Keep Out

This document assumes a broad general understanding of kernel programming concepts. There are many good introductory operating systems texts. This is not one of them. For more information on basic operating systems programming, you should consider the texts mentioned in the bibliography at the end of this document.

Many developers are justifiably cautious about programming in the kernel. A decision to program in the kernel is not to be taken lightly. Kernel programmers have a responsibility to users that greatly surpasses that of programmers who write user programs.

Why You Should Avoid Programming in the Kernel

Kernel code must be nearly perfect. A bug in the kernel could cause random crashes, data corruption, or even render the operating system inoperable. It is even possible for certain errant operations to cause permanent and irreparable damage to hardware, for example, by disabling the cooling fan and running the CPU full tilt.

Kernel programming is a black art that should be avoided if at all possible. Fortunately, kernel programming is usually unnecessary. You can write most software entirely in user space. Even most device drivers (FireWire and USB, for example) can be written as applications, rather than as kernel code. A few low-level drivers must be resident in the kernel's address space, however, and this document might be marginally useful if you are writing drivers that fall into this category.

Despite parts of this document being useful in driver writing, this is not a document about writing drivers. In OS X, you write device drivers using the I/O Kit. While this document covers the I/O Kit at a conceptual level, the details of I/O Kit programming are beyond the scope of this document. Driver writers are encouraged to read I/O Kit Fundamentals for detailed information about the I/O Kit.

This document covers most aspects of kernel programming with the exception of device drivers. Covered topics include scheduling, virtual memory pagers and policies, Mach IPC, file systems, networking protocol stacks, process and thread management, kernel security, synchronization, and a number of more esoteric topics.

To summarize, kernel programming is an immense responsibility. You must be exceptionally careful to ensure that your code does not cause the system to crash, does not provide any unauthorized user access to someone else’s files or memory, does not introduce remote or local root exploits, and does not cause inadvertent data loss or corruption.