kernel

Crazy Compiler Optimizations

Kernel development is always strange. Andrea Parri recently posted a patch to change the order of memory reads during multithreaded operation, such that if one read depended upon the next, the second could not actually occur before the first. The problem with this was that the bug never could actually occur, and the fix made the kernel's behavior less intuitive for developers. Peter Zijlstra, in particular, voted nay to this patch, saying it was impossible to construct a physical system capable of triggering the bug in question.

CGroup Interactions

CGroups are under constant development, partly because they form the core of many commercial services these days. An amazing thing about this is that they remain an unfinished project. Isolating and apportioning system elements is an ongoing effort, with many pieces still to do. And because of security concerns, it never may be possible to present a virtual system as a fully independent system. There always may be compromises that have to be made.

Rewriting printk()

The printk() function is a subject of much ongoing consternation among kernel developers. Ostensibly, it's just an output routine for sending text to the console. But unlike a regular print routine, printk() has to be able to work even under extreme conditions, like when something horrible is going on and the system needs to utter a few last clues as it breathes its final breath.

The Kernel Issue

How much do you know about your kernel? Like really know? Considering how critically important the Linux kernel is to the world—and, perhaps just as important, to our own personal computers and gadgets—it's rather amazing how little most people actually know about it.

A Conversation with Kernel Developers from Intel, Red Hat and SUSE

Three kernel developers describe what it's really like to work on the kernel, how they interact with developers from other companies, some pet peeves and how to get started. Like most Linux users, I rarely touch the actual code for the Linux kernel. Sure, I've looked at it. I've even compiled the kernel myself on a handful of occasions—sometimes to try out something new or simply to say I could do it ("Linux From Scratch" is a bit of a right of passage).

Exporting Kernel Headers

Joel Fernandes submitted a module to export kernel headers through the /proc directory to make it easier for users to extend the kernel without necessarily having the source tree available. He said:

Support for Persistent Memory

Persistent memory is still sort of a specialty item in Linux—RAM that retains its state across boots. Dave Hansen recently remarked that it was a sorry state of affairs that user applications couldn't simply use persistent memory by default. They had to be specially coded to recognize and take advantage of it. Dave wanted the system to treat persistent memory as just regular old memory.

Handling Complex Memory Situations

Jérôme Glisse felt that the time had come for the Linux kernel to address seriously the issue of having many different types of memory installed on a single running system. There was main system memory and device-specific memory, and associated hierarchies regarding which memory to use at which time and under which circumstances. This complicated new situation, Jérôme said, was actually now the norm, and it should be treated as such.

Chasing Linux Kernel Archives

Kernel development is truly impossible to keep track of. The main mailing list alone is vast beyond belief. Then there are all the side lists and IRC channels, not to mention all the corporate mailing lists dedicated to kernel development that never see the light of day. In some ways, kernel development has become fundamentally mysterious.

Considering Fresh C Extensions

Matthew Wilcox recently realized there might be a value in depending on C extensions provided by the Plan 9 variant of the C programming language. All it would require is using the -fplan9-extensions command-line argument when compiling the kernel. As Matthew pointed out, Plan 9 extensions have been supported in GCC as of version 4.6, which is the minimum version supported by the kernel. So theoretically, there would be no conflict.

Removing Profanity from the Source Tree

Warning: this article contains profanity. Linus Torvalds recently stepped away from kernel development temporarily in order to think about how to be less harsh with developers in certain situations. Simultaneous with his departure was a patch introducing a new Code of Conduct into the kernel source tree. The effects of this are beginning to be felt.

Disk Encryption for Low-End Hardware

Eric Biggers and Paul Crowley were unhappy with the disk encryption options available for Android on low-end phones and watches. For them, it was an ethical issue. Eric said:

Ditching Out-of-Date Documentation Infrastructure

Long ago, the Linux kernel started using 00-Index files to list the contents of each documentation directory. This was intended to explain what each of those files documented. Henrik Austad recently pointed out that those files have been out of date for a very long time and were probably not used by anyone anymore. This is nothing new. Henrik said in his post that this had been discussed already for years, "and they have since then grown further out of date, so perhaps it is time to just throw them out."

Non-Child Process Exit Notification Support

Daniel Colascione submitted some code to support processes knowing when others have terminated. Normally a process can tell when its own child processes have ended, but not unrelated processes, or at least not trivially. Daniel's patch created a new file in the /proc directory entry for each process—a file called "exithand" that is readable by any other process.

Unit Testing in the Linux Kernel

Brendan Higgins recently proposed adding unit tests to the Linux kernel, supplementing other development infrastructure such as perf, autotest and kselftest. The whole issue of testing is very dear to kernel developers' hearts, because Linux sits at the core of the system and often has a very strong stability/security requirement. Hosts of automated tests regularly churn through kernel source code, reporting any oddities to the mailing list.

Five Trends Influencing Linux's Growth at the Endpoint

A recent IDC InfoBrief identified Linux as the only endpoint operating system growing globally. While Windows market share remains flat, at 39% in 2015 and 2017, Linux has grown from 30% in 2015 to 35% in 2017, worldwide. And the trend is accelerating.

On Linus' Return to Kernel Development

On October 23, 2018, Linus Torvalds came out of his self-imposed isolation, pulling a lot of patches from the git trees of various developers. It was his first appearance on the Linux Kernel Mailing List since September 16, 2018, when he announced he would take a break from kernel development to address his sometimes harsh behavior toward developers. On the 23rd, he announced his return, which I cover here after summarizing some of his pull activities.

Virtualizing the Clock

Dmitry Safonov wanted to implement a namespace for time information. The twisted and bizarre thing about virtual machines is that they get more virtual all the time. There's always some new element of the host system that can be given its own namespace and enter the realm of the virtual machine. But as that process rolls forward, virtual systems have to share aspects of themselves with other virtual systems and the host system itself—for example, the date and time.

Internationalizing the Kernel

At a time when many companies are rushing to internationalize their products and services to appeal to the broadest possible market, the Linux kernel is actively resisting that trend, although it already has taken over the broadest possible market—the infrastructure of the entire world.