Kernel Instrumentation

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Here is a listing of some instrumentation systems for the kernel:

Existing Instrumentation Systems


Andrew Morton's system for measuring intervals between kernel events:


Patches at:

Printk Times

Produces printk's with extra time data on them. As of kernel 2.6.11 this is part of the mainline kernel enabled by CONFIG_PRINTK_TIME. Previous versions can add it via a very simple patch. It works for bootup time measurements, or other places where you can just jam in a printk or two.

See Printk Times

Kernel Function Instrumentation (KFI)

A system which uses a compiler flag to instrument most of the functions in the kernel. Timing data is recorded at each function entry and exit. The data can be extracted and displayed later with a command-line program.

The kernel portion of this is available in the CELF tree now.

Grep for CONFIG_KFI.

See the page Kernel Function Instrumentation page for some preliminary notes.

FIXTHIS - need to isolate this as a patch.

Linux Trace Toolkit

See Linux Trace Toolkit

Kernel Tracer (in IKD patch)

This is part of a general kernel tools package, maintained by Andrea Arcangeli.


The ktrace implementation is in the file kernel/debug/profiler.c It was originally written by Ingo Molnar, Richard Henderson and/or Andrea Arcangeli

It uses the compiler flag -pg to add profiling instrumentation to the kernel.

Function trace in KDB

Last year (Jan 2002) Jim Houston sent a patch to the kernel mailing list which provides support compiler-instrumented function calls.



Ftrace is a simple function tracer which initially came from the -rt patches but was mainlined in 2.6.27. Compiler profiling features are used to insert an instrumentation call that can be overwritten with a NOP sequence to ensure overhead is minimal with tracing disabled. There are a number of tracers in the kernel that use ftrace to trace high level events such as irq enabling/disabling preemption enabling/disabling, scheduler events and branch profiling.

The interface to access ftrace can be found in /debugfs/tracing, and is documented in Documentation/ftrace.txt.


Some random thoughts on instrumentation:

  • Most instrumentation systems need lots of memory to buffer the data produced
  • Some instrumentation systems support filters or triggers to allow for better control over the information saved
  • instrumentation systems tend to introduce overhead or otherwise interfere with the thing they are measuring
    • instrumentation systems tend to pollute the cache lines for the processor
  • There doesn't seem to be a single API to support in-kernel timing instrumentation which is supported on lots of different architectures. This is the main reason for CELF's current project to define an Instrumentation API