The dynamics of the sublayer and buffer regions of wall-bounded turbulent flows are analysed using autonomous numerical simulations in which the outer flow, and on some occasions specific wavelengths, are masked. The results are compared with a turbulent channel flow at moderate Reynolds number. Special emphasis is put on the largest flow scales. It is argued that in this region there are two kinds of large structures: long and narrow ones which are endogenous to the wall, in the sense of being only slightly modified by the presence or absence of an outer flow, and long and wide structures which extend to the outer flow and which are very different in the two cases. The latter carry little Reynolds stress near the wall in full simulations, and are largely absent from the autonomous ones. The former carry a large fraction of the stresses in the two cases, but are shown to be quasi-linear passive wakes of smaller structures, and they can be damped without modifying the dynamics of other spectral ranges. They can be modelled fairly accurately as being infinitely long, and it is argued that this is why good statistics are obtained in short or even in minimal simulation boxes. It is shown that this organization implies that the scaling of the near-wall streamwise fluctuations is anomalous.
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