DNIX

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DNIX was a Unix-like real-time operating system from the Swedish company Dataindustrier AB (DIAB). A version called ABCenix was also developed for the ABC1600 computer from Luxor. (Daisy Systems also had something called Daisy DNIX on some of their CAD workstations. It was unrelated to DIAB's product.)

Contents

History

ISC Systems Corporation (ISC) purchased the right to use DNIX in the late 1980s for use in its line of Motorola 68k-based banking computers. (ISC was later bought by Olivetti, and was in turn resold to Wang, which was then bought by Getronics. This corporate entity, most often referred to as 'ISC', has answered to a bewildering array of names over the years.) This code branch was the SVR2 compatible version, and received extensive modification and development at their hands. Notable features of this operating system were its support of demand paging, diskless workstations, multiprocessing, asynchronous I/O, the ability to mount processes (handlers) on directories in the file system, and message passing. Its real-time support consisted largely of internal event-driven queues rather than list search mechanisms (no 'thundering herd'[1]), static process priorities in two classes (run to completion and timesliced), support for contiguous files (to avoid fragmentation of critical resources), and memory locking. The quality of the orthogonal asynchronous event implementation has yet to be equalled in current commercial operating systems, though some approach it. (The concept that has yet to be adopted is that the synchronous marshalling point of all the asynchronous activity itself could be asynchronous, ad infinitum. DNIX handled this with aplomb.) The asynchronous I/O facility obviated the need for Berkeley sockets select or SVR4's STREAMS poll mechanism, though there was a socket emulation library that preserved the socket semantics for backward compatibility. Another feature of DNIX was that none of the standard utilities (such as ps, a frequent offender) rummaged around in the kernel's memory to do their job. System calls were used instead, and this meant the kernel's internal architecture was free to change as required. The handler concept allowed network protocol stacks to be outside the kernel, which greatly eased development and improved overall reliability, though at a performance cost. It also allowed for foreign file systems to be user-level processes, again for improved reliability. The main file system, though it could have been (and once was) an external process, was pulled into the kernel for performance reasons. Were it not for this DNIX could well have been considered a microkernel, though it was not formally developed as such. Handlers could appear as any type of 'native' Unix file, directory structure, or device, and file I/O requests that the handler itself could not process could be passed off to other handlers, including the underlying one upon which the hander was mounted. Handler connections could also exist and be passed around independent of the filesystem, much like a pipe. One effect of this is that TTY-like 'devices' could be emulated without requiring a kernel-based Pseudo terminal facility.

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