Lab: Xv6 and Unix utilities

This lab will familiarize you with xv6 and its system calls.

Boot xv6

You can do these labs on an Athena machine or on your own computer. If you use your own computer, have a look at the lab tools page for setup tips.

If you use Athena, you must use an x86 machine; that is, uname -a should mention i386 GNU/Linux or i686 GNU/Linux or x86_64 GNU/Linux. You can log into a public Athena host with ssh -X We have set up the appropriate compilers and simulators for you on Athena. To use them, run add -f 6.828. You must run this command every time you log in (or add it to your ~/.environment file). If you get obscure errors while compiling or running qemu, check that you added the course locker.

Fetch the xv6 source for the lab and check out the util branch:

$ git clone git://
Cloning into 'xv6-labs-2020'...
$ cd xv6-labs-2020
$ git checkout util
Branch 'util' set up to track remote branch 'util' from 'origin'.
Switched to a new branch 'util'

The xv6-labs-2020 repository differs slightly from the book's xv6-riscv; it mostly adds some files. If you are curious look at the git log:

$ git log

The files you will need for this and subsequent lab assignments are distributed using the Git version control system. Above you switched to a branch (git checkout util) containing a version of xv6 tailored to this lab. To learn more about Git, take a look at the Git user's manual, or, you may find this CS-oriented overview of Git useful. Git allows you to keep track of the changes you make to the code. For example, if you are finished with one of the exercises, and want to checkpoint your progress, you can commit your changes by running:

$ git commit -am 'my solution for util lab exercise 1'
Created commit 60d2135: my solution for util lab exercise 1
 1 files changed, 1 insertions(+), 0 deletions(-)

You can keep track of your changes by using the git diff command. Running git diff will display the changes to your code since your last commit, and git diff origin/util will display the changes relative to the initial xv6-labs-2020 code. Here, origin/xv6-labs-2020 is the name of the git branch with the initial code you downloaded for the class.

Build and run xv6:

$ make qemu
riscv64-unknown-elf-gcc    -c -o kernel/entry.o kernel/entry.S
riscv64-unknown-elf-gcc -Wall -Werror -O -fno-omit-frame-pointer -ggdb -DSOL_UTIL -MD -mcmodel=medany -ffreestanding -fno-common -nostdlib -mno-relax -I. -fno-stack-protector -fno-pie -no-pie   -c -o kernel/start.o kernel/start.c
riscv64-unknown-elf-ld -z max-page-size=4096 -N -e main -Ttext 0 -o user/_zombie user/zombie.o user/ulib.o user/usys.o user/printf.o user/umalloc.o
riscv64-unknown-elf-objdump -S user/_zombie > user/zombie.asm
riscv64-unknown-elf-objdump -t user/_zombie | sed '1,/SYMBOL TABLE/d; s/ .* / /; /^$/d' > user/zombie.sym
mkfs/mkfs fs.img README  user/ user/_cat user/_echo user/_forktest user/_grep user/_init user/_kill user/_ln user/_ls user/_mkdir user/_rm user/_sh user/_stressfs user/_usertests user/_grind user/_wc user/_zombie 
nmeta 46 (boot, super, log blocks 30 inode blocks 13, bitmap blocks 1) blocks 954 total 1000
balloc: first 591 blocks have been allocated
balloc: write bitmap block at sector 45
qemu-system-riscv64 -machine virt -bios none -kernel kernel/kernel -m 128M -smp 3 -nographic -drive file=fs.img,if=none,format=raw,id=x0 -device virtio-blk-device,drive=x0,bus=virtio-mmio-bus.0

xv6 kernel is booting

hart 2 starting
hart 1 starting
init: starting sh

If you type ls at the prompt, you should see output similar to the following:

$ ls
.              1 1 1024
..             1 1 1024
README         2 2 2059   2 3 93
cat            2 4 24256
echo           2 5 23080
forktest       2 6 13272
grep           2 7 27560
init           2 8 23816
kill           2 9 23024
ln             2 10 22880
ls             2 11 26448
mkdir          2 12 23176
rm             2 13 23160
sh             2 14 41976
stressfs       2 15 24016
usertests      2 16 148456
grind          2 17 38144
wc             2 18 25344
zombie         2 19 22408
console        3 20 0
These are the files that mkfs includes in the initial file system; most are programs you can run. You just ran one of them: ls.

xv6 has no ps command, but, if you type Ctrl-p, the kernel will print information about each process. If you try it now, you'll see two lines: one for init, and one for sh.

To quit qemu type: Ctrl-a x.

Grading and hand-in procedure

You can run make grade to test your solutions with the grading program. The TAs will use the same grading program to assign your lab submission a grade. Separately, we will also have check-off meetings for labs (see Grading policy).

The lab code comes with GNU Make rules to make submission easier. After committing your final changes to the lab, type make handin to submit your lab. For detailed instructions on how to submit see below.


Implement the UNIX program sleep for xv6; your sleep should pause for a user-specified number of ticks. A tick is a notion of time defined by the xv6 kernel, namely the time between two interrupts from the timer chip. Your solution should be in the file user/sleep.c.

Some hints:

Run the program from the xv6 shell:

      $ make qemu
      init: starting sh
      $ sleep 10
      (nothing happens for a little while)

Your solution is correct if your program pauses when run as shown above. Run make grade to see if you indeed pass the sleep tests.

Note that make grade runs all tests, including the ones for the assignments below. If you want to run the grade tests for one assignment, type:

     $ ./grade-lab-util sleep
This will run the grade tests that match "sleep". Or, you can type:
     $ make GRADEFLAGS=sleep grade
which does the same.


Write a program that uses UNIX system calls to ''ping-pong'' a byte between two processes over a pair of pipes, one for each direction. The parent should send a byte to the child; the child should print "<pid>: received ping", where <pid> is its process ID, write the byte on the pipe to the parent, and exit; the parent should read the byte from the child, print "<pid>: received pong", and exit. Your solution should be in the file user/pingpong.c.

Some hints:

Run the program from the xv6 shell and it should produce the following output:

    $ make qemu
    init: starting sh
    $ pingpong
    4: received ping
    3: received pong

Your solution is correct if your program exchanges a byte between two processes and produces output as shown above.

primes /

Write a concurrent version of prime sieve using pipes. This idea is due to Doug McIlroy, inventor of Unix pipes. The picture halfway down this page and the surrounding text explain how to do it. Your solution should be in the file user/primes.c.

Your goal is to use pipe and fork to set up the pipeline. The first process feeds the numbers 2 through 35 into the pipeline. For each prime number, you will arrange to create one process that reads from its left neighbor over a pipe and writes to its right neighbor over another pipe. Since xv6 has limited number of file descriptors and processes, the first process can stop at 35.

Some hints:

Your solution is correct if it implements a pipe-based sieve and produces the following output:

    $ make qemu
    init: starting sh
    $ primes
    prime 2
    prime 3
    prime 5
    prime 7
    prime 11
    prime 13
    prime 17
    prime 19
    prime 23
    prime 29
    prime 31


Write a simple version of the UNIX find program: find all the files in a directory tree with a specific name. Your solution should be in the file user/find.c.

Some hints:

Your solution is correct if produces the following output (when the file system contains the files b and a/b):

    $ make qemu
    init: starting sh
    $ echo > b
    $ mkdir a
    $ echo > a/b
    $ find . b


Write a simple version of the UNIX xargs program: read lines from the standard input and run a command for each line, supplying the line as arguments to the command. Your solution should be in the file user/xargs.c.

The following example illustrates xarg's behavior:
    $ echo hello too | xargs echo bye
    bye hello too
Note that the command here is "echo bye" and the additional arguments are "hello too", making the command "echo bye hello too", which outputs "bye hello too".

Please note that xargs on UNIX makes an optimization where it will feed more than argument to the command at a time. We don't expect you to make this optimization. To make xargs on UNIX behave the way we want it to for this lab, please run it with the -n option set to 1. For instance

    $ echo "1\n2" | xargs -n 1 echo line
    line 1
    line 2

Some hints:

xargs, find, and grep combine well:

  $ find . b | xargs grep hello
will run "grep hello" on each file named b in the directories below ".".

To test your solution for xargs, run the shell script Your solution is correct if it produces the following output:

  $ make qemu
  init: starting sh
  $ sh <
  $ $ $ $ $ $ hello
  $ $   
You may have to go back and fix bugs in your find program. The output has many $ because the xv6 shell doesn't realize it is processing commands from a file instead of from the console, and prints a $ for each command in the file.

Submit the lab

This completes the lab. Make sure you pass all of the make grade tests. If this lab had questions, don't forget to write up your answers to the questions in answers-lab-name.txt. Commit your changes (including adding answers-lab-name.txt) and type make handin in the lab directory to hand in your lab.

Time spent

Create a new file, time.txt, and put in it a single integer, the number of hours you spent on the lab. Don't forget to git add and git commit the file.


You will turn in your assignments using the
submission website. You need to request once an API key from the submission website before you can turn in any assignments or labs.

After committing your final changes to the lab, type make handin to submit your lab.

$ git commit -am "ready to submit my lab"
[util c2e3c8b] ready to submit my lab
 2 files changed, 18 insertions(+), 2 deletions(-)

$ make handin
tar: Removing leading `/' from member names
Get an API key for yourself by visiting
  % Total    % Received % Xferd  Average Speed   Time    Time     Time  Current
                                 Dload  Upload   Total   Spent    Left  Speed
100 79258  100   239  100 79019    853   275k --:--:-- --:--:-- --:--:--  276k
make handin will store your API key in myapi.key. If you need to change your API key, just remove this file and let make handin generate it again (myapi.key must not include newline characters).

If you run make handin and you have either uncomitted changes or untracked files, you will see output similar to the following:

 M hello.c
?? bar.c
?? foo.pyc
Untracked files will not be handed in.  Continue? [y/N]
Inspect the above lines and make sure all files that your lab solution needs are tracked i.e. not listed in a line that begins with ??. You can cause git to track a new file that you create using git add filename.

If make handin does not work properly, try fixing the problem with the curl or Git commands. Or you can run make tarball. This will make a tar file for you, which you can then upload via our web interface.

Optional challenge exercises