Key Features of the Cache Manager

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The cache manager has several key features:

  • Supports all file system types (both local and network), thus removing the need for each file system to implement its own cache management code

  • Uses the memory manager to control what parts of what files are in physical memory (trading off demands for physical memory between user processes and the operating system)

  • Caches data on a virtual block basis (offsets within a file) in contrast to many caching systems, which cache on a logical block basis (offsets within a disk volume) allowing for intelligent read-ahead and high-speed access to the cache without involving file system drivers. (This method of caching, called fast I/O, is described later in this chapter.)

  • Supports "hints" passed by applications at file open time (such as random vs. sequential access, temporary file creation, and so on)

  • Supports recoverable file systems (for example, those that use transaction logging) to recover data after a system failure

Although we'll talk more throughout this chapter about how these features are used in the cache manager, in this section we'll introduce you to the concepts behind these features.

Single, Centralized System Cache

Some operating systems rely on each individual file system to cache data, a practice that results either in duplicated caching and memory management code in the operating system or in limitations on the kinds of data that can be cached. In contrast, Windows offers a centralized caching facility that caches all externally stored data, whether on local hard disks, floppy disks, network file servers, or CD-ROMs. Any data can be cached, whether it's user data streams (the contents of a file and the ongoing read and write activity to that file) or file system metadata (such as directory and file headers). As you'll discover in this chapter, the method Windows uses to access the cache depends on the type of data being cached.

The Memory Manager

One unusual aspect of the cache manager is that it never knows how much cached data is actually in physical memory. This statement might sound strange because the purpose of a cache is to keep a subset of frequently accessed data in physical memory as a way to improve I/O performance. The reason the cache manager doesn't know how much data is in physical memory is that it accesses data by mapping views of files into system virtual address spaces, using standard section objects (file mapping objects in Windows API terminology). (Section objects are the basic primitive of the memory manager and are explained in detail in Chapter 7.) As addresses in these mapped views are accessed, the memory manager pages in blocks that aren't in physical memory. And when memory demands dictate, the memory manager pages data out of the cache and back to the files that are open in (mapped into) the cache.

By caching on the basis of a virtual address space using mapped files, the cache manager avoids generating read or write I/O request packets (IRPs) to access the data for files it's caching. Instead, it simply copies data to or from the virtual addresses where the portion of the cached file is mapped and relies on the memory manager to fault in (or out) the data into (or out of) memory as needed. This process allows the memory manager to make global trade-offs on how much memory to give to the system cache vs. how much to give to the user processes. (The cache manager also initiates I/O, such as lazy writing, which is described later in this chapter; however, it calls the memory manager to write the pages.) Also, as you'll learn in the next section, this design makes it possible for processes that open cached files to see the same data as do processes that are mapping the same files into their user address spaces.

Cache Coherency

One important function of a cache manager is to ensure that any process accessing cached data will get the most recent version of that data. A problem can arise when one process opens a file (and hence the file is cached) while another process maps the file into its address space directly (using the Windows MapViewOfFile function). This potential problem doesn't occur under Windows because both the cache manager and the user applications that map files into their address spaces use the same memory management file mapping services. Because the memory manager guarantees that it has only one representation of each unique mapped file (regardless of the number of section objects or mapped views), it maps all views of a file (even if they overlap) to a single set of pages in physical memory, as shown in Figure 11-1. (For more information on how the memory manager works with mapped files, see Chapter 7.)

Figure 11-1. Coherent caching scheme

So, for example, if Process 1 has a view (View 1) of the file mapped into its user address space and Process 2 is accessing the same view via the system cache, Process 2 will see any changes that Process 1 makes as they're made, not as they're flushed. The memory manager won't flush all user-mapped pages only those that it knows have been written to (because they have the modified bit set). Therefore, any process accessing a file under Windows always sees the most up-to-date version of that file, even if some processes have the file open through the I/O system and others have the file mapped into their address space using the Windows file mapping functions.


Cache coherency is somewhat more difficult for network redirectors than for local file systems because network redirectors must implement additional flushing and purge operations to ensure cache coherency when accessing network data. See Chapter 12 for a description of opportunistic locking, the Windows distributed cache coherency mechanism.

Virtual Block Caching

Many operating system cache managers (including Novell NetWare, OpenVMS, and older UNIX systems) cache data on the basis of logical blocks. With this method, the cache manager keeps track of which blocks of a disk partition are in the cache. The Windows cache manager, in contrast, uses a method known as virtual block caching, in which the cache manager keeps track of which parts of which files are in the cache. The cache manager is able to monitor these file portions by mapping 256-KB views of files into system virtual address spaces, using special system cache routines located in the memory manager. This approach has the following key benefits:

  • It opens up the possibility of doing intelligent read-ahead; because the cache tracks which parts of which files are in the cache, it can predict where the caller might be going next.

  • It allows the I/O system to bypass going to the file system for requests for data that is already in the cache (fast I/O). Because the cache manager knows which parts of which files are in the cache, it can return the address of cached data to satisfy an I/O request without having to call the file system.

Details of how intelligent read-ahead and fast I/O work are provided later in this chapter.

Stream-Based Caching

The cache manager is also designed to do stream caching, as opposed to file caching. A stream is a sequence of bytes within a file. Some file systems, such as NTFS, allow a file to contain more than one stream; the cache manager accommodates such file systems by caching each stream independently. NTFS can exploit this feature by organizing its master file table (described in Chapter 12) into streams and by caching these streams as well. In fact, although the cache manager might be said to cache files, it actually caches streams (all files have at least one stream of data) identified by both a filename and, if more than one stream exists in the file, a stream name.

Recoverable File System Support

Recoverable file systems such as NTFS are designed to reconstruct the disk volume structure after a system failure. This capability means that I/O operations in progress at the time of a system failure must be either entirely completed or entirely backed out from the disk when the system is restarted. Half-completed I/O operations can corrupt a disk volume and even render an entire volume inaccessible. To avoid this problem, a recoverable file system maintains a log file in which it records every update it intends to make to the file system structure (the file system's metadata) before it writes the change to the volume. If the system fails, interrupting volume modifications in progress, the recoverable file system uses information stored in the log to reissue the volume updates.


The term metadata applies only to changes in the file system structure: file and directory creation, renaming, and deletion.

To guarantee a successful volume recovery, every log file record documenting a volume update must be completely written to disk before the update itself is applied to the volume. Because disk writes are cached, the cache manager and the file system must work together to ensure that the following actions occur, in sequence:

  1. The file system writes a log file record documenting the volume update it intends to make.

  2. The file system calls the cache manager to flush the log file record to disk.

  3. The file system writes the volume update to the cache that is, it modifies its cached metadata.

  4. The cache manager flushes the altered metadata to disk, updating the volume structure. (Actually, log file records are batched before being flushed to disk, as are volume modifications.)

When a file system writes data to the cache, it can supply a logical sequence number (LSN) that identifies the record in its log file, which corresponds to the cache update. The cache manager keeps track of these numbers, recording the lowest and highest LSNs (representing the oldest and newest log file records) associated with each page in the cache. In addition, data streams that are protected by transaction log records are marked as "no write" by NTFS so that the mapped page writer won't inadvertently write out these pages before the corresponding log records are written. (When the mapped page writer sees a page marked this way, it moves the page to a special list that the cache manager then flushes at the appropriate time, such as when lazy writer activity takes place.)

When it prepares to flush a group of dirty pages to disk, the cache manager determines the highest LSN associated with the pages to be flushed and reports that number to the file system. The file system can then call the cache manager back, directing it to flush log file data up to the point represented by the reported LSN. After the cache manager flushes the log file up to that LSN, it flushes the corresponding volume structure updates to disk, thus ensuring that it records what it's going to do before actually doing it. These interactions between the file system and the cache manager guarantee the recoverability of the disk volume after a system failure.

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    Microsoft Windows Internals
    Microsoft Windows Internals (4th Edition): Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Windows XP, and Windows 2000
    ISBN: 0735619174
    EAN: 2147483647
    Year: 2004
    Pages: 158 © 2008-2017.
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