Project page at SourceForge

Intro and Motivation

This is a tool to create and manage Linux kernel configuration files for different architectures and subarchitectures consistently, based on the high-level hierarchial descriptions of different "machines" with their hardware features and "distributions" with their usage/policy features. For example, you can request defconfigman to make a kernel configs to boot your devices via NFS - and it will does so, selecting suitable builtin network driver for various types of hardware - NE2000-based card for you x86 desktop system, USB Ethernet gadget driver for your ARM-based PDA, and WiFi chipset for you MIPS-based wireless router.

Defconfigman also handle propogation and consistency of constraints. Example of propogation was already shown - based on NFS boot's need to have builtin network driver, defconfigman will select one suitable for specific machine. Example of unification and validation of constraints is following: generally, we want USB gadget drivers to be built as modules, so we can use different gadgets at runtime. But if we want NFS boot, then we need builtin network driver, and if the only choice is USB ethernet gadget, then we can't have other gadgets modular (at least, kernel config doesn't allow us). In this case, we either switch to non-modular config, is distro just "recommended" modular gadgets, or throw an error, as it applies unsatisfiable requirements - to have both NFS boot on USB-only networking device and modular USB gadgets.

Users of "desktop" systems may ask why bother with all above, if there're such things as initrd, etc. Well, initrd is exactly production-level feature. If you do active low-level development, initrd may be just an extra hop - after all, it's easier to build a kernel, than a kernel plus initrd/initramfs. Add to this issues of embedded systems, like special requirements for initrd (they likely would be different from standard PC box, so initrd for them might need to be done not like for PC), more limited ability for diagnostics, or plain inability to use initrd at all, and feature of creating preconfigured kernel with same features for different embedded hardware won't seem that useless.

And still, that only one part of story of embedded development hardships. Another part is that embedded system are often and inherently SOC (system-on-chip) based. And due to peculiarities of SOCs, it's often required to build separate kernels even for close CPU models of the same family, with good example being Intel XScale PXA25x and PXA27x CPUs of ARM architecture. So, it would be a bit of chore to maintain separate defconfigs for these two CPUs - even if they were different in one CONFIG option, you'd need to run menuconfig twice on each of them to change anything, or at least to edit two files manually. Add to this need to support extra features of some CPU, and workaround bugs, and - you would write simple script to generate defconfigs from single template, right? So did I, and above describes into what defconfigman evolved ;-).

How it works

Defconfigmap operates with 3 types of notions - kernel features, distro features, and machine features. All of them are however syntactically represented with the same instrument - a feature structure, being a named collection of keys with associated values. Keys may refer either to other feature structures, or directly to kernel config options. Values are per kernel standard 'n', 'm', or 'y'. Values are "bound" to keys by one of two operators - weak or strong assignment. Weak assignments can be overriden (with either weak or srong assignment), whereas it is error to assign another (non-equal) value to strongly bound feature.

Machine Features

There is an abstract model of what a "machine" is, with feature names defined for each functional part/block of typical machine (provided model is based on typical PDA design). You define specific machine by providing "implementation" for these abstract features in terms of standard kernel CONFIG's. For example, there's a "machine.screen" feature for display surface of a machine. For some machine named "h4000" you would have in "h4000-features.conf" file:


meaning that to support h4000's screen, driver for PXA CPU's interternal framebuffer controller is needed, plus device-specific shim driver for LCD control.

Kernel Features

While machine feature are clearly represent machine- and hardware-specific aspects of complete kernel config, kernel feature represent machine-independent features. It's not always easy to draw the line between the too, so it is matter of convention. For example, for PDA hardware it is pretty natural to consider general I2C bus support as kernel feature, and only specific chips which master the bus, or at all connected to it - as machine dependencies.

As there may be pretty many kernel features, they are separated into kernel subsystems and kernel features per se. Again, line between them is set by convention. For example, mentioned I2C support is treated as I2C subsystem, while ability to boot from NFS - as a feature.

Distro Features

Distro config and features is what ties machine and kernel features together. That's where you specifies that particular distro wants any machine's screen, keys, and touchscreen drivers to be builtin, while sound, bluetooth and WiFi - modular, that there's should be support for EXT2 system, but without extended attributes, it should be able to boot from NFS, use preemptive kernel if possible, and EABI if built for ARM systems.

Using Defconfigman

There is a Makefile provided which creates defconfigs for some handheld models maintained in kernel tree. Just run "make" to generate them. Generated defconfigs still require extra "resolution" pass to be suitable for direct use. As usual, this would be done within kernel tree with standard "make oldconfig". Unfortuantly, "make oldconfig" (and "make silentoldconfig" for that matter) appears to be pretty buggy in 2.6, and can easily go into infinite loop with some hand-edited/automatically produced configs. "make menuconfig" was found to be robust, but obviously it requires some manual interaction. Fixing this issue is on TODO, and for now please do following:

  1. Copy gererated defconfig to the toplevel directory of the kernel tree.
  2. Rename it to .config.
  3. Run "make menuconfig".
  4. Immediately select "Exit".
  5. Select "Yes" at the request to save configuration.

After this, .config is fully complete, and can be built against.


Defconfiman is strongly influenced by OpenEmbedded cross-build system, . Concept of heaving different sets of machines, distros, their features, and combining them into single config by propogating constraints is based on its "task-base" feature, and is further elaboration of it. Defconfig itself concieved to address area not handled good enough (so far) by OE - while it provides flexible ways to build packages and file system images based on various requirements and constraints, one thing it doesn't address is handling kernel configuration consistently across different machines for which a distro is built. Defconfiman picks up just there. Logo