Google is bringing Android closer to the Linux kernel

Android 12 on a Google Pixel 4a 5G
(Image credit: Future)

Google has shared more details about how it aims to bring the Android kernel a lot closer to the mainline Linux kernel with the impending release of Android 12.

The news came courtesy of a presentation at the Linux Plumbers Conference by Google’s software engineer Todd Kjos.

Commenting on the development, Ars Technica shares that typically the mainline Linux kernel goes through three major forks before it is shipped to the end users on an Android device.

The fragmentation isn’t just a big time sink, which usually means Android devices ship Linux kernels that are at least a couple of years old, but also complicate the delivery process for security updates and bug fixes.

Reducing forks

In order to appreciate Google’s new initiative, Ars explains that traditionally all the stakeholders in the Android ecosystem fork the Linux kernels in an assembly-like fashion.. 

First up is Google, which forks the mainline kernel into "Android common" adding Android-specific changes. This is then forked by System-On-Chip (SoC) vendors like Qualcomm, and Samsung, to create SoC-specific kernels. Finally, a device-specific fork on the SoC kernel is created and shipped with a device.

Sharing the change in approach, Kjos said that "the big push is to get all of the hardware-specific code out of the generic kernel and into vendor modules.” 

A major part of this effort, shared Kjos, is the development of a stable interface between vendor-specific modules and the generic kernel. 

This new interface, known as the Kernel Module Interface (KMI), will ensure that the "main difference" between the Android Generic Kernel Image (GKI) and mainline Linux, are just the hooks for all of the vendor-specific modules.

While Google reportedly plans to ship the GKI with the upcoming Android 12 release, Kjos called the entire initiative “a multi-year project” as he laid out a timeline for the next few years of kernel work.

Via Ars Technica

Mayank Sharma

With almost two decades of writing and reporting on Linux, Mayank Sharma would like everyone to think he’s TechRadar Pro’s expert on the topic. Of course, he’s just as interested in other computing topics, particularly cybersecurity, cloud, containers, and coding.