As described before, bisection works by taking a series of commits and testing systematically to find which commit introduced the regression. This doesn’t match well with the current development model of the Fedora kernel and makes bisection difficult.

The kernels that are released for Fedora are what’s available on plus a smattering of extra patches. These patches range from fixes that are not yet merged into the release to (very) select patches for new features. This means the tree looks like

U1 -> U2 -> U3 -> ... UN-> F1 -> F2 -> ... -> FN

Where U commits are from upstream and F commits are from Fedora. Suppose there is a bug somewhere in this tree. How do you bisect? Naively, you could take U1 as the good commit and FN as the bad commit and bisect from there. The problem there is that as you test any of the upstream commits you lose the features Fedora is adding. You might as well just bisect on the tree directly and ignore Fedora patches completely.

Given the number of bugzilla repots, people seem to want the Fedora patches and not just sources so there needs to be a way to combine the two together. One possibility is to do a bisect on the upstream tree and then replay the Fedora patches at every bisect step. This means the tree may look like

U1 -> U2 -> ... -> U_a -> F1 -> F2 -> ... -> FN

at one step and then

U1 -> U2 -> ... -> U_b -> F1 -> F2 -> ... -> FN

at another step. Seems workable. Getting the upstream tree is easy but where do the Fedora patches come from?

Fedora packages are stored in git but they aren’t stored in an exploded tree form. It’s essentially a .spec file, a series of patches, and a few scripts. My teammate Josh Boyer talked about some of the problems with trying to maintain an exploded tree for our day to day work and why we aren’t doing so any more. The pkg-git repo isn’t nicely tagged so there’s some degree of manual work to go checkout the state of patches at a particular release. An exploded tree is really useful for tasks like this. Fortunately, there is a pseudo substitue: an actual git tree of releases is present on with nice git tags. This makes it easy to grab the set of Fedora patches that were present in a particular release.

The next question is what patches are being replayed at each step. The set of patches for a particular release will apply cleanly but another commit may introduce conflicts on those patches; between the 100s or 1000s of upstream commits coming in patches may drop out or need to be adjusted. Since the point of bisection is to test the commits between releases, there needs to be a way to get a set of commits which will apply cleanly to a single commit. The closest I’ve been able to get to this is to grab a close rawhide commit and try the patches there. This has been somewhat successful.

Assuming you can actually get a set of patches that will apply, the next step is actually building a kernel that can be installed. Just going into a kernel directory and doing ‘make && make modules_install && make install’ certainly works but again gets away from the advantages of Fedora. Everyone loves an RPM! The existing RPM generation for the kernel is complex. The kernel.spec file is layers and layers of macros and scripts to generate several different packages. There are also config files for kernel options. A change to any one of these parts may result in something that’s not backwards compatible. Since there are no tags in the pkg-git repo, there’s no grabbing a file from a particular release. This means any spec file used needs to be generic enough to handle an aribtrary kernel snapshot. Taking the metaphorical hacksaw to the kernel.spec, it is possible to generate something that takes a kernel tar ball and spits out an rpm.

So is bisection on the Fedora kernel actually possible? Probably. I’ve been slowly working on scripts to do so. I made a first attempt which doesn’t spit out RPMs and is probably over simplified for most cases. I’ve been working my way through a set of scripts that are smarter about conflicts and spit out an RPM. I may post those early if I can get to a good snapshot point.

I’m still not sure if this is actually new work or if I’m reinventing the wheel.