A bank holds keys to node and page range objects. The bank keeps track of which pages and nodes are in use. The holder of a key to a bank can buy a node. The bank selects a currently unused node, creates a node key to it, records that the node is in-use, places null keys in each of the node’s slots, and returns the node key to the requestor, thus providing a key to a “newly created node”. As the bank invocation finishes, the bank and the requestor hold the only copies of any key to that node. New pages from the bank are similarly acquired, and are zero-filled. The bank holds the only node range object key that controls the space from which the node was created. Another order on a bank will sell the node back (reclaim the storage). Just after such an invocation all slots with keys to that node are efficiently filled with null keys. There is also an invocation on the bank to reclaim all of the pages and nodes ever bought from that bank.
Banks also provide for measuring and limiting the degree of storage use. New banks may be created inferior to a given bank. It is as if the inferior bank bought its material from its superior. The inferior bank may have its own limits. Inferior banks may have their own inferior banks, etc.
A domain creator will accept a bank key and build a new domain out of nodes from that bank. It will return a domain service key to the new domain. A domain fresh from a domain creator has no address segment, meter or domain keeper. They must be installed by use of the domain service key. Each domain creator holds a unique key which it installs in the domain’s brand slot. Another order on a domain creator takes a gate key to a domain as a parameter and returns the domain service key to that domain if the domain was one that this creator created (as determined by the brand).
A factory  is an object that initiates a compartment in which a computation may take place. A compartment is a collection of objects that collectively hold no unaudited, non-sensory keys that designate objects outside the compartment. Compartments produced under such circumstances have measured discreetness. A factory can certify the degree of discretion of another factory. If one trusts the (fixed) logic of a factory, one need not trust the logic of the programs obeyed by domains within the compartment not to disclose one’s data. Factories allow the construction of programs which “keep secrets”, and address containment and mutually suspicious user security problems .
A top secret user might have a discreet compartment created for him by a factory to house his workspace. His work will go unobserved by users in other compartments.
Factories can produce segments with keepers that support the illusion of initially zero segments. Real storage is acquired as pages are read from or stored into for the first time.
A significant object that has been implemented using sense keys is the virtual copy segment. Such a segment will produce, on demand, a source of segment copies whose initial state is that of the original at the instant of the demand. Such a copy is modifiable but such modification is insensible except by the key to the copy. The cost of the copy is proportional to the number of modified pages in the copy. Such segments are said to be discreet. Factories can certify that this source of new segments produces only discreet segments. The virtual copy functionality is available in some operating systems and is generally known as “copy on write”. The segment keeper function of KeyKOS allows one to implement this function in unprivileged code.
Objects called record collections serve as directories and indexed files in KeyKOS. Record collections provide the services other systems achieve by the combination of files and access methods; for example they are used to provide UNIX directories, and, on the System/370 the functionality of IBM VSAM data sets.
A symbolic machine language debugger is in the tradition of the MIT DDTs. The debugger runs as a domain keeper and is thus safe from the flailing of a sick program. The debugger can be connected to any terminal for which appropriate keys are available. For all but a few basic KeyKOS system domains this debugger is available without “preplanning” and with no cost until used.
Knowing a password to a KeyKOS system allows the user to connect a terminal to some object created for that user. Commonly this object is a switch that lets the terminal talk to one of a set of objects.
An individual who programs KeyKOS or understands keys has a command system (also an object) that holds the key to his directory. A directory associates names with keys, and provides a key name space of the immediately executed commands expressed in the command language. There are normally a number of command systems and directories available to a user.
The command system is the only program that has “natural” access to the directory. If the user wants a program to run with access to some of his data, the user must invoke the start key to the domain containing the program, passing the key to the data. Such a program lacks access to the user’s directory unless a key to the directory is explicitly passed.
Keepers can emulate the behavior of operating systems. Operating systems that have been emulated include BSD4.3, Minix, VM/CP (S/370), a reduced MVS (S/370), and EDX (Series/1). These emulations provide binary compatibility at the application level.
C and PL/I source are expanded (through preprocessor and runtime library routines) to produce programs for KeyKOS that explicitly manipulate keys. The compiler is bundled into an object that reads source programs and creates a factory which produces objects that obey the compiled program. Keys are named symbolically and the program is relieved of the sixteen key limit for held keys.
Since all KeyKOS functionality is packaged with keys, and the key invocation facility is general, a program can use any function authorized to it by a key without resorting to the assembly code necessary in older systems. The KeyKOS facility provides extensive sharing: all objects written in a given language share the same library, and objects from the same factory share the same compiled code. Data segments may be flexibly shared by programs written in high level languages.
KeyTXF, a transaction processing foundation program product, provides locking, commit/abort, journaling, monitoring, and similar function in domains appropriate for the development and operation of transaction processing applications.
The KeyKOS microkernel has no built-in operator interface. Such function, such as a tape operator interface, is implemented in domains.