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Unit of study_

COMP9017: Systems Programming

Semester 1, 2021 [Normal day] - Remote

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.

Unit details and rules

Unit code COMP9017
Academic unit Computer Science
Credit points 6
COMP2129 OR COMP2017 OR COMP9129
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator John Stavrakakis,
Tutor(s) Alan Robertson,
BH Hoon Cho,
Dennis Chen,
William Xu Wang,
Anuj Dhavalikar,
Tyson Thomas,
Greg McLellan,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Final exam (Take-home short release) Type D final exam Final examination
Computer examination
30% Formal exam period 2 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Assignment P1
Solve and explain programming problem to instructor
10% Week 03
Due date: 21 Mar 2021 at 23:59
14 days
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO8
Assignment P2
Solve and explain programming problem to instructor
15% Week 05
Due date: 11 Apr 2021 at 23:59
14 days
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9
Assignment P3
Solve and explain programming problem to instructor
15% Week 07
Due date: 26 Apr 2021 at 23:59
14 days
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9
Assignment P4
Solve and explain programming problem to instructor
15% Week 09
Due date: 09 May 2021 at 23:59
14 days
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9
Assignment P5
Solve and explain programming problem to instructor
15% Week 12
Due date: 30 May 2021 at 23:59
14 days
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Type D final exam = Type D final exam ?

Assessment summary

P1, P2, P3, P4, P5

Solve and explain programming problem to instructor. Students will be provided with a description of the problem, will write a solution that is to be completed independently, submit by the due date, and be evaluated by  explaining their solution and answer questions from the instructor.

Students will need to be avialable to interact with the instructor online through video conferencing software, with screen sharing as a viva voce style examination.

Marks are awarded if both a solution is submitted and a viva voce is performed for any given programming problem. Automated testing of the program will contribute to the grade.


Final examination

The final exam can cover any aspect of the course contents. Students will be asked to demonstrate knowledge in systems programming concepts, reading and tracing through memory related issues. Write short programs. Write test cases and debug with existing test cases. 


Conditions for pass in this course

  • At least 40% in the assessment grade
  • At least 50% in final examination
  • At least 50% total

In order to pass this unit, a student must achieve at least 40% in the formative assessment and 50% in the final exam. A student must also achieve an overall final mark of 50 or more. Any student not meeting these requirements may be given a maximum final mark of no more than 45 regardless of their average. 


Further information about assessments

Lecture 1 will include information about assessment conditions and submission instructions

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

Students may be asked for further development of their assessments if they fail to attend at least 80% of their tutorials or have approved special consideration.


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

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


Automatically graded submissions provide further feedback.

For more information see guide to grades.

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 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 requires attendance will award zero marks, unless special consideration is granted.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity 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 integrity breaches seriously.  

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

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 Admin/introduction to C Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO8
Week 02 Addressable memory I, string and arrays Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO8
First C programs with text processing Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO6 LO7 LO8
Week 03 Addressable memory II, structures and files Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO6 LO7 LO8
C pointer basics, C library functions Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO6 LO7 LO8
Week 04 Memory management and linked lists Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9
C pointers, structs, unions and files Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9
Week 05 C compiler stages and function pointers, unit testing Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9
Dynamic memory and debugging Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9
Week 06 Debugging C, processes and bit fields Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9
Program structure, common C errors Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9
Week 07 Parallelism and concurrency Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Compiler stages and linked lists Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Week 08 Thread synchronisation, POSIX threads Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Signals and IPC Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Week 09 Thread safety: testing and debugging Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Parallelism and concurrency Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Week 10 Scalable algorithm templates Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Shared memory Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Week 11 Performance - memory and measure Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Thread constructs & reliability Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Week 12 Advanced topics in systems programming TBA Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Advanced topics in systems programming TBA Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Week 13 Revision and examination overview Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Revision Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10

Attendance and class requirements

Course websites:

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. Canvas is a website that will be used to disseminate the online lecture recordings and for publishing of results.

Online attendance:

Students are asked to attend their tutorial class each week as part of their assessment. Students are advised to follow the procedures concerning late attendance, or failure to attend. Such procedures will be presented in the course lectures.

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

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

Both students and teaching staff have favoured more regular and lower weighted assessments to relate the concepts progressively rather than in a single large assignment and final examination.

Every week students must:

  • Read the required sections of literature
  • Attend and take notes for the Lecture (Mondays)
  • Make progress on and complete the assessments (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


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.