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2.2. Compiling Kernel Modules

Kernel modules need to be compiled a bit differently from regular userspace apps. Former kernel versions required us to care much about these settings, which are usually stored in Makefiles. Although hierarchically organized, many redundant settings accumulated in sublevel Makefiles and made them large and rather difficult to maintain. Fortunately, there is a new way of doing these things, called kbuild, and the build process for external loadable modules is now fully integrated into the standard kernel build mechanism. To learn more on how to compile modules which are not part of the official kernel (such as all the examples you'll find in this guide), see file linux/Documentation/kbuild/modules.txt.

So, let's look at a simple Makefile for compiling a module named hello-1.c:

Example 2-2. Makefile for a basic kernel module

obj-m += hello-1.o

	make -C /lib/modules/$(shell uname -r)/build M=$(PWD) modules

	make -C /lib/modules/$(shell uname -r)/build M=$(PWD) clean

From a technical point of view just the first line is really necessary, the "all" and "clean" targets were added for pure convenience.

Now you can compile the module by issuing the command make . You should obtain an output which resembles the following:

hostname:~/lkmpg-examples/02-HelloWorld# make
make -C /lib/modules/2.6.11/build M=/root/lkmpg-examples/02-HelloWorld modules
make[1]: Entering directory `/usr/src/linux-2.6.11'
  CC [M]  /root/lkmpg-examples/02-HelloWorld/hello-1.o
 Building modules, stage 2.
  CC      /root/lkmpg-examples/02-HelloWorld/hello-1.mod.o
  LD [M]  /root/lkmpg-examples/02-HelloWorld/hello-1.ko
make[1]: Leaving directory `/usr/src/linux-2.6.11'

Note that kernel 2.6 introduces a new file naming convention: kernel modules now have a .ko extension (in place of the old .o extension) which easily distinguishes them from conventional object files. The reason for this is that they contain an additional .modinfo section that where additional information about the module is kept. We'll soon see what this information is good for.

Use modinfo hello-*.ko to see what kind of information it is.

hostname:~/lkmpg-examples/02-HelloWorld# modinfo hello-1.ko
filename:       hello-1.ko
vermagic:       2.6.11 preempt PENTIUMII 4KSTACKS gcc-3.3

Nothing spectacular, so far. That changes once we're using modinfo on one of our the later examples, hello-5.ko .

hostname:~/lkmpg-examples/02-HelloWorld# modinfo hello-5.ko
filename:       hello-5.ko
license:        GPL
author:         Peter Jay Salzman
vermagic:       2.6.11 preempt PENTIUMII 4KSTACKS gcc-3.3
parm:           myintArray:An array of integers (array of int)
parm:           mystring:A character string (charp)
parm:           mylong:A long integer (long)
parm:           myint:An integer (int)
parm:           myshort:A short integer (short)

Lot's of useful information to see here. An author string for bugreports, license information, even a short description of the parameters it accepts.

Additional details about Makefiles for kernel modules are available in linux/Documentation/kbuild/makefiles.txt. Be sure to read this and the related files before starting to hack Makefiles. It'll probably save you lots of work.

Now it is time to insert your freshly-compiled module it into the kernel with insmod ./hello-1.ko (ignore anything you see about tainted kernels; we'll cover that shortly).

All modules loaded into the kernel are listed in /proc/modules. Go ahead and cat that file to see that your module is really a part of the kernel. Congratulations, you are now the author of Linux kernel code! When the novelty wears off, remove your module from the kernel by using rmmod hello-1. Take a look at /var/log/messages just to see that it got logged to your system logfile.

Here's another exercise for the reader. See that comment above the return statement in init_module()? Change the return value to something negative, recompile and load the module again. What happens?