After working on the Linux kernel for Nexus and Pixel phones for nearly a year, and messing around with the excellent Eudyptula challenge, I finally wanted to take a crack at submitting patches upstream to the Linux kernel.
This post is woefully inadequate compared to the existing documentation, which should be preferred.
I figure I’d document my workflow, now that I’ve gotten a few patches accepted (and so I can refer to this post rather than my shell history…). Feedback welcome (open an issue or email me).
Step 1: Setting up an email client
I mostly use
git send-email for sending patch files. In my
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To send patches through my gmail account. I don’t add my password so that I don’t have to worry about it when I publish my dotfiles. I simply get prompted every time I want to send an email.
I use mutt to respond to threads when I don’t have a patch to send.
Step 2: Make fixes
How do you find a bug to fix? My general approach to finding bugs in open source C/C++ code bases has been using static analysis, a different compiler, and/or more compiler warnings turned on. The kernel also has an instance of bugzilla running as an issue tracker. Work out of a new branch, in case you choose to abandon it later. Rebase your branch before submitting (pull early, pull often).
Step 3: Thoughtful commit messages
I always run
git log <file I modified> to see some of the previous commit
messages on the file I modified.
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The first words of commit messages in Linux are usually
<subsystem>/<sub-subsystem>: <descriptive comment>.
git commit <files> -s. We use the
-s flag to
git commit to
add our signoff. Signing your patches is standard and notes your agreement to
Linux Kernel Certificate of Origin.
Step 4: Generate Patch file
git format-patch HEAD~. You can use
git format-patch HEAD~<number of
commits to convert to patches> to turn multiple commits into patch files.
These patch files will be emailed to the
Linux Kernel Mailing List (lkml).
They can be applied with
git am <patchfile>. I like to back these files up
in another directory for future reference, and cause I still make a lot of
mistakes with git.
Step 5: checkpatch
You’re going to want to run the kernel’s linter before submitting. It will catch style issues and other potential issues.
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If you hit issues here, fix up your changes, update your commit with
commit --amend <files updated>, rerun format-patch, then rerun checkpatch
until you’re good to go.
Step 6: email the patch to yourself
This is good to do when you’re starting off. While I use
for responding to email, I use
git send-email for sending patches. Once
you’ve gotten a hang of the workflow, this step is optional, more of a sanity
You don’t need to use command line arguments to cc yourself, assuming you set up git correctly, git send-email should add you to the cc line as the author of the patch. Send the patch just to yourself and make sure everything looks ok.
Step 7: fire off the patch
Linux is huge, and has a trusted set of maintainers for various subsystems. The MAINTAINERS file keeps track of these, but Linux has a tool to help you figure out where to send your patch:
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With some additional flags, we can feed this output directly into
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Make sure to cc yourself when prompted. Otherwise if you don’t subscribe to LKML, then it will be difficult to reply to feedback. It’s also a good idea to cc any other author that has touched this functionality recently.
Step 8: monitor feedback
Patchwork for the LKML is a great tool for tracking the progress of patches. You should register an account there. I highly recommend bookmarking your submitter link. In Patchwork, click any submitter, then Filters (hidden in the top left), change submitter to your name, click apply, then bookmark it. Here’s what mine looks like. Not much today, and mostly trivial patches, but hopefully this post won’t age well in that regard.
Feedback may or may not be swift. I think my first patch I had to ping a couple of times, but eventually got a response.
Step 9: responding to feedback
Update your file,
git commit <changed files> --amend to update your latest
git format-patch -v2 HEAD~, edit the patch
file to put the changes below the dash below the signed off lines
(example), rerun checkpatch,
rerun get_maintainer if the files you modified changed since V1. Next, you
need to find the messageID to respond to the thread properly.
In gmail, when viewing the message I want to respond to, you can click “Show Original” from the dropdown near the reply button. From there, copy the MessageID from the top (everything in the angle brackets, but not the brackets themselves). Finally, we send the patch:
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We make sure to add anyone who may have commented on the patch from the mailing list to keep them in the loop. Rinse and repeat 2 through 9 as desired until patch is signed off/acked or rejected.
I’ve added this handy shell function to my
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That I can then invoke like:
firstname.lastname@example.org is anyone I want to add in additon to what
Finding out when your patch gets merged is a little tricky; each subsystem maintainer seems to do things differently. My first patch, I didn’t know it went in until a bot at Google notified me. The maintainers for the second and third patches had bots notify me that it got merged into their trees, but when they send Linus a PR and when that gets merged isn’t immediately obvious.
It’s not like Github where everyone involved gets an email that a PR got merged and the UI changes. While there’s pros and cons to having this fairly decentralized process, and while it is kind of is git’s original designed-for use case, I’d be remiss not to mention that I really miss Github. Getting your first patch acknowledged and even merged is intoxicating and makes you want to contribute more; radio silence has the opposite effect.
(Thanks to Reddit user /u/EliteTK for pointing out that
-v2 was more concise