Linux kernel hackers this week appealed for the appointment of a 'penguin patch lieutenant' to deal with the glaring shortcomings in Linus Torvalds's kernel patch system and generally "make Linus's life easier".
In a request for comments posted to the Linux kernel mailing list yesterday, kernel hacker Rob Landley slammed the current state of the Linux kernel patching system as "ridiculous" and called for the appointment of a penguin patch master.
Landley said that patches from kernel maintainers are being dropped on a regular basis and are stunting the development of Linux.
"This is burning out maintainers and increasing the number of different kernel trees. [It's] not yet a major fork, but a lot of cracks and fragmentation are showing under the stress. Linus needs an integration lieutenant, and he needs one now," he said.
The job of the 'patch penguin' would be similar to that of Alan Cox, Torvalds's right hand man from the early days of Linux, basically making "Linus's life easier" and solving a lot of problems in the development of the open source operating system.
Landley explained: "Linus doesn't scale, and his current way of coping is to silently drop the vast majority of patches submitted to him onto the floor.
"Most of the time there is no judgement involved when this code gets dropped. Patches that fix compile errors get dropped. Code from subsystem maintainers that Linus himself designated get dropped.
"The community needs to offload some work from Linus, so he can focus on what he does that nobody else can."
According to Landley, Torvalds is the architect of Linux, steering the project, acting as final integrator and pulling disparate patches together into one big system.
"The job of architect is something only Linus can do. The job of integrator is something many people can do," he said, referring to the fact that each Linux distribution has its own kernel tree that it maintains itself.
"Every Linux distributor has its own tree. Integrating patches so they don't conflict, and porting them to new versions, is hard work but not brain surgery," added Landley.
The request for comments has drawn a lot of positive criticism from Linux kernel hackers. However, Torvalds's own response was a little more cynical.
"One 'patch penguin' scales no better than I do. In fact, I will claim that most of them scale a whole lot worse," he said. "The fact is, we've had 'patch penguins' pretty much forever, and they are called subsystem maintainers."
"Good maintainers are hard to find. Getting more of them helps but, at some point, it can actually be more useful to help the existing ones," he explained.
Torvalds added that the way to make these things scale is to increase the network of trust; not by trying to push it on one man, but by making it more of a network.
"In short, don't try to come up with a 'patch penguin'. Instead try to help existing maintainers, or maybe help grow new ones. That is the way to scalability," he said.
The Linux kernel mailing list thread can be found here.
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