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2. BSD mmap

2.1 Synopsis

#include <unistd.h>
#include <sys/mman.h>

void  *mmap(void  *start,  size_t length, int prot , int
              flags, int fd, off_t offset);

int munmap(void *start, size_t length);

int msync(const void *start, size_t length, int flags);

int mprotect(const void *addr, size_t len, int prot);

prot |=  PROT_EXEC

flags |= MAP_FIXED


2.2 Overview

Mapping Files

When you request a shared segment under the BSD implementation, what you are really doing is requesting that a file (actually, a file descriptor 'fd', which was already opened by open(2)) of length 'length' be mapped into the address pointed to by 'start' of your proceess space starting 'offset' bytes into the file. If start is NULL, the address is determined by the kernel. NOTE: You MUST know the length of the file being mapped (see fstat(2)), and the length of your segment WILL NOT CHANGE from this initial length. This means if write past the end of the segment, the file will not be appened to. You will get a segmentation fault instead.

The kernel then instructs the MMU of the CPU to generate a "page fault" when a section of this region of memory is accessed. When the kernel gets this page fault, it gets a page (4K) of data from the corresponding location in the file, and reads it into memory. The kernel only does this once per page of data in your mapped segment. This also means that no physical memory is allocated untill you start accessing the pages of the mapped region. The one exception to this is when mapping /dev/zero. Maps to /dev/zero are all prefaulted (zeroed), and the memory thus actually allocated.

Pemissions and access

The standard file modes are checked by the kernel to determine whether or not a process has access to map a file (shared or not). In addition, you may also specify permissions on the segment itself. These permissions describe to the kernel what may be done to the actual memory (Can it be executed? Can it be read? Written to?) The mprotect system call can be used to change permissions on any section of previously mapped memory that starts on a page boundry.

When an attempted mmap to a file fails, mmap returns -1 (not NULL!), and errno is set. However, when you try to access a segment in a way that violates its permissions, a segmentation fault is generated.


When you write to a your shared segment, your changes do not appear immediately to the file until you perform an msync(2). They are, of course, visible to other processes who also are sharing your segment.

Additionaly, you may make the segment private, which means that if another process maps the file, it does not see changes to your version of the mapped file, and vice versa. Another characteristic that might be confused with a private mapping is an anonymous mapping. Anonymous mappings are not associated with files at all, and hence are not shared memory. We will use them to implement our malloc debugger however. (Note anonymous mappings are not POSIX standard. However, most UNIX flavors do support it. Those that don't usually allow multiple mappings to /dev/zero of any length.)

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