eBPF, the Technology that Enables Customizable, Observable, and High-Performing Linux Programs: A Whitepaper from the Linux Foundation
Anna Hermansen | 08 February 2024
Those in the tech sector know the depth and breadth of the Linux kernel’s impact (and in case you don’t, check out Jim Zemlin's Tedx talk on the subject). This ubiquitousness is powerful, but makes it difficult to edit its 30 million lines of code, where stability is advocated over potentially risky innovation. Enter eBPF – the extended Berkeley Packet Filter. A technology that has morphed into a full-blown computing “superpower” right in the kernel, enabling significant kernel flexibility through custom programming. And it's relevant not just for developers; it's for all of us who want to see faster, safer, and more experimental changes happening in the Linux landscape.
The eBPF Foundation and the Linux Foundation Research team partnered to produce a research report on The State of eBPF, examining the technology’s evolution from its roots in packet filtering to a versatile computing powerhouse residing within the kernel. Why dive into the report? Its findings illustrate why this technology is so useful for today’s tech landscape. Let’s break them down:
Efficient innovation in the era of cloud-native
At its core, eBPF offers engineers the ability to swiftly craft custom programs within the kernel, all without the need for universal acceptance. This newfound freedom unlocks the doors to innovation and flexibility. Particularly as we enter the cloud native era, we need innovative tools that can keep up with the needs of cloud-based workloads. eBPF emerges as a beacon of support, enhancing capabilities, boosting performance, and fostering simplicity in the ever-evolving landscape of Linux.
One of the key highlights of eBPF lies in its ability to facilitate observability within the Linux kernel. It not only enables the rewiring or bypassing of the networking stack but also expedites the process of addressing vulnerabilities. The sheer magnitude of its impact is evident as tech giants like Google, Meta, and Netflix have embraced eBPF for managing their data center traffic.
The jack-of-all-trades toolkit
With over 40 applications in various stages of production or development, eBPF proves its versatility. It has been employed for continuous profiling, server monitoring, observability platforms, and performance monitoring tools. It's a toolkit that's versatile, adaptable, and ready to tackle the challenges of modern tech head-on.
At the heart of eBPF is a spirit of innovation, propelling an iteration cycle that is not only faster but also safer and more experimental. However, this innovation comes with its own set of challenges. As with many innovative technologies, it's a tightrope walk between functionality and safety. As a form of code execution, eBPF introduces potential security risks into the kernel. Additionally, engineers must grapple with the performance-features tradeoff, coexistence and interoperability of tools, and the need for specialized kernel expertise to adopt this technology seamlessly.
Despite these challenges, the eBPF Foundation and its steering committee play a crucial role in helping the technology move in the right direction. By providing technical direction and optimizing collaboration on the technology's roadmap, they ensure that eBPF continues to evolve in a manner that addresses these challenges head-on. The foundation's commitment to fostering a collaborative environment underscores the collective effort required to harness the full potential of eBPF.
And the future looks even brighter. Standardization is on the horizon. The community is working toward a universal language for eBPF – this involves establishing instruction sets that are universally applicable across all operating environments and integrating eBPF as a new layer in the cloud native infrastructure stack. This standardization is poised to enhance the accessibility and interoperability of eBPF, making it an integral part of the broader technological landscape.
The Linux Foundation's The State of eBPF report describes a more agile, innovative, and efficient future for Linux and cloud native computing. While challenges exist, the collaborative efforts of the eBPF Foundation and the broader community are paving the way for a standardized and secure integration of eBPF into the technological tapestry of tomorrow.
So, why should you read "The State of eBPF" report? Because it's not just about code and kernels; it's a roadmap to a Linux landscape that's faster, safer, and more experimental. The kernel playground is evolving, and eBPF is leading the way.
About the Author
2023 Compliance and Security Cloud Computing Projects Linux How-To Diversity & Inclusion Open Source Open Source Best Practices 2022 Cross Technology Training and Certification Newsletter 2024 LFX AI LF Research Legal Research Networking and Edge Topic: Data Blog Data Governance Featured LF Energy Linux Linux Foundation Open Mainframe Open Models OpenChain System Administration Topic: Security eBPF generative AI kernel license compliance maintainer techtalentsurvey