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CMSC216: Introduction to Computer Systems

University of Maryland, College Park, Dept of Computer Science


The goal of the course is to convey the fundamental concepts that enable programs to execute on real hardware. Those concepts include how the operating system virtualizes the hardware to provide basic services and abstractions to enable a user program to effectively use the available hardware resources. The course also addresses how different programming constructs and idioms work.

The basic abstraction of a program running as one or more threads of control in a single flat address space (a Unix process) is the key to the course. Emphasizing that abstraction as the underlying model for understanding how a program works, from both the user program and hardware perspective (with the OS in between), run as a theme through all topics in the course. Examples include C pointers (to data and functions), function calls and runtime stack management, dynamic memory management in the heap, and the fork/exec system calls.


PrerequisiteC or better in CMSC132 and MATH 141
CorequisiteCMSC 250(or equivalent)

Course Coordinator

Name Office
Neil Spring AVW 4133
Nelson Padua-Perez AVW 1203

For office hours and other contact information, visit the staff link.


Title Authors ISBN Type
Computer Systems: A Programmer's Perspective, 2nd edition R.E. Bryant and D. R. O'Hallaron 0136108040 Required
C Programming Language (2nd Edition) Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie 0131103628 Recommended

Course Topics (Subject to Change)

  • Unix Memory Model
  • Moving from Java to C
  • Pointers and dynamic data structures in C
  • I/O, standard libraries
  • Testing
  • Assembly Language
  • Process control
  • Systems programming
  • Program measurement and optimization
  • Multithreaded programming with pthreads
  • Libraries and linking
  • Dynamic memory management


Final grades will be computed according the following weights:

35% Projects(around 6)
15% Announced/Pop Quizzes, Lab Work
30% Midterms(3) (10% each)
20% Final Exam

Once we have graded any class material (e.g., exams, projects, etc.) we will post an announcement and a deadline by which you must submit any regrade request (if necessary). It is your responsibility to submit regrade requests by the specified deadline; no regrade requests will be processed afterwards.


  • Deadlines - All projects are due at 6pm on the specified day in the project description. You have until 6pm of the next day to submit your project with a 10% penalty.
  • Submit Server - You need to use the submit server for project submissions. We will not accept projects submitted otherwise (e.g., e-mail, etc.). Notice that we use the submit server results to compute a significant portion of your project's grade. You need to make sure that your project works in the submit server, otherwise you will not get any credit.
  • Which Project Gets Graded - Your grade for an project will be based on the greater value of two scores: (1) The score on the very last compilable submission prior to the deadline; (2) The score minus 10% on the very last compilable submission prior to the late deadline.
  • Good Faith Attempt - You must satisfy a minimum set of requirements for each project (Good Faith Attempt) otherwise you will not pass the course (automatic grade of F). Each project defines its own good faith attempt criteria and a deadline to provide an implementation that satisfies it. If you start a project on time, and look for assistance (if required) you should have no problems satisfying the Good Faith Attempt. The Good Faith Attempt guarantees you have the skills necessary for upper-level courses. Notice that you will not receive extra points for completing the good faith attempt. The grade you obtain for a project will be based on your ontime/late submission.
  • Closed Projects - All programming assignments in this course are to be written individually (unless explicitly indicated otherwise). Cooperation between students is a violation of the Code of Academic Integrity. The following are examples of academic integrity violations:
    • Hardcoding of results in a project assignment. Hardcoding refers to attempting to make a program appear as if it works correctly (e.g., printing expected results for a test).
    • Using any code available on the internet/web or any other source.
    • Hiring any online service to complete an assignment for you.
    • Posting your implementation of any class project on the internet/web.
    • Discussing projects with your classmates.
    • Sharing your code with any student.
    • Looking at another student's code.

Academic Integrity

Note that academic dishonesty includes not only cheating, fabrication, and plagiarism, but also includes helping other students commit acts of academic dishonesty by allowing them to obtain copies of your work. In short, all submitted work must be your own. Cases of academic dishonesty will be pursued to the fullest extent possible as stipulated by the Office of Student Conduct.

It is very important for you to be aware of the consequences of cheating, fabrication, facilitation, and plagiarism. For more information on the Code of Academic Integrity or the Student Honor Council, please visit

Excused Absence and Academic Accommodations

Any student who needs to be excused for an absence from a single lecture, recitation, or lab due to a medically necessitated absence shall:

  1. Make a reasonable attempt to inform the instructor of his/her illness prior to the class.
  2. Upon returning to the class, present their instructor with a self-signed note attesting to the date of their illness. Each note must contain an acknowledgment by the student that the information provided is true and correct. Providing false information to University officials is prohibited under Part 9(h) of the Code of Student Conduct (V-1.00(B) University of Maryland Code of Student Conduct) and may result in disciplinary action.
  3. This self-documentation may not be used for the Major Scheduled Grading Events as defined below and it may only be used for only 1 class meeting during the semester.

Any student who needs to be excused for a prolonged absence (2 or more consecutive class meetings) or for a Major Scheduled Grading Event, must provide written documentation of the illness from the Health Center or from an outside health care provider. This documentation must verify dates of treatment and indicate the time frame that the student was unable to meet academic responsibilities. No diagnostic information shall be given. The Major Scheduled Grading Events for this course include midterm(s) and final exam.

It is also the student's responsibility to inform the instructor of any intended absences from exams for religious observances in advance. Notice should be provided as soon as possible, but no later than the Monday prior to the exam for both the midterm(s) and the final.

Any student eligible for and requesting reasonable academic accommodations due to a disability is requested to provide a letter of accommodation from the Office of Disability Support Services within the first two weeks of the semester.


  • Class announcements are located at Class Announcements. You should check announcements often (at least once a day).
  • If you are having questions about the material covered in lecture/lab, we encourage you to check the class textbooks before heading to office hours. The class textbooks are excellent sources of information.
  • Please bring your laptop to your discussion (lab) session. If you don't have one we will pair you up with a classmate.
  • As you work on a project, submit your project often even if you have not finished. We monitored the submit server submissions and can provide assistance based on submit server results.
  • At the end of the course, visit ( to complete your course evaluations.
  • If you are experiencing difficulties in keeping up with the academic demands of this course, you may contact the Learning Assistance Service located at 2202 Shoemaker Building.


All course materials are copyright UMCP, Department of Computer Science © 2013. All rights reserved. Students are permitted to use course materials for their own personal use only. Course materials may not be distributed publicly or provided to others (excepting other students in the course), in any way or format.