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knock-out

Crate with an example of a kernel module in Rust

What does this crate actually do?

This repo is a Makefile with a Rust project that, using Kbuild, the kernel's build system, will generate a kernel module file named parrot.ko.

The kernel module creates a char device that on every read() call, will return a new frame of an ASCII art party parrot in your terminal, which ultimately makes an animation appear when used with cat.

Why would you do this?

The impetus was originally that I was talking with a colleague, rpless, about parrot.live. This came up during the same conversation as my desire to do something in kernel space and my love of Rust. He suggested jokingly that I should do this. I decided to try it out.

On a more technical level, I was interested in seeing how compatible Rust actually is on a C ABI level. I was also interested in digging into Rust internals a bit more. Debugging some of the initial issues that came up trying to load the Rust kernel module was pretty fun and taught me a lot about the compiler and the Linux kernel.

What are the practical applications of this?

There are a few interesting applications that can be derived from this project.

  1. How to integrate with Kbuild, the kernel build system
  2. How to link the core Rust library into a kernel module (see the Makefile)
  3. Design patterns to reduce the amount of unsafe code in a kernel module
  • One example is providing a wrapper for the kernel's mutex interface for accessing global state safely
  • Another example is wrapping certain FFI calls in type safe Rust functions to remove the need for passing in a calculated length parameter in Rust
  1. Above all, I learned that using C where C is needed should not be avoided
  • There are circumstances where it makes sense to provide an interface that passes void pointers to C and uses C to carry out the operations natively
  • There are other circumstances where the developer can lift some of those operations into Rust
  • Typically this depends heavily on whether macros or C structs are involved (as those often are littered with #ifdefs in the kernel)
    • If there are C macros, you're most likely better off doing it in C

Watch my talk!

I gave a more in depth explanation of the process of creating this kernel module at DevConf.cz 2020.

Instructions for party parrot

# Make sure Rust is installed via rustup
# See https://rustup.rs/ for instructions

# This project requires a nightly Rust build
rustup default nightly

# Build and load the kernel module
make
sudo insmod parrot.ko

# Find the char device ID in the kernel
cat /proc/devices | grep parrot

# Make the device node exposing the char device
sudo mknod /dev/parrot c [ID_FROM_PREVIOUS_COMMAND] 0

# Party hard!
cat /dev/parrot

Attribution for ASCII art

The frames for the parrot were shamelessly lifted from parrot.live. Please go there if you like the ASCII art and shower the maker with praise - they're not mine.

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