"Have you ever been an hour and a half into a bisection at 3AM then hit a massive oops deep in the TCP code which was spread across a large number of commits? I have and it wasn't fun. If I remember correctly I gave up and went to bed."
"Finally found it ... the patch below solves the sparsemem crash and the test system boots up fine now," announced Ingo Molnar. He described the patch as fixing a "memory corruption and crash on 32-bit x86 systems. If a !PAE x86 kernel is booted on a 32-bit system with more than 4GB of RAM, then we call memory_present() with a start/end that goes outside the scope of MAX_PHYSMEM_BITS." He included a source snippet with the loop that could corrupt memory, "depending on what that memory is, we might crash, misbehave or just not notice the bug." Ingo went on to note that the bug was first introduced with sparsemem support in the 2.6.16 kernel:
"I believe this was the reason why my many bisection attempts were unsuccessful: the bug pattern was not stable and seemingly working kernels had the memory corruption too. It was pure luck that v2.6.24 'worked' and v2.6.25-rc9 broke visibly."
Linux creator Linus Torvalds replied, "good job. I've pushed this out, and will let this simmer at least overnight to see if there are any brown-paper-bag issues (either with this or with some last changes from Andrew), but I'm happy, and I think I'll do the real 2.6.25 tomorrow."
Nick Piggin used 'git bisect' to track a lmbench regression to the main CFS commit, leading to an interesting discussion between Nick and Ingo Molnar. Ultimately the regression was tracked down to the temporary configurability of the scheduler while it is tuned for optimal performance, "one reason for the extra overhead is the current tunability of CFS, but that is not fundamental, it's caused by the many knobs that CFS has at the moment." The solution, already coded but not yet merged in the mainline kernel "changes those knobs to constants, allowing the compiler to optimize the math better and reduce code size," and as a result result, "CFS can be faster at micro-context-switching than 2.6.22."
Ingo described the lmbench configuration in question as a "micro-benchmark", and noted that with a macro-benchmark better performance was more pronounced, "because with CFS the _quality_ of scheduling decisions has increased. So even if we had increased micro-costs (which we wont have once the current tuning period is over and we cast the CFS parameters into constants), the quality of macro-scheduling can offset that, and not only on the desktop!" He summarized, "that's why our main focus in CFS was on the macro-properties of scheduling _first_, and then the micro-properties are adjusted to the macro-constraints as a second layer."
Following up to a bug report against the 2.6.22 kernel, Andrew Morton and Linus Torvalds offered some tips on how to debug kernel problems. Andrew first pointed to netconsole.txt for instructions on setting up a netconsole, "when the machine has stalled, see if you can get a task trace with ALT-SYSRQ-t. This will require CONFIG_MAGIC_SYSRQ=y and possibly setting ignore_loglevel on the kernel boot command line."
Linus Torvalds suggested "git bisect" as an alternative, "[it] will take some time, but is really a lot easier" He explains, "there's almost 7000 commits in between 2.6.21 and 22, but that still means that in about fourteen recompiles/reboots, "git bisect" should tell us where your problem starts, which will hopefully make it obvious what the problem is (or at least pinpoint it a *lot*)." He goes on to detail how to install git, obtain the latest kernel, and run "git bisect", "doing a git bisect isn't really that hard, but fourteen compiles/reboots will take some time (well, the compiles will, the reboots aren't that bad). But even if you're not a git user, it really is very simple". Specifically, he notes, "start the 'git bisect' with '
git bisect good v2.6.21', '
git bisect bad v2.6.22', and it will pick a kernel version about half-way between the two points, and you can now start testing. For each kernel you try, if it boots fine, do '
git bisect good', otherwise boot into a working kernel, and then do '
git bisect bad'. Git will then pick the next 'halfway' kernel for that case."