Kernel space: Buried in warnings

The 2.6.19-rc4 prepatch release did not go quite as well as the developers might have liked; some confusion over the return type for an internal function led to an undesirable mixing of pointer and integer types in the depths of the block layer. As it turns out, gcc noticed this problem and duly issued warnings about it, but nobody saw them before the mistaken patch was merged and the resulting kernel shipped. This is, in other words, a problem which should have been easily avoidable.

Linus responded this way:

"And I have SYSFS enabled, so I should have seen this warning.

But I've become innoculated against warnings, just because we have too many of the totally useless noise about deprecation and crud, and ppc has it's own set of bogus compiler-and-linker-generated warnings..

At some point we should get rid of all the "politeness" warnings, just because they can end up hiding the _real_ ones."

A few kernel developers were doubtless wondering just why it took so long to reach this point - there have been complaints about excessive warnings for some time now. There is a lot of support for having the computer find problems whenever possible, and that has led to an increasing number of "must check" annotations and other changes which cause warnings to be issued whenever something looks suspicious. On top of that, gcc generates a fair number of warnings in situations where no real problems exist. The end result is that warnings which refer to real problems tend to get lost in the flood.

Patches which address many of the spurious "this variable might not be initialized before being used" warnings have been circulating for some time. There is resistance to applying them, however; some developers resent cluttering up the code (and bloating the kernel) with unneeded initializations to deal with what they see as a gcc bug. There is no real sign that this latest episode has changed the thinking on that score; the initialization patches may well continue to languish.

A different approach has been taken by Al Viro. He has developed a little tool called "remapper" which tracks how blocks of code move around from one kernel version to the next. Using the generated information, a set of compiler warnings from an old kernel can be remapped to their line numbers in a newer kernel. Then, a tool like diff can be used to compare the output from old and new compiles; the end result is a listing of the warnings which first appear in the new kernel - and only those. With this filtered output, developers can quickly find places where the compiler has pointed out real problems.

Remapper can be had via git from:

git://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/linux/kernel/git/viro/remapper.git

Dave Jones also makes daily snapshots available.

Use of remapper is relatively straightforward: after building the remap-log tool, one starts with a command like this:

diff-remap-data 2.6.19-rc2 2.6.19-rc3 > 2-to-3.map

The resulting "map" file is full of file names and numbers; they simply map line numbers from the old directory tree to the new one - and mark blocks of code which were removed altogether. There is another tool (git-remap-data) which performs the same task for two commits in a git repository; in this case, file renames can be handled properly as well.

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