This directory attempts to document the ABI between the Linux kernel and
userspace, and the relative stability of these interfaces. Due to the
everchanging nature of Linux, and the differing maturity levels, these
interfaces should be used by userspace programs in different ways.
We have four different levels of ABI stability, as shown by the four
different subdirectories in this location. Interfaces may change levels
of stability according to the rules described below.
The different levels of stability are:
This directory documents the interfaces that the developer has
defined to be stable. Userspace programs are free to use these
interfaces with no restrictions, and backward compatibility for
them will be guaranteed for at least 2 years. Most interfaces
(like syscalls) are expected to never change and always be
This directory documents interfaces that are felt to be stable,
as the main development of this interface has been completed.
The interface can be changed to add new features, but the
current interface will not break by doing this, unless grave
errors or security problems are found in them. Userspace
programs can start to rely on these interfaces, but they must be
aware of changes that can occur before these interfaces move to
be marked stable. Programs that use these interfaces are
strongly encouraged to add their name to the description of
these interfaces, so that the kernel developers can easily
notify them if any changes occur (see the description of the
layout of the files below for details on how to do this.)
This directory documents interfaces that are still remaining in
the kernel, but are marked to be removed at some later point in
time. The description of the interface will document the reason
why it is obsolete and when it can be expected to be removed.
This directory contains a list of the old interfaces that have
been removed from the kernel.
Every file in these directories will contain the following information:
What: Short description of the interface
Date: Date created
KernelVersion: Kernel version this feature first showed up in.
Contact: Primary contact for this interface (may be a mailing list)
Description: Long description of the interface and how to use it.
Users: All users of this interface who wish to be notified when
it changes. This is very important for interfaces in
the "testing" stage, so that kernel developers can work
with userspace developers to ensure that things do not
break in ways that are unacceptable. It is also
important to get feedback for these interfaces to make
sure they are working in a proper way and do not need to
be changed further.
How things move between levels:
Interfaces in stable may move to obsolete, as long as the proper
notification is given.
Interfaces may be removed from obsolete and the kernel as long as the
documented amount of time has gone by.
Interfaces in the testing state can move to the stable state when the
developers feel they are finished. They cannot be removed from the
kernel tree without going through the obsolete state first.
It's up to the developer to place their interfaces in the category they
wish for it to start out in.
Notable bits of non-ABI, which should not under any circumstances be considered
- Kconfig. Userspace should not rely on the presence or absence of any
particular Kconfig symbol, in /proc/config.gz, in the copy of .config
commonly installed to /boot, or in any invocation of the kernel build
- Kernel-internal symbols. Do not rely on the presence, absence, location, or
type of any kernel symbol, either in System.map files or the kernel binary
itself. See Documentation/stable_api_nonsense.txt.