purchased a paper copy of the book, I ended up just going through it piecemeal. Many of the chapters were relevant to the topics we covered and it was a good resource for explaining concepts deeper, but you can successfully make it through the course with just the lecture videos and required papers.

Papers and Readings

The course has a number of assigned papers and some of them can be pretty dry. I generally follow the strategy put forth in this meta-paper on how to effectively read an academic paper: How to Read a Paper. It was first introduced to me in a Computer Networking course and has been pretty helpful so far.

Another technique I’ve found helpful is paraphrasing and summarizing critical parts of the papers in my own words. I’ve added a new notes section to the site where I can add freely jot this stuff down. By making the notes public, I end up trying a little harder to make sure that what I’ve written makes sense and this, in turn, helps reinforce my understanding of the material. As an added benefit, maybe someone else will find them useful as well!

So far I’ve summarized:

General Operating Systems and C Language Resources

Below are some of the resources that helped me prepare and learn various operating systems topics throughout the course. Like this whole post, the format is still a work in progress.

Learning C

  • The C Programming Language
    • This is the quintessential guide to C written by the language’s creators themselves. I had worked through it previously in undergrad, but sold my copy back to the bookstore. I repurchased it and am now using it more as a reference.

Learning Linux Syscalls and the GNU C Library (glibc)

  • The Linux Man Pages
    • The Linux manual pages have been very helpful for learning about various syscalls and their associated standard library functions. My go to now is to search “man pread” for example when I want to know how to use a library function and what the various flags available are.
  • The Linux Programming Interface
    • This book has also been invaluable while working on my GIOS projects. It’s chapters on POSIX threads and sockets/poll have been especially helpful on the first project so far.

Thread Theory

Sockets and Network Programming

System Programming for Linux Containers Training

This February I was given the opportunity through work to attend a week-long intensive training with Michael Kerrisk, the author of The Linux Programming Interface referenced above.

We attended his System Programming for Linux Containers course which I found immensely helpful.

The first couple of days covered some Linux basics such as syscalls, file permissions, and processes. He covers all of this in his book, but I found the format of the in-person course really conducive to learn. It actually helped me finish my first project in GIOS.

The latter half of the week covered cgroups, capabilities, seccomp, and namespaces – all of the core Linux features that enable the creation and use of containers.

I’m considering doing some further research on these topics and making a dedicated post synthesizing some of what I learned, but until then I recommend checking out this post to see how all of these topics come together to make a container: Linux containers in 500 lines of code

At Cloud Foundry we’re all about running applications in containers. However for me personally, most of my work has been in Ruby at some of the higher levels of the platform. The lower layers, such as the garden-runc containerization component, have, until now, been a bit of a black box to me. This week of training, however, has helped demystify containers for me and that makes me very excited to learn more. 😊

Future Exploration

These are resources that I haven’t had a chance to go through yet, but look like a lot of fun.