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A Linux Kernel More Stable Than -stable 142

jfruhlinger writes '-stable' is the term for the current Linux release most suitable for general use; but as Linux moves into more and more niches, there's a need for a kernel more stable than -stable, which is updated fairly regularly. Both enterprise and embedded systems in particular need a longer horizon of kernel stability, which prompted Greg Kroah-Hartman, then at SuSE, to establish a -longterm kernel, which will remain stable for up to two years. Now there are moves to get this schedule formalized — moves that are a good sign of Linux's long-term health."
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A Linux Kernel More Stable Than -stable

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Maybe other open source projects take the hint and provide something where I can install and not worry about it breaking every few months. You don't buy a new car every month.

    • sudo apt-get update
      sudo apt-get upgrade
      hit "y" if needed.

      Yay, done with maintenance for a while.

      I have yet to have an issue with the machine and I've been using it for 4 years as a fileserver, media-center, router and various other tasks.

      • by casings ( 257363 )

        Speaking of which...

        • Speaking of which... I think I guessed that you were about to suggest backup? Maintenance isn't limited to upgrades, you know! Preventative maintenance is much more effective than hard disk recovery!

          • by icebike ( 68054 )

            When was the last time you performed a backup on your wireless router?

            Embedded systems is the focus of this article.

            • by arth1 ( 260657 )

              Embedded systems is the focus of this article.

              Indeed. When was the last time you did a kernel update on your washer or car? Yet, the manufacturer must be able to do so if a serious flaw is discovered down the road.

              2 years is laughable. In the embedded world, 10 years would be more like it.

              Also consider the need for long-term stable kernels outside the embedded world. Red Hat Enterprise Linux is supported for 7-10 years with a support agreement. RHEL5 is still at 2.6.18, and will stay so for years. Maintaining compatibility is paramount to many bu

            • Long time ago: it is possible to save the settings to file, at least on mine (which is a Linksys WAP54G, so technically a access point. My router is a net5501-70 running OpenBSD) The file must be sitting on the file server (which is backupped nightly). I don't think my wireless routers configuration has changed significantly since that backup.

              Not that that backup will help much, if the WAP fails, it most likely will be hardware failure . I've had it since May 2005 and unless it stops working, I have no r

      • sudo aptitude update && sudo aptitude -y upgrade

        Avoid that bothersome last step.
        • by isama ( 1537121 )
          echo ''sudo aptitude update && sudo aptitude -y upgrade' >; chmod +x

          only repeat the last step. more efficient in the long run.
          • by Tarlus ( 1000874 )

            echo alias update=''sudo aptitude update && sudo aptitude -y upgrade" > ~/.bashrc

            From any subsequent bash session, just run 'update'. More properly it should be added to .bash_aliases with its inclusion enabled in .bashrc, but splitting hairs kills the fun. =)

      • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

        by icebike ( 68054 ) on Tuesday August 16, 2011 @07:37PM (#37113578)

        Yay, done with maintenance for a while.

        This isn't about your server or your workstation.

        Its about your wifi routers ADSL modems, cable modems, and electric toasters , and everything else that has linux embedded these days, many millions of which are attached directly to the net, serving as your first line of defense.

        Not one in a hundred wifi routers get updated over their life span.

        I have servers running ancient linux. (Embarrassed to say just HOW old). They do specific tasks and have no user accounts, and they reside on the Local net, but still any disgruntled employee could own them if they tried. There is no patch source for these old installations, and trying to back port security patches is simply a non-starter.

        Two years is not enough. 5 years is marginal. Even then, I want nothing but security patches. If I need the next version of something I'll upgrade, but for embedded devices or single purpose servers, all I need is security fixes.

        • Why not use Caldera, or Corel Linux, or something as old from companies that are either no longer around, or who no longer do Linux? If it's a Debian based distro, patch it up w/ the latest from Debian, but otherwise, it seems to meet your requirements - much more than 5 years. Chances are that even Linux crackers won't be interested in those, and you can build it into anything - your garage, your car, your home security system, anything!
          • by dokc ( 1562391 )
            Because you can't put Caldera or Corel Linux an a system with 16MB NOR and 32MB RAM.
            We are talking about openWrt and similar distros.
            Chances are that crackers will go first on your router where most users have their DNS/DHCP and termination for all your network devices.
        • by TheLink ( 130905 )

          Not one in a hundred wifi routers get updated over their life span.

          Uh if they really don't get updated what's the difference between -stable and this proposal?

          The whole point about this proposal is something keeps getting updated for years or even longer.

          • by dokc ( 1562391 )
            Not one in a hundred wifi routers get updated over their life span because their owners are ignorant about their own security. If your router would have some kind of auto-update (a lot of providers deliver devices with this functionality) then the difference between -stable and -longterm can be significant (of course, if the router manufacturer implements newest security patches in firmware updates)
      • Better: pacman -Syu

    • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

      No, but you get your car serviced every few months...

      • That entirely depends on how much you drive, no? Mine is scheduled for a maintenance ever 15000km or every year. Given I drive 20000km/year, maintenance is about every nine months. My car is old (11.5 years) and a gas engine. I know that many newer diesel engines only require maintenance every 30000km or every two years.

        Well, of course you could still define "few months" as "less than twelve months".

    • by aacosta ( 607712 )

      You don't buy a new car every month.

      You don't frequently install or update anything in your car either (I cannot think of any other way in which it can break every few months). I am sick of the comparison between the car and desktop-computer industries.

      • by rust627 ( 1072296 ) on Tuesday August 16, 2011 @08:13PM (#37113838)

        "....... I am sick of the comparison between the car and desktop-computer industries."

        This is /. How dare you sir.

        for such a sacrilegious statement you should go to the front counter and hand in your slashdot number and name /. without Car analogies would be like.... like....., like a car without seats.

    • by GreyLurk ( 35139 )

      Ubuntu has their LTS releases, which aim for the same thing. No "new feature" releases, just stability and security upgrades.

    • I assume you just are ignorant of slackware, not simply trolling.

      Slackware 9.0 (released in 2003) still receives security updates.
  • Red Hat (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Tuesday August 16, 2011 @06:12PM (#37112832)

    Isn't this basically what Red Hat does - back porting security and bug fixes to an established maintenance point for the kernel and many of their other packages?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Yea, but according to Greg KH, distributions are not the only users of Linux kernel who need a long term support. Consumer devices and other embedded systems that just need the kernel without the "GNU" part could do with support too.
    • by nzac ( 1822298 )

      This does not help help RH most direct competitor SUSE.
      To me this looks like it could be a SUSE ploy to get a stable kernel to compete with RH while not having to do all the work. Debian would like this as well.
      Or being less cynical they are making something that other distros can use like OBS and zypper ended up being used by Meego.

      • by greed ( 112493 )

        Why not? All of the Red Hat kernel source is available. They stopped doing the 1000s of patches in the SRPM thing, but it's still source. (Oh the horror of that old patch structure... maybe it was handy if you were trying to undo Red Hat's changes, or just "lift" their changes into a different kernel version. But if all you wanted was to work around the bug in your stupid TSSTCorp DVD burner....)

        Or Red Hat's competitors could put the same effort into maintaining their kernel snapshot... but at some poin

    • > Isn't this basically what Red Hat does - back porting security and bug fixes to an established maintenance point for the kernel and many of their other packages? 2.6.18 forever!
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Tuesday August 16, 2011 @06:25PM (#37112986)

    Both enterprise and embedded systems in particular need a longer horizon of kernel stability, which prompted Greg Kroah-Hartman, then at SuSE, to establish a -longterm kernel, which will remain stable for up to two years.

    Have you ever taken a Kroah-Hartman test? It's a test designed to provoke an emotional response.

    Hartman: You're in a repository, compiling a kernel, when all of a sudden you look down.
    Dotzler: What version?
    Hartman: What?
    Dotzler: What version?
    Hartman: It doesn't make any difference what version - it's completely hypothetical.
    Dotzler: That's what I've been trying to convince the world all week!
    Hartman: Maybe you're fed up. Maybe you want to be by yourself. Who knows? You look down at the screen and see the codebase in TortoiseGIT. It's crawling toward release.
    Dotzler: TortoiseGIT? What's that?
    Hartman: You know what TortoiseSVN was?
    Dotzler: Of course!
    Hartman: Same thing.
    Dotzler: I've never seen a stable UI. But I understand what you mean.
    Hartman: You merge some code down, change the UI, and increment the release number just for the hell of it, Asa.
    Dotzler: Do you make up these questions Mr. Hartman? Or do Slashdotters just write cheap pop culture parodies instead of working?
    Hartman: The project lays on its back, its belly baking in the white-hot flames of a thousand angry users, beating its legs trying to make itself stable but it can't. Not without your help. But you're not helping.
    Dotzler: What do you mean I'm not helping?
    Hartman: I mean you're not helping! Why is that, Asa? (pause) They're just questions, Asa. In answer to your query, it was either this or a filk based on a Rob Zombie song. It's a test, designed to provoke an emotional response. Shall we continue?
    Dotzler: Nothing is worse than having an itch you can never scratch!
    Hartman: Describe in single words only the good things that come into your mind about your mother.
    Dotzler: My mother?
    Hartman: Yeah.
    Dotzler: Let me tell you about my mother... *BLAM BLAM BLAM*

    "More stable than -stable", that's our motto.

    • Thank you. I have 5 mod points, but I posted above and don't want to undo my trolling lol - but thank you. This. Is. Brilliant!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I want more runtime, fucker!

    • Do you like our kernel?
          It's unstable?
      Of course it is.
          Must crash a lot.
      Often. It seems you feel our work is not a benefit to the public.
          Kernels are like any other software - they're either a benefit or a hazard. If they're a benefit, it's not my problem.

  • by Sits ( 117492 ) on Tuesday August 16, 2011 @06:28PM (#37113014) Homepage Journal

    Why does the summary say "then at SuSE"? Greg's still working for SUSE/Novell as a Linux kernel developer fellow [] right?

  • by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Tuesday August 16, 2011 @06:33PM (#37113076) Homepage Journal

    Since the -longterm is going to have to be based off of a -stable release and be maintained off that branch, we end right back where we were, with four version numbers, each level denoting the number of rounds of fixes applied to the number to the left. Only there's now going to be increased stagger, since stable will lag behind the release and longterm will lag behind stable. (They have to.)

    If we're going to have lots of version numbers, then going back to the odd/even minor digit makes more sense than to do rapid increments. Yes, this pushes us out to five digits, which is borderline insane, but it is then five digits that carry specific pieces of discrete information rather than four digits where two don't necessarily convey a whole lot.

    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      It sounds like -longerm is just this guy's fork. I don't think it will affect how Linus numbers the mainline kernel.

      • by MasterPatricko ( 1414887 ) on Tuesday August 16, 2011 @07:11PM (#37113388) Homepage

        "this guy" is Greg K-H, second-in-command to Linus and the maintainer of the -stable tree. His arguments were one of the main reasons Linus changed the 3.0 numbering. Greg is just proposing that he maintains another tree officially, not a "fork".
        As for version numbering, I think there will be 3 numbers - first two for mainline releases, and one more for stable/longterm patch level. I don't think -longterm will be needing an extra number.

  • its ultra championship edition stable!

  • by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Tuesday August 16, 2011 @06:47PM (#37113192) Homepage Journal

    Yes, a static baseline is great for certification programs such as EAL [] and FAA approval [], but it's not the only sort of "stable" that you want. Data centres want a "carrier-grade" OS (which means five nines reliability). They don't necessarily care if they have to patch, since you can now hot-patch the kernel without taking it down, but they absolutely do not want the software to show any unreliability whatsoever. They'd likely get upset at having to patch more than once a year, since in-situ patching isn't always safe, but if you're limited to a few minutes downtime a year on a server as an absolute maximum (this is ignoring failover, etc, that's a whole different issue than a specific physical or virtual server instance being five nines) then I could see it being tolerated a whole lot more than a blind kernel upgrade at year's end.

    (This assumes that the hot upgrades can be made fault-tolerant enough that a brown-paper-bag release - you know they're going to happen on any tree eventually - can be backed out without violating five nines.)

  • by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Tuesday August 16, 2011 @06:48PM (#37113206)

    Wait, a piece of software moving towards a slower, more enterprise-friendly release system, in direct contradiction of recent trends (see: Firefox 10)?

    • What you're missing is that Firefox doesn't want to target the enterprise. What Mozilla is missing is that if they fail to target the enterprise, IE pretty much carries the day there.

      • Who is Mozilla targeting? If they are not going after the enterprise are they going after the basement hobbyist? Or the firefox developer? Surely grandma would like to provide an easy answer to the request "Grandma, click on Help then About Firefox, and tell me the number next to Version..."

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Nope, they're targeting the other 99.99% of the population you chose to ignore.

  • What does "enterprise" mean in this context?
    • by BillX ( 307153 )

      NCC-1701-D []?
      (i.e, Life support: When you just can't afford to turn it off and then on again.)

  • by John Sokol ( 109591 ) on Tuesday August 16, 2011 @07:46PM (#37113688) Homepage Journal

    By definition a stable system has to be running older code that's been fixed and is well understood rather then "the latest" updated code.

    If your constantly churning and updating you can not be stable.

    Red Had run's behind the main Linux distribution to get added stability.

    But FreeBSD which seems old and stodgy is like that because of the emphasis on stability over features and improvement.
    It's also simpler under the hood which is also important for Stability.

    But it all depends on what your trying to do. GUI vs. Server.
    For Server I'd go with BSD.
    For GUI I'd go with Windows, Apple OS-X (BSD variant), maybe Android (haven't developed on it yet) X Windows just sucks.
    For Embedded , I'd go with what ever the eval boards ship with. Usually Linux these days. (Certainly not PSOS or QNIX)

    At this point I can compile the same code on all of these using GCC and run them equally well. They are all Posix compliant. SDL run's on all of them.
    Java also run on them. So does Flash, LLVM, TCL, PERL, RUBY, Python or what ever langue du jour.

    Let's end the religious wars on OS's, it's about getting your work done. The OS is just a platform for the language your want your code to run on.

    • by NateTech ( 50881 )

      VxWorks or Microware OS/9 still kick Linux's butt in the RTOS world for reliability and strength/stability of codebase. Just sayin'... if you're building missile systems, you're probably reaching for one of those.

      • Xvworks and microware, yuck.
        I am a video specialist and love doing real time control stuff and embedded systems. I have yet to understand what they are talking about with RTOS. I can do microsecond accurate timing now in vanilla BSD or linux. Yes 1/1,000,000 second timing. Verifiable on an oscilloscope from user space or in drivers.

        Overall I think the opensource is the important part of stability. The more eyeballs looking at code the more solid it will be.
        This is why new code should be treated with some s

        • by NateTech ( 50881 )

          Ahh, been using Linux since 1995. Never seen that "more solid" thing come out of open-source yet.

          Reason is, most devs don't look at code, they write it. Looking at someone's old code and trying to fix it is something a smaller percentage of devs do than those who just slap more code out.

          Linux's stability lies in the original design (UNIX), not so much in the "many eyes/many hands" thing. That and distros who are willing to slow the process so businesses can actually use the stuff.

          And the most stable thin

  • by Anonymous Coward

    1) insert Windows install disk
    2) c: format
    3) run win7.exe
    4) PROFIT!!!!

    • by moco ( 222985 )

      The old "increasing your IQ by giving yourself a lobotomy" argument... I am not impressed.

  • 2 years isn't a lot (Score:4, Interesting)

    by GPLHost-Thomas ( 1330431 ) on Tuesday August 16, 2011 @08:46PM (#37114122)
    Debian security support stands for more than 2 years. So if you say "more than 2 years", I'd say, that's what we get with any Debian release. So I hope that the plan is to have it for longer, otherwise it's YASM (Yet Another Suse Marketing...). There's all signs that 2.6.32 will be maintained for a long long, very long, extremely long time, since so many distro are using it.
    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      2 years for the kernel is already a start. That way not each distro needs to do the security patching on their own, but rather share the effort.

      • But this is already what's happening! Almost all distro are currently using kernel 2.6.32, and any security patch that a given distro will make will be able to be shared with others. So I don't really see the point here.
  • by renzhi ( 2216300 ) on Tuesday August 16, 2011 @09:05PM (#37114272)

    Linux could have dominated, if there was some sort of stable API for third-party developers. Developing for the Linux platform quickly becomes an experience of insanity, when you start doing compatibility test, and the test matrix just explodes.

    I'd say, if it was too hard to keep API stable across all versions of Linux, maybe we should at least have API stable for all minor versions, say, 2.6.x?

    I know all the arguments for moving faster, for keeping a cleaner code base, etc. But hell, what good is a shiny kernel if the apps can't keep up with?

    Just venting, from my experiences working with kernel module.

    • by Anonymous Coward

    •'s the external drivers - as you point out in your post it was a kernel module that caused you massive grief. Most applications don't depend on out-of-tree with kernel drivers and thus are insulated from the kernel changes (this is why you can often get away with running a hand rolled modern kernel on "old" distributions).

      However, the moment you have touch out-of-tree drivers your experience is going to be ongoing pain and it generally doesn't matter which out-of-tree driver you are using. If you are e

  • by highways ( 1382025 ) on Tuesday August 16, 2011 @09:23PM (#37114398)

    If the target for a long-term stable kernel is embedded systems, then I would suggest having some sort of arrangement with the real-time kernel patches [] which typically don't release with every kernel.

    If, for example, 2.6.39 was chosen as a -longterm, it's unattractive for many embedded developers without the option of the -rt.

  • This is pretty much one of the 2 major services Redhat offers(the other is support). They pretty much backport all security fixes(and most bug fixes as well) while leaving everything else as stable as possible. That way you can continue to run your machines without worrying about some new whiz bang update breaking everything.
  • Once a kernel is reasonably stable you should work elsewhere. Trying to still a floating boat will not make it float any better. The boat floats.

  • by drwho ( 4190 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2011 @02:16AM (#37115946) Homepage Journal

    Kroah-Hartman says - "Consumer devices have a 1-2 year lifespan" -- this is a sign of our times. Just make junk that last a couple of years at best, and then chuck it. It would be far better to create devices that last twenty years and can be updated and repaired. This is why I like 'dumb phones'- cellphones that are less likely to be pwn3d, last longer, are cheaper, tougher, and easier to use. Ah, I am going to miss you, Nokia, and Motorola, and Siemens, and...

  • We are being driven by software, which then drives the hardware, which then drives more software. Sanity would seem to say that a computer which works should continue to work, and continue to be supported. No, it's not a good business model if you're a gigantic company trying to steal all the money you can until someone else puts you out of business. Why aren't there any companies picking up old software and hardware service? The best I can see is Wary 5 Puppy, which goes back to the last kernel which cou

The human mind ordinarily operates at only ten percent of its capacity -- the rest is overhead for the operating system.