Getting Started with Kernel Development

Questions about how to get started with the kernel development process are common – from both individuals and companies. Equally common are missteps which make the beginning of the relationship harder than it has to be.

Companies often look to hire well-known developers to get a development group started. This can, in fact, be an effective technique. But it also tends to be expensive and does not do much to grow the pool of experienced kernel developers. It is possible to bring in-house developers up to speed on Linux kernel development, given the investment of a bit of time. Taking this time can endow an employer with a group of developers who understand the kernel and the company both, and who can help to train others as well. Over the medium term, this is often the more profitable approach.

Individual developers are often, understandably, at a loss for a place to start. Beginning with a large project can be intimidating; one often wants to test the waters with something smaller first. This is the point where some developers jump into the creation of patches fixing spelling errors or minor coding style issues. Unfortunately, such patches create a level of noise which is distracting for the development community as a whole, so, increasingly, they are looked down upon. New developers wishing to introduce themselves to the community will not get the sort of reception they wish for by these means.

Andrew Morton gives this advice for aspiring kernel developers

The #1 project for all kernel beginners should surely be „make sure that the kernel runs perfectly at all times on all machines which you can lay your hands on“. Usually the way to do this is to work with others on getting things fixed up (this can require persistence!) but that’s fine – it’s a part of kernel development.

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In the absence of obvious problems to fix, developers are advised to look at the current lists of regressions and open bugs in general. There is never any shortage of issues in need of fixing; by addressing these issues, developers will gain experience with the process while, at the same time, building respect with the rest of the development community