Maintainability of the Kernels of Open-Source Operating Systems: A Comparison of Linux with FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD

Journal of Systems and Software, 79:807-815, December 2005.

Liguo Yu, Stephen R. Schach, Kai Chen, Gillian Z. Heller and Jeff Offutt


We compared and contrasted the maintainability of four open-source operating systems: Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD. We used our categorization of common coupling in kernel-based software to highlight future maintenance problems. An unsafe definition is a definition of a global variable that can affect a kernel module if that definition is changed. For each operating system we determined a number of measures, including the number of global variables, the number of instances of global variables in the kernel and overall, as well as the number of unsafe definitions in the kernel and overall. We also computed the value of each our measures per kernel KLOC and per KLOC overall. For every measure and every ratio, Linux compared unfavorably to FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD. Accordingly, we are concerned about the future maintainability of Linux.

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