The kernel has long had a standard coding style, described in Documentation/CodingStyle. For much of that time, the policies described in that file were taken as being, at most, advisory. As a result, there is a substantial amount of code in the kernel which does not meet the coding style guidelines. The presence of that code leads to two independent hazards for kernel developers.

The first of these is to believe that the kernel coding standards do not matter and are not enforced. The truth of the matter is that adding new code to the kernel is very difficult if that code is not coded according to the standard; many developers will request that the code be reformatted before they will even review it. A code base as large as the kernel requires some uniformity of code to make it possible for developers to quickly understand any part of it. So there is no longer room for strangely-formatted code.

Occasionally, the kernel’s coding style will run into conflict with an employer’s mandated style. In such cases, the kernel’s style will have to win before the code can be merged. Putting code into the kernel means giving up a degree of control in a number of ways – including control over how the code is formatted.

The other trap is to assume that code which is already in the kernel is urgently in need of coding style fixes. Developers may start to generate reformatting patches as a way of gaining familiarity with the process, or as a way of getting their name into the kernel changelogs – or both. But pure coding style fixes are seen as noise by the development community; they tend to get a chilly reception. So this type of patch is best avoided. It is natural to fix the style of a piece of code while working on it for other reasons, but coding style changes should not be made for their own sake.

The coding style document also should not be read as an absolute law which can never be transgressed. If there is a good reason to go against the style (a line which becomes far less readable if split to fit within the 80-column limit, for example), just do it.