The Linux Foundation Technical Advisory Board has released its findings regarding the University of Minnesota’s (UMN) contributions to the Linux kernel—including those related to the research projects that got the university banned from working on that kernel. The group also explained how the school might be able to earn some forgiveness, but it won’t be easy.
A quick refresher: In mid-April, the Linux developer who oversees the kernel’s stable channel, Greg Kroah-Hartman, banned the entire UMN system from contributing to the Linux kernel in response to a couple of the university’s research projects that centered on purposefully introducing faulty code to the kernel. The situation quickly became a point of contention to many in the Linux developer community.
UMN’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering apologized for the research, as did the assistant professor and the graduate students who conducted it, in the days following Kroah-Hartman’s announcement. But the Technical Advisory Board still had to double-check every UMN-related contribution to the Linux kernel.
The board released its findings on Wednesday in an email to the Linux kernel mailing list. In the email, board member Kees Cook said the group had to re-review 435 commits, or code contributions, to the Linux kernel that were associated with UMN. Here’s how Cook summarized the quality of those commits:
– commits found to be correct (349)
– commits found to be incorrect and in need of fixing (39)
– commits already fixed by later commits (25)
– commits that no longer matter (12)
– commits made before the research group existed (9)
– commits the author asked to have removed (1)
That means the vast majority of commits associated with UMN were benign—but that doesn’t change the fact that the Technical Advisory Board had to devote a significant amount of time to re-reviewing that code. That time could have been better spent doing almost literally anything else related to the Linux kernel.
Cook also said “UMN must improve the quality of the changes that are proposed for inclusion into the kernel” following this controversy, and that the Technical Advisory Board “will create a document explaining best practices for all research groups to follow when working with the kernel (and open-source projects in general).”
The board recommended that the UMN CSE find an experienced developer who can help it improve the quality of its code, better understand the Linux community, and prevent controversial research from “getting beyond the idea stage.” It also recommended a more thorough review process for proposed research projects.
“Until such a review process is put into place, it will be difficult to re-establish the trust between UMN and the kernel community, and patches from UMN will continue to find a chilly reception,” Cook said in the email. “If UMN needs help to find such a developer or to set up an internal review process, the TAB will be glad to assist. This is a role the TAB has played with many groups in the past.”