CSE 221: Graduate Operating Systems

Winter 2024

Amy Ousterhout
CSE 3130
Tu/Th 3:30–4:50pm
Peterson Hall 104
Teaching Assistants
Anshul Birla
Jackson Conte
Office Hours
Amy: Tu 2-3 pm (or by appointment)
Anshul: Th 1-2 pm in B270A
Jackson: Wed 1-2 pm in B250A
This course does not have a required textbook. However, I strongly recommend using an undergraduate operating systems textbook as a reference. Any reasonably recent OS textbook will suffice, such as:

OSTEP book Remzi H. Arpaci-Dusseau and Andrea C. Arpaci-Dusseau
Operating Systems: Three Easy Pieces
Version 1.10   (Available free online!)
OSPP book Anderson and Dahlin, Operating Systems: Principles and Practice, 2nd Edition (2014)
Recursive Books, ISBN 978-0985673529
CSE 120 or equivalent (e.g., an OS course at your undergraduate institution)

Note: The format of this course is somewhat unusual. It is a highly interactive discussion-based course with significant class participation. As a result, students are expected to attend lectures and engage in person. Lectures will not be recorded. See the "Class Participation" section below for more details.

Course Objectives

The purpose of this course is to teach computer software system structures from a design point of view. We will look at different structuring techniques, and we will examine their usage in both important historical systems and in modern systems.

In addition to learning about different system structures and different operating systems, you will learn:

Reading List

The course does not have a textbook. Instead, the course material will come from seminal, noteworthy, or representative papers from the literature. Each lecture (except the first) will have two assigned papers to read. You should read these papers before coming to class, and be prepared to discuss them (written evaluations are not required). Occasionally we will also list recommended papers; you are encouraged to read those, but not required. Students often find it useful to discuss papers together before the class period, and we encourage the practice (see more on collaboration below).

Class Participation

The structure of this course is unusual in that there are no slide-based presentations during the class period. Instead, we will discuss research papers that we will have all read before each class period.

I will lead the lecture discussions by asking questions of students at random in class. Note that your answers to these questions form a part of your overall grade, so it is important that you both show up to class as well as read the papers carefully. To give you some structure for reading through the papers, keep the following questions in mind and ask yourself how you would answer these questions about each paper:

To grow accustomed to the unusual format of this class, you will not be graded on class participation during the first two weeks of class.

You might have to miss class for one reason or another (e.g., travel, interview, illness, etc.). Since you will not be in class to participate in discussion, to help motivate you to make sure you stay on top of the readings I ask that you write a brief evaluation of the papers for the class that you will miss. For the evaluation, briefly answer the above questions about the papers.

Your evaluation should be concise, with just one to a few sentences per question. Also, below some papers on the reading list is a question specific to the paper topic. Please conclude your evaluation by answering this question if present. Email your evaluations to me.


We will have a few written homeworks. The homeworks serve as good practice for thinking about papers and answering questions found on the final.

Please submit your homework on time. Unless there is some kind of pre-arrangement, we will reduce homework grades by 20% for each day that they are late.


The course project will measure various aspects of system performance.


We will have one exam at the end of the quarter. Questions on the exam will be similar to some of the questions on the homework and in the reading list. The exam is closed notes with a one-page (double-sided) "cheat-sheet". You can use this past exam as an example of the kinds of questions to expect:

MS students: Note that the CSE 221 final exam satisfies the MS competency exam. After the course, you do not have take a separate comps exam.


The grading breakdown for the course is:

Late assignments will not be accepted without prior approval from the instructor.


Papers. I strongly encourage you to discuss the papers with other students in the class — you may have insights that others do not, and vice versa. Often students form reading groups, which I heartily encourage. Note that group discussion, however, is not an effective substitute for actually reading the paper.

Homework. You can also discuss the homework problems, but you must independently complete the assignments yourself. As a rule of thumb, you can discuss a homework problem in the lounge with others, walk home, wash the dishes, and then write up your answer to the problem on your own. You cannot, however, discuss homework problems with others and then write your answers to those problems at the same time.

Project. You can complete the course project as a team. You can discuss project materials with others in the course, but your code must have been authored exclusively by members of your team; you may not copy code from another team or make your code available to others.

Exam. The exam is an individual effort.

You are expected to be aware of UCSD's academic honesty guidelines. Any violation of the course or university policies will be treated very seriously, and could lead to severe repercussions. Don't cheat. It's not worth it.

Generative AI Policy

You may not use Generative AI tools such as ChatGPT, Claude, or Bard for any part of this course. If you are found to have violated this policy, you (and your teammates if applicable) will receive a zero on the portions of the assignments that you used Generative AI for.