Linux: A solo developer is attempting to clean up 30 years of mess

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A senior Linux developer believes the platform can be a lot faster and more efficient - if its source code was lighter.

To make this happen, Ingo Molnar has announced the “Fast Kernel Headers” project, an attempt to clean up and rework Linux kernel's header hierarchy and header dependencies.

Linux apparently contains around 10,000 main .h header files with the include/ and arch/*/include hierarchies. Molnar says that over the years, these have “grown into a complicated & painful set of cross-dependencies we are affectionately calling 'Dependency Hell'."

Largest single feature announcement ever

What would cleaning the Linux kernel mean in that respect? Molanr believes it could take making 2,200 commit changes to the code. As it turns out, further investigation into the code revealed that it’s a lot more cumbersome and sluggish than he first thought - perhaps unsurprisingly given its age.

So far, the work Molanr has done is bearing fruit. The improved "fast-headers tree offers a +50-80% improvement in absolute kernel build performance on supported architectures, depending on the config. This is a major step forward in terms of Linux kernel build efficiency & performance,” he said. 

Molnar also believes that it will be impossible to stop at these 2,200 commits. The changes will affect almost every Linux program, which leads him to believe that "in addition to the aforementioned 25 sub-trees and 2,200 commits, the fast-headers tree modifies over half of all kernel source files in existence." 

It would seem that more than 25,000 files will be affected, together with more than 178,000 insertions and 74,000 deletions. 

"Yeah, so this is probably the largest single feature announcement in LKML's [Linux Kernel Mailing List] history. Not by choice! :-/" he concluded.

All of this makes very little difference to the end-user, as they won’t see any specific changes. However, Linux developers (opens in new tab) will be able to compile faster than ever, making it easier and quicker to improve, patch, and upgrade the much-loved OS. 

Sead is a seasoned freelance journalist based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He writes about IT (cloud, IoT, 5G, VPN) and cybersecurity (ransomware, data breaches, laws and regulations). In his career, spanning more than a decade, he’s written for numerous media outlets, including Al Jazeera Balkans. He’s also held several modules on content writing for Represent Communications.