Most of us consider what we see on the screen as an Operating System but let me tell you my friend the UI is just the outer most part of an Operating System. Technically speaking an OS includes the kernel, device drivers,
boot loader, command shell or other user interfaces, and basic file and system utilities but in this article, we are only going to learn about the OS kernel and its functionalities.

How a kernel works?
How does a kernel work?

What is a Kernel?

A kernel is the core of an OS, it is a computer program which is responsible for the interaction of Application Softwares with the System Hardware. The basic work of the Kernel is to do interrupt handling, process management, process scheduling(to handle multiple processes), memory management and system services such as networking and interprocess communication.

The kernel resides in a high system state other than the normal application software this system state provides a protected memory space and full access to the system hardware, this system state and memory space is collectively known as the Kernel-Space.

Now you might be thinking how the user applications communicate with the Kernel well the answer is System Calls basically a system call is a programmatic way of requesting services from the kernel such as the creation of new processes, accessing hardware etc.

Relationship between applications, the kernel, and hardware
Relationship between applications, the kernel, and hardware

Kernel also handles interrupts basically an interrupt is generated when hardware wants to communicate with the System literally it interrupts the processor which in turn interrupts the kernel for example when you type something on to your keyboard the keyboard controller sends the interrupts to let the system know that there is new data which needs to execute before any process.

Functions of the Kernel

Primary functions of the kernel are listed below:

Memory Management: 

It is one of the most important functions of the kernel. The kernel allocates new space whenever a new process gets created and removes old processes from the main memory to create room for new processes.

Scheduling Processes:

The dispatcher is a small program inside kernel which is responsible for switching control between processes. The scheduler is a type of dispatcher which decides which process needs to be loaded next based on some logic.

Interrupt Management:

As you see above I/O devices generate interrupts, the kernel allocates and manages these interrupts to execute the I/O operations.

Types of Kernels

Kernels can be classified into two main categories:

  • Monolithic kernels
  • Microkernels

Monolithic Kernels

In traditional monolithic architecture, all the services such as process management, memory management, interrupt handling etc. were packed into a single module which leads to two biggest problems

  • Huge Kernel Space
  • Complex debugging procedure because you have to load the whole kernel to modify or debug it.

In modern monolithic structure, the kernel is divided into different modules which can be loaded and unloaded separately. This extension in the kernel made modification and debugging of the kernel very much easy as it becomes easy to load and unload the module separately.

Linux kernel follows the monolithic modular approach.


Microkernel targets the problem of the ever growing size of the kernel code which is a major issue in the monolithic architecture. In microkernels services like device driver management, protocol stack, file system etc are made to run in user-space instead of the Kernel-Space. This reduces the size of the kernel and also increases the security and stability of OS.

In microkernel application programs which are part of the user-space are made to run as servers which can communicate with other programs through inter-process-communication.

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