1Everything you never wanted to know about kobjects, ksets, and ktypes
   3Greg Kroah-Hartman <>
   5Based on an original article by Jon Corbet for written October 1,
   62003 and located at
   8Last updated December 19, 2007
  11Part of the difficulty in understanding the driver model - and the kobject
  12abstraction upon which it is built - is that there is no obvious starting
  13place. Dealing with kobjects requires understanding a few different types,
  14all of which make reference to each other. In an attempt to make things
  15easier, we'll take a multi-pass approach, starting with vague terms and
  16adding detail as we go. To that end, here are some quick definitions of
  17some terms we will be working with.
  19 - A kobject is an object of type struct kobject.  Kobjects have a name
  20   and a reference count.  A kobject also has a parent pointer (allowing
  21   objects to be arranged into hierarchies), a specific type, and,
  22   usually, a representation in the sysfs virtual filesystem.
  24   Kobjects are generally not interesting on their own; instead, they are
  25   usually embedded within some other structure which contains the stuff
  26   the code is really interested in.
  28   No structure should EVER have more than one kobject embedded within it.
  29   If it does, the reference counting for the object is sure to be messed
  30   up and incorrect, and your code will be buggy.  So do not do this.
  32 - A ktype is the type of object that embeds a kobject.  Every structure
  33   that embeds a kobject needs a corresponding ktype.  The ktype controls
  34   what happens to the kobject when it is created and destroyed.
  36 - A kset is a group of kobjects.  These kobjects can be of the same ktype
  37   or belong to different ktypes.  The kset is the basic container type for
  38   collections of kobjects. Ksets contain their own kobjects, but you can
  39   safely ignore that implementation detail as the kset core code handles
  40   this kobject automatically.
  42   When you see a sysfs directory full of other directories, generally each
  43   of those directories corresponds to a kobject in the same kset.
  45We'll look at how to create and manipulate all of these types. A bottom-up
  46approach will be taken, so we'll go back to kobjects.
  49Embedding kobjects
  51It is rare for kernel code to create a standalone kobject, with one major
  52exception explained below.  Instead, kobjects are used to control access to
  53a larger, domain-specific object.  To this end, kobjects will be found
  54embedded in other structures.  If you are used to thinking of things in
  55object-oriented terms, kobjects can be seen as a top-level, abstract class
  56from which other classes are derived.  A kobject implements a set of
  57capabilities which are not particularly useful by themselves, but which are
  58nice to have in other objects.  The C language does not allow for the
  59direct expression of inheritance, so other techniques - such as structure
  60embedding - must be used.
  62(As an aside, for those familiar with the kernel linked list implementation,
  63this is analogous as to how "list_head" structs are rarely useful on
  64their own, but are invariably found embedded in the larger objects of
  67So, for example, the UIO code in drivers/uio/uio.c has a structure that
  68defines the memory region associated with a uio device:
  70    struct uio_map {
  71        struct kobject kobj;
  72        struct uio_mem *mem;
  73    };
  75If you have a struct uio_map structure, finding its embedded kobject is
  76just a matter of using the kobj member.  Code that works with kobjects will
  77often have the opposite problem, however: given a struct kobject pointer,
  78what is the pointer to the containing structure?  You must avoid tricks
  79(such as assuming that the kobject is at the beginning of the structure)
  80and, instead, use the container_of() macro, found in <linux/kernel.h>:
  82    container_of(pointer, type, member)
  86  * "pointer" is the pointer to the embedded kobject,
  87  * "type" is the type of the containing structure, and
  88  * "member" is the name of the structure field to which "pointer" points.
  90The return value from container_of() is a pointer to the corresponding
  91container type. So, for example, a pointer "kp" to a struct kobject
  92embedded *within* a struct uio_map could be converted to a pointer to the
  93*containing* uio_map structure with:
  95    struct uio_map *u_map = container_of(kp, struct uio_map, kobj);
  97For convenience, programmers often define a simple macro for "back-casting"
  98kobject pointers to the containing type.  Exactly this happens in the
  99earlier drivers/uio/uio.c, as you can see here:
 101    struct uio_map {
 102        struct kobject kobj;
 103        struct uio_mem *mem;
 104    };
 106    #define to_map(map) container_of(map, struct uio_map, kobj)
 108where the macro argument "map" is a pointer to the struct kobject in
 109question.  That macro is subsequently invoked with:
 111    struct uio_map *map = to_map(kobj);
 114Initialization of kobjects
 116Code which creates a kobject must, of course, initialize that object. Some
 117of the internal fields are setup with a (mandatory) call to kobject_init():
 119    void kobject_init(struct kobject *kobj, struct kobj_type *ktype);
 121The ktype is required for a kobject to be created properly, as every kobject
 122must have an associated kobj_type.  After calling kobject_init(), to
 123register the kobject with sysfs, the function kobject_add() must be called:
 125    int kobject_add(struct kobject *kobj, struct kobject *parent, const char *fmt, ...);
 127This sets up the parent of the kobject and the name for the kobject
 128properly.  If the kobject is to be associated with a specific kset,
 129kobj->kset must be assigned before calling kobject_add().  If a kset is
 130associated with a kobject, then the parent for the kobject can be set to
 131NULL in the call to kobject_add() and then the kobject's parent will be the
 132kset itself.
 134As the name of the kobject is set when it is added to the kernel, the name
 135of the kobject should never be manipulated directly.  If you must change
 136the name of the kobject, call kobject_rename():
 138    int kobject_rename(struct kobject *kobj, const char *new_name);
 140kobject_rename does not perform any locking or have a solid notion of
 141what names are valid so the caller must provide their own sanity checking
 142and serialization.
 144There is a function called kobject_set_name() but that is legacy cruft and
 145is being removed.  If your code needs to call this function, it is
 146incorrect and needs to be fixed.
 148To properly access the name of the kobject, use the function
 151    const char *kobject_name(const struct kobject * kobj);
 153There is a helper function to both initialize and add the kobject to the
 154kernel at the same time, called surprisingly enough kobject_init_and_add():
 156    int kobject_init_and_add(struct kobject *kobj, struct kobj_type *ktype,
 157                             struct kobject *parent, const char *fmt, ...);
 159The arguments are the same as the individual kobject_init() and
 160kobject_add() functions described above.
 165After a kobject has been registered with the kobject core, you need to
 166announce to the world that it has been created.  This can be done with a
 167call to kobject_uevent():
 169    int kobject_uevent(struct kobject *kobj, enum kobject_action action);
 171Use the KOBJ_ADD action for when the kobject is first added to the kernel.
 172This should be done only after any attributes or children of the kobject
 173have been initialized properly, as userspace will instantly start to look
 174for them when this call happens.
 176When the kobject is removed from the kernel (details on how to do that is
 177below), the uevent for KOBJ_REMOVE will be automatically created by the
 178kobject core, so the caller does not have to worry about doing that by
 182Reference counts
 184One of the key functions of a kobject is to serve as a reference counter
 185for the object in which it is embedded. As long as references to the object
 186exist, the object (and the code which supports it) must continue to exist.
 187The low-level functions for manipulating a kobject's reference counts are:
 189    struct kobject *kobject_get(struct kobject *kobj);
 190    void kobject_put(struct kobject *kobj);
 192A successful call to kobject_get() will increment the kobject's reference
 193counter and return the pointer to the kobject.
 195When a reference is released, the call to kobject_put() will decrement the
 196reference count and, possibly, free the object. Note that kobject_init()
 197sets the reference count to one, so the code which sets up the kobject will
 198need to do a kobject_put() eventually to release that reference.
 200Because kobjects are dynamic, they must not be declared statically or on
 201the stack, but instead, always allocated dynamically.  Future versions of
 202the kernel will contain a run-time check for kobjects that are created
 203statically and will warn the developer of this improper usage.
 205If all that you want to use a kobject for is to provide a reference counter
 206for your structure, please use the struct kref instead; a kobject would be
 207overkill.  For more information on how to use struct kref, please see the
 208file Documentation/kref.txt in the Linux kernel source tree.
 211Creating "simple" kobjects
 213Sometimes all that a developer wants is a way to create a simple directory
 214in the sysfs hierarchy, and not have to mess with the whole complication of
 215ksets, show and store functions, and other details.  This is the one
 216exception where a single kobject should be created.  To create such an
 217entry, use the function:
 219    struct kobject *kobject_create_and_add(char *name, struct kobject *parent);
 221This function will create a kobject and place it in sysfs in the location
 222underneath the specified parent kobject.  To create simple attributes
 223associated with this kobject, use:
 225    int sysfs_create_file(struct kobject *kobj, struct attribute *attr);
 227    int sysfs_create_group(struct kobject *kobj, struct attribute_group *grp);
 229Both types of attributes used here, with a kobject that has been created
 230with the kobject_create_and_add(), can be of type kobj_attribute, so no
 231special custom attribute is needed to be created.
 233See the example module, samples/kobject/kobject-example.c for an
 234implementation of a simple kobject and attributes.
 238ktypes and release methods
 240One important thing still missing from the discussion is what happens to a
 241kobject when its reference count reaches zero. The code which created the
 242kobject generally does not know when that will happen; if it did, there
 243would be little point in using a kobject in the first place. Even
 244predictable object lifecycles become more complicated when sysfs is brought
 245in as other portions of the kernel can get a reference on any kobject that
 246is registered in the system.
 248The end result is that a structure protected by a kobject cannot be freed
 249before its reference count goes to zero. The reference count is not under
 250the direct control of the code which created the kobject. So that code must
 251be notified asynchronously whenever the last reference to one of its
 252kobjects goes away.
 254Once you registered your kobject via kobject_add(), you must never use
 255kfree() to free it directly. The only safe way is to use kobject_put(). It
 256is good practice to always use kobject_put() after kobject_init() to avoid
 257errors creeping in.
 259This notification is done through a kobject's release() method. Usually
 260such a method has a form like:
 262    void my_object_release(struct kobject *kobj)
 263    {
 264            struct my_object *mine = container_of(kobj, struct my_object, kobj);
 266            /* Perform any additional cleanup on this object, then... */
 267            kfree(mine);
 268    }
 270One important point cannot be overstated: every kobject must have a
 271release() method, and the kobject must persist (in a consistent state)
 272until that method is called. If these constraints are not met, the code is
 273flawed.  Note that the kernel will warn you if you forget to provide a
 274release() method.  Do not try to get rid of this warning by providing an
 275"empty" release function; you will be mocked mercilessly by the kobject
 276maintainer if you attempt this.
 278Note, the name of the kobject is available in the release function, but it
 279must NOT be changed within this callback.  Otherwise there will be a memory
 280leak in the kobject core, which makes people unhappy.
 282Interestingly, the release() method is not stored in the kobject itself;
 283instead, it is associated with the ktype. So let us introduce struct
 286    struct kobj_type {
 287            void (*release)(struct kobject *kobj);
 288            const struct sysfs_ops *sysfs_ops;
 289            struct attribute **default_attrs;
 290            const struct kobj_ns_type_operations *(*child_ns_type)(struct kobject *kobj);
 291            const void *(*namespace)(struct kobject *kobj);
 292    };
 294This structure is used to describe a particular type of kobject (or, more
 295correctly, of containing object). Every kobject needs to have an associated
 296kobj_type structure; a pointer to that structure must be specified when you
 297call kobject_init() or kobject_init_and_add().
 299The release field in struct kobj_type is, of course, a pointer to the
 300release() method for this type of kobject. The other two fields (sysfs_ops
 301and default_attrs) control how objects of this type are represented in
 302sysfs; they are beyond the scope of this document.
 304The default_attrs pointer is a list of default attributes that will be
 305automatically created for any kobject that is registered with this ktype.
 310A kset is merely a collection of kobjects that want to be associated with
 311each other.  There is no restriction that they be of the same ktype, but be
 312very careful if they are not.
 314A kset serves these functions:
 316 - It serves as a bag containing a group of objects. A kset can be used by
 317   the kernel to track "all block devices" or "all PCI device drivers."
 319 - A kset is also a subdirectory in sysfs, where the associated kobjects
 320   with the kset can show up.  Every kset contains a kobject which can be
 321   set up to be the parent of other kobjects; the top-level directories of
 322   the sysfs hierarchy are constructed in this way.
 324 - Ksets can support the "hotplugging" of kobjects and influence how
 325   uevent events are reported to user space.
 327In object-oriented terms, "kset" is the top-level container class; ksets
 328contain their own kobject, but that kobject is managed by the kset code and
 329should not be manipulated by any other user.
 331A kset keeps its children in a standard kernel linked list.  Kobjects point
 332back to their containing kset via their kset field. In almost all cases,
 333the kobjects belonging to a kset have that kset (or, strictly, its embedded
 334kobject) in their parent.
 336As a kset contains a kobject within it, it should always be dynamically
 337created and never declared statically or on the stack.  To create a new
 338kset use:
 339  struct kset *kset_create_and_add(const char *name,
 340                                   struct kset_uevent_ops *u,
 341                                   struct kobject *parent);
 343When you are finished with the kset, call:
 344  void kset_unregister(struct kset *kset);
 345to destroy it.
 347An example of using a kset can be seen in the
 348samples/kobject/kset-example.c file in the kernel tree.
 350If a kset wishes to control the uevent operations of the kobjects
 351associated with it, it can use the struct kset_uevent_ops to handle it:
 353struct kset_uevent_ops {
 354        int (*filter)(struct kset *kset, struct kobject *kobj);
 355        const char *(*name)(struct kset *kset, struct kobject *kobj);
 356        int (*uevent)(struct kset *kset, struct kobject *kobj,
 357                      struct kobj_uevent_env *env);
 361The filter function allows a kset to prevent a uevent from being emitted to
 362userspace for a specific kobject.  If the function returns 0, the uevent
 363will not be emitted.
 365The name function will be called to override the default name of the kset
 366that the uevent sends to userspace.  By default, the name will be the same
 367as the kset itself, but this function, if present, can override that name.
 369The uevent function will be called when the uevent is about to be sent to
 370userspace to allow more environment variables to be added to the uevent.
 372One might ask how, exactly, a kobject is added to a kset, given that no
 373functions which perform that function have been presented.  The answer is
 374that this task is handled by kobject_add().  When a kobject is passed to
 375kobject_add(), its kset member should point to the kset to which the
 376kobject will belong.  kobject_add() will handle the rest.
 378If the kobject belonging to a kset has no parent kobject set, it will be
 379added to the kset's directory.  Not all members of a kset do necessarily
 380live in the kset directory.  If an explicit parent kobject is assigned
 381before the kobject is added, the kobject is registered with the kset, but
 382added below the parent kobject.
 385Kobject removal
 387After a kobject has been registered with the kobject core successfully, it
 388must be cleaned up when the code is finished with it.  To do that, call
 389kobject_put().  By doing this, the kobject core will automatically clean up
 390all of the memory allocated by this kobject.  If a KOBJ_ADD uevent has been
 391sent for the object, a corresponding KOBJ_REMOVE uevent will be sent, and
 392any other sysfs housekeeping will be handled for the caller properly.
 394If you need to do a two-stage delete of the kobject (say you are not
 395allowed to sleep when you need to destroy the object), then call
 396kobject_del() which will unregister the kobject from sysfs.  This makes the
 397kobject "invisible", but it is not cleaned up, and the reference count of
 398the object is still the same.  At a later time call kobject_put() to finish
 399the cleanup of the memory associated with the kobject.
 401kobject_del() can be used to drop the reference to the parent object, if
 402circular references are constructed.  It is valid in some cases, that a
 403parent objects references a child.  Circular references _must_ be broken
 404with an explicit call to kobject_del(), so that a release functions will be
 405called, and the objects in the former circle release each other.
 408Example code to copy from
 410For a more complete example of using ksets and kobjects properly, see the
 411example programs samples/kobject/{kobject-example.c,kset-example.c},
 412which will be built as loadable modules if you select CONFIG_SAMPLE_KOBJECT.