User Mode Definition

User mode is one of two distinct execution modes for the CPU (central processing unit) in Linux.

It is a non-privileged mode in which each process (i.e., a running instance of a program) starts out. It is non-privileged in that it is forbidden for processes in this mode to access those portions of memory (i.e., RAM) that have been allocated to the kernel or to other programs. The kernel is not a process, but rather a controller of processes, and it alone has access to all resources on the system.

When a user mode process (i.e., a process currently in user mode) wants to use a service that is provided by the kernel (i.e., access system resources other than the limited memory space that is allocated to the user program), it must switch temporarily into kernel mode, which has root (i.e., administrative) privileges, including root access permissions (i.e., permission to access any memory space or other resources on the system). When the kernel has satisfied the process's request, it restores the process to user mode.

This change in mode is termed a mode switch, which should not be confused with a context switch (i.e., the switching of the CPU from one process to another). The standard procedure to switch from user mode to kernel mode is to call the 0x80 software interrupt.

An interrupt is a signal to the operating system that an event has occurred, and it results in changes in the sequence of instructions that is executed by the CPU. In the case of a hardware interrupt, the signal originates from a hardware device such as a keyboard (e.g., when a user presses a key), mouse or system clock (a circuit that generates pulses at precise intervals that are used to coordinate the computer's activities). A software interrupt is an interrupt that originates in software, usually by a program in user mode.

Created January 9, 2005.
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