4.3: Documentation

Documentation has often been more the exception than the rule with kernel development. Even so, adequate documentation will help to ease the merging of new code into the kernel, make life easier for other developers, and will be helpful for your users. In many cases, the addition of documentation has become essentially mandatory.

The first piece of documentation for any patch is its associated changelog. Log entries should describe the problem being solved, the form of the solution, the people who worked on the patch, any relevant effects on performance, and anything else that might be needed to understand the patch.

Any code which adds a new user-space interface - including new sysfs or /proc files - should include documentation of that interface which enables user-space developers to know what they are working with. See Documentation/ABI/README for a description of how this documentation should be formatted and what information needs to be provided.

The file Documentation/kernel-parameters.txt describes all of the kernel's boot-time parameters. Any patch which adds new parameters should add the appropriate entries to this file.

Any new configuration options must be accompanied by help text which clearly explains the options and when the user might want to select them.

Internal API information for many subsystems is documented by way of specially-formatted comments; these comments can be extracted and formatted in a number of ways by the "kernel-doc" script. If you are working within a subsystem which has kerneldoc comments, you should maintain them and add them, as appropriate, for externally-available functions. Even in areas which have not been so documented, there is no harm in adding kerneldoc comments for the future; indeed, this can be a useful activity for beginning kernel developers. The format of these comments, along with some information on how to create kerneldoc templates can be found in the file Documentation/kernel-doc-nano-HOWTO.txt.

Anybody who reads through a significant amount of existing kernel code will note that, often, comments are most notable by their absence. Once again, the expectations for new code are higher than they were in the past; merging uncommented code will be harder. That said, there is little desire for verbosely-commented code. The code should, itself, be readable, with comments explaining the more subtle aspects.

Certain things should always be commented. Uses of memory barriers should be accompanied by a line explaining why the barrier is necessary. The locking rules for data structures generally need to be explained somewhere. Major data structures need comprehensive documentation in general. Non-obvious dependencies between separate bits of code should be pointed out. Anything which might tempt a code janitor to make an incorrect "cleanup" needs a comment saying why it is done the way it is. And so on.