February 27th, 2002, 04:33 AM
Linux developers call for patch flow
Severe kernel problems nothing more than rumour
Linux developers have called on the open source community to encourage the flow of kernel patches and dismiss rumours about "severe problems" in kernel development.
Linux developer website Gentoo.org reported: "Large Linux companies like Red Hat and Mandrake put a lot of effort into creating really spiffy patched kernels. Sometimes, obvious bugs are fixed along the way.
"The problem is that many of these no-brainer patches languish in their respective kernel source package managers and never get incorporated into the stock kernel."
There has been some contention over patching within the Linux kernel community recently, which Gentoo has acknowledged as "rumours and grumblings about how Linux kernel development has severe problems, is about to implode, or even worse. However, we'd like to bring to your attention a problem that definitely does exist and needs fixing."
In January, a number of kernel hackers called for the appointment of a 'penguin patch lieutenant' to deal with "the glaring shortcomings" in Linus Torvalds's kernel patch system and generally "make Linus's life easier".
And this week, Marcelo Tosatti, who runs the stable 2.4 kernel, released the final version of 2.4.18 minus a patch that was present in the release candidate 4, available just hours earlier.
Essentially this meant that 2.4.18 release candidate 4 was the final release and what was actually marked as the final was really release candidate 3.
Understandably this caused much confusion among the more eager Linux users and incited a number of them to pour forth a stream of vitriolic comments in a Slashdot forum.
"Wow. Now that's professionalism, eh? Good thing that this whole open source badge makes it all okay. Would the 15 second delay to rename a couple files before release really have killed anyone?" asked one user.
Although the general public licence of Linux only requires that modifications be made available but not necessarily applied, the developers over at Gentoo argued that such an oversight "certainly has a negative impact on Linux as a whole. In effect, if you do not use distro X or Y, then you do not benefit from these fixes."
In one example, a developers' group cited a 'no brainer' patch for Mandrake that has been sitting around for over a year, but has never been incorporated into a kernel release for whatever reason.
The group said: "While this patch may not be very significant, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that 20 or 30 similar missing patches could have a big effect on the quality of the Linux kernel. And, of course, many of these ignored fixes are significant.
"It is already difficult enough to investigate a problem a user is having, track it down, and create a patch in order to fix it. In fact, the Linux community is already pretty bad at doing this.
"So, if already tracked down and verified fixes get ignored, well, we simply can't allow that to happen and expect to have a viable kernel."
In order to tighten up the process, Gentoo has called for developers to "do what they can to get good patches flowing" so they can be incorporated into the stock kernel.