Linus Torvalds bumps Linux kernel to version 4.x

It's happening. Linux is getting a major version bump.

linus torvalds linuxcon 1

Linus Torvalds at LinuxCon NA, 2014

Credit: Swapnill Bhartiya

Linus Torvalds has announced that the next major release of the Linux kernel will be the 4.x branch, bringing an 'end' to the 3.x branch.

Torvalds is very active on Google+, where he enjoys huge fan following. He resorted to G+ polls to crowdsource the decision to increment the next version to 4.x or keep to 3.x. He wrote on the poll, "So - continue with v3.20, because bigger numbers are sexy, or just move to v4.0 and reset the numbers to something smaller?"

[ Also on ITworld: 11 technologies that tick off Linus Torvalds ]

The poll received over 29,533 votes, with 56% votes in favor of v4.0 and 44% in favor of version 3.20.

Honoring the public demand, Linus christened the next release 4.0-rc1 (rc stands for release candidate). Announcing the release, he wrote on the LKML (Linux kernel mailing list), "Because the people have spoken, and while most of it was complete gibberish, numbers don't lie. People preferred 4.0, and 4.0 it shall be. Unless somebody can come up with a good argument against it."

But what does 4.x actually mean for users? Traditionally a major version brings major features or some ‘disruptive’ changes. And that's the argument Linus received from the community members: "So far, the arguments against it seem to have been 'major numbers should go with a major new feature or breaking of compatibility,' which just shows how little people know. We don't break compatibility, and we haven't done feature-based releases since basically forever,” said Linus.

To be fair, the latest releases of the kernel do bring some exciting features like live patching, but there is nothing 'major' with the 4.0-rc1 release. In fact, Torvalds said his favorite features of the new release "are actually some vm cleanups, where this release is getting rid of the largely unused non-linear remapping code (replaced with just emulating it with lots of smaller mappings) and unifies the NUMA and PROTNONE handling for page tables."

For those who don't know, Linux runs on billions of devices around the globe - printers, routers, smartphones, smart watches, tablets ATM machines, coffee makers, Supercomputers, stock exchanges, just to name a few; just to give you an idea how many things Linux powers without us even realizing it. Because Linux has such huge user-base, Torvalds is adamant that it doesn't break anything, for anyone. That's one thing that ticks him off very easily and that what generates most of his rants - when someone breaks something.

So there is really nothing that major about this version bump, beyond that they needed to get rid of really long numbers.

Torvalds also joked about the recent news where someone posted a screenshot of the movie Terminator where the robots seemed to be running on Linux kernel 4.x series, "On the other hand, the strongest argument for some people advocating 4.0 seems to have been a wish to see 4.1.15 - because 'that was the version of Linux skynet used for the T-800 terminator'."

It's almost 5 years since Linux received a version bump. It was back in May 2011 when Torvalds announced 3.0.0-rc-1 instead of 2.6.40. There were no major changes to that release as there are none with 4.x series.

Coming back to 4.0-rc1, Torvalds said, "It's all just more of the same, just with smaller numbers so that I can do releases without having to take off my socks again.''

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

To comment on this article and other CIO content, visit us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.
Download the CIO October 2016 Digital Magazine
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.