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Data coupling between modules, especially common coupling, has long been considered a source of concern in software design, but the issue is somewhat more complicated for products that are comprised of kernel modules together with optional nonkernel modules. This paper presents a refined categorization of common coupling based on definitions and uses between kernel and nonkernel modules and applies the categorization to a case study. Common coupling is usually avoided when possible because of the potential for introducing risky dependencies among software modules. The relative risk of these dependencies is strongly related to the specific definition-use relationships. In a previous paper, we presented results from a longitudinal analysis of multiple versions of the open-source operating system Linux. This paper applies the new common coupling categorization to version 2.4.20 of Linux, counting the number of instances of common coupling between each of the 26 kernel modules and all the other nonkernel modules. We also categorize each coupling in terms of the definition-use relationships. Results show that the Linux kernel contains a large number of common couplings of all types, raising a concern about the long-term maintainability of Linux.
Date of Publication: Oct. 2004