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Is Linux Kernel Development Slowing Down?

Linux Kernel Juggernauts Along

  • December 1, 2010
  • By Sean Michael Kerner

The Linux Foundation's newly-released "Who Writes Linux" report shows some interesting trends into who is contributing to Linux in 2010 -- and yes, Canonical is on the list.


Sean Michael Kerner

Linux developers continue to push out new kernels at rapid pace, though over the course of the last year the pace of new code commits has slowed, according to a new report from the Linux Foundation.

The report also notes that the top contributors to Linux kernel development have shifted over the last year to include more contributions from mobile vendors. The new report from the Linux Foundation is the third annual 'Who Writes Linux' report, summarizing kernel contributions and activities over the past year.

According to the 2010, 'Who Writes Linux' report, the number of code commits to the recent 2.6.35 kernel was 18 percent lower than the 2.6.30 kernel which was released in 2009. There are a number of reasons why kernel code commits have slowed over the past year, including new processes for staging code.

"I think the staging tree additions have something to do with it since it rather inflated the previous version," Amanda McPherson, co-author of the report and vice-president of marketing and developer programs at The Linux Foundation told InternetNews.com.

The report explains that a code staging tree was started with the 2.6.28 kernel. That initial stating tree effort started a process that merged lots of out-of-tree code into the main Linux kernel. According to the report, by the 2.6.31 development cycle, that process was slowing down as the backlog of code was taken care of. The report goes on to note that new drivers are still entering the mainline Linux kernel by way of the staging tree, but at rate that is closer to the rate of actual development.

While the pace of new commits may not be at the same level as there were a year ago, the overall tally is still impressive. According to the report, since the 2.6.30 kernel, 9,058 lines of code were added every day to the Linux kernel, including weekends and holidays.

Taking an even broader look at kernel development, over the last five and half years, between the 2.6.11 kernel in 2005 and 2.6.35 kernel release in 2010, there was an average of 4.02 patches applied to the kernel tree, every hour.

After a kernel is released, it is maintained for a period of time and updated with patches as required. Some kernel's get updated more than others, in particular the 2.6.32 kernel was updated with more fixes than any other kernel in the past five years. According to the report, the 2.6.32 kernel received 1,793 fixes in total. McPherson noted that the Linux kernel 2.6.32 is receiving stable updates for relatively long periods of time for a number of reasons.

"It is being used as the base for RHEL6, SLES11, and, as I recall, an Ubuntu LTS release," McPherson said. "So there has been a focused effort to continue to provide updates for this kernel, with contributions from many distributors. 2.6.32 is still getting updates now, even though 2.6.33-35 have been discontinued."

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