Memory management is the act of managing computer memory. In its simpler forms, this involves providing ways to allocate portions of memory to programs at their request, and freeing it for reuse when no longer needed. The management of main memory is critical to the computer system.
Virtual memory systems separate the memory addresses used by a process from actual physical addresses, allowing separation of processes and increasing the effectively available amount of RAM using disk swapping. The quality of the virtual memory manager can have a big impact on overall system performance.
Garbage collection is the automated allocation and deallocation of computer memory resources for a program. This is generally implemented at the programming language level and is in opposition to manual memory management, the explicit allocation and deallocation of computer memory resources. Region-based memory management is an efficient variant of explicit memory management that can deallocate large groups of objects simultaneously.
Memory management systems on multi-tasking operating systems usually deal with the following issues.
In systems with virtual memory, programs in memory must be able to reside in different parts of the memory at different times. This is because when the program is swapped back into memory after being swapped out for a while it can not always be placed in the same location. The virtual memory management unit must also deal with concurrency. Memory management in the operating system should therefore be able to relocate programs in memory and handle memory references and addresses in the code of the program so that they always point to the right location in memory.
Processes should not be able to reference the memory for another process without permission. This is called memory protection, and prevents malicious or malfunctioning code in one program from interfering with the operation of other running programs.
Even though the memory for different processes is normally protected from each other, different processes sometimes need to be able to share information and therefore access the same part of memory. Shared memory is one of the fastest techniques for Inter-process communication.
Programs are often organized in modules. Some of these modules could be shared between different programs, some are read only and some contain data that can be modified. The memory management is responsible for handling this logical organization that is different from the physical linear address space. One way to arrange this organization is segmentation.
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