diff -u: Automated Bug Reporting

Bug reports are good. Anyone with a reproducible crash should submit a bug report on the linux-kernel mailing list. The developers will appreciate it, and you'll be helping make Linux better!

A variety of automated bug-hunters are roaming around reporting bugs. One of them is Syzbot, an open-source tool specifically designed to find bugs in Linux and report them. Dmitry Vyukov recently sent in a hand-crafted email asking for help from the community to make Syzbot even more effective.

The main problems were how to track bugs after Syzbot had reported them and how to tell when a patch went into the kernel to address a given bug.

It turned out that Andrey Ryabinin and Linus Torvalds got together to collaborate on an easy solution for Dmitry's problem: Syzbot should include a unique identifier in its own email address. The idea is that anything after a "+" in an email address is completely ignored. So zbrown@gmail.com is exactly the same as zbrown+stoptrump@gmail.com. Andrey and Linus suggested that Syzbot use this technique to include a hash value associated with each bug report. Then, Linux developers would include that email address in the "Reported-By" portion of their patch submissions as part of the normal developer process.

Presto! The unique hash would follow the patch around through every iteration.

Other folks had additional feedback about Syzbot. Eric Biggers wanted to see a public-facing user interface, so developers could check the status of bugs, diagnose which versions of kernels were affected and so on. It turned out that Dmitry was hard at work on just such a thing, although he'd need more time before it was ready for public consumption.

And, Eric W. Biederman was utterly disgruntled about several Syzbot deficiencies. For one thing, he felt Syzbot didn't do a good enough job explaining how to reproduce a given bug. It just reported the problem and went on its merry way. Also, Eric didn't like the use of the Go language in Syzbot, which he said handled threading in a complex manner that made it difficult to interact in simple ways with the kernel.

But Dmitry assured Eric that the significant parts of Syzbot were written in C++ and that the portions using the Go language were not used for kernel interactions. Dmitry also pointed out that Syzbot did provide information on how to reproduce crashes whenever possible, but that it just wasn't always possible, and in a lot of cases, the bugs were so simple, it wasn't even necessary to reproduce them.

In fact, there really wasn't much discussion. Dmitry's original problem was solved very quickly, and it appears that Syzbot and its back-end software is under very active development.

Zack Brown is a tech journalist at Linux Journal and Linux Magazine, and is a former author of the "Kernel Traffic" weekly newsletter and the "Learn Plover" stenographic typing tutorials. He first installed Slackware Linux in 1993 on his 386 with 8 megs of RAM and had his mind permanently blown by the Open Source community. He is the inventor of the Crumble pure strategy board game, which you can make yourself with a few pieces of cardboard. He also enjoys writing fiction, attempting animation, reforming Labanotation, designing and sewing his own clothes, learning French and spending time with friends'n'family.

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