Automated testing comes to the Linux kernel: KernelCI

Linux, the most important software program in the world, has a major weak point: Poor testing. That’s changing, and one big sign of that is KernelCI, an automated testing framework for the Linux kernel, is now a Linux Foundation project.

At the recent Linux Kernel Plumbers get-together in Lisbon, Portugal, one of the hottest topics was how to bring better and automated testing to the Linux kernel. There, the top Linux developers united their efforts behind one testing framework: KernelCI. Now, at Open Source Summit Europe in Lyon, France, to help give KernelCI the resources it needs to be successful, it became a Linux Foundation project.

Here’s how it works: As you probably know the Linux kernel is developed by a large, collaborative open-source community, which works through the Linux Kernel Mailing List (LKML). You can’t argue with the method. But Linux kernel testing is fragmented — since it is largely done in private silos without enough collaboration on the testing software or methodologies.

Part of the problem is how patches are done with Linux’s mailing lists. Russell Currey, a Linux kernel developer, recently explained:  

“[Unlike a project based solely on GitHub or GitLab] where a pull request contains all of the information needed to merge a group of changes; an email containing, say, patch 7/10 lacks that context. It is nearly impossible to tell from an email message whether a patch series has been merged, rejected, or superseded. In general, mailing lists simply do not carry the same level of metadata as contemporary project-hosting sites, and that makes the CI [Continuous Integration] problem harder.”

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