Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Google Extends Linux Support for Four Years – Spiceworks

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  • Google has committed to a four-year extension of support for Linux kernel forks with the 6.6 version.
  • Linux kernels are critical for Android devices to receive security updates periodically.

Google intends to extend its support for the Linux fork kernel for four years with version 6.6. This development comes as the Linux kernel project has halted its six-year commitment to Long-Term Support (LTS) release, limiting it to two years. Since the project is crucial to the security of Android devices, Google has decided to pick it up instead.

Android device security relies on Linux kernels and requires regular updates to allow improvements to security mechanisms and to execute security patches. Linux kernel primarily originates from Google’s Android Common Kernel (ACK) branch, which is sourced from the primary Android kernel branch after every new LTS release.

Longer periods of support had put significant pressure on Linux kernel managers and developers, many of whom are unpaid volunteers. Consequently, Maintenance Linux decided to reduce the support to two more years.

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With Google taking up the responsibility for maintaining the fork of each LTS Linux kernel release, developers can submit features for Android devices even during upstream development, in addition to including specific vendor or OEM features helpful for Android partners. Furthermore, the forks can hold norps and backports of the upstream functionality needed for Android.

Vulnerabilities affecting Linux kernels are uncovered in Android Security Bulletins and patched via updates. However, bug fixes may not always fix security issues, which developers may not notice or disclose. Consequently, Google is urging OEMs to update LTS frequently to minimize risks.

Extending support for the LTS kernel will allow OEMs and Google to keep their devices updated with security improvements for more extended periods. The initial six-year LTS Linux cycle allowed OEMs to launch devices into cycles, even three years into cycles, while still using upstream support.

However, as Google has reduced the period to four years, this is no longer possible. Consequently, with Android 15, devices will only be able to launch with the new Android 15-6.6 and Android 14-6.1 kernels, which will be available till 2028 and 2029, respectively. This will make OEMs commit to upgrading major kernel versions if they want a longer phone update policy.


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