Linux Kernel Development

Linux Kernel Development

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by Robert Love

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Following an overview of the design, implementation, and interfaces of the Linux kernel, a senior kernel engineer/open source hacker provides updated theoretical and applied coverage of the major features and subsystems of the current Linux 2.6 kernel. For software developers, Love reviews such nifty features as its preemptive kernel and I/O schedulers, as well as… See more details below


Following an overview of the design, implementation, and interfaces of the Linux kernel, a senior kernel engineer/open source hacker provides updated theoretical and applied coverage of the major features and subsystems of the current Linux 2.6 kernel. For software developers, Love reviews such nifty features as its preemptive kernel and I/O schedulers, as well as kernel modules and debugging. He emphasizes that this treatment is not a line-by-line commentary of the kernel source. The book includes a decent list of books sorted by subject and websites for further information. Annotation © 2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

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Linux Kernel Development, Second EditionLinux Kernel Development, Second EditionPreface

When I was first approached about converting my experiences with the Linux kernel into a book, I proceeded with trepidation. I did not want to write simply yet another kernel book. Sure, there are not that many books on the subject, but I still wanted my approach to be somehow unique. What would place my book at the top of its subject? I was not motivated unless I could do something special, a best-in-class work.

I then realized that I could offer quite a unique approach to the topic. My job is hacking the kernel. My hobby is hacking the kernel. My love is hacking the kernel. Over the years, I have surely accumulated interesting anecdotes and important tips. With my experiences, I could write a book on how to hack the kernel and—more importantly—how not to hack the kernel. Primarily, this is a book about the design and implementation of the Linux kernel. The book's approach differs from would-be competition, however, in that the information is given with a slant to learning enough to actually get work done—and getting it done right. I am a pragmatic guy and this is a practical book. It should be fun, easy to read, and useful.

I hope that readers can walk away from this book with a better understanding of the rules (written and unwritten) of the kernel. I hope readers, fresh from reading this book and the kernel source code, can jump in and start writing useful, correct, clean kernel code. Of course, you can read this book just for fun, too.

That was the first edition. Time has passed, and now we return once more to the fray.This edition offers quite a bit over the first: intense polish and revision, updates, and many fresh sections and all new chapters. Changes in the kernel since the first edition have been recognized. More importantly, however, is the decision made by the Linux kernel community1 to not proceed with a 2.7 development kernel in the near feature. Instead, kernel developers plan to continue developing and stabilizing 2.6. This implies many things, but one big item of relevance to this book is that there is quite a bit of staying power in a recent book on the 2.6 Linux kernel. If things do not move too quickly, there is a greater chance of a captured snapshot of the kernel remaining relevant long into the future. A book can finally rise up and become the canonical documentation for the kernel. I hope that you are holding that book.

Anyhow, here it is. I hope you enjoy it.So Here We Are

Developing code in the kernel does not require genius, magic, or a bushy Unix-hacker beard. The kernel, although having some interesting rules of its own, is not much different from any other large software endeavor. There is much to learn—as with any big project—but there is not too much about the kernel that is more sacred or confusing than anything else.

It is imperative that you utilize the source. The open availability of the source code for the Linux system is a rarity that we must not take for granted. It is not sufficient only to read the source, however. You need to dig in and change some code. Find a bug and fix it. Improve the drivers for your hardware. Find an itch and scratch it! Only when you write code will it all come together.Kernel Version

This book is based on the 2.6 Linux kernel series. Specifically, it is up to date as of Linux kernel version 2.6.10. The kernel is a moving target and no book can hope to capture a dynamic beast in a timeless manner. Nonetheless, the basics and core internals of the kernel are mature and I work hard to present the material with an eye to the future and with as wide applicability as possible.Audience

This book targets software developers who are interested in understanding the Linux kernel. It is not a line-by-line commentary of the kernel source. Nor is it a guide to developing drivers or a reference on the kernel API (as if there even were a formal kernel API—hah!). Instead, the goal of this book is to provide enough information on the design and implementation of the Linux kernel that a sufficiently accomplished programmer can begin developing code in the kernel. Kernel development can be fun and rewarding, and I want to introduce the reader to that world as readily as possible. This book, however, in discussing both theory and application, should appeal to readers of either interest. I have always been of the mind that one needs to understand the theory to understand the application, but I do not feel that this book leans too far in either direction. I hope that whatever your motivations for understanding the Linux kernel, this book will explain the design and implementation sufficiently for your needs.

Thus, this book covers both the usage of core kernel systems and their design and implementation. I think this is important, and deserves a moment's discussion. A good example is Chapter 7, "Bottom Halves and Deferring Work," which covers bottom halves. In that chapter, I discuss both the design and implementation of the kernel's bottom-half mechanisms (which a core kernel developer might find interesting) and how to actually use the exported interfaces to implement your own bottom half (which a device driver developer might find interesting). In fact, I believe both parties should find both discussions relevant. The core kernel developer, who certainly needs to understand the inner workings of the kernel, should have a good understanding of how the interfaces are actually used. At the same time, a device driver writer will benefit from a good understanding of the implementation behind the interface.

This is akin to learning some library's API versus studying the actual implementation of the library. At first glance, an application programmer needs only to understand the API—it is often taught to treat interfaces as a black box, in fact. Likewise, a library developer is concerned only with the library's design and implementation. I believe, however, both parties should invest time in learning the other half. An application programmer who better understands the underlying operating system can make much greater use of it. Similarly, the library developer should not grow out of touch with the reality and practicality of the applications that use the library. Consequently, I discuss both the design and usage of kernel subsystems, not only in hopes that this book will be useful to either party, but also in hopes that the whole book is useful to both parties.

I assume that the reader knows the C programming language and is familiar with Linux. Some experience with operating system design and related computer science concepts is beneficial, but I try to explain concepts as much as possible—if not, there are some excellent books on operating system design referenced in the bibliography.

This book is appropriate for an undergraduate course introducing operating system design as the applied text if an introductory book on theory accompanies it. It should fare well either in an advanced undergraduate course or in a graduate-level course without ancillary material. I encourage potential instructors to contact me; I am eager to help.Book Website

I maintain a website at that contains information pertaining to the book, including errata, expanded and revised topics, and information on future printings and editions. I encourage readers to check it out. I also apologize profusely for the previous end-of-sentence preposition, it was uncalled for, but the revamped sentence was hard to read, it was confusing, and you deserve better.Second Edition Acknowledgments

Like most authors, I did not write this book in a cave (which is a good thing, because there are bears in caves) and consequently many hearts and minds contributed to the completion of this manuscript. Although no list would be complete, it is my sincere pleasure to acknowledge the assistance of many friends and colleagues who provided encouragement, knowledge, and constructive criticism.

First off, I would like to thank all of the editors who worked long and hard to make this book better. I would particularly like to thank Scott Meyers, my acquisition editor, for spearheading this second edition from conception to final product. I had the wonderful pleasure of again working with George Nedeff, production editor, who kept everything in order. Extra special thanks to my copy editor, Margo Catts. We can all only hope that our command of the kernel is as good as her command of the written word.

A special thanks to my technical editors on this edition: Adam Belay, Martin Pool, and Chris Rivera. Their insight and corrections improved this book immeasurably. Despite their sterling efforts, however, any remaining mistakes are my own fault. The same big thanks to Zack Brown, whose awesome technical editing efforts on the first edition still resonate loudly.

Many fellow kernel developers answered questions, provided support, or simply wrote code interesting enough on which to write a book. They are Andrea Arcangeli, Alan Cox, Greg Kroah-Hartman, Daniel Phillips, Dave Miller, Patrick Mochel, Andrew Morton, Zwane Mwaikambo, Nick Piggin, and Linus Torvalds. Special thanks to the kernel cabal (there is no cabal).

Respect and love to Paul Amici, Scott Anderson, Mike Babbitt, Keith Barbag, Dave Camp, Dave Eggers, Richard Erickson, Nat Friedman, Dustin Hall, Joyce Hawkins, Miguel de Icaza, Jimmy Krehl, Patrick LeClair, Doris Love, Jonathan Love, Linda Love, Randy O'Dowd, Sal Ribaudo and mother, Chris Rivera, Joey Shaw, Jon Stewart, Jeremy VanDoren and family, Luis Villa, Steve Weisberg and family, and Helen Whisnant.

Finally, thank you to my parents, for so much.

Happy Hacking!

-Robert Love Cambridge, Massachusetts

  1. This decision was made in the summer of 2004 at the annual Linux Kernel Developers Summit in Ottawa, Canada.

© Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

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