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LWN's Coverage From the 2021 Kernel Maintainers Summit

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Linux
  • The 2021 Kernel Maintainers Summit

    The Kernel Maintainers Summit is an invitation-only gathering of top-level kernel subsystem maintainers; it is concerned mostly with process-oriented issues that are not easily worked out on the mailing lists. There was no maintainers summit in 2020; plans had been made to hold it in an electronic form, but there turned out to be a lack of things to talk about. In 2021, though, a number of interesting topics turned up, so an online gathering was held on September 24 as part of the Linux Plumbers Conference.

  • Looking back at the UMN episode

    Earlier this year, a bad patch sent by a researcher from the University of Minnesota (UMN) set off a bit of a crisis within the kernel development community when it become known that some (other) patches from UMN were deliberate attempts to insert vulnerabilities into the kernel. Some months after that episode had been resolved, the 2021 Maintainers Summit revisited the issue to see if there are any lessons to be learned from it.

  • Requirements for accelerator drivers

    In August, a long-running dispute over drivers for AI accelerators flared up in the kernel community. Drivers for graphics accelerators are required to have at least one open-source implementation of the user-space side of the driver (which is where most of the logic is). Drivers for other types of accelerators have not, so far, been held to that same standard, which has created some friction within the community and an inconsistent experience for developers. The 2021 Maintainers Summit took up this issue in the hope of creating a more coherent policy.

  • The trouble with upstreaming

    The kernel development community loudly encourages developers to get their code into the upstream kernel. The actual experience of merging code into the mainline is often difficult, though, to the point that some developers (and their employers) simply give up on the idea. The 2021 Kernel Maintainers Summit spent some time discussing the ways in which the community makes things harder for developers without coming up with a lot of ways to make things better.

  • How to recruit more kernel maintainers

    The kernel development process depends on its subsystem maintainers, who are often overworked and, as a result, grumpy. At the 2021 Kernel Maintainers Summit, Ted Ts'o brought up the topic of maintainer recruitment and retention, but failed to elicit a lot of new ideas from the assembled group.

  • Using Rust for kernel development

    The Rust for Linux developers were all over the 2021 Linux Plumbers Conference and had many fruitful discussions there. At the Maintainers Summit, Miguel Ojeda stepped away from Plumbers to talk about Rust in a different setting. What will it take to get the Rust patches merged? The answers he got were encouraging, even if not fully committal.

    Ojeda started by asking the group whether the community wanted Rust in the kernel. If it goes in, he said, it should do so as a first-class citizen. In his discussions he has encountered a number of kernel developers who are interested in the language; many of them are quite open to it. He has gotten help from a number of those developers in the process. Some groups, including the Android team, actively want it, he said.

  • Conclusion: is Linus happy?

    The final session of the Kernel Maintainers Summit is traditionally given over to Linus Torvalds, who uses the time to talk about any pain points he is encountering in the process and what can be done to make things run more smoothly. At the 2021 Summit, that session was brief indeed. It would appear that, even with its occasional glitch, the kernel development process is working smoothly.

    Torvalds started by saying that the 5.15 merge window was not the easiest he has ever experienced. Part of the problem, he suggested, was that the merge window came at the end of the (northern-hemisphere) summer; much of Europe had been on vacation, and that led to a lot of pull requests showing up at the end of the merge window. In general, though, things are working. His biggest annoyance, perhaps, is having to say the same things over and over during each merge window. The core maintainers know how the process works, those in less central positions tend to make the same mistakes repeatedly; when he takes over 100 pull requests during a merge window, it can add up to a fair amount of irritation.

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