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Open Source

Linux Kernel Development Speeds Up, Attracts Newbies

Feb 18th, 2015 9:00am by
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Linux kernel development is taking place faster than ever with about half the contributions being made by first-timers, according to a new report from The Linux Foundation.

The annual report, which covers releases 3.10 to 3.18, was announced Wednesday to coincide with its Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit.

Coders who claimed no company affiliation made up just 16.4 percent of contributors to the kernel, with independent consultants making up another 2.5 percent.

The number of first-timers and the contributions from the FOSS Outreach Program for Women, a mentoring project, were among the big news items from the report, according to co-author Amanda McPherson, chief marketing officer at The Linux Foundation. The FOSS program’s contributions ranked No. 13 among the more than 500 organizations participating.

A small number of contributors, however, do a large percentage of the work, the report notes.

Contributions were “all over the map” in the different subsystems, she said. But volunteers who work on the kernel tend to not stay unaffiliated.

“If I’m a computer science student and I start working on the kernel, I wind up getting a job out of that,” she said. “We saw that, too, among the FOSS Outreach Program for Women. They’re getting paid, but don’t have a traditional employer, then once that fellowship is up, they would get a job offer.”

Referring to how easy it is to contribute to the project, Greg Kroah-Hartman, who maintains the stable branch and other areas, noted at Linux Tag 2014 that contributions from the students in the FOSS project outperformed the contributions of a number of major companies. All the FOSS participants received job offers, he said, though half turned those offers down to pursue a master’s or PhD instead.

There were 18,997,848 lines of code in version 3.18, and Kroah-Hartman notes that at least two people review each one. It’s “the best-audited body of code ever,” he said, which also leaves a trail of blame.

Version 3.19 was released earlier this month, and version 3.20 is expected to bring together SUSE’s kGraft and Red Hat’s Kpatch live patching infrastructure.

“From our perspective, the increase in kernel activity is tied to the continued rise and importance of Linux as the underpinning of new IT architectures.  Specifically, Linux is now integral to almost every flavor of cloud computing, including OpenStack, the burgeoning world of Linux containers and container-based architectures and, although sometimes hidden, Linux also forms the core of the Internet of Things.  Ultimately, it is the increase in kernel activity, not the ebb and flow of individual or corporate participation, that shows the immense power that Linux holds in the enterprise world – it truly forms the backbone of computing as we know it,” said Mark Coggin, senior director of marketing for Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Among the report’s findings:

  • More than 4,000 developers from 200 companies have contributed to the kernel.
  • More than 80 percent of those contributing to the kernel are paid for their work.
  • The Top 10 organizations sponsoring Linux kernel development in the past year include Intel, Red Hat, Linaro, Samsung, IBM, SUSE, Texas Instruments, Vision Engraving Systems, Google and Renesas.
  • The rate of change in the kernel is 7.71 per hour, with release times down from 70 days to 66 days.
  • The 3.15 release had the most active development cycle in the kernel’s history, with 13,722 patches delivered at a rate of 8.17 per hour.

Highlights of the kernel development include the O_TMPFILE option for the creation of temporary files, NFS 4.2 support, virtualization support on the ARM64 architecture with Xen and KVM, the “zswap” compressed swap cache and more.

The “zero-day build and boot robot” system alone found nearly 500 bugs that were fixed. There is a rudimentary self-test framework in the kernel now that will be improved in the future.

The report also lists top individual contributors, led by the prolific H Hartley Sweeten of Vision Engraving Systems, a maker of industrial engraving equipment.

McPherson pointed to performance and storage among the areas drawing intense interest.

Meanwhile, testing is an area the Linux community has conceded needs more work and is committed to addressing.

It’s one of the last things people want to work on. It’s more fun to work on new features than on a testing framework that just helps you get your job done. It isn’t sexy. But the kernel community has realized it’s an important and underserved area,” she said.

The report states that higher-quality patches are being merged, and the community is doing a better job of fixing regressions quickly.

The number of companies contributing code was down slightly, which McPherson says might be due to consolidation in the market. But new companies are stepping up as well. One of the latest members is media giant Bloomberg.

And just recently, the open software-defined networking project OpenDaylight, open Internet of Things I project AllSeen and Automotive Linux group announced 15 new companies are investing and contributing to their work.

Feature image via Flickr Creative Commons.

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