Best book on Linux kernel internals

Write an MSc project report means having to read a lot of source code and constantly referring to texts in the hope that they will make things clearer.

I have three books on the kernel – there are obviously others, but I think two of these three will be familiar to most kernel hackers – but it is the third that I rate most highly.

Understanding the Linux kernel
Understanding the Linux Kernel: for many this must feel like the standard text on the kernel – it’s published by O’Reilly, so (my experience with their XML Pocket Reference not withstanding) will be good, it’s well printed and readable and it is, after all, the third edition of a book your forefathers used. But the problem is, it is also now six years old and  a lot has happened since then. I well remember going into Foyles in the autumn of 2005 and seeing it newly minted on the shelves. For a long time it could hide behind the fact that the kernel was still in the 2.6 series, but even that protection is gone. Verdict: Venerable but getting close to past it.




Linux kernel developmentLinux Kernel Development: the previous, second, edition of this book was a fantastic introduction to how the kernel worked and was written in a slightly whimsical tone which made it easier to read. It is rare that one can read a computer book like a novel, starting from the first page and going on to the end, but you could with that. Sadly someone seems to have got to Robert Love (who, from personal experience I know to be a great guy) and presumably told him he had to be more serious if he wanted his book to be a set text for CS courses. The problem is that the book now falls between two stools – somewhere between a solid but broad introduction to how the kernel works and a guide to writing kernel code. Unfortunately,  it does not quite hit either target. That said, it is still worth having. Verdict: Good, but where did the magic go?






Wrox kernel bookProfessional Linux Kernel Architecture : unfortunately, everything about the Wrox brand suggests “cheap and nasty”, which is a real pity, as this book is the best of the bunch. Admittedly it would not, as Robert Love’s book, be at all suitable as a primer for operating system study – it is far too big and detailed for that. But if you are looking for an up to date (or reasonably so, anyway) helpmate for actually patching the kernel, then this seems to be the best choice. Sadly the cheap and nasty side does creap through on occasion with bad editing/translation, but it’s not enough to stop me from recommending it. Verdict: this one’s a keeper, for now any way.


4 responses to “Best book on Linux kernel internals”

  1. just got a copy of Linux Kernel Development 3rd edition and still reading it. My background is not computer science or similar major but currently working on computing fields. what about operating system books in general? what’s your favorite?

  2. Jon Corbet (who has also written Linux kernel books) also reviewed LKD on .

    1. Much better review than mine. JC’s book on device drivers is a must, of course.

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