Now we are ready to turn to memory allocation. One of the simplest methods for allocating memory is to divide memory into several fixed-sized partitions. Each partition may contain exactly one process. Thus, the degree of multiprogramming is bound by the number of partitions. In this multiple partition method, when a partition is free, a process is selected from the input queue and is loaded into the free partition. When the process terminates, the partition becomes available for another process. This method was originally used by the IBM OS/360 operating system (called MFT)but is no longer in use. The method described next is a generalization of the fixed-partition scheme (called MVT); it is used primarily in batch environments. Many of the ideas presented here are also applicable to a time-sharing environment in which pure segmentation is used for memory management (Section 8.4). In the variable-partition scheme, the operating system keeps a table indicating which parts of memory are available and which are occupied. Initially, all memory is available for user processes and is considered one large block of available memory, a hole. Eventually, as you will see, the memory contains a set of holes of various sizes. As processes enter the system, they are put into an input queue.
The operating system takes into account the memory requirements of each process and the amount of available memory space in determining which processes are allocated memory. When a process is allocated space, it is loaded into memory, and it can then compete for CPU time. When a process terminates, it releases its memory, which the operating system may then fill with another process from the input queue. At any given time, then, we have a list of available block sizes and an input queue.
The operating system can order the input queue according to a scheduling algorithm. Memory is allocated to processes until, finally, the memory requirements of the next process cannot be satisfied — that is, no available block of memory (or hole) is large enough to hold that process. The operating system can then wait until a large enough block is available, or it can skip down the input queue to see whether the smaller memory requirements of some other process can be met.
In general, as mentioned, the memory blocks available comprise a set of holes of various sizes scattered throughout memory. When a process arrives and needs memory, the system searches the set for a hole that is large enough for this process. If the hole is too large, it is split into two parts. One part is allocated to the arriving process; the other is returned to the set of holes. When a process terminates, it releases its block of memory, which is then placed back in the set of holes. If the new hole is adjacent to other holes, these adjacent holes are merged to form one larger hole. At this point, the system may need to check whether there are processes waiting for memory and whether this newly freed and recombined memory could satisfy the demands of any of these waiting processes.
This procedure is a particular instance of the general dynamic storage allocation problem, which concerns how to satisfy a request of size n from a list of free holes. There are many solutions to this problem. The first-fit, best-fit, and worst-fit strategies are the ones most commonly used to select a free hole from the set of available holes.
- First, fit. Allocate the first hole that is big enough. Searching can start either at the beginning of the set of holes or at the location where the previous first-fit search ended. We can stop searching as soon as we find a free hole that is large enough.
- Best fit. Allocate the smallest hole that is big enough. We must search the entire list unless the list is ordered by size. This strategy produces the smallest leftover hole.
- Worst fit. Allocate the largest hole. Again, we must search the entire list, unless it is sorted by size. This strategy produces the largest leftover hole, which may be more useful than the smaller leftover hole from a best-fit approach. Simulations have shown that both first fit and best fit are better than worst fit in terms of decreasing time and storage utilization. Neither first fit nor best fit is clearly better than the other in terms of storage utilization, but first, fit is generally faster.