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grok the kernel via a cmake shim
CMake Ruby
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habemus-papadum Merge pull request #5 from mjkoo/fix-tools-path
Fix issue detecting source files not built with source root as working directory
Latest commit 5f5cc5a Apr 20, 2019
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.idea v1 Nov 8, 2017
.gitignore Initial commit Nov 8, 2017
CMakeLists.txt v1 Nov 8, 2017 Update Aug 30, 2018
compile_commands.json v1 Nov 8, 2017
generate_cmake Fix issue detecting source files not built with source root as workin… Apr 19, 2019
investigate.rb v1 Nov 8, 2017


grok the linux kernel via a cmake shim

I'm sure there are great ways to spelunk the kernel with an ide... This is my attempt to rig something together using a simple ruby script and a roll of duct tape.


  • create compile_commands.json for kernel using an intercepted build
  • use ruby script to convert compile_commands.json into an IDE friendly CMakeLists.txt

Possible steps

(Note: not fully tested. Requires some prior knowledge to work around typos etc)

  • Install scan-build (a build interceptor)
## requires python
pip install scan-build --user
## installs intercept-build tool in ~/.local/bin


  • Install Bear (Another build interceptor; wont work on recent MacOs, likely thwarted by selinux)
git clone && cd Bear
mkdir build && cd build
cmake .. && make 
sudo make install
cd ../..
  • Grab the kernel and build
git clone git://
cd linux-stable
git reset --hard v4.14-rc2  ## random known good version
make defconfig

## Note that we intercept the build

## _Either_
bear make -j 12  ## create compile_commands.json

## _Or_ 
~/.local/bin/intercept-build make -j 12  ## create compile_commands.json

cd .. 
  • Use our ruby script
git clone

cd linux-stable
../kernel-grok/generate_cmake  ## creates CMakeLists.txt

## test that generated cmake is valid
mkdir build
cd build
cmake .. && make -j12
  • Now open linux-stable/CMakeLists.txt in an ide (tried testing with clion; though takes about 10 minutes to index the project initially; at first it seemed like an epic fail, but seems quite usable after initial indexing and then restarting)
  • note generate-cmake -d option if not using clion or if cmake build directory is not one level under kernel source root

Theory of operation

  • using compilation database generated by bear/intercept-build, a cmake shim is created that creates a single cmake OBJECT library (this is a somewhat obscure library type that as opposed to SHARED performs no linking).
  • The shim should properly properly compile -- though it just creates object files that are then abandoned (not linked into a final kernel). This means your ide can be used not only for semantic navigation e.g. it knows where to find headers and knows about -Ddefines and so can jump to defintions and find usages etc, but also allows for testing whether edits to existing files compile -- perhaps 90% of the typical dev workflow.
  • Analogy might be Xcode projects generated by CMake. Can be used to make some edits, but larger things like adding files, etc cannot be done in Xcode. So after big changes e.g. new file, new kernel config, you must repeat intercepted KBuild, regenerate shim, and then reload project in ide
  • Use ide compilation to test if your edits compile (only worth it because it is easy to navigate to errors when you ide does the build). Use KBuild to create a proper image to run in qemu etc.
  • NOTE: Everything depends on the kernel actually being built at least once with normal Kbuild. There are generated files that are needed.
  • NOTE: Although a CMakeLists.txt is included in the repo for providing a quick look at what is being done, it should not be used -- GENERATE YOUR OWN
  • NOTE: linux assumes builds are done from the root src directory e.g. "in-tree". Some hacking is done to allow the cmake shim to work out of tree (again, cf. -d option as well as the actual ruby code (which is pretty simple))
  • NOTE: An alternative would be to use {spac}emacs + rtags -- TODO: compare and constrast vs clion
  • A similar approach can be taken to spelunk through other non-cmake projects , though each project will require some tinkering
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