Process Control Block (PCB, also called Task Controlling Block,Entry of the Process Table,Task Struct, or Switchframe) is a data structure in the operating system kernel containing the information needed to manage the scheduling of a particular process. The PCB is "the manifestation of a process in an operating system."
The role of the PCBs is central in process management: they are accessed and/or modified by most OS utilities, including those involved with scheduling, memory and I/O resource access and performance monitoring. It can be said that the set of the PCBs defines the current state of the operating system. Data structuring for processes is often done in terms of PCBs. For example, pointers to other PCBs inside a PCB allow the creation of those queues of processes in various scheduling states ("ready", "blocked", etc.) that was previously mentioned.
In modern sophisticated multitasking systems, the PCB stores many different items of data, all needed for correct and efficient process management. Though the details of these structures are obviously system-dependent, we can identify some very common parts, and classify them in three main categories:
The approach commonly followed to represent this information is to create and update status tables for each relevant entity, like memory, I/O devices, files and processes.
Memory tables, for example, may contain information about the allocation of main and secondary (virtual) memory for each process, authorization attributes for accessing memory areas shared among different processes, etc. I/O tables may have entries stating the availability of a device or its assignment to a process, the status of I/O operations being executed, the location of memory buffers used for them, etc.
File tables provide info about location and status of files. Finally, process tables store the data the OS needs to manage processes. At least part of the process control data structure is always maintained in main memory, though its exact location and configuration varies with the OS and the memory management technique it uses.
Process identification data always include a unique identifier for the process (almost invariably an integer number) and, in a multiuser-multitasking system, data like the identifier of the parent process, user identifier, user group identifier, etc. The process id is particularly relevant, since it is often used to cross-reference the OS tables defined above, e.g. allowing to identify which process is using which I/O devices, or memory areas.
Process state data are those pieces of information that define the status of a process when it is suspended, allowing the OS to restart it later and still execute correctly. This always includes the content of the CPU general-purpose registers, the CPU process status word, stack and frame pointers etc. During context switch, the running process is stopped and another process is given a chance to run. The kernel must stop the execution of the running process, copy out the values in hardware registers to its PCB, and update the hardware registers with the values from the PCB of the new process.
Process control information is used by the OS to manage the process itself. This includes:
Since PCB contains the critical information for the process, it must be kept in an area of memory protected from normal user access. In some operating systems the PCB is placed in the beginning of the kernel stack of the process as it is a convenient protected location.
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