Several of the tasks I’ve worked on recently have involved looking at some of the kernel’s build infrastructure. This is all fairly well documented which makes it nice to work with.

The kernel automatically generates some files at build time. This is mostly set up to be transparent to developers unless they are looking for them. The majority of these files are headers at include/generated. A good example of something which needs to be generated is the #define representing the kernel version (e.g. 4.15.12). The header file include/generated/bounds.h contains #defines for several enum constants calculated at build time. Cleverly, most of these files are only actually replaced if the generated output changes to avoid unnecessary recompile. Most of this work is handled by the filechk macro.

The C preprocessor is typically used on C files, as one might obviously expect. It’s not actually limited to C files though. Each architecture has to define a linker script which meets the architectural requirements. The linker language is common across architectures so it’s beneficial to have common definitions for typical sections such as initcalls and rodata. There’s a global rule to run the pre-processor on any .lds.S file. Devicetree files also get preprocessed which avoids a lot of copy and pasting of numerical defines.

The compiler flags are typically set in the top level Makefile and named as you might expect (CFLAGS, CXXFLAGS etc.). The process of building the kernel requires building a number of smaller programs. The c flags for these programs are controlled by a different set of variables (HOSTCFLAGS). It sounds incredibly obvious but I’ve lost time from my day trying to figure out why setting options in CFLAGS weren’t being picked up by the host compiler. For more fun, it’s possible to use environment variables to set different flags for compiling built-in vs. module code. The moral of the story is know what you’re setting.

Debugging build infrastructure isn’t always pleasant but the kernel build system isn’t too bad overall. I’m at least beginning to understand more parts of it as I find increasingly more obscure things to modify.