Recently, I submitted my first kernel patch. I will note down the basic workflow of submitting code to kernel in this post. This folder contains more detailed instructions on how to become a kernel developer. My note will only contain minimal steps for a noob like me.

Check out kernel code

Check out the code you want to modify from kernel git repo. My change went into bpf-next so my first step was:

$ git clone

Coding Style

This doc is a complete guide for coding style. Here I will only note down 2 things that are different from my personal habit.


Always use tab instead of spaces for indentation and tabs are 8 characters. The reasons are:

  1. Make things easier to read – Large indentations define blocks more clearly than smaller ones.
  2. Prevent you from nesting your functions/conditions too deep – 8-character indentations push the code farther to the right so that you’re warned when you have a deep block.


Put the opening brace last on the line and put the closing brace first except for functions where the opening brace at the beginning of the next line. That is:

int function(int x)
        if (condition) {

And do not unnecessarily use braces where a single statement will do. That is:

if (condition)


if (condition)

unless one branch has more than one statements:

if (condition) {
} else {

To make sure I always follow the style, I installed a vim plugin linuxsty.vim to enforce it. I also have the following 2 lines in vim to make sure it’s only enforced in certain direcotry and can be enabled on demand.

let g:linuxsty_patterns = [ "/home/hechaol/git/linux" ]
nnoremap <silent> <leader>a :LinuxCodingStyle<cr>


When running git commit, you will need -s/--signoff option, which will add the following line at the end of the commit message:

Signed-off-by: Your Name <your-email-address>

For detailed explanation of sign-off, see this answer on StackOverflow.

Format Patch

You may want to split a big commit into smaller ones. If you have more than one commit, you will need a cover letter to explain what you’ve changed in these commits. For me, I had 3 commits and I created a folder for the patches.

$ makedir outgoing
$ git format-patch HEAD~3 --subject-prefix="PATCH bpf-next" --cover-letter -o outgoing/

--cover-letter option will generate an empty cover letter along with the actual patches. You will have to edit it.

$ vim outgoing/0000-cover-letter.patch

Check Patch

Optionally, you can check the patches using a script before sending them out.

$ scripts/ outgoing/*

It gives you warnings when you have style issues in your code, commit message or cover letter.

Send Patch

Once you are confident about the patches, you can send them to kernel mailing list using git send command. First add the following config to ~/.gitconfig.

  envelopesender = <your-email-address>

Then send the email by:

$ git send-email outgoing/* --to <a-mailing-list> --cc <people-you-want-to-CC>

The mailing list is different for different components. For example, for my patch, I did

$ git send-email outgoing/* --to --cc --cc <other people>

Update Patch

After the patch is sent out, you will receive feedback from people. After addressing review comments, you need to format a new patch. This time, in subject prefix, you will have to add “v2”. Also include what you’ve changed in the cover letter. For example:

$ git format-patch HEAD~3 --subject-prefix="PATCH v2 bpf-next" -o outgoing/
$ vim outgoing/0000-cover-letter.patch


  • You don’t have to add “v1” for your first version! (My mistake #1)

  • NO TOP-POSTING (My mistake #2) when you reply to people’s comment. That is, add your reply at the bottom of the original message instead of top.

  • PLAIN TEXT ONLY (My mistake #3) when you send/reply emails to the mailing list. Even though I had configured my email client (Apple Mail app) to use plain text by default, for some reason it still included HTML content in my reply, which got rejected by kernel mail server. After that I don’t trust GUI email client anymore. To make sure I don’t have any HTML/rich text in my email, I spent some time learning and setting up Mutt, a text-based email client, on my laptop. See this post for details.

  • You will have to include what you have changed for each version in the cover letter. (My mistake #4). That is, the cover letter of the first version should be something like:
    From: Your Name <your-email-address>
    Subject: [PATCH bpf-next 0/3] Bla Bla Bla

    Then the cover letter of the second version should be:

    From: Your Name <your-email-address>
    Subject: [PATCH v2 bpf-next 0/3] Bla Bla Bla
    v2: Fixed ... (review comments addressed)

    You may also look at old commit logs for examples.

  • When a person replies to your patch with “Acked-by: Their Name <their-email-address>”, it means the patch looks good to them. In your next version (in case you have to address other people’s comments), you can add this line under “Signed-off-by: Your Name <your-email-address>”.

    From: Your Name <your-email-address>
    Subject: [PATCH bpf-next 0/3] Bla Bla Bla
    Signed-off-by: Your Name <your-email-address>
    Acked-by: Their Name <their-email-address>

Wait Patiently

Once all comments are addressed, you will have to wait for the maintainer to apply the patch. And you will be notified once it’s done.