An Empirical Study of Operating Systems Errors

Andy Chou, Junfeng Yang, Benjamin Chelf, Seth Hallem, Dawson Engler

Proceedings of the 18th ACM Symposium on Operating Systems Principles (SOSP ’01), November, 2001, pp. 73–88


We present a study of operating system errors found by automatic, static, compiler analysis applied to the Linux and OpenBSD kernels. Our approach differs from previous studies that consider errors found by manual inspection of logs, testing, and surveys because static analysis is applied uniformly to the entire kernel source, though our approach necessarily considers a less comprehensive variety of errors than previous studies. In addition, automation allows us to track errors over multiple versions of the kernel source to estimate how long errors remain in the system before they are fixed.

We found that device drivers have error rates up to three to seven times higher than the rest of the kernel. We found that the largest quartile of functions have error rates two to six times higher than the smallest quartile. We found that the newest quartile of files have error rates up to twice that of the oldest quartile, which provides evidence that code “hardens” over time. Finally, we found that bugs remain in the Linux kernel an average of 1.8 years before being fixed.



Columbia University Department of Computer Science