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In computing, preemption (more correctly pre-emption) is the act of temporarily interrupting a task being carried out by a computer system, without requiring its cooperation, and with the intention of resuming the task at a later time. Such a change is known as a context switch. It is normally carried out by a privileged task or part of the system known as a preemptive scheduler, which has the power to preempt, or interrupt, and later resume, other tasks in the system.
User mode and kernel mode
In any given system design, some operations performed by the system may not be preemptible. This usually applies to kernel functions and service interrupts which, if not permitted to run to completion, would tend to produce race conditions resulting in deadlock. Barring the scheduler from preempting tasks while they are processing kernel functions simplifies the kernel design at the expense of system responsiveness. The distinction between user mode and kernel mode, which determines privilege level within the system, may also be used to distinguish whether a task is currently preemptible.
Some modern systems have preemptive kernels, designed to permit tasks to be preempted even when in kernel mode. Examples of such systems are Solaris 2.0/SunOS 5.0, Windows NT, the Linux kernel 2.6 and 3.x, AIX and some BSD systems (NetBSD, since version 5).
The term preemptive multitasking is used to distinguish a multitasking operating system, which permits preemption of tasks, from a cooperative multitasking system wherein processes or tasks must be explicitly programmed to yield when they do not need system resources.
In simple terms: Preemptive multitasking involves the use of an interrupt mechanism which suspends the currently executing process and invokes a scheduler to determine which process should execute next. Therefore all processes will get some amount of CPU time at any given time.
In preemptive multitasking, the operating system kernel can also initiate a context switch to satisfy the scheduling policy's priority constraint, thus preempting the active task. In general, preemption means "prior seizure of". When the high priority task at that instance seizes the currently running task, it is known as preemptive scheduling.
The term "preemptive multitasking" is sometimes mistakenly used when the intended meaning is more specific, referring instead to the class of scheduling policies known as time-shared scheduling, or time-sharing.
Preemptive multitasking allows the computer system to more reliably guarantee each process a regular "slice" of operating time. It also allows the system to rapidly deal with important external events like incoming data, which might require the immediate attention of one or another process.
At any specific time, processes can be grouped into two categories: those that are waiting for input or output (called "I/O bound"), and those that are fully utilizing the CPU ("CPU bound"). In early systems, processes would often "poll", or "busywait" while waiting for requested input (such as disk, keyboard or network input). During this time, the process was not performing useful work, but still maintained complete control of the CPU. With the advent of interrupts and preemptive multitasking, these I/O bound processes could be "blocked", or put on hold, pending the arrival of the necessary data, allowing other processes to utilize the CPU. As the arrival of the requested data would generate an interrupt, blocked processes could be guaranteed a timely return to execution.
Although multitasking techniques were originally developed to allow multiple users to share a single machine, it soon became apparent that multitasking was useful regardless of the number of users. Many operating systems, from mainframes down to single-user personal computers and no-user control systems (like those in robotic spacecraft), have recognized the usefulness of multitasking support for a variety of reasons. Multitasking makes it possible for a single user to run multiple applications at the same time, or to run "background" processes while retaining control of the computer.