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Understanding the Windows I/O System


The I/O system defines the model of I/O processing on Windows and performs functions that are common to or required by more than one driver. Its chief responsibility is to create IRPs representing I/O requests and to shepherd the packets through various drivers, returning results to the caller when an I/O is complete. The I/O manager locates various drivers and devices by using I/O system objects, including driver and device objects. Internally, the Windows I/O system operates asynchronously to achieve high performance and provides both synchronous and asynchronous I/O capabilities to user-mode applications.

Device drivers include not only traditional hardware device drivers but also file system, network, and layered filter drivers. All drivers have a common structure and communicate with one another and the I/O manager by using common mechanisms. The I/O system interfaces allow drivers to be written in a high-level language to lessen development time and to enhance their portability. Because drivers present a common structure to the operating system, they can be layered one on top of another to achieve modularity and reduce duplication between drivers. Also, all Windows device drivers should be designed to work correctly on multiprocessor systems.

Finally, the role of the PnP manager is to work with device drivers to dynamically detect hardware devices and to build an internal device tree that guides hardware device enumeration and driver installation. The power manager works with device drivers to move devices into low-power states when applicable to conserve energy and prolong battery life.

Three more upcoming chapters will cover additional topics related to the I/O system: storage management, file systems (including details on the NTFS file system), and the cache manager.