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systemtap's capabilities, limitations, and implementation - Frank Ch. Eigler


Franch Ch. Eigler is a systems software developer at Red Hat, most recently leading the systemtap team. He has worked on compilers, debuggers, simulators, databases, and now the kernel.


Linux is persistently compared to other operating systems, mostly with good results. Linux is however weak in its tracing / monitoring capabilities. There exist a multitude of projects outside and inside the kernel, the kernel tree, and regular controversy.

Systemtap is a three-year-old project attempting to bring full-system observability to Linux. This talk will review the systemtap project from a technical point of view.

We will cover usage issues:

  • Who needs and uses this type of tool?
  • What essential requirements exist?
  • How to use it (a brief tutorial)?
  • What are its current features and limitations?

We will attempt to explain and justify a variety of design decisions:

  • Why does it run instrumentation inside the kernel?
  • Why is this done by compiling kernel modules?
  • Why is it out-of-tree?

We will discuss ways in which the community could work together better, and finally bridge the instrumentation feature gap:

  • How could linux kernel maintainers help?
  • How to motivate the community to help?
  • How do other tracing projects relate?
  • What possibilities exist for merging / interfacing code?

The talk is not intended to be a lecture, but rather a discussion.