Tag Archives: internals

Linux Kernel Online and Book Resources collection

Working on the Linux kernel is challenging stuff, no doubt about that. Thus, the hunt for good technical articles, documentation, tips and gotchas on the subject quickly becomes part and parcel of the kernel developer’s work. This page is an attempt to collate and aggregate quality online (and offline – book lists) about the Linux kernel. It’s certainly not  the first and won’t be the last such attempt. Nevertheless, hope you find it useful! Kindly comment and let me know what I inadvertently missed out. Here goes:

  • Perhaps the best all-in-one or starting point website to begin digging up practical (and theoretical) information on the Linux kernel: 

The Wikipedia “Portal:Linux” page linuxportal Continue reading Linux Kernel Online and Book Resources collection


Exploring Linux procfs via shell scripts

Very often, while working on a Linux project, we’d like information about the system we’re working on: both at a global scope and a local (process) scope.

Have we not wondered: is there a quick way to query which kernel version am using, what interrupts are enabled & hit, what my processor(s) are, details about kernel subsystems, memory usage, file, network, IPC usage, etc etc. Linux’s proc filesystem makes this easy.

So what exactly is the proc filesystem all about?

Essentially, some quick salient points about the proc filesystem:

  • it’s a RAM-based filesystem (think ramdisk; yup, it’s volatile)
  • it’s a kernel feature, not userspace – proc is a filesystem supported by the Linux kernel VFS
  • it serves two primary purposes
    • proc serves as a “view” deep into the kernel internals; we can see details about hardware and software subsystems that userspace otherwise would have no access to (no syscalls)
    • certain “files” under proc, typically anchored under /proc/sys, can be written into: these basically are the “tuning knobs” of the Linux kernel. Sysads, developers, apps, etc exploit this feature
  • proc is mounted on start-up under /proc
  • a quick peek under /proc will show you several “files” and “folders”. These are pseudo-entries in the sense that they exist only in RAM while power is applied. The “folders” that are numbers are in fact the PID of each process that’s alive when you typed ‘ls’! it’s a snapshot of the system at that moment in time..
  • in fact, the name “proc” suggests “process”

At this point, and if you’re not really familiar with this stuff, I’d urge you to peek around /proc on your Linux box, cat-ting stuff as you go. (Also, lest i forget, it’s better to run as root (sudo /bin/bash) so that we don’t get annoying ‘permission denied’ messages). Of course, be careful when you run as root!!!

For example, to get one started off:

Continue reading Exploring Linux procfs via shell scripts

kmalloc and vmalloc : Linux kernel memory allocation API Limits

The Intent

To determine how large a memory allocation can be made from within the kernel, via the “usual suspects” – the kmalloc and vmalloc kernel memory allocation APIs, in a single call.

Lets answer this question using two approaches: one, reading the source, and two, trying it out empirically on the system.
(Kernel source from kernel ver 3.0.2; tried out on kernel ver 2.6.35 on an x86 PC and on the (ARM) BeagleBoard).

Quick Summary

For the impatient:

The upper limit (number of bytes that can be allocated in a single kmalloc request), is a function of:

  • the processor – really, the page size – and
  • the number of buddy system freelists (MAX_ORDER).

On both x86 and ARM, with a standard page size of 4 Kb and MAX_ORDER of 11, the kmalloc upper limit is 4 MB!

The vmalloc upper limit is, in theory, the amount of physical RAM on the system.
In practice, the kernel allocates an architecture (cpu) specific “range” of virtual memory for the purpose of vmalloc: from VMALLOC_START to VMALLOC_END.

In practice, it’s usually a lot less. A useful comment by ugoren points out that:
” in 32bit systems, vmalloc is severely limited by its virtual memory area. For a 32bit x86 machine, with 1GB RAM or more, vmalloc is limited to 128MB (for all allocations together, not just for one).

[EDIT/UPDATE #3 : July ’17]
I wrote a simple kernel module (can download the source code, see the link at the end of this article), to test the kmalloc/vmalloc upper limits; the results are what we expect:
for kmalloc, 4 MB is the upper limit with a single call; for vmalloc, it depends on the vmalloc range.

Also, please realize, the actual amount you can acquire at runtime depends on the amount of physically contiguous RAM available at that moment in time; this can and does vary widely.

Finally, what if one require more than 4 MB of physically contiguous memory? That’s pretty much exactly the reason behind CMA – the Contiguous Memory Allocator! Details on CMA and using it are in this excellent LWN article here. Note that CMA was integrated into mainline Linux in v3.17 (05 Oct 2014). Also, the recommended API interface to use CMA is the ‘usual’ DMA [de]alloc APIs (kernel documentation here and here); don’t try and use them directly.

I kmalloc Limit Tests

First, lets check out the limits for kmalloc :

Continue reading kmalloc and vmalloc : Linux kernel memory allocation API Limits

Porting Android kernel to the TS-72xx board (EP93xx)

Porting Attempt

From: Android base (2.6.25-android-r1.0), ARM11, on android phones (like G1)

To: TS-7200 SBC, ARM9,… (Matt’s) kernel.

Upside: TS72xx learning, android learning, porting experience.

Downside: no full LED screen/touchpanel, moving to lower-powered processor, toolchain (asm) issues?



Verify TS-7200 board running off a 2.6 kernel (because it ships with 2.4.26)

So: downloaded kernel codebase of 2.6.21-ts from here:

tskernel-2.6.21-ts-src.tar.gz 56618 KB Thursday 15 November 2007 12:00:00 IST

$ wget ftp://ftp.embeddedarm.com/ts-arm-sbc/ts-7200-linux/sources/tskernel-2.6.21-ts-src.tar.gz

–18:27:16– ftp://ftp.embeddedarm.com/ts-arm-sbc/ts-7200-linux/sources/tskernel-2.6.21-ts-src.tar.gz

=> ‘tskernel-2.6.21-ts-src.tar.gz.1’

Resolving ftp.embeddedarm.com…

Connecting to ftp.embeddedarm.com||:21… connected.

Logging in as anonymous … Logged in!

==> SYST … done. ==> PWD … done.

==> TYPE I … done. ==> CWD /ts-arm-sbc/ts-7200-linux/sources … done.

==> PASV … done. ==> RETR tskernel-2.6.21-ts-src.tar.gz … done.

Length: 5,79,75,931 (55M) (unauthoritative)

2% [> ] 13,86,578 18.46K/s ETA 25:18


Use the correct configuration file.

Continue reading Porting Android kernel to the TS-72xx board (EP93xx)