Simple question - complicated answers

Liam Proven lproven at
Thu Sep 27 18:33:56 UTC 2007

On 27/09/2007, Tony Arnold <tony.arnold at> wrote:
> Liam,
> On Thu, 2007-09-27 at 12:27 +0100, Liam Proven wrote:
> > On 26/09/2007, alex <aradsky at> wrote:
> > > It's a little maddening to get answers  that dance all around a simple
> > > question.
> >
> > It's not a simple question. It's a vaguely-worded and deeply imprecise
> > question that appears to betray a profound ignorance of what an
> > operating system kernel is, or indeed, what an operating system is.
> > It's a silly question asked by a beginner who doesn't really know what
> > he's talking about. You may as well march up to the gates of the
> > Houses of Parliament and demand to see this "democracy" that everyone
> > keeps talking about.
> >
> > > I want to do is see what the kernel looks like.
> >
> > What does the smell of baking cookies look like? What does yellow sound like?
> >
> > Simple questions, but unanswerable.
> I think you are being a little harsh on the OP. The question is
> answerable! Download the kernel source tar ball, unpack it and start
> examining the directory structure and reading the source code.
> Unfortunately,and perhaps this is your point, the above is unlikely to
> be helpful, especially for someone who perhaps does not have an
> understanding of what a kernel is or maybe does not even understand
> code! It's a bit like trying to understand how the brain works by
> mapping out the synapses!

That's my *point*. You can "see" a kernel in all sorts of ways.

 - If the machine has booted and is running, woohoo, you're watching a
kernel in operation.
 - You can go to the /boot directory and list its contents. See the
big one? That's the kernel, that is. Enjoy. Ain't she a beauty?
 - You could inspect the various files in /sys and look at the output
of top and vmstat and so on. Watch those live values change!
 - You can open said file with "less" or even "strings | less" and
look inside it. Eeeuw.
 - You can download the source and read it. There, you're looking at
its guts now.

The point being that none of these are really meaningful operations.
Someone who actually knows what a kernel *is* would not ask "how do I
see it", so, if they *are* asking this, they don't know what they're
asking so they won't understand any answer to the question.

But in this case, we've got someone who not only asks the question,
but according to Mario Vukelic, has asked it before and fairly clearly
didn't understand or wasn't happy with the answer then.

If I was running a bike shop and someone came in and asked how they
would supercharge their bike, I wouldn't just tell them, because
anyone capable of doing it wouldn't need to ask. If I was a doctor and
someone came in and asked how they could remove their own appendix,
the same applies.

I think this is an analagous situation. I suspect that the OP does not
actually know what he is asking. Perhaps he thinks the kernel is a
particular program that he can watch running on his screen or that he
can in some way send commands to and watch it work, like a word
processor. If so, no answer we can give will satisfy him, which is why
he says he's been getting the runaround. So, he needs to learn what a
kernel /is/ before he can "see" one.

Liam Proven • Profile:
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