Getting Started with Kernel Development

Posted by Tech Enthusiast on January 21, 2016

I’ve been getting quite a few mails recently regarding Outreachy round 12 and where to get started. This post is just my attempt to sum it all up.

Build the kernel

You need to build your own custom kernel by following this. There happens to be a detailed explanation for the same in this book written by Greg.

Tools to cleanup the kernel


Checkpatch is a script in the kernel tree that facilitates better kernel code, and can be used to check many coding style rules. You should essentially run it on all the patches you prepare before sending them to maintainers. Note that Checkpatch also gives false warnings at times. It is available in the “scripts” directory of Linux.

Run Checkpatch on all drivers in staging.

perl scripts/ -f drivers/staging/*


Coccinelle is a program matching and transformation engine which provides the language SmPL (Semantic Patch Language) for specifying desired matches and transformations in C code. Coccinelle semantic patches are available in the “scripts” directory of Linux.


sudo apt-get install coccinelle


Run the coccinelle script on all drivers in the kernel.

spatch –sp-file a.cocci */


A Coccinelle-specific target is defined in the top level Makefile.This target is named ‘coccicheck’ and calls the ‘coccicheck’ front-end in the ‘scripts’ directory.

To make a report for every semantic patch, run the following command

make coccicheck MODE=report

To produce patches, run:

make coccicheck MODE=patch


Smatch is a static analysis tool for C. Most of the checks are for the linux kernel.


git clone git:// cd smatch make sudo make install


make clean make CHECK=~/path/to/smatch/smatch -p=kernel C=1 bzImage modules | tee warns.txt


Tool for static code analysis to detect coding errors


sudo apt-get install sparse


make C=2 CF=”-D__CHECK_ENDIAN__” drivers/staging/wlan-ng/

Check out the documentation here

Books To Read

  • Linux kernel development by Robert Love
  • Linux Device Drivers by Jonathan Corbet, Alessandro Rubini, and Greg Kroah-Hartman

Open source is all about collaboration

The kernel is huge and it’s easy to get lost in it. I can tell by personal experience that you will learn more about working of operating systems by hacking on kernel code than you ever will by reading an entire OS textbook. However the process will be faster if you ask questions on mailing lists such as, and interact with other developers. Finally, if you find that you love it don’t give up. It’s totally worth it.

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