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Unit of study_

COMP9017: Systems Programming

In this unit of study, elementary methods for developing robust, efficient, and re-usable software will be covered. The unit is taught in C, in a Unix environment. Specific coding topics include memory management, the pragmatic aspects of implementing data structures such as lists and hash tables and managing concurrent threads. Debugging tools and techniques are discussed and common programming errors are considered along with defensive programming techniques to avoid such errors. Emphasis is placed on using common Unix tools to manage aspects of the software construction process, such as version control and regression testing. The subject is taught from a practical viewpoint and it includes a considerable amount of programming practice.


Academic unit Computer Science
Unit code COMP9017
Unit name Systems Programming
Session, year
Semester 1, 2020
Attendance mode Normal day
Location Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney
Credit points 6

Enrolment rules

COMP2129 OR COMP2017 OR COMP9129
Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff and contact details

Coordinator John Stavrakakis,
Tutor(s) Bh Cho ,
Tyson Thomas,
William Wang,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Final exam hurdle task Final examination
Paper examination
50% Formal exam period 2.5 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO10 LO9 LO8 LO5 LO4 LO3
Assignment Assignment 1
6% Week 04 2 weeks
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO8 LO7 LO3 LO2
Assignment Task set 1
2% Week 04 2 weeks
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3
Tutorial quiz hurdle task Quiz 1
Paper quiz
5% Week 05 TBA 30 ~ 60 minutes
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO8 LO9
Assignment Task set 2
2% Week 07 2 weeks
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO8 LO4 LO6 LO7
Assignment Assignment 2
8% Week 08 2 weeks
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO9 LO8 LO7 LO6 LO5 LO4 LO3 LO2
Tutorial quiz hurdle task Quiz 2
Paper quiz
5% Week 10 TBA 30 ~ 60 minutes
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9
Assignment Task set 3
2% Week 10 2 weeks
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO8 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO9 LO10
Skills based evaluation Computer examination
Computer examination during weekly lab.
10% Week 12 TBA 40m ~ 2 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO8 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO9 LO10
Assignment hurdle task Assignment 3
10% Week 13 3 weeks
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO8 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO9 LO10
hurdle task = hurdle task ?
  • Task set: The online task sets are a series of programming exercises to be completed throughout the semester. These are released regularly and have varying submission dates. Late enrolments (up to week 4) will be able to submit prior weeks.
  • Quiz: Test both knowledge and skills of course materials in the semester thus far.- Attendance during tutorial. Pen and paper, no computers to be used.
  • Practical computer exam: Develop and/or debug a computer program from a description with examples. To be completed using standard laboratory computer.
  • Assignments: Demonstrating programming ability from specification. Produce a set of test cases for a given specification. To be completed independently. Student will be assessed by both online and through teaching staff in the tutorial following the deadline.
  • Final exam: The final exam covers all aspects of the course and may involve answering questions about the C language and Unix system, reading short programs and writing short programs, and understanding concurrent and parallel programming. 

Detailed information for each assessment can be found on the course website:

Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a high distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

For more information see

Assignments. The tutors will provide further feedback to students about correctness, style and testing.

Quizzes. Tutors mark the quiz and provide annotations where needed.

Task set can be automatically graded and feedback is provided by the grading software. 

Computer examination is automatically graded

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

This unit has an exception to the standard University policy or supplementary information has been provided by the unit coordinator. This information is displayed below:

Late penalty for any online assessment is 25% per day. It is a cap based penalty: 1 day late, maximum attainable mark is 75%. 2 days late, maximum attainable mark is 50%. 3 days late, maximum attainable mark is 25%. Failure to attend for any assessment that is not an assignment will award zero marks, unless special consideration is granted.

Special consideration

If you experience short-term circumstances beyond your control, such as illness, injury or misadventure or if you have essential commitments which impact your preparation or performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website provides information on academic honesty, academic dishonesty, and the resources available to all students.

The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic dishonesty or plagiarism seriously.

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic dishonesty. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of dishonesty, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 Admin/introduction to C Lecture (2 hr)  
Week 02 Addressable memory I, string and arrays Lecture (2 hr)  
First C programs with text processing Computer laboratory (2 hr)  
Week 03 Addressable memory II, structures and files Lecture (2 hr)  
C pointer basics, C library functions Computer laboratory (2 hr)  
Week 04 Memory management and linked lists Lecture (2 hr)  
C pointers, structs, unions and files Computer laboratory (2 hr)  
Week 05 C compiler stages and function pointers, unit testing Lecture (2 hr)  
Dynamic memory and debugging Computer laboratory (2 hr)  
Week 06 Debugging C, processes and bit fields Lecture (2 hr)  
Program structure, common C errors Computer laboratory (2 hr)  
Week 07 Parallelism and concurrency Lecture (2 hr)  
Compiler stages and linked lists Computer laboratory (2 hr)  
Week 08 Thread synchronisation, POSIX threads Lecture (2 hr)  
Signals and IPC Computer laboratory (2 hr)  
Week 09 Thread safety: testing and debugging Lecture (2 hr)  
Parallelism and concurrency Computer laboratory (2 hr)  
Week 10 Scalable algorithm templates Lecture (2 hr)  
Shared memory Computer laboratory (2 hr)  
Week 11 Performance - memory and measure Lecture (2 hr)  
Thread constructs & reliability Computer laboratory (2 hr)  
Week 12 TBA Lecture (2 hr)  
Recursion and advanced topics in C Computer laboratory (2 hr)  
Week 13 Revision and examination overview Lecture (2 hr)  
Revision Computer laboratory (2 hr)  

Attendance and class requirements

The course website on will contain information, including important announcements. Teaching staff will be communicating to all students and it is considered part of the course. Students are expected to regularly visit this website to know these announcements and information concerning format and schedule of assessment.

Attendance requirements for assessments: Failure to attend the scheduled time and location will result in a grade of zero, unless special consideration is granted.

The pass requirement for this course is:

  • At least 50% in the written examination to qualify for a pass in this course, AND
  • At least 40% in all other assessments that are not the final examination, AND 
  • At least 50% final mark overall

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Required readings

All readings for this unit can be accessed on the Library eReserve link available on Canvas.

  • Computer Systems: A Programmer’s Perspective, Randal E. Bryant and David R. O`Hallaron, 9781292101767, 3rd edition, Pearson Education, 2016, Boston

Reference books

  • Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie – The C Programming Language. Prentice Hall. 1988. 0-13-110362-8
  • Lin and Snyder. Principles of Parallel Programming. Pearson Education. 2008
  • Jeri R. Hanly, Elliot B. Koffman. Problem Solving and Program Design in C. 6th Edition. Addison Wesley. 2010. ISBN:0321198034. Note: 4th edition does not contain the chapter on IPC
  • Paul Davies. The Indispensable Guide to C. 1st Edition. 1995. ISBN-13: 978-0201624380

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University’s graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. apply code quality strategies appropriate for C, including preprocessor techniques, and use of common idioms
  • LO2. use Unix commands and system calls (including usage of flags etc) from online manual system
  • LO3. demonstrate the approach and concepts of Unix, including its tools philosophy, processes (including pipes and redirection), the file system, and the shell
  • LO4. compose correct, clean code in C that allocates, deallocates and manages memory
  • LO5. construct correctly implement standard linked list data structures - higher performance could involve slightly more complicated structures such as binary search trees
  • LO6. assess code execution using debugging tools
  • LO7. apply a thorough automated testing regime using tools such as make, diff, scripts to present the outcomes, and a tool to manage regression testing - higher performance could involve ability to construct such a regime
  • LO8. read and write code that correctly uses the main standard library functions, especially for I/O, file handling, and string handling - higher performance could involve elegant use of these functions, particularly avoiding idioms which are extremely inefficient
  • LO9. evaluate common memory-related errors (such as memory leaks, dangling pointers) and how to avoid these - higher performance could involve detecting errors in example code, and fixing them using debuggers
  • LO10. construct, debug, and evaluate parallel or concurrent programs.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities
Further emphasis on linking and build systems

Every week students must:

  • Read the required sections of literature
  • Attend and take notes for the Lecture (Mondays)
  • Make progress on and complete the Task sets (as required)
  • Make progress on and complete the Assignments (as required)
  • Prepare for the Lab by reviewing reading, lecture and lab questions 
  • Attend and participate in weekly Lab with tutor(as timetabled)


  • Students should ask questions on
  • Students are encouraged to attend and/or watch the OPTIONAL seminar (Wednesday evening)


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

To help you understand common terms that we use at the University, we offer an online glossary.