Google Finally Shifting To "Upstream First" Linux Kernel Approach For Android Features

Written by Michael Larabel in Google on 22 September 2021 at 02:38 PM EDT. 47 Comments
Google's Android had been notorious for all of its downstream patches carried by the mobile operating system as well as various vendor/device kernel trees while in recent years more of that code has been upstreamed. Google has also been shifting to the Android Generic Kernel Image (GKI) as the basis for all their product kernels to further reduce the fragmentation. Looking ahead, Google is now talking of an "upstream first" approach for pushing new kernel features.

Google's Todd Kjos talked today during Linux Plumbers Conference (LPC2021) around their Generic Kernel Image initiative. With Android 12 and their Linux 5.10 based GKI image they have further cut down the fragmentation to the extent that it's "nearly eliminated". With the Android 12 GKI, most of the vendor/OEM kernel features have now either been upstreamed into the Linux kernel, isolated to vendor modules/hooks, or merged into the Android Common Kernel.

They are making good progress on the GKI front and also ensuring vendors adapt to the new approach to cut down on the kernel mess. But perhaps most exciting is their outlook for 2023 to 2024 for further reducing technical debt.

They are going to pursue an "upstream first development model for new features" in making sure new code first lands into the mainline Linux kernel rather than aiming straight for lodging within the Android source tree.

Google is also committing to "work towards upstreaming all out-of-tree patches in Android Common Kernels."

If they can pull this off and seriously commit to "upstream first" of new kernel features it will be wonderful, but we'll see how it pans out over the coming years.

More details via the presentation below and the accompanying slide deck.

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Michael Larabel is the principal author of and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 20,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter, LinkedIn, or contacted via

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