Re: kernel upgrade on the fly

From: Rob Landley (
Date: Tue Jun 18 2002 - 14:37:23 EST

On Tuesday 18 June 2002 05:21 pm, wrote:
> Hi all,
> has anybody worked or thought about a property to upgrade the kernel
> while the system is running? ie. with all processes waiting in their
> queues while the resident-older kernel gets replaced by a newer one.

Thought about, yes. At length. That's why it hasn't been done. :)

Closest you'll get at the moment is some variant of two kernel monte, I.E. a
reboot to a new kernel with all processes offed, but at least without
involving the bios.

The new swsup infrastructure from pavel machek theoretically lets you freeze
the state of your system to disk, so we're a heck of a lot farther ahead then
we were. If you want to re-open this can of worms, the only way to go is to
start with some combination of these two projects:

That said, the fundamental problem is that when you change kernels, run-time
state structures change. Parsing your run-time state from oldvers to feed
into newvers can't really be done automatically because your tool wouldn't
know what any of the changes MEAN, so you would probably have to write a
custom frozen process converter, which would be a pain and a half to debug,
to say the least. (And by the time you've got that even half debugged you
need to do it for the NEXT kernel...)

Of course software suspend theoretically deals with at least some of the
device driver issues, so there's a certain amount of handwaving you can do on
that end. And migrating hot network connections is something people have in
fact done before, although you'll have to ask around about who. (Ask the
security nuts, they consider it a bad thing. :)

Nothing is impossible for anyone impervious to reason, and you might suprise
us (it'd make a heck of a graduate project). Hot migration isn't IMPOSSIBLE,
it's just a flipping pain in the ass. But the issue's a bit threadbare in
these parts (somewhere between "are we there yet mommy?" and "can I buy a
pony?"). Try the swsup mailing list, they might be willing to humor you...

(And the people most likely to WANT this feature ("this system never goes
down" types) are also the least likely to want to deal with subtle bugs from
a bad conversion that don't manifest until a week after the new system comes
up when cron goes nuts at 3 am. Of course whether hot migration it's more
dangerous to your data than the interaction between Andre's and Martin's
egoes in the ATAPI layer is an open question... :) Ahem. Right...)

The SANE answer always has been to just schedule some down time for the box.
The insane answer involves giving an awful lot of money to Sun or IBM or some
such for hot-pluggable backplanes. (How do you swap out THE BACKPLANE?
That's an answer nobody seems to have...)

Clusters. Migrating tasks in the cluster, potentially similar problem. Look
at mosix and the NUMA stuff as well, if you're actually serious about this.
You have to reduce a process to its vital data, once all the resources you
can peel away from it have been peeled away, swapped out, freed, etc. If you
can suspend and save an individual running process to a disk image (just a
file in the filesystem), in such a way that it can be individually re-loaded
later (by the same kernel), you're halfway there. No, it's not as easy as it
sounds. :)

> I can see the advantage of such a thing when a server can have the kernel
> upgraded (major or minor upgrade) without disrupting the ongoing services
> (ok, maybe a small few-seconds delay). Another instance would be to
> switch between different kernels in the /boot/ directory (for testing
> purposes, etc.) without rebooting the machine.

See "belling the cat". Yeah, it's a great idea. The implementation's the
tricky bit.

> Would anybody else think this to be an interesting property to have for
> the linux kernel or care to comment on this idea?
> Cheers,
> Adi Zaimi
> Rutgers University

Don't you guys have professors you can ask about this sort of thing? (Or are
you going to the camden campus, says the alumni who survived the first year
of Whitman's budget cuts...)

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