Please note: there may be some adjustments to the teaching arrangements published in the course catalogue for 2020-21. Given current circumstances related to the Covid-19 pandemic it is anticipated that some usual arrangements for teaching on campus will be modified to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students and staff on campus; further adjustments may also be necessary, or beneficial, during the course of the academic year as national requirements relating to management of the pandemic are revised.

Advanced Systems Programming (M) COMPSCI5083

  • Academic Session: 2022-23
  • School: School of Computing Science
  • Credits: 10
  • Level: Level 5 (SCQF level 11)
  • Typically Offered: Semester 2
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes
  • Available to Erasmus Students: Yes

Short Description

This course covers advanced topics systems programming, building on the material in Systems Programming (H) to explore new techniques for safer and more effective systems programming. It will focus on programming in an unmanaged environment, where data layout matters, and where performance is critical. This might include operating systems kernels, device drivers, low-level networking code, or other areas where the software-machine interface becomes critical.


One two-hour lecture and one one-hour laboratory session per week.

Requirements of Entry

Systems Programming (H) or equivalent

Operating Systems (H) or equivalent

Networked Systems (H) or equivalent

Functional Programming (H) or equivalent

Excluded Courses





Examination (80%), Coursework (20%).


Coursework will comprise a combination of programming exercises and/or essay-based reflections on material discussed in the course.

Main Assessment In: April/May

Are reassessment opportunities available for all summative assessments? No

Reassessments are normally available for all courses, except those which contribute to the Honours classification. For non-Honours courses, students are offered reassessment in all or any of the components of assessment if the satisfactory (threshold) grade for the overall course is not achieved at the first attempt. This is normally grade D3 for undergraduate students and grade C3 for postgraduate students. Exceptionally it may not be possible to offer reassessment of some coursework items, in which case the mark achieved at the first attempt will be counted towards the final course grade. Any such exceptions for this course are described below. 


The coursework cannot be redone because the feedback provided to the students after the original coursework would give any students redoing the coursework an unfair advantage.

Course Aims

The computing landscape has changed radically in the last decade. The desktop personal computer has become largely irrelevant, and heterogeneous, multicore, mobile, and real-time systems - smart mobile phones, netbooks, and laptops - are now ubiquitous. Yet, despite this shift, these systems are still programmed in C, and the majority run some variant of the Unix operating system.


The course aims to explore the features of modern programming languages and operating systems that can ease the challenges of systems programming, considering type systems and run-time support. It will review the research literature on systems programming and operating system interfaces, discuss the limitations of deployed systems, and consider how systems programming might evolve to address the challenges of supporting modern computing systems. Particular emphasis will be placed on system correctness and secure programming, to ensure the resulting systems are safe to use in an adversarial environment.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to:

■ Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of C as a systems programming language, and to compare and contrast this with a modern systems programming language, for example Rust; to discuss the role of the type system, static analysis, and verification tools in systems programming, and show awareness of how to model system properties using the type system to avoid errors;

■ Discuss the challenges of secure low-level programming and write secure code in a modern systems programming language to perform systems programming tasks such as parsing hostile network input; show awareness of security problems in programs written in C;

■ Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of integrating automatic memory management with the operating system/runtime, to understand the operation of popular garbage collection algorithms and alternative techniques for memory management, and know when it might be appropriate to apply such techniques and managed run-times to real-time systems and/or operating systems;

■ Understand the impact of heterogeneous multicore systems on operating systems, compare and evaluate different programming models for concurrent systems, their implementation, and their impact on operating systems; and

■ Construct and/or analyse simple programming to demonstrate understanding of novel techniques for memory management and/or concurrent programming, to understand the trade-offs and implementation decisions.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.