Brillo Common Kernel


Traditionally, products using the Linux kernel choose a single version to develop against and, ultimately, for the final release. In order to support new features, publish security updates, and fix bugs, that kernel must receive these changes on a regular basis. This becomes an increasingly difficult burden for product kernel engineers as the chosen kernel ages. New features, security updates, and bug fixes are being written for the latest upstream kernel, not a past kernel version. The older the product kernel becomes, the more time consuming it is to backport and test changes, and as the number of different product kernels grows, this becomes an exponential amount of work, from each perspective of development, review, and test.

In the case of a product having chosen a kernel version matching an [upstream Long Term Support (LTS) kernel version] (, security updates and bug fixes will be backported by upstream, reducing the burden on product kernel developers (but does not reduce the burden of testing). The burden of backporting new features, however, is not reduced. To support the latest Brillo functionality (which are expected to be regularly updated), new kernel features will be needed over time, and product kernels will need to have these kernel features backported. The scope of the work ends up looking very similar to the non-LTS burden from the previous paragraph, since product kernels are still aging quickly as the number of trees proliferates.

Regardless of how feature backports, security updates, and bug fixes are being accomplished, the product kernel keeps changing, so it needs to be retested before these changes can be published, no matter what the development burden has been. As the combinations of devices to chosen kernel versions to applications grows, the amount of testing required grows exponentially. Traditionally, Android-based devices fall out of support before the test burden exceeds engineering resources. However, since Brillo IoT devices are designed to be supported longer than phones (and likely with a much longer lifetime tail) this is not a sustainable way to handle kernel engineering and testing.


All Brillo devices will be built from a single common kernel tree which tracks the latest upstream LTS, even on released devices. This eliminates one of the combinatorial testing variables (the kernel version) by keeping it the same across all devices. Since each device’s kernel updates need to be tested anyway, there is no change to the required level of testing on a per-device basis, but we gain features, security updates, and bug fixes at a much lower engineering cost.

The Brillo kernel team will keep the Brillo common kernel updated with the upstream LTS kernel changes, Android-specific patches, and help forward-port vendor-specific patches. Vendors will no longer need to spend time on backporting the upstream and Android-specific changes across multiple product kernel trees and kernel versions. Vendor changes will be easier to review since they will go through Gerrit instead of having large sets of patches being pulled into git in bulk.

The Brillo team will be performing a variety of tests and continuous integration with starter boards on the Brillo kernel tree, so vendors gain that test coverage automatically as well.

Vendors are expected to develop against upstream, and cherry-pick back into the Brillo kernel. They’ll need to continually run their own tests with real devices, on the Brillo common kernel and the latest upstream kernel, preferably linux-next.

By developing upstream, vendors will create much more robust code and will not need to revisit these changes, since they will appear in new kernels that will be automatically available when the Brillo kernel moves forward. This also eliminates the need to know when a new LTS kernel will be available, since changes will already exist in upstream, and porting to the new LTS will be either automatic or trivial.

In the very rare case where there are vendor-specific changes to be made that cannot be legitimately upstreamed, they will be easy to review since they should be mostly confined to driver or SoC areas. In really tight spots, or for demonstrably required core changes that upstream will not take, the Brillo kernel team will help wrap features in kernel CONFIGs to keep vendor-specific changes isolated.

To keep forward-porting easy, the Brillo kernel tree will use common development processes including regular commit prefix and body fields, as detailed in the following sections.


Vendors should follow the common conventions for sending Linux kernel patches, with special attention given to the “Select the recipients for your patch” section. If you need, please keep some of the Brillo kernel developers on CC in case they can help.

For a device to use the Brillo common kernel, having code already present in the upstream tree is preferred (since it will automatically end up in the existing or future Brillo common kernel), but when upstream is ahead of the current LTS, upstream changes can be cherry-picked back to the Brillo common kernel (and marked as “UPSTREAM” or “BACKPORT” below).

However, frequently after sending code upstream there can be a long lead time or various other challenges to address before the code will land. In these cases, a patch series can be added to the Brillo common kernel tree once it appears on the appropriate upstream development mailing list (and marked as “FROMLIST” below).

Brillo kernel commit conventions

Commit prefix conventions

The Brillo kernel starts its life as an upstream kernel with Android, Brillo, and vendor commits added on top. To be able to distinguish the commits easily, we use a commit prefix convention similar to Chrome OS:

  • "UPSTREAM: " The commit comes from upstream from a later kernel version, and its original SHA is noted in a “cherry-picked from ...” line at the end of the body of the commit message, before the committer's Signed-off-by line.
  • "BACKPORT: " The commit is an “UPSTREAM” commit, as noted above, just had conflicts that needed to be resolved. The conflicts are noted at the end of the body of the commit message.
  • "FROMLIST: " The commit is from an upstream mailing list, and is likely to be accepted into upstream, but has not yet landed. The mailing list archive URL to the commit, or Message-ID, is noted at the end of the body of the commit message.
  • "ANDROID: " The commit originates from the Android kernel tree, and is not yet upstream.
  • "BRILLO: " The commit is Brillo-specific, and is not yet upstream.
  • "VENDOR: vendor-name: " The commit comes from a vendor (where “vendor-name” is replaced with the vendor), and contains commits not yet upstream.
  • "RFC: " A temporary state where comments are requested before attempting to upstream the commit (after which it would move to “FROMLIST:”)

Commit fields

Each commit should have fields at the end of the commit body:

  • “Bug: bug-number” This is required, and references the bug fixed by the commit. Used to separate the commit body from the other fields below.
  • “(cherry picked from commit SHA...)” This, or a similar line (“... from -stable commit SHA...”, “... from URL...”, “Message-Id: ...”), is required to identify where the commit comes from in the case of the “UPSTREAM”, “BACKPORT”, or “FROMLIST” prefixes. For URLs, links are preferred.
  • “Signed-off-by: your-name ” This is required to track the origin of changes in the kernel tree.
  • “Patchset: name-of-series” This is highly recommended to distinguish series of changes that belong together. Using "Bug: " alone for this tends not to be sufficient in the case where a feature evolves over time or needs additional fixes later.
  • “Change-Id: random-id” This is required for Gerrit to to track changes, and must be in the last paragraph.


If the original commit looked like the following, a Brillo common kernel commit would appear like so (new prefix and fields shown in bold).

Original commit

ARM: do awesome stuff

This fiddles the thing to get impressive results.

Signed-off-by: Cool Developer

Brillo common kernel commit

UPSTREAM: ARM: do awesome stuff

This fiddles the thing to get impressive results.

Signed-off-by: Cool Developer

Bug: 0123456
Patchset: be-awesome

(cherry picked from abc123123123123123123123123)
Signed-off-by: Kees Cook
Change-Id: I9999999999999999999999999999999999