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2.4. Compiling and Loading
The "hello world" example at the beginning of this chapter included a brief demonstration of building a module and loading it into the system. There is, of course, a lot more to that whole process than we have seen so far. This section provides more detail on how a module author turns source code into an executing subsystem within the kernel.
2.4.1. Compiling Modules
As the first step, we need to look a bit at how modules must be built. The build process for modules differs significantly from that used for user-space applications; the kernel is a large, standalone program with detailed and explicit requirements on how its pieces are put together. The build process also differs from how things were done with previous versions of the kernel; the new build system is simpler to use and produces more correct results, but it looks very different from what came before. The kernel build system is a complex beast, and we just look at a tiny piece of it. The files found in the Documentation/kbuild directory in the kernel source are required reading for anybody wanting to understand all that is really going on beneath the surface.
There are some prerequisites that you must get out of the way before you can build kernel modules. The first is to ensure that you have sufficiently current versions of the compiler, module utilities, and other necessary tools. The file Documentation/Changes in the kernel documentation directory always lists the required tool versions; you should consult it before going any further. Trying to build a kernel (and its modules) with the wrong tool versions can lead to no end of subtle, difficult problems. Note that, occasionally, a version of the compiler that is too new can be just as problematic as one that is too old; the kernel source makes a great many assumptions about the compiler, and new releases can sometimes break things for a while.
If you still do not have a kernel tree handy, or have not yet configured and built that kernel, now is the time to go do it. You cannot build loadable modules for a 2.6 kernel without this tree on your filesystem. It is also helpful (though not required) to be actually running the kernel that you are building for.
Once you have everything set up, creating a makefile for your module is straightforward. In fact, for the "hello world" example shown earlier in this chapter, a single line will suffice:
obj-m := hello.o
Readers who are familiar with make, but not with the 2.6 kernel build system, are likely to be wondering how this makefile works. The above line is not how a traditional makefile looks, after all. The answer, of course, is that the kernel build system handles the rest. The assignment above (which takes advantage of the extended syntax provided by GNU make) states that there is one module to be built from the object file hello.o. The resulting module is named hello.ko after being built from the object file.
If, instead, you have a module called module.ko that is generated from two source files (called, say, file1.c and file2.c), the correct incantation would be:
obj-m := module.o module-objs := file1.o file2.o
For a makefile like those shown above to work, it must be invoked within the context of the larger kernel build system. If your kernel source tree is located in, say, your ~/kernel-2.6 directory, the make command required to build your module (typed in the directory containing the module source and makefile) would be:
make -C ~/kernel-2.6 M=`pwd` modules
This command starts by changing its directory to the one provided with the -C option (that is, your kernel source directory). There it finds the kernel's top-level makefile. The M= option causes that makefile to move back into your module source directory before trying to build the modules target. This target, in turn, refers to the list of modules found in the obj-m variable, which we've set to module.o in our examples.
Typing the previous make command can get tiresome after a while, so the kernel developers have developed a sort of makefile idiom, which makes life easier for those building modules outside of the kernel tree. The trick is to write your makefile as follows:
# If KERNELRELEASE is defined, we've been invoked from the # kernel build system and can use its language. ifneq ($(KERNELRELEASE),) obj-m := hello.o # Otherwise we were called directly from the command # line; invoke the kernel build system. else KERNELDIR ?= /lib/modules/$(shell uname -r)/build PWD := $(shell pwd) default: $(MAKE) -C $(KERNELDIR) M=$(PWD) modules endif
Once again, we are seeing the extended GNU make syntax in action. This makefile is read twice on a typical build. When the makefile is invoked from the command line, it notices that the KERNELRELEASE variable has not been set. It locates the kernel source directory by taking advantage of the fact that the symbolic link build in the installed modules directory points back at the kernel build tree. If you are not actually running the kernel that you are building for, you can supply a KERNELDIR= option on the command line, set the KERNELDIR environment variable, or rewrite the line that sets KERNELDIR in the makefile. Once the kernel source tree has been found, the makefile invokes the default: target, which runs a second make command (parameterized in the makefile as $(MAKE)) to invoke the kernel build system as described previously. On the second reading, the makefile sets obj-m, and the kernel makefiles take care of actually building the module.
This mechanism for building modules may strike you as a bit unwieldy and obscure. Once you get used to it, however, you will likely appreciate the capabilities that have been programmed into the kernel build system. Do note that the above is not a complete makefile; a real makefile includes the usual sort of targets for cleaning up unneeded files, installing modules, etc. See the makefiles in the example source directory for a complete example.
2.4.2. Loading and Unloading Modules
After the module is built, the next step is loading it into the kernel. As we've already pointed out, insmod does the job for you. The program loads the module code and data into the kernel, which, in turn, performs a function similar to that of ld, in that it links any unresolved symbol in the module to the symbol table of the kernel. Unlike the linker, however, the kernel doesn't modify the module's disk file, but rather an in-memory copy. insmod accepts a number of command-line options (for details, see the manpage), and it can assign values to parameters in your module before linking it to the current kernel. Thus, if a module is correctly designed, it can be configured at load time; load-time configuration gives the user more flexibility than compile-time configuration, which is still used sometimes. Load-time configuration is explained in Section 2.8 later in this chapter.
Interested readers may want to look at how the kernel supports insmod: it relies on a system call defined in kernel/module.c. The function sys_init_module allocates kernel memory to hold a module (this memory is allocated with vmalloc ; see the Section 8.4 in Chapter 2); it then copies the module text into that memory region, resolves kernel references in the module via the kernel symbol table, and calls the module's initialization function to get everything going.
If you actually look in the kernel source, you'll find that the names of the system calls are prefixed with sys_. This is true for all system calls and no other functions; it's useful to keep this in mind when grepping for the system calls in the sources.
The modprobe utility is worth a quick mention. modprobe, like insmod, loads a module into the kernel. It differs in that it will look at the module to be loaded to see whether it references any symbols that are not currently defined in the kernel. If any such references are found, modprobe looks for other modules in the current module search path that define the relevant symbols. When modprobe finds those modules (which are needed by the module being loaded), it loads them into the kernel as well. If you use insmod in this situation instead, the command fails with an "unresolved symbols" message left in the system logfile.
As mentioned before, modules may be removed from the kernel with the rmmod utility. Note that module removal fails if the kernel believes that the module is still in use (e.g., a program still has an open file for a device exported by the modules), or if the kernel has been configured to disallow module removal. It is possible to configure the kernel to allow "forced" removal of modules, even when they appear to be busy. If you reach a point where you are considering using this option, however, things are likely to have gone wrong badly enough that a reboot may well be the better course of action.
The lsmod program produces a list of the modules currently loaded in the kernel. Some other information, such as any other modules making use of a specific module, is also provided. lsmod works by reading the /proc/modules virtual file. Information on currently loaded modules can also be found in the sysfs virtual filesystem under /sys/module.
2.4.3. Version Dependency
Bear in mind that your module's code has to be recompiled for each version of the kernel that it is linked to—at least, in the absence of modversions, not covered here as they are more for distribution makers than developers. Modules are strongly tied to the data structures and function prototypes defined in a particular kernel version; the interface seen by a module can change significantly from one kernel version to the next. This is especially true of development kernels, of course.
The kernel does not just assume that a given module has been built against the proper kernel version. One of the steps in the build process is to link your module against a file (called vermagic.o) from the current kernel tree; this object contains a fair amount of information about the kernel the module was built for, including the target kernel version, compiler version, and the settings of a number of important configuration variables. When an attempt is made to load a module, this information can be tested for compatibility with the running kernel. If things don't match, the module is not loaded; instead, you see something like:
# insmod hello.ko Error inserting './hello.ko': -1 Invalid module format
If you need to compile a module for a specific kernel version, you will need to use the build system and source tree for that particular version. A simple change to the KERNELDIR variable in the example makefile shown previously does the trick.
Kernel interfaces often change between releases. If you are writing a module that is intended to work with multiple versions of the kernel (especially if it must work across major releases), you likely have to make use of macros and #ifdef constructs to make your code build properly. This edition of this book only concerns itself with one major version of the kernel, so you do not often see version tests in our example code. But the need for them does occasionally arise. In such cases, you want to make use of the definitions found in linux/version.h. This header file, automatically included by linux/module.h, defines the following macros:
Most dependencies based on the kernel version can be worked around with preprocessor conditionals by exploiting KERNEL_VERSION and LINUX_VERSION_CODE. Version dependency should, however, not clutter driver code with hairy #ifdef conditionals; the best way to deal with incompatibilities is by confining them to a specific header file. As a general rule, code which is explicitly version (or platform) dependent should be hidden behind a low-level macro or function. High-level code can then just call those functions without concern for the low-level details. Code written in this way tends to be easier to read and more robust.
2.4.4. Platform Dependency
Unlike application developers, who must link their code with precompiled libraries and stick to conventions on parameter passing, kernel developers can dedicate some processor registers to specific roles, and they have done so. Moreover, kernel code can be optimized for a specific processor in a CPU family to get the best from the target platform: unlike applications that are often distributed in binary format, a custom compilation of the kernel can be optimized for a specific computer set.
For example, the IA32 (x86) architecture has been subdivided into several different processor types. The old 80386 processor is still supported (for now), even though its instruction set is, by modern standards, quite limited. The more modern processors in this architecture have introduced a number of new capabilities, including faster instructions for entering the kernel, interprocessor locking, copying data, etc. Newer processors can also, when operated in the correct mode, employ 36-bit (or larger) physical addresses, allowing them to address more than 4 GB of physical memory. Other processor families have seen similar improvements. The kernel, depending on various configuration options, can be built to make use of these additional features.
Clearly, if a module is to work with a given kernel, it must be built with the same understanding of the target processor as that kernel was. Once again, the vermagic.o object comes in to play. When a module is loaded, the kernel checks the processor-specific configuration options for the module and makes sure they match the running kernel. If the module was compiled with different options, it is not loaded.
If you are planning to write a driver for general distribution, you may well be wondering just how you can possibly support all these different variations. The best answer, of course, is to release your driver under a GPL-compatible license and contribute it to the mainline kernel. Failing that, distributing your driver in source form and a set of scripts to compile it on the user's system may be the best answer. Some vendors have released tools to make this task easier. If you must distribute your driver in binary form, you need to look at the different kernels provided by your target distributions, and provide a version of the module for each. Be sure to take into account any errata kernels that may have been released since the distribution was produced. Then, there are licensing issues to be considered, as we discussed in Section 1.6. As a general rule, distributing things in source form is an easier way to make your way in the world.
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