Windows System Programming (3rd Edition)

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9780321256195: Windows System Programming (3rd Edition)

"If you're a systems-level 32-bit or 64-bit Windows developer, whether using the Windows API directly or via .NET interop, you'll definitely want to take a look at this update to Johnson Hart's well-respected and well-loved book. Johnson starts with Windows history and cultural issues and moves through basic and advanced system services in a thoughtful, thorough manner. If Mr. Rogers wrote a book with David Cutler, this is what they'd come up with."
–Chris Sells, Longhorn Content Strategist,
Microsoft Corporation

"While focusing on UNIX developers that are looking to augment their skills or simply jump ship, Windows System Programming, Third Edition is a book that even some seasoned systems-level Windows developers will undoubtedly find useful. This is not your average bland GUI treatise; Hart takes you down to the metal, explains all the relevant concepts clearly and in-depth, and gives you an extensive library of high-quality code examples that can be easily adapted for your own larger applications. Even if you've created server applications before, Windows System Programming will teach you new tricks, shed new light on concepts you thought you'd mastered, and offer new strategies for creating robust and secure solutions."
–Klaus H. Probst, Senior Architect,
Spherion Technology Services; Microsoft MVP

"This book is quite easy to follow; there are clear explanations of everything. Even the explanation of the standards is readable! For a developer not familiar with developing with Windows, Hart's book also provides basic information on where Windows was and where it is today, plus a great explanation of how it is different from Posix and Unix."
–Eric Landes, Microsoft MVP,

"Even advanced developers will always need to have a book like this one on hand when the abstractions of a platform like .NET are inadequate or when they need to know more about how .NET is implemented. And the focus on low-level programming (specifically memory management and IO) and other non-GUI topics makes it stand out as superior among other Windows programming books. In keeping the GUI focus to a minimum, Hart's book is able to be comprehensive on the topics contained within."
–Michael Davidson, IT Analyst

Windows System Programming, Third Edition gives a solid grounding on using the core Windows APIs, includingWin64; is updated for Windows Server 2003, Windows XP, and the Microsoft Visual Studio .NET Framework, and has extensive examples illustrate all topics and show performance impact and tradeoffs

A practical guide to the central features and functions of the Windows API, Windows System Programming, Third Edition, will get you up and running with Windows XP and 2003, as well as other Windows systems. Unlike most Windows programming resources, this book focuses exclusively on the core system services–file system, memory, processes and threads, synchronization, communication, and security–rather than on the more commonly featured graphical user interface functions. Especially geared for those already familiar with UNIX or other high-end operating systems, Windows System Programming, Third Edition, helps you to build on your knowledge base to learn the most important features quickly and easily.

This new edition has been updated and enhanced with coverage of new API functions, network programming, Windows Services, process and thread management, synchronization, and application performance on single and multiprocessor systems. It also describes techniques for porting applications to Win64, the new Windows 64-bit API.

Beginning with an examination of the features required in a single-process application, the text gradually progresses to increasingly sophisticated functions relating to a multithreaded environment. Each chapter contains realistic examples to illustrate the topics. You will find extensive coverage of such critical Windows topics as:

  • File and directory management
  • Character I/O and Unicode
  • The registry
  • Structured exception handling
  • Security services
  • Memory management and DLLs
  • Threads, process management, and scheduling
  • Thread synchronization, including the condition variable model for event and mutex usage
  • Interprocess communication, featuring pipes and mailslots
  • Network programming with sockets
  • Developing Windows Services
  • Timers,Asynchronous I/O, and I/O completion ports
  • Guidelines and trade-offs to improve application performance and reliability
  • Win64, covering architecture, data types, and legacy code migration

Short, practical examples illustrate each topic and are included on the companion Web site ( The appendixes provide performance measurements and compare Windows, UNIX, and the C library.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Johnson M. Hart is a software trainer and consultant specializing in Windows, L inux, and UNIX application development, enhancement, and maintenance. John develops and delivers professional training courses and seminars to clients worldwide, and he is the author of numerous technical articles.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

This book describes application development using the Microsoft Windows Application Programming Interface (API), concentrating on the core system services, including the file system, process and thread management, interprocess communication, network programming, and synchronization. User interfaces, internals, and I/O drivers, although important and interesting topics, are beyond the book's scope. The examples concentrate on realistic scenarios, and in many cases the examples can be used as the foundations for real applications.

The Win32/Win64 API, or the Windows API, is supported by Microsoft's family of 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems, which currently consists of Windows XP, Windows 2000, and Windows 2003. Older Windows family members include Windows NT, Me, 98, and 95; these systems are considered obsolete, but they will run many of the example programs. Migration issues from Win32 to the emerging Win64 are discussed as required. Win64, supported as a 64-bit interface on some versions of Windows 2003 and XP, is nearly identical to Win32.

There is no doubt that the Windows API is an important factor for application development, in many cases replacing the POSIX API, supported by UNIX and Linux, as the preferred, or at least peer, API for applications targeted at desktop and server systems. Therefore, many experienced programmers will want to learn the Windows API quickly, and this book is designed to help them do so.

The first objectives are to explain what Windows is, show how to use it in realistic situations, and do so as quickly as possible without burdening the reader with unnecessary detail. This book is, therefore, not a reference guide, but it explains the central features of the most important functions and shows how to use them in practical programming situations. Equipped with this knowledge, the reader will be able to use the comprehensive Microsoft reference documentation to explore details, advanced options, and the more obscure functions as requirements or interests dictate. I have found the Windows API easy to learn using this approach, and I have greatly enjoyed developing Windows programs, despite occasional frustration. This enthusiasm will show through at times, as it should. This does not mean that I feel that Windows is necessarily better than other operating system (OS) APIs, but it certainly has many attractive features.

Many Windows books spend a great deal of time explaining how processes, virtual memory, interprocess communication, and preemptive scheduling work without showing how to use them in realistic situations. A programmer experienced in UNIX, Linux, IBM MVS, OpenVMS, or another OS will be familiar with these concepts and will be impatient to find out how they are implemented in Windows. Most Windows books also spend a great deal of space on user interface programming. This book avoids the user interface, beyond discussing simple character-based console I/O, in the interest of concentrating on the important core features.

The book takes the point of view that Windows is just an OS API, providing a well-understood set of features. Many programmers, regardless of experience level, need to learn Windows quickly, and an understanding of Windows is invaluable in discussing subjects such as Microsoft's Component Object Model (COM). The Windows systems, when compared with other systems, have good, bad, and average features and quality. The purpose of this book is to show how to use those features efficiently and in realistic situations to develop useful, high-quality, and high-performance applications.


  • Anyone who wants to learn about Windows application development quickly, regardless of previous experience.
  • Programmers and software engineers who must port existing applications, often in UNIX, to Windows for operation on any of the Windows platforms. The book contains many comparisons among Windows, UNIX, and standard C library functions and programming models. All common UNIX functionality, including process management, synchronization, file systems, and interprocess communication, is covered in Windows terms.
  • Readers starting new projects who are not constrained by the need to port existing code. Many aspects of program design and implementation are covered, and Windows functions are used to create useful applications and to solve common programming problems.
  • Programmers using COM and .NET Framework, who will find much of the information here helpful in understanding dynamic link libraries (DLLs), thread usage and models, interfaces, and synchronization.
  • Computer science students at the upper-class undergraduate or beginning graduate level in courses covering systems programming or application development. This book will also be useful to those who are learning multithreaded programming or need to build networked applications. This book would be a useful complementary text to a book such as W. Richard Stevens' Advanced Programming in the UNIX Environment (see the Bibliography) so that students could compare Windows and UNIX. Students in OS courses will find this book to be a useful supplement as it illustrates how a commercially important OS provides essential OS functionality.

The only other assumption, implicit in all the others, is a knowledge of C programming.

Changes in the Third Edition

The third edition presents extensive new material along with significant updating and reorganization of the first and second editions. Objectives of the third edition include the following

  • Cover important new features of Windows XP, 2000, and 2003 along with Win64 migration.
  • Make obsolete Windows 95, 98, and Me (the "Windows 9x" family), since Windows XP is now provided with personal systems and Windows 9x limitations are no longer relevant.* Program examples freely exploit features found only in current Windows versions, even though some programs will not operate on Windows 9x.
  • Provide enhanced coverage of threads and synchronization, including performance, scalability, and reliability considerations. Chapter 9 is new, as are some examples in Chapter 10.
  • Emphasize the increasingly important role and new features of Windows 2000 and 2003 in running high-performance, scalable, multithreaded server applications.
  • Study performance implications of different program designs, especially in multithreaded programs with synchronization and when running on symmetric multiprocessor (SMP) systems.
  • Incorporate reader and student feedback to fix defects, improve explanations, improve the organization, and address numerous details, large and small.


Chapters are organized topically so that the features required in even a single-threaded application are covered first, followed by process and thread management features, and finally network programming in a multithreaded environment. This organization allows the reader to advance logically from file systems to memory management and file mapping, and then to processes, threads, and synchronization, followed by interprocess and network communication and security. This organization also allows the examples to evolve in a natural way, much as a developer might create a simple prototype and then add additional capability. The advanced features, such as asynchronous I/O and security, appear last.

Within each chapter, after introducing the functionality area, such as process management or memory-mapped files, we discuss important Windows functions and their relationships in detail. Illustrative examples follow. Within the text, only essential parts of programs are listed; complete programs and the required include files, utility functions, and the like are in Appendix A or on the book's Web site ( Throughout, we identify those features supported only by current Windows versions (XP, 2000, and 2003) but not by earlier versions such as Windows 9x and NT, which do not implement many advanced features. Each chapter suggests related additional reading and gives some exercises. Many exercises address interesting and important issues that did not fit within the normal text, and others allow the reader to explore advanced or specialized topics.

Chapter 1 is a high-level introduction to the Windows OS family and Windows. A simple example program shows the basic elements of Windows programming style and lays the foundation for more advanced Windows features. Win64 and migration issues are introduced in Chapter 1, described extensively in Chapter 16, and included throughout the book as required.

Chapters 2 and 3 deal with file systems, console I/O, file locking, and directory management. Unicode, the extended character set used by Windows, is also introduced in Chapter 2. Examples include sequential and direct file processing, directory traversal, and file archiving. Chapter 3 ends with a discussion of registry management programming, which is similar in many ways to file and directory management.

Chapter 4 introduces Windows' exception handling, including Structured Exception Handling (SEH), which will be used extensively throughout the book. Many books defer SEH to later chapters, but by introducing it early, we will be able to use SEH throughout and thus simplify some programming tasks and improve quality. Vectored exception handling, a newer feature, is also described.

Chapter 5 treats Windows' memory management and shows how to use memory-mapped files both to simplify programming and to improve performance. This chapter also covers DLLs.

Chapter 6 introduces Windows' processes, process management, and simple process synchronization. Chapter 7 then describes thread management in similar terms. Examples in each chapter show the many benefits, including program simplicity and performance, of threads and processes.

Chapters 8, 9, and 10 provide an extended, in-depth treatment of Windows' thread synchronization, one of Windows' strong features. Synchronization is a complex topic, and these chapters use extended examples and well-understood models to help readers obtain the programming and performance benefits of threads while avoiding many of the pitfalls. New material covers performance and scalability issues, which are important when building server-based applications, including those that will run on SMP systems.

Chapters 11 and 12 are concerned with interprocess and interthread communication and networking. Chapter 11 concentrates on the features that are properly part of Windows--namely, anonymous pipes, named pipes, and mailslots. Chapter 12 discusses Windows Sockets, which allow interoperability with non-Windows systems using industry-standard protocols, primarily TCP/IP. Windows Sockets, while not strictly part of the Windows API, provide for network and Internet communication and interoperability, and the subject matter is consistent with the rest of the book. A multithreaded client/server system illustrates how to use interprocess communication along with threads.

Chapter 13 describes how Windows allows server applications, such as the ones created in Chapters 11 and 12, to be converted to Windows Services that can be managed as background servers. Some small programming changes will turn the servers into services.

Chapter 14 shows how to perform asynchronous I/O using overlapped I/O with events and completion routines. You can achieve much the same thing with threads, so examples compare the different solutions for simplicity and performance. The closely related I/O completion ports are, however, necessary for scalable multithreaded servers, so this feature is illustrated with the servers created in earlier chapters. Waitable timers, which require concepts introduced earlier in the chapter,are also described.

Chapter 15 explains Windows' object security, showing, in an example, how to emulate UNIX-style file permissions. Additional examples shows how to secure processes, threads, and named pipes. Security upgrades can then be applied to the earlier examples as appropriate.

Chapter 16 concludes with a description of Win64 programming issues and how to assure that code is portable to Win64. An earlier example is then ported to Win64.

There are three appendixes. Appendix A describes the programs provided on the book's Web site and how to use them. Appendix B contains — tables that compare Windows functions with their counterparts in UNIX and the Standard C library. Appendix C compares the performance of alternative implementations of some of the examples in the text so that you can gauge the trade-offs between Windows features, both basic and advanced, and the C library.

UNIX and C Library Notes and Tables

Within the text at appropriate points, we contrast Windows style and functionality with the comparable UNIX (and Linux) and ANSI Standard C library features. As mentioned, Appendix B presents tables listing these comparable functions. This information is included because many readers are familiar with UNIX and are interested in the comparisons between the two systems. Readers without a UNIX background should feel free to skip those paragraphs in the text, which are indented and set in a smaller font.


The examples are designed for the following tasks:

  • Illustrate common, representative, and useful applications of the Windows functions.
  • Correspond to real programming situations encountered in program development, consulting, and teaching. Some of my clients and course participants have used the code examples as the bases for their own systems. During my consulting activities, I frequently encounter code that is similar to that used in the examples, and on — occasions I have seen code taken directly from the first or second edition of this book. (Feel free to do so yourself; an acknowledgment in your documentation would be greatly appreciated.) Frequently, this code occurs as part of COM or C++ objects. The examples, subject to time and space constraints, are "real-world" examples and solve "real-world" problems.
  • Emphasize how the functions actually behave and interact, which is not always as you might first expect after reading the documentation. Throughout this book, the text and the examples concentrate on interactions between functions rather than the functions themselves.
  • Grow and expand, adding new capability to a previous solution in an easy and natural manner and exploring alternative implementation techniques.
  • In the earlier chapters, many examples implement UNIX commands, such as ls, touch, chmod, and sort, showing the Windows functions in a familiar context while creating a useful set of utilities.** Different implementations of the same command will also give us an easy way to compare performance benefits available with advanced Windows features. Appendix C contains the results of these performance tests.

Examples in the early chapters are usually short, but the later chapterspresent longer examples when appropriate.

Exercises at the end of each chapter suggest alternative designs, subjects for investigation, and additional functionality that is important but beyond the book's scope. Some exercises are easy, and a few are very challenging. Frequently, clearly labeled defective solutions are provided, because fixing the bugs is an excellent way to sharpen skills.

All examples have been debugged and tested under Windows XP, 2000, and 2003. Where appropriate, they have been tested under Windows 9x and NT. Although the bulk of the development was performed on single-processor,...

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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