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Understanding the Linux Kernel, 3rd Edition by Marco Cesati, Daniel P. Bovet

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Executable Files

Chapter 1 defined a process as an "execution context." By this we mean the collection of information needed to carry on a specific computation; it includes the pages accessed, the open files, the hardware register contents, and so on. An executable file is a regular file that describes how to initialize a new execution context (i.e., how to start a new computation).

Suppose a user wants to list the files in the current directory; he knows that this result can be simply achieved by typing the filename of the /bin/ls [*] external command at the shell prompt. The command shell forks a new process, which in turn invokes an execve( ) system call (see the section "The exec Functions" later in this chapter), passing as one of its parameters a string that includes the full pathname for the ls executable file—/bin/ls, in this case. The sys_execve( ) service routine finds the corresponding file, checks the executable format, and modifies the execution context of the current process according to the information stored in it. As a result, when the system call terminates, the process starts executing the code stored in the executable file, which performs the directory listing.

When a process starts running a new program, its execution context changes drastically because most of the resources obtained during the process's previous computations are discarded. In the preceding example, when the process starts executing /bin/ls, it replaces the shell's arguments with new ones ...

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