Programming Language

The kernel is written in the C programming language [c-language]. More precisely, the kernel is typically compiled with gcc [gcc] under -std=gnu89 [gcc-c-dialect-options]: the GNU dialect of ISO C90 (including some C99 features). clang [clang] is also supported, see docs on Building Linux with Clang/LLVM.

This dialect contains many extensions to the language [gnu-extensions], and many of them are used within the kernel as a matter of course.

There is some support for compiling the kernel with icc [icc] for several of the architectures, although at the time of writing it is not completed, requiring third-party patches.


One of the common extensions used throughout the kernel are attributes [gcc-attribute-syntax]. Attributes allow to introduce implementation-defined semantics to language entities (like variables, functions or types) without having to make significant syntactic changes to the language (e.g. adding a new keyword) [n2049].

In some cases, attributes are optional (i.e. a compiler not supporting them should still produce proper code, even if it is slower or does not perform as many compile-time checks/diagnostics).

The kernel defines pseudo-keywords (e.g. __pure) instead of using directly the GNU attribute syntax (e.g. __attribute__((__pure__))) in order to feature detect which ones can be used and/or to shorten the code.

Please refer to include/linux/compiler_attributes.h for more information.