Support for a LoRaWAN Subsystem

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Sometimes kernel developers find themselves competing with each other to get their version of a particular feature into the kernel. But sometimes developers discover they've been working along very similar lines, and the only reason they hadn't been working together was that they just didn't know each other existed.

Recently, Jian-Hong Pan asked if there was any interest in a LoRaWAN subsystem he'd been working on. LoRaWAN is a commercial networking protocol implementing a low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) allowing relatively slow communications between things, generally phone sensors and other internet of things devices. Jian-Hong posted a link to the work he'd done so far: https://github.com/starnight/LoRa/tree/lorawan-ndo/LoRaWAN.

He specifically wanted to know "should we add the definitions into corresponding kernel header files now, if LoRaWAN will be accepted as a subsystem in Linux?" The reason he was asking was that each definition had its own number. Adding them into the kernel would mean the numbers associated with any future LoRaWAN subsystem would stay the same during development.

However, Marcel Holtmann explained the process:

When you submit your LoRaWAN subsystem to netdev for review, include a patch that adds these new address family definitions. Just pick the next one available. There will be no pre-allocation of numbers until your work has been accepted upstream. Meaning, that the number might change if other address families get merged before yours. So you have to keep updating. glibc will eventually follow the number assigned by the kernel.

Meanwhile, Andreas Färber said he'd been working on supporting the same protocol himself and gave a link to his own proof-of-concept repository: https://github.com/afaerber/lora-modules.

On learning about Andreas' work, Jian-Hong's response was, "Wow! Great! I get new friends :)"

That's where the public conversation ended. The two of them undoubtedly have pooled their energies and will produce a new patch, better than either of them might have done separately.

It's interesting to me the way some projects are more amenable to merging together than others. It seems to have less to do with developer personalities, and more to do with how much is at stake in a given area of the kernel. A new load-balancing algorithm may improve the user experience for some users and worsen it for others, depending on their particular habits. How can two developers resolve their own questions about which approach is better, given that it's not feasible to have lots of different load balancers all in the kernel together? Wars have gone on for years over such issues. On the other hand, supporting a particular protocol or a particular peripheral device is much easier. For one thing, having several competing drivers in the kernel is generally not a problem, at least in the short term, as long as they don't dig too deeply into core kernel behaviors. Developers can test their ideas on a live audience and see what really works better and what doesn't. When that sort of freedom disappears, the closer you get to real speed issues and real security issues.

Note: if you're mentioned above and want to post a response above the comment section, send a message with your response text to ljeditor@linuxjournal.com.

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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