Memory Management

Main Memory refers to a physical memory that is the internal memory to the computer. The word main is used to distinguish it from external mass storage devices such as disk drives. Main memory is also known as RAM. The computer is able to change only data that is in main memory. Therefore, every program we execute and every file we access must be copied from a storage device into main memory.

All the programs are loaded in the main memeory for execution. Sometimes complete program is loaded into the memory, but some times a certain part or routine of the program is loaded into the main memory only when it is called by the program, this mechanism is called Dynamic Loading, this enhance the performance.

Also, at times one program is dependent on some other program. In such a case, rather than loading all the dependent programs, CPU links the dependent programs to the main executing program when its required. This mechanism is known as Dynamic Linking.


A process needs to be in memory for execution. But sometimes there is not enough main memory to hold all the currently active processes in a timesharing system. So, excess process are kept on disk and brought in to run dynamically. Swapping is the process of bringing in each process in main memory, running it for a while and then putting it back to the disk.

Contiguous Memory Allocation

In contiguous memory allocation each process is contained in a single contiguous block of memory. Memory is divided into several fixed size partitions. Each partition contains exactly one process. When a partition is free, a process is selected from the input queue and loaded into it. The free blocks of memory are known as holes. The set of holes is searched to determine which hole is best to allocate.

Memory Protection

Memory protection is a phenomenon by which we control memory access rights on a computer. The main aim of it is to prevent a process from accessing memory that has not been allocated to it. Hence prevents a bug within a process from affecting other processes, or the operating system itself, and instead results in a segmentation fault or storage violation exception being sent to the disturbing process, generally killing of process.

Memory Allocation

Memory allocation is a process by which computer programs are assigned memory or space. It is of three types :

  1. First Fit

    The first hole that is big enough is allocated to program.

  2. Best Fit

    The smallest hole that is big enough is allocated to program.

  3. Worst Fit

    The largest hole that is big enough is allocated to program.


Fragmentation occurs in a dynamic memory allocation system when most of the free blocks are too small to satisfy any request. It is generally termed as inability to use the available memory.

In such situation processes are loaded and removed from the memory. As a result of this, free holes exists to satisfy a request but is non contiguous i.e. the memory is fragmented into large no. Of small holes. This phenomenon is known as External Fragmentation.

Also, at times the physical memory is broken into fixed size blocks and memory is allocated in unit of block sizes. The memory allocated to a space may be slightly larger than the requested memory. The difference between allocated and required memory is known as Internal fragmentation i.e. the memory that is internal to a partition but is of no use.


A solution to fragmentation problem is Paging. Paging is a memory management mechanism that allows the physical address space of a process to be non-contagious. Here physical memory is divided into blocks of equal size called Pages. The pages belonging to a certain process are loaded into available memory frames.

Page Table

A Page Table is the data structure used by a virtual memory system in a computer operating system to store the mapping between virtual address and physical addresses.

Virtual address is also known as Logical address and is generated by the CPU. While Physical address is the address that actually exists on memory.


Segmentation is another memory management scheme that supports the user-view of memory. Segmentation allows breaking of the virtual address space of a single process into segments that may be placed in non-contiguous areas of physical memory.

Segmentation with Paging

Both paging and segmentation have their advantages and disadvantages, it is better to combine these two schemes to improve on each. The combined scheme is known as 'Page the Elements'. Each segment in this scheme is divided into pages and each segment is maintained in a page table. So the logical address is divided into following 3 parts :

  • Segment numbers(S)
  • Page number (P)
  • The displacement or offset number (D)