Kernel Etiquette: A Guide on How to Participate

amcpherson's picture

At the last Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit, the late Joe Barr wrote up this exchange on day one of the conference:

The summit’s first panel yesterday, a State of Linux Roundtable, was made up entirely of Linux kernel hackers. During the Q&A session that followed, a gentleman from Nortel introduced himself and told the panel that Nortel was running Linux on one of its switches, and it worked just fine, but the company had to make a number of patches to the kernel to get it to work. He wondered how Nortel could get its patches into the mainstream kernel.

While I was pleased the kernel panel helped him with his request, I know that approach doesn’t scale. Not every developer can attend our Summits face-to-face after all. This wasn’t the first time I had heard this call for help: in Japan, in Korea, in Taiwan, in the US and elsewhere, I frequently am asked: “How do I participate in the Linux community? What can I do to increase my chances for inclusion in mainline?”

This illustrates that for an open and thriving community, the kernel development process can still be daunting for many new participants, even highly technical and sophisticated ones. Although participation in Linux is growing steadily (over 1,000 developers from over 100 companies per kernel release) I knew we could do better.

So over beers that night, Jon Corbet, executive editor of LWN.net, and I sketched out a plan to change this. The result is a 30-page guide on exactly how to participate in the Linux kernel community. I think this material is a first of a kind and of the highest quality, not surprising since Jon wrote it. Jon is not only the Linux “chief meteorologist” he’s also its “Emily Post.” (Sorry Jon!) In this guide, he has chronicled exactly how the kernel development process works, why companies and developers would benefit from mainlining their code and common pitfalls along the way.

Why is this important to release now? As Linux use expands to new areas like mobile and sub-notebooks, it’s even more important to reach out to these new participants and make it as easy as possible to participate. The strength of Linux is its community. With this guide and the other help we can provide (like our Summits) we hope to encourage even more individuals and companies to participate. Please let me or Jon know if you have feedback on this work, or better yet, leave a comment on the LDN.