Program Segment Prefix

data structure used in MS-DOS (and compatible) operating systems to store the state of a running program

The Program Segment Prefix (PSP) is a data structure used in DOS systems to store the state of a program. It resembles the Zero Page in the CP/M operating system. The PSP has the following structure:

Offsetimages Size Contents
00h-01h 2 bytes (code) CP/M exit (always contains INT 20h)
02h-03h word (2 bytes) Segment of the first byte beyond the memory allocated to the program
04h byte Reserved
05h-09h 5 bytes (code) Far call to CP/M compatibility code within DOS
0Ah-0Dh dword (4 bytes) Terminate address of previous program (old INT 22h)
0Eh-11h dword Break address of previous program (old INT 23h)
12h-15h dword Critical error address of previous program (old INT 24h)
16h-17h word Parent's PSP segment (usually COMMAND.COM - internal)
18h-2Bh 20 bytes Job File Table (JFT) (internal)
2Ch-2Dh word Environment segment
2Eh-31h dword SS:SP on entry to last INT 21h call (internal)
32h-33h word JFT size (internal)
34h-37h dword Pointer to JFT (internal)
38h-3Bh dword Pointer to previous PSP (only used by SHARE in DOS 3.3 and later)
3Ch-3Fh 4 bytes Reserved
40h-41h word DOS version to return (DOS 4 and later, alterable via SETVER in DOS 5 and later)
42h-4Fh 14 bytes Reserved
50h-52h 3 bytes (code) Far call to DOS (always contain INT 21h + RETF)
53h-54h 2 bytes Reserved
55h-5Bh 7 bytes Reserved (can be used to make first FCB into an extended FCB)
5Ch-6Bh 16 bytes Unopened Standard FCB 1
6Ch-7Fh 20 bytes Unopened Standard FCB 2 (overwritten if FCB 1 is opened)
80h 1 byte Number of bytes on command-line
81h-FFh 127 bytes Command-line tail (terminated by a 0Dh)

The PSP is most often used to get the command line arguments of a DOS program; for example, the command "FOO.EXE /A /F" executes FOO.EXE with the arguments '/A' and '/F'.

The segment address of the PSP is passed in the DS register when the program is executed. It can also be determined later by using Int 21h function 51h or Int 21h function 62h. Either function will return the PSP address in register BX.[1]

Alternatively, in .COM programs loaded at offset 100h, one can address the PSP directly just by using the offsets listed above. Offset 000h points to the beginning of the PSP, 0FFh points to the end, etc.

For example, the following code displays the command line arguments:

org   100h

; INT 21h subfunction 9 requires '$' to terminate string
xor   bx, bx
mov   bl, [80h]
cmp   bl, 126
ja    exit
mov   byte [bx + 81h], '$'

; print the string
mov   ah, 9
mov   dx, 81h
int   21h

mov   ax, 4C00h
int   21h

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