14 Handles

One of the most important data types in GEOS is the handle. There are many different types of handles serving many different purposes. However, they all have one or both of these traits: they provide an unchanging reference to a changing (or moving) thing, and they allow geodes to access and manipulate indirectly certain structures which are maintained as internal to the kernel.

This chapter is an overview of the use of handles in GEOS. Before you read this chapter, you should be familiar with PC architecture; in particular, you should understand the segment:offset scheme of addressing memory (discussed in section A.2.1 of Appendix A. This section sketches some basic principles of memory usage and data manipulation. These topics are covered in greater detail in other chapters in this book, particularly in the chapters on “Memory Management,” Chapter 15 and “Local Memory,” Chapter 16.

14.1 Design Philosophy

GEOS handles play many different roles. The most fundamental of these is memory access. GEOS moves memory in the global heap and swaps memory to the disk. This makes memory available as needed and means that the total memory being used by geodes can be many times larger than the physical memory in the computer; however, it means also that geodes need some way to keep track of their memory. In addition, the system needs to perform memory “housekeeping,” doing such things as freeing memory when the geode which owns it exits, making sure that memory is only locked by appropriate geodes, noting which memory sections can be swapped to the hard disk, etc. This means that the kernel needs to maintain a data area for each block of memory. Although the memory itself may move around, the data about the memory should remain in the same place so the kernel can access it.

The solution to both difficulties is the handle table. The table contains entries for each block of memory. These entries keep track of the block, noting such information as where the block is in the global heap, whether it has been swapped to the disk, who its owner is, etc. The handle table does not move in memory. Each entry is referenced by a handle, which is simply the address of the table entry. When a geode needs access to a block, it can call a memory-management routine and pass the handle associated with that block. The memory manager dereferences the handle to find the data about the block and then takes any appropriate steps.

The handle table is useful for many other things. Often a geode will need to perform an action on something which is managed by the kernel. For example, the kernel keeps track of the different disk volumes it has seen. A geode may need to access a disk but not want to keep track of the volume name; or it might want to find out details (such as the size available) of a given disk. Similarly, it might want to find out how large a file which it has opened has grown. All of this information is managed by the kernel, but applications may need to access it or change it. Therefore, each of these things is given an entry in the same handle table as the memory blocks; geodes can reference these things by their handles, the same way they do memory blocks.

The handle mechanism is useful in other places. Sometimes a geode will want to subdivide a block of memory into smaller parcels (or chunks). GEOS provides a local memory library which implements this functionality. These chunks can be moved around within a block, so applications access them by handles. The handle in this case is an offset to a handle table within that block; dereferencing the handle gives the address of the chunk. Similar techniques are used to divide Virtual Memory files. The principle is the same as with global memory handles: an unchanging handle is used to find the address of a movable thing.

There are certain things all handles have in common. They are all sixteen bits long, allowing them to fit in an 80x86 register. They also all specify addresses. The address is of an entry in a handle table; this entry contains information about the thing whose handle this is. However, handles can be divided into two basic groups:

  • Those in the global handle table. The global handle table is kept in main memory below the global heap. The table is never accessed directly by geodes. Instead, geodes pass the handle as an argument to kernel routines that access the handle table.

  • Those in local handle tables. Such handles are offsets into handle tables which may be stored in memory blocks or VM files. These handles persist as long as the entity containing the handle table does.

14.2 The Global Handle Table

Many handles refer to things which are managed by the kernel. These things include global memory blocks, disk volumes, files, and many other things. Each of these things has an entry in the global handle table. Only the GEOS kernel may directly access the global handle table. If a geode wants to access one of these things, it must call a system routine and pass the thing’s handle.

Global handles may not be saved across sessions of GEOS. The global handle table has to be rebuilt each time GEOS is launched. For example, when GEOS shuts down, all open files are closed. When an application restores from state, it may choose to reopen a file; it will then be given the file’s handle, which will almost certainly be different from the file’s handle during the previous session.

Sometimes several threads will be using the same global handle, and they will need to synchronize their access to it. They can arrange this by using the HandleP() and HandleV() routines. These routines are most often used to synchronize access to a global memory block; for this reason, they are documented in section 15.3.6 of “Memory Management,” Chapter 15.

14.3 Local Handles

Many handles are not kept in the global handle table. For example, a block of memory may be declared as a “local-memory (LMem) heap.” An LMem heap can contain many different chunks of data; the LMem manager moves these chunks around to make room for new ones. Each chunk is referenced via a chunk handle. (For more details about LMem heaps, see “Local Memory,” Chapter 16.)

Local handle tables are useful when a handle needs to persist across GEOS shutdowns. For example, data in VM files is accessed by its block handle. These handles therefore need to remain the same every time the file is opened.

Some local handle tables are intended to be directly accessible to geodes. For example, LMem Chunk handles are simply offsets into the block containing the LMem heap; the address specified by that offset contains another offset value, which is the offset to the chunk. This scheme is part of the LMem API. Geodes which are written in assembly generally look up chunk handles themselves, instead of calling a system routine to translate the chunk handle into an address. (Goc code generally dereferences a chunk handle with a call to LMemDeref().) Some other local handle tables are intended to be opaque to geodes. For example, applications treat VM block handles as opaque 16-bit tokens; to dereference a VM handle, a geode must pass it to an appropriate system routine (such as VMLock()).

Local handles are used by many different libraries; among them are the LMem, VM, Database, and Cell libraries. The details differ with each library; for more information, see the appropriate chapter. An object-descriptor is a combination of two handles: the handle of the global memory block containing the object, and the chunk handle of the object itself. For more information, see “GEOS Programming,” Chapter 5.

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