Rusty Russell's Coding Blog | Stealing From Smart People

Jul/13

23

On Linux-Kernel Mailing List Behavior

As raised recently by Sarah Sharp, the Linux Kernel mailing list (lkml) has a reputation as an intimidating place.  The context (covered so well by LWN) was that Greg Kroah-Hartman, the stable maintainer, is seen as a soft touch who accepts patches Linus wouldn’t.

There’s been much uninformed discussion from those outside lkml, so let’s start with a common basis:

  1. Sarah Sharp is an established and respected kernel maintainer.  She’s made it.
  2. Linus (and other developers) are human, and sometimes write in anger.

Now my opinions, as someone who cares about this issue and has been working on the kernel for about 16 years.

The kernel mailing list is much friendlier than it used to be: some of its reputation is now undeserved.  Linus is unreserved in criticising code or actions, but rarely crosses into ad-hominem.  His absolutist statements reduce RTT by telling you what is required; geeks love to argue, but it’s pointless because it’s his git tree.

That said, imitating Linus on lkml causes problems; without his authority, loudly claiming absolutes is simply ranting.  This escalates until it’s remarkably hard to avoid crossing into personal attacks; most of us inevitably double-down when we’re criticized, and train-wreck ensues.

I plan to follow Sarah’s example and respond when someone’s abusive.  Making it clear what’s expected should make things more pleasant eventually.  It’s been about ten years since I decided to reduce my flames to a single post every year; I’m now going to aim for zero (aka. “What Would Sarah Sharp Do?”)

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2 Comments for On Linux-Kernel Mailing List Behavior

Dan Kegel | July 24, 2013 at 8:03 am

I wish this had happened years ago!

Richard Guy Briggs | December 5, 2013 at 4:01 am

Two thumbs up. Leadership by example rocks. It is never too late.

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