The Basic Function of Operating System – Explained 2024

The definition of Operating system - Operating system manages hardware, runs applications, provides an interface for users, and stores, retrieves, and manipulates files.


If you are using a computer or any other smart gadget, then you might have heard about the term operating system (Android, Windows, Linux, iOS, Mac). But, if you are not familiar with the term and its functionality, then we are today going to elaborate, What is an Operating System and the function of the operating system in front of you in a broad light.

What is an Operating System?

So, let’s start with the definition of an Operating system.

An operating system (OS) is system software that manages computer hardware and software resources and provides common services for computer programs. Via Wiki

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The operating system is the software that has the responsibility of managing computer hardware, and software resources and offers common services to smoothly run the computer programs. The time-sharing operating system schedules tasks for the effective running of the system which also includes cost-efficiency of the processor time, mass storage of printing and other useful resources.

In simple words, we can say the main purpose of an Operating System is to provide an environment in which we can execute programs.

The hardware functions handled by the operating system are input and output and memory allocation. The main role of the operating system is functioning as an intermediary between the software and the hardware. However, the application code is generally executed directly by the hardware and makes regular calls to the system calls to an OS function or is interrupted by it.
It is an interface between user and computer. So, an Operating System makes everything in the computer to work together smoothly and efficiently.

relationship between application and system software

The operating system can be seen on multiple devices that contain the computer system such as phones, video game consoles, supercomputers, and other similar devices. The most common and used operating system is Microsoft Windows which is used by 82.74% market share. The rest of the market is occupied by macOS, Linux, and Android.

Types of Operating Systems

There are four general types of operating systems. Their use depends on the type of computer and the type of applications that will be run on those computers.

  1. Real-time operating systems (RTOS) are used to control machinery, scientific instruments, and industrial systems. In general, the user does not have much control over the functions performed by RTOS.
  2. Single-user, single-task operating systems allow one user to do one thing at a time. An example of a single-user, the single-task operating system is the operating system used by personal digital assistants (PDAs), also known as handheld computers.
  3. Single-user, multi-tasking operating systems allow a single user to simultaneously run multiple applications on their computer. This is the type of operating system found on most personal desktop and laptop computers. Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, and Linux are three well-known examples of this type of system.
  4. Multi-user operating systems allow multiple users to simultaneously use the resources on a single computer. Unix is an example of a multi-user operating system.

The architecture of Operating systems

The operating systems control the hardware resources of a computer. The kernel and shell are the parts of the operating system that perform essential operations. When a user gives commands for performing any operation, the request goes to the shell part, which is also known as the interpreter. The shell part then translates the human program into machine code and then transfers the request to the kernel part.

Architecture of operating system

When the kernel receives the request from the shell, it processes the request and displays the result on the screen. The kernel is also known as the heart of the operating system as every operation is performed by it.


The shell is a part of the software which is placed between the user and the kernel, and it provides services of the kernel. The shell thus acts as an interpreter to convert the commands from the user to the machine code. Shells present in different types of operating systems are of two types: command-line shells and graphical shells.

The command-line shells provide a command line interface while graphical line shells provide a graphical user interface. Though both shells perform operations, the graphical user interface shells perform slower than the command line interface shells.

Types of shells

  • Korn shell
  • Bourne shell
  • C shell
  • POSIX shell


The kernel is a part of the software. It is like a bridge between the shell and the hardware. It is responsible for running programs and providing secure access to the machine’s hardware. The kernel is used for scheduling, i.e., it maintains a timetable for all processes.

Types of Kernels

  • Monolithic kernel
  • Microkernels
  • Exokernels
  • Hybrid kernels

Main functions of an operating system

 Every computer system needs an operating system to function properly. The function of the operating system is to offer a smooth user interface and control the functioning of the other applications. But there are plenty of other important functions that are managed by the operating systems such as –

Hardware Management

The most important and basic function of the operating system is to manage all the internal and external hardware of the computer. The operating system manages all the connected devices and tells them how to operate and interact with the system. That’s because presenting the result of instructions and interactions are the basic performance of the computer. Some of the hardware systems that are controlled by the operating system include – hard disks, optical drives, video cards, etc.,

Program Control

The operating system also runs programs and enables them to function for which they have been designed. The program needs to be designed to function with the particular operating system. That’s because the operating system is required to display the interface and surge communication between the program and the hardware of the computer. In the absence of the operating system, programs can’t perform their designated task.

Data Access

It is also a function of the operating system to store, retrieve and access the data on the hard drive so that the basic functions can be performed by the operating system. It is also the responsibility of the operating system to manage the data stored temporarily in the computer’s RAM. The data which is stored and retrieved by the operating system could be of any type such as document files, pictures, videos, and music. The hard drive can read and write the data on its own, but the operating system tells the hard drive which data to read and the method to write it.

Resources Management

The functioning list of the operating system is very strong, it also includes the function of managing and allocating all the resources of the computer at the time of need. Resource management like which task should be first processed by the CPU? Which program needs to be aligned to process the power and memory of the computer system? How to allocate the program to control the functioning of the computer? And, so many other resources related decisions are taken up by the operating systems. The important functions are given priority by the operating systems so that the regular functions of the computer won’t get disturbed.


The operating system also facilitates network communication by enabling connected network devices to communicate with the computer and with any programs that require them. It is one of the primary functions of the OS to provide network communication with the help of different tools like network cards. The network cards can only establish the connection between the networks and tools, but direct the communication process so that information can be exchanged – an operating system is required. The operating system also analyses the information that has been exchanged so that the installed program can offer the best display to the users.

So, the operating system is a very important part of the computer and other computer-based devices as multiple functions are handled by them. If you don’t want to disturb the functioning of the operating system, then always use the correct operating system on your computer to support its functioning.

Steve Ballmer
Steve Ballmer
With over 7 years of experience in the IT industry, I have experience in IT support, helpdesk, sysadmin, network admin, and cloud computing. Certified in Microsoft Technologies (MCTS and MCSA) and also Cisco Certified Professional in Routing and Switching.

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