Google wants Android to run on mainline Linux kernel

Google wants to use the regular mainline Linux kernel for Android in the future. As a result, devices in the future would receive updates faster, among other things. Google has shown a working Android version on the mainline kernel.

Google hopes that Android will eventually be able to make full use of the mainline Linux kernel, the company said during the Linux Plumbers Conference 2019. This would allow every Android device to run on the same kernel, allowing for faster updates. Google showed a working version of Android on the regular Linux kernel during the conference. This Android version was shown on a Pocophone F1 from Xiaomi. The Pixel 3 would also be compatible according to the company. According to Google, only minimal patches were needed to get the prototype running on the phone. It is likely that some functions do not yet work on the prototype at the moment. For example, the battery percentage of the phone is at 0 percent.

The Pocophone F1 on the mainline kernel. Photo via Linux Plumbers Conference

Currently, Android already runs on the Linux kernel, but this is a heavily modified variant of it. At release, Google takes the lts version of the Linux kernel, and adapts it to the Android Common kernel through multiple patches specific to the Android operating system. This version of the kernel is then sent to chip manufacturers like Qualcomm, who then add patches to the hardware. This so-called soc kernel is then sent to phone manufacturers such as Samsung, Xiaomi and OnePlus, who in turn adapt the kernel with hardware-specific additions. The end result is a device kernel, which is ultimately used on Android devices. This is also the reason that some phones take a long time to wait for new Android versions, since lts updates have to be implemented by three different kernels.

The development process of the Linux kernel for Android. Photo from a Project Treble presentation

Getting Android on the standard mainline Linux kernel would greatly simplify development, as thousands of kernel changes would no longer be required for each device, and fewer parties would be involved in the development process. Devices would also receive updates faster. Last year, Google already took the first steps to get Android closer to the standard kernel. At the Linux Plumbers Conference in 2018, Google reported that the company made “only” 32,000 additions to the Linux kernel in 2018. A few years ago, that number was over 60,000. In the long run, Google hopes to make full use of the regular Linux kernel.

The fact that Google is working on this project does not mean that it will eventually succeed. Transferring Android to the default Linux kernel is a huge task, requiring a lot of additional programming. Hardware manufacturers will also have to cooperate in the project. In addition, many people in the Linux community are against a stable kernel interface, Ars Technica writes. According to Linux developers, this is because the Linux kernel’s development is “extremely fast, never stopping or slowing down.”

Currently, Google is also steadily working on Fuchsia, an entirely new operating system with its own kernel, called Zircon. Incidentally, the company indicates that Fuchsia is not intended as a replacement for Android.

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