Open Source Development (This Article Is the Winner of PRSA 2003 Award in Excellence in Technology …

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  Most people who know anything about Linux know that" target=_blank>the kernel ?" target=_blank>the core of" target=_blank>the operating system, Linux itself really ?" target=_blank>Is developed by Linus Torvalds and a large number of volunteers.

  in a nutshell, Linus" target=_blank>Is" target=_blank>the top dog, and" target=_blank>the one responsible for guiding" target=_blank>the overall process. Beneath him are people responsible for various kernel sections and even versions. One person might be in charge of maintaining a kernel through its production life cycle, such as Andrew Morton preparing to take care of kernel series 2.6." target=_blank>thers are in charge of various platforms (64-bit Sparc, Mac 68K, SGI, etc.). Yet more are in charge of subsystems, such as" target=_blank>the layer that handles SCSI hardware operation. It's a sensible top-down approach that has grown from a need to manage a code base of everincreasing complexity in which both work and responsibility are divided among respected members of" target=_blank>the community.

  And yet, ultimately, anyone can get involved in" target=_blank>the Linux kernel development process. You could, for example, assign someone at your company to function as a beta tester for" target=_blank>the Linux kernel and" target=_blank>the collection of Linux projects and products you use in your business. If having thousands of beta testers all over" target=_blank>the world helps to produce top-notch software like we have in" target=_blank>the Linux community," target=_blank>then making sure that your own people report problems you experience before taking a new kernel or tool version into a production environment increases" target=_blank>the return on your Linux investment.

  All those who want to contribute have to do" target=_blank>Is a bit of homework. A quick" target=_blank>Isit to" target=_blank>the Linux Kernel Mailing" target=_blank>Ist (LKML) FAQ at helps you understand" target=_blank>the main kernel" target=_blank>Iscussion" target=_blank>Ist in all of its glory, and going to ing-bugs.html" target=new /> html teaches you how to effectively report bugs to" target=_blank>the kernel maintainers. Even just testing" target=_blank>the experimental kernel tree can be a great help, and you'll learn a ton along" target=_blank>the way." target=_blank>these are" target=_blank>Open" target=_blank>Source values. Everyone can contribute, even if" target=_blank>they're not a programming guru. But" target=_blank>there's a finer point to" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is as well. To really be helpful to many" target=_blank>Open" target=_blank>Source projects, you have to take" target=_blank>the time to at least learn some rudimentary ways about" target=_blank>their "system." Some have online forums, some have mailing" target=_blank>Ists, some are just a small Web presence with a single e-mail address where you can write" target=_blank>the developer. It all depends on" target=_blank>the size of" target=_blank>the project and" target=_blank>the audience." target=_blank>the Linux kernel serves as an extreme example. Its mailing" target=_blank>Ist alone" target=_blank>Is so busy that" target=_blank>there are sites such as Kernel Traffic ( whose sole purpose" target=_blank>Is to summarize" target=_blank>the information in a useful manner. On top of that," target=_blank>there are millions of users. Even if one-half of one percent of all Linux users sent bug reports to" target=_blank>the" target=_blank>Ist or directly to" target=_blank>the various maintainers each day, that would be thousands of reports. Hence, a system." target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is also explains why blundering on without learning" target=_blank>the system tends to get people grouchy responses.

  Shared values are" target=_blank>the glue that holds" target=_blank>the" target=_blank>Open" target=_blank>Source community" target=_blank>ther." target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is" target=_blank>Is" target=_blank>the single biggest thing that many" target=_blank>Ists and skeptics still haven't grasped. It's not money, fame, or power. I'm not even entirely convinced it's all about" target=_blank>the itch scratching we seem so fond of talking of in" target=_blank>Open" target=_blank>Source land, like everyone has fleas.

  What are some more of" target=_blank>the values that hold us" target=_blank>ther? Let me use an example to shed some light on" target=_blank>the subject.

  An Example:" target=_blank>the Birth of ext3

  Consider" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is once-contentious" target=_blank>Issue: adding a default journaling filesystem to Linux. Way back at" target=_blank>the turn of" target=_blank>the century (early 1999), Linus Torvalds and" target=_blank>the gang were working on" target=_blank>the 2.3 kernel series, on" target=_blank>their way to kernel 2.4. Kernel" target=_blank>Ist participant Alan Curry had been experiencing performance problems on a Linux server handling high traffic. He was able to trace" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is to a problem with two components: syslogd and fsync().

  syslogd" target=_blank>Is" target=_blank>the program that handles recording errors, accesses (such as a piece of mail being sent, or someone requesting a Web page), and more for" target=_blank>the various services on many Linux systems. As you might imagine, on an" target=_blank>IsP's e-mail server syslogd can grow quite busy. A feature called log rotation prevents individual log files from getting too huge by breaking" target=_blank>them into pieces, and creating a new file each time" target=_blank>the current file reaches a certain size. Since" target=_blank>the files will add up infinitely if left alone," target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is feature also keeps only a set number of pieces around before" target=_blank>ther compressing" target=_blank>them and farming" target=_blank>them off for backup and deletion, or just outright deleting" target=_blank>them." target=_blank>the system" target=_blank>Istrator can" target=_blank>ther set how often to do" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is, or put limits on how large to let" target=_blank>the individual files grow.

  Curry was able to determine that" target=_blank>Is problem hit whenever a particular log file grew huge, to approximately 36MB. At" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is stage," target=_blank>the syslogd program would" target=_blank>Istently hang ? it would stall and stop working ? until" target=_blank>the logfile was rotated and small once again. Tracing" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is" target=_blank>Issue" target=_blank>ther, he" target=_blank>Iscovered that" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is was" target=_blank>the fault of fsync()," target=_blank>the C programming function that ensures that" target=_blank>the data in memory gets properly written into files." target=_blank>the first suggestions from" target=_blank>the kernel mailing" target=_blank>Ist were all workarounds, things that various people would try on" target=_blank>their own servers just to keep things moving along. One was to simply rotate" target=_blank>the log files more often. That works, of course, but it's not really a solution." target=_blank>thers suggested" target=_blank>ther approach:" target=_blank>Isabling syslogd's use of fsync(). of course, if you do that you may find after a system crash that" target=_blank>there's vital data" target=_blank>Issing from your log files, so that's no good. Right?

  Was fsync() needed? A patch was submitted, but" target=_blank>the technical solution offered wasn't strong enough for transaction-oriented databases. Debate raged again, with Linus trying to push people toward simpler and simpler solutions" target=_blank>ther than letting things get more complex, and" target=_blank>therefore more likely to have problems. Extensions to" target=_blank>the ext2 filesystem were proposed and Linus Torvalds said no, no, no, and again no.

  While Torvalds" target=_blank>Is revered by many in" target=_blank>the Linux community, he receives little special treatment on" target=_blank>the kernel development" target=_blank>Ist. Everyone involved in kernel development wants to do" target=_blank>the best job possible, which means that" target=_blank>Iscussions ? or arguments, which" target=_blank>Is what" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is degenerated to for a bit ? tend to happen with everyone as peers for" target=_blank>the most part. Torvalds might have" target=_blank>the last word, but that doesn't mean that people always let a topic drop if" target=_blank>they think that" target=_blank>there really" target=_blank>Is something to it.

  Apparently, Stephen Tweedie had already started working on such extensions to ext2 in an attempt to quickly answer" target=_blank>the need for a journaling filesystem in Linux ? something that would definitely address" target=_blank>the fsync() problem." target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is" target=_blank>Ispleased Torvalds to no end, since he didn't want ext2 known as" target=_blank>the everchanging filesystem, and pointing out that Tweedie was calling it ext3 did only a little to dull Torvalds' annoyance. Finally, in an exchange that would do an armchair" target=_blank>Ist proud, Alan Cox and Tweedie managed to help steer things to calmer waters.

  Once" target=_blank>there," target=_blank>the debate continued on just how far" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is journaling filesystem should go." target=_blank>these" target=_blank>Iscussions ? tense or" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Ise ? are one of" target=_blank>the natural ways that innovation" target=_blank>Is constantly fostered in" target=_blank>the Linux community. When" target=_blank>the fact of a nextgeneration default filesystem was accepted, all of those little "" target=_blank>Ish" target=_blank>Ists" that lurk in" target=_blank>the back of" target=_blank>the mind started leaking out from all directions. Torvalds himself started" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is by outlining some of" target=_blank>the immediate" target=_blank>Issues he would love to see dealt with, such as removing "." and ".." from" target=_blank>the directory trees. in true" target=_blank>Open" target=_blank>Source developer fashion, that comment began a" target=_blank>Iscussion about" target=_blank>ther" target=_blank>there were enough benefits or too many dangers in doing so.

  Somehow, in all of" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is," target=_blank>the whole" target=_blank>Issue fell off" target=_blank>the radar and folks must have left Tweedie to do" target=_blank>Is work in peace. Now he was aware of" target=_blank>their concerns and" target=_blank>Ishes, and" target=_blank>they simply must have trusted him to offer something to test and pound on when" target=_blank>the time came. After all, it's one thing to talk about creating a journaled filesystem for Linux. It's" target=_blank>ther thing to do it.

  ext3: A Work in Progress

  A mere two weeks later, Thomas Pornin asked an innocent question about" target=_blank>ther BSD-style softupdates were in" target=_blank>the works for Linux." target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is brought up" target=_blank>the" target=_blank>Issue of Tweedie's work on ext3 and an" target=_blank>Isting solution called dtfs (now LinLogFS). A new filesystem" target=_blank>Issions model somehow wormed its way into" target=_blank>the" target=_blank>Iscussion, sidetracking everything, and" target=_blank>then in mid-1999 SGI announced that" target=_blank>they were making a version of" target=_blank>their own IRIX filesystem into an" target=_blank>Open" target=_blank>Source filesystem for Linux ? XFS, which" target=_blank>Is a journaling filesystem.

  Was Tweedie's work in vain? (Some would say that such projects are never in vain, since" target=_blank>they often reveal" target=_blank>Issues that people might not" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Ise have considered.)" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is would seem a great time for a cliffhanger, but everyone knows" target=_blank>the answer. It was agreed that if XFS was placed under" target=_blank>the GPL he might drop ext3. An SGI employee pointed out that XFS had to be partially rewritten to replace code that belonged to" target=_blank>ther people ? and remove patent" target=_blank>Issues ? so XFS wouldn't be ready to be placed into" target=_blank>the" target=_blank>Open" target=_blank>Source domain any time soon." target=_blank>the folks at SGI didn't even know exactly which license" target=_blank>they would choose yet." target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is put Tweedie's work back into" target=_blank>the running, since no one was going to adopt a new default filesystem that wasn't actually written.

  Once that furor died down," target=_blank>the fledgling" target=_blank>IserFS became a serious contender. Timing" target=_blank>Issues prevented it from being included in" target=_blank>the 2.3 kernel stream, and around a month later" target=_blank>the" target=_blank>Issue of ext3 came up once again. By" target=_blank>then, ext3 had attained" target=_blank>the lofty status of release 0.0.1 with 0.0.2 on" target=_blank>the way. Already, at" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is point," target=_blank>the only difference from a user's point of view between ext2 and ext3 was" target=_blank>the journal file." target=_blank>ther it would remain" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is way, Tweedie was still not sure.

  Where are" target=_blank>the values here? Well, for one thing, everyone was working on" target=_blank>their own projects. No one committed to which would be" target=_blank>the "" target=_blank>Winner" ahead of time. It might seem a bit backward to those from" target=_blank>the commercial world of planning everything out and driving all of your" target=_blank>Sources into a single project, but in" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is type of environment, it's acknowledged that" target=_blank>there are many valid means to achieving" target=_blank>the same end. Filesystem" target=_blank>theory" target=_blank>Is a complex" target=_blank>Issue. Today, we have journaling filesystems with various strengths and weaknesses to pick and choose from. Some handle tiny files best, some handle huge files best, some are that middle ground that's great in many circumstances.

  When asked in January 2000 if LVM and filesystem journaling would be folded into kernel 2.4," target=_blank>ther with ext3 or" target=_blank>IserFS," target=_blank>the general consensus on" target=_blank>the kernel" target=_blank>Ist was no." target=_blank>there were too many" target=_blank>Issues that needed to be ironed out before Torvalds and" target=_blank>thers felt ext3 was solid enough for production use." target=_blank>IserFS, however, was closer to reaching" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is point." target=_blank>ther journaling filesystem ultimately made it into" target=_blank>the initial 2.4 release ? an interesting fact considering that ext3" target=_blank>Is in such heavy use today." target=_blank>IserFS did, however, make it into kernel 2.4.1 in 2001, mostly due to" target=_blank>the fact that "of" target=_blank>the journaling filesystems it's" target=_blank>the only one I know of that" target=_blank>Is in major real production use already, and has been for some time," according to Torvalds.

  XFS was also in heavy testing" target=_blank>then, and so was ext3. However, Torvalds has a policy against just integrating anything and everything into" target=_blank>the kernel. If a small group of people fully capable of patching" target=_blank>the kernel" target=_blank>themselves ? or building" target=_blank>the modules on" target=_blank>their own ? are" target=_blank>the only people interested in a particular area (such as XFS in" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is case)" target=_blank>then he chooses to wait until" target=_blank>there" target=_blank>Is more demand. As far as ext3's demand went, Torvalds said, "I would expect ext3 to be" target=_blank>the next filesystem to be integrated, but I would also expect that Red Hat will actually integrate it into" target=_blank>their kernel first, and expect me to integrate it into" target=_blank>the standard kernel only afterwards."" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is little quirk of various" target=_blank>Istributions using slightly different kernels" target=_blank>Is" target=_blank>ther thing that confuses both new users and" target=_blank>the businessfolk trying to track which version best suits" target=_blank>them." target=_blank>these changes are made due to many factors, anything from developers or users requesting a particular nondefault feature, to a convenience for" target=_blank>the" target=_blank>Istribution's own people. innovation" target=_blank>Is continually fostered as" target=_blank>the Linux" target=_blank>Istributions try to identify" target=_blank>the very best tools that can help" target=_blank>them solidify" target=_blank>their positions against" target=_blank>ther" target=_blank>Istributions." target=_blank>the key thing here, really," target=_blank>Is that in Linux it" target=_blank>Is possible to exchange" target=_blank>the core of your operating system for a different version. Anyone who doesn't like a" target=_blank>Istribution's specialized kernel can "simply" grab" target=_blank>the" target=_blank>Source of" target=_blank>the main kernel and build a replacement. It's actually not as hard as it sounds, though" target=_blank>the process can be intimidating to newcomers.

  ext3's Coming Out Party

  in mid-2001, Andrew Morton (at" target=_blank>the time," target=_blank>the kernel maintainer for ext2, ext3, and network drivers in 2.4) showed up as being involved in ext3." target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is fact signals that ext3 had been, in essence, escalated to" target=_blank>the next level." target=_blank>Is posts regarding ext3's status arrived around once a month, suggesting that ext3 was considered mature enough to be under serious consideration for merging into" target=_blank>the kernel." target=_blank>then, by late September 2001, Morton released a test patch that integrated ext3 into kernel 2.4.09." target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is was very much a test for those who were brave enough to try it. Morton's announcement included, "" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is will soon be broken out into a separate patch to make ext3 suitable for" target=_blank>Ission for" target=_blank>the mainstream kernel." in" target=_blank>the next week, people started asking again when ext3 would be added, indicating" target=_blank>the level of anticipation for those waiting for a journaling filesystem fully compatible with ext2.

  Eventually, Alan Cox ?" target=_blank>the "next level up" maintainer ? answered. "When" target=_blank>the ext3 folk ask me to merge it," he said." target=_blank>Is policy, it appeared, was not to merge patches into" target=_blank>Is test version of" target=_blank>the kernel (known as" target=_blank>the -ac tree) until" target=_blank>the project's developers asked him to. Sometimes he can be overridden or will decide to make a special case, but typically" target=_blank>the developers know exactly where" target=_blank>they are when working with" target=_blank>the code, and" target=_blank>ther trying to merge it at" target=_blank>the time would be a" target=_blank>Isaster or fairly smooth sailing.

  So, people waited. Somewhere between" target=_blank>then and October 8, 2001, Tweedie and" target=_blank>Is cohorts must have spoken up. On that day, ext3 was merged into Cox's version of" target=_blank>the 2.4.10 kernel." target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is was" target=_blank>the last major testbed. Many people testing new features that" target=_blank>they desperately wanted or needed used an -ac kernel on various systems to try to shake out" target=_blank>the bugs.

  ext3 development still continued, of course. in early November 2001, Morton announced" target=_blank>ther significant ext3 update. People continued agitating for ext3 to be added in" target=_blank>the next kernel version, and" target=_blank>the next, and" target=_blank>thers asked Torvalds to wait until" target=_blank>the current "big" problems ? 2.4 was actually a pretty stable new release ? with" target=_blank>the 2.4 kernel were better ironed out." target=_blank>the next" target=_blank>Issues that showed up are kind of odd and amusing, and while" target=_blank>they aren't about values, are a demonstration of" target=_blank>the strange things that can happen when a new technology" target=_blank>Is introduced. Red Hat added ext3 to 7.2 (as Torvalds predicted)." target=_blank>Istrators using Red Hat 7.2 began making strange observations about" target=_blank>the filesystem checker running on boot." target=_blank>the strange part was that" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is" target=_blank>Isn't necessary with ext3, nor was it" target=_blank>the default behavior on a system using ext3. It turned out that, somehow, ext3 was not being properly enabled on those systems. People had been running ext2 all that time, instead. I'm sure" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is little gaffe was on developers' minds as ext3 came closer to being officially added.

  By mid-November, ext3 reached Torvalds' own "test kernel," which means it was added into a "pre" version of" target=_blank>the kernel. Using" target=_blank>the kernel naming scheme, ext3 was officially added to kernel 2.4.15-pre2, which eventually became 2.4.15-final, which" target=_blank>Is" target=_blank>the same as 2.4.15." target=_blank>there was one ext3 fix added in kernel 2.4.15-pre8, and" target=_blank>then only two more tweaks to" target=_blank>the fledgling kernel letter, and kernel 2.4.15 was released for production use on November 22, 2001. of course, development of ext3 didn't stop" target=_blank>there" target=_blank>ther. Since" target=_blank>then, Access Control" target=_blank>Ists (ACLs) have been incorporated into" target=_blank>the filesystem, along with many more features and improvements.

  (To give you an overall time line for how long it takes for even minor kernel versions to advance," target=_blank>the current Red Hat Linux beta [Severn]" target=_blank>Is [at" target=_blank>the time of" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is writing] based on kernel 2.4.21.)

  Organic, and Yet Organized

  Throughout more than two years of work, many" target=_blank>ther features were added to" target=_blank>the Linux kernel." target=_blank>thers were refined, and some were even removed. Kernel maintainers changed as well, according to both time constraints and interests. Even" target=_blank>the process of posting new kernel versions was "upgraded."" target=_blank>the team added ChangeLogs ? files containing a" target=_blank>Ist of" target=_blank>the pertinent changes in each minor code update, including who made" target=_blank>the changes ? so that people can more easily track what in" target=_blank>the heck" target=_blank>Is going on.

  All of" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is happened in" target=_blank>the midst of bug reports and fixes," target=_blank>Iscussions of" target=_blank>the best way to approach upcoming requirements, and more. Ultimately, everything keeps moving." target=_blank>the Linux kernel grows and improves, and all of" target=_blank>the bits and pieces find" target=_blank>their way to where" target=_blank>they need to be.

  Ultimately, that" target=_blank>Is how" target=_blank>Open" target=_blank>Source development works. Bringing your own company into" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is process gives you a number of advantages. If you manufacture hardware, you can" target=_blank>ther assign someone to" target=_blank>the Linux kernel team to produce" target=_blank>the Linux drivers for your products, or you can give your product's specifications to someone from" target=_blank>the driver community to build" target=_blank>the drivers for you. Not only does" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is guarantee you that Linux users will consider your product, but it's great PR as well. Software companies can become involved in" target=_blank>the Linux Standard Base (" target=new />, develop" target=_blank>their products to" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is specification, and have a Linux beta program to help" target=_blank>the community feel involved in" target=_blank>the product's development.

  If" target=_blank>there" target=_blank>Is one phrase that" target=_blank>Is true for" target=_blank>the Linux and" target=_blank>Open" target=_blank>Source communities, it" target=_blank>Is" target=_blank>" target=_blank>Is: You get out of it what you put into it. Work with" target=_blank>the community, maybe even contribute some" target=_blank>Source code along" target=_blank>the way, and you will experience not only a kind of product loyalty that just might astound you, but a stronger product offering as well.

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