Matthew Garrett (mjg59) wrote,

Android

As a brief introduction to this - I first read through the Android code when interviewing with Google for an opening with the Android kernel team. I didn't get the job, and while I don't think anything that follows here is as a result of residual bitterness you might want to take some of it with a pinch of salt.

Anyway. Android is a Linux kernel with a heavily customised user layer that bears little resemblance to any traditional Linux system. I write in C because using pointer arithmetic lets people know that you're virile so this Java-like thing is of little interest to me and I'm going to ignore it and just look at the kernel, because after all that's what I'm paid to be good at.

The short summary of the rest of this post is that I'm not planning on giving up my iphone yet.

The Android kernel source lives in a git tree here. It can pretty much be logically split into two parts - the port to Qualcomm's MSM7xxx series chips and the special Android customisations. A bunch of the MSM7xxx port code has been merged through the ARM tree and is now upstream, and Brian Swetland seems to have been fairly active in looking after that. Full marks to Google there. This code is handy outside the Android world and benefits anyone wanting to run Linux on similar devices.

The Android-specific code is more... interesting.

As I mentioned, the Android application layer isn't Unix in any real sense. The kernel reflects this. It ranges from pragmatic (if hacky) approaches like encoding security policy and capabilities in group IDs that are hardcoded into the kernel through to implementing an in-kernel IPC mechanism (apparently related to the OpenBinder implementation from Palm, but judging by the copyrights a complete rewrite). To an extent, I'm fine with this. Something like Binder is pretty clearly not going upstream, so the fact that it engages in bizarre design decisions like sticking chunks of its interface in /proc is pretty irrelevant. What's more interesting is the code that should be generalisable.

I work on power management, so I'm always interested in what kind of power management functionality and interfaces people want. Plumbers included a nice discussion with someone from an embedded company I can't remember, culminating in us deciding that the existing cpufreq interface did what they wanted and so no new interfaces needed to be defined. Google was going to be an interesting case of a large company hiring people both from the embedded world and also the existing Linux development community and then producing an embedded device that was intended to compete with the very best existing platforms. I had high hopes that this combination of factors would result in the Linux community as a whole having a better idea what the constraints and requirements for high-quality power management in the embedded world were, rather than us ending up with another pile of vendor code sitting on an FTP site somewhere in Taiwan that implements its power management by passing tokenised dead mice through a wormhole.

To a certain extent, my hopes were fulfilled. We got a git server in California.

Android contains something called the android_power driver (ignore the references to CSMI, which is a piece of OMAP-specific hardware for communicating with the baseband - I'm not sure what they're doing in there). As far as I can tell, this is an interface that handles the device being locked and unlocked, and associated powering down of certain bits of hardware. Except it's shit. Devices register device handlers and a level where they wish to be suspended. There's no direct concept of intra-device dependencies so you end up with stuff like:
android_early_suspend_t early_suspend;
android_early_suspend_t slightly_earlier_suspend;
to deal with the fact that the MSM framebuffer driver depends on the MDDI driver having brought the link bank up and so needs its suspend method called before the MDDI driver but its resume method to be called after, and the only way to handle that is to register two methods - the "slightly earlier" one which has a suspend method but no resume, and the "early" one which has a resume method but no suspend one.

Of course, this also means that all of your device runtime power management policy ends up in the kernel. Userspace indicates what state it wants to go to and the kernel decides what's going to get powered down. This kind of coarse grained approach means that as your hardware setup becomes more complex you hit combinatorial explosion. Expressing all the useful combinations of hardware state simply becomes impractical if all you're exposing is a single variable. What would be more useful is the ability for userland to interact with individual pieces of hardware.

The amusing thing is that in many cases Linux already has this. Take a look at the backlight and LCD class drivers, for instance. They provide a trivial mechanism for userspace to indicate its desires and then modify the device power state. It's true that there are other pieces of hardware that don't currently have interfaces to provide this kind of information. And that's where cooperation with the existing community comes in. We've already successfully fleshed out interfaces for runtime power management for several hardware classes, with the main thing blocking us being a lack of awareness of what the use cases for the remaining classes are. But linux-pm has seen nobody from the Android team, and so we end up with a lump of code solving a problem that shouldn't exist.

When Robert Love gave his presentation on Android at Lugradio Live in SF back in April, he talked about how one of the reasons that Google weren't releasing the source for their userland stack until they shipped phones was to prevent it being seen as throwing unfinished code over the wall and then ignoring the community. It's unfortunate that this is almost exactly what's happened with their kernel. Right now the fact that Android is based on Linux is doing almost nothing to benefit the larger Linux community. What could have been a valuable opportunity for us to gain understanding of an interesting problem has instead ended up as yet another embedded vendor kernel, despite all the assurances I got from various people at Google.

Disappointing.
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