Kernel git-bisect

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git-bisect is a tool in dev-vcs/git to find kernel patches that cause problems between versions.

How it works

Suppose is working fine and the problem occurs with the upgrade. Let there be 8 patches between and When you start to bisect, it enables only half of those patches and you build a kernel with 4 of the 8 patches between those two versions.

Now you boot your new compiled kernel and see if you can reproduce the problem. If the kernel is good you take the second half of those 8 patches to build the next kernel, if the kernel is bad you take half of the patches used to narrow down on the patch that causes problems.

For this given example, here is what might happen to find the bad patch (each step you have to build the kernel and reboot into it). We call the patches 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8:

  1. + 1,2,3,4
  2. bad → + 1,2
  3. good → + 3,4
  4. bad → + 3
  5. bad → patch 3 it is!


Step by step example to bisect Linux-2.6.39.

Get the git sources

Get the git sources for the branch you are using:

root #cd /usr/src
root #git clone git:// linux-stable

Or, you can avoid fetching older commits. E.g if you add --shallow-exclude v4.1, commits since v4.2 will be fetched:

root #cd /usr/src
root #git clone git:// --shallow-exclude v4.1 linux-stable

This creates the folder /usr/src/linux-stable.

There are two branches:

This process might take a long time, current size of the git repository is about 500MB.

Link the new sources

Create the symbolic link to the git sources in /usr/src, mount /boot (if needed) and change into the folder:

root #ln -s linux-stable linux
root #mount /boot
root #cd /usr/src/linux

Start bisect

Once here we need to start bisect and tell him which kernel version works and which doesn't. In our example has no problems and contains a bad patch. The name could also contain an -rcX at the end, which means it's a release candidate, you would have to append that like v2.6.39.1-rc3. I use tee to log every output of bisect into the file bisect.log.

root #git bisect start | tee -a /root/bisect.log
root #git bisect bad v2.6.39.2 | tee -a /root/bisect.log
root #git bisect good v2.6.39.1 | tee -a /root/bisect.log
Try to narrow the versions down as much as possible before starting the bisect, you might need to recompile the kernel a lot of times otherwise.

Build the kernel

Now compile your kernel as usual using e.g. genkernel or just make to build it and anything you might need to boot, like initramfs for LVM, Raid etc. Here is the normal method using make.

root #cp ../linux- .
root #make oldconfig
root #make -j4 && make modules_install && make install
root #reboot

Bad bisect

Once booted into the new kernel (make sure your bootloader is booting the new kernel), test, if the problem still persists. In this example we assume the problem is still there, so we tell bisect. It will now take half the used patchset and we have to build our next kernel.

root #mount /boot
root #cd /usr/src/linux
root #git bisect bad | tee -a /root/bisect.log

Goto #Build the kernel

Good bisect

Now test again and let's say this time the problem is gone, so we tell bisect, build the next kernel and reboot.

root #mount /boot
root #cd /usr/src/linux
root #git bisect good | tee -a /root/bisect.log

Goto #Build the kernel

Final bisect

You repeat those steps #Bad bisect and #Good bisect until it shows the content of the bad patch, like shown below (there is more text in the output, this is just half of it).

CODE Final output
87cc4d1e3e05af38c7c51323a3d86fe2572ab033 is the first bad commit
commit 87cc4d1e3e05af38c7c51323a3d86fe2572ab033
Author: Chris Wright <>
Date: Sat May 28 13:15:04 2011 -0500

intel-iommu: Dont cache iova above 32bit

commit 1c9fc3d11b84fbd0c4f4aa7855702c2a1f098ebb upstream.

Mike Travis and Mike Habeck reported an issue where iova allocation
would return a range that was larger than a device's dma mask.

With this information, you can create a bug report at and tell the developers what patch causes problems. The bisect.log file can be attached to the bug report.

Log file

If you did not create the logfile, you can use the following command to create some log output.

root #git bisect log

Reset bisect

If you get stuck somewhere or made a mistake, you can reset.

root #git bisect reset

External resources