Discussion papers related to the Linux Foundation ELISA project

An Introduction to ELISA

This paper introduces the ELISA project and identifies central challenges that any safety-critical project using Linux needs to overcome. It presents our analysis of the challenges, outlines long and short term plans on how to overcome them in the framework of the ELISA group and finally, presents a collection of open building blocks that will emerge from those activities for reuse in safety-critical development projects using Linux.

The Problem at Hand and Normative Considerations

Current safety standards have targeted systems which have low-complexity application software, which do not use hardware concurrency (e.g. multicore processors), and which use pre-existing and open-source software to a very limited extent. Hence, various domain safety standards ( [ISO 26262], [IEC 62304], [DIN/EN50128], …) do not consider pre-existing complex elements, such as Linux and glibc, running on complex multi-core hardware. For example, ISO 26262 has no appropriate classification of Linux, which is a “pre-existing software (Part 8-12).” But Linux continues to evolve and Part 8-12 applies only to unchanged SWCs (See ISO 26262-2 6-7.4.7). This specific mismatch already indicates that the ISO 26262 committee did not consider Linux-based systems.

John: A long, labourious, detailed, picky and totally irrelevant comment that only serves to fill space and see if the text wraps a line.

An example of the cultural mismatch between the methodology expected by safety standards and the open-source work methodology is how change is handled: very conservative change management vs. encouraging dynamic change. Hence, ISO 26262 fits poorly in that respect as well.

Therefore, a adjusted interpretation for open-source software is required, either by interpreting IEC 61508 or by deriving a new domain standard, e.g. extracting objectives from first principles and determining which adjusted measures and techniques provide sufficient evidence of safety.

As a Linux-based system is by definition a mixed-criticality system with parts classified as QM/SIL0 and others with safety classification, there must be a clear definition and criteria for evalutating QM/SIL0 elements. Lack of a definition of QM/SIL0 in the safety standards, e.g. ISO 26262 and IEC 61508, has already led to some confusion.

Some safety standards do not provide rationales, which limits the ability to interpret the objectives of the requirements without violating the intent. Last but not least, the standards are closed. This hinders their acquisition, use and acceptance in the open-source community

On the other side, open source projects frequently lack a formal description of the development process they follow (safety plan) and explicit trace data between the artefacts produced in each development phase (safety case).

To enable Linux to be incorporated in safety-critical systems, the gap between the activities practiced in open source project and those required by safety standards needs to be precisely analysed at both the technical and process levels.

All issues must either be mitigated by organisations using Linux or addressed by process improvements on the Kernel development side.

ELISA Strategy and Organization

This section describes the cornerstones of the ELISA strategy to enable Linux in safety applications and the organizational structure of the ELISA effort.

Working Groups

Currently ELISA has 5 working groups. Their presence is spread over a convoluted combination of ELISA Tech, ELISA GDrive and ELISA GitHub sites. There are also a number of overarching subgroups.


The Tech working group discusses overarching technical and organisational issues and supporty the TSC in this direction. It holds bi-weekly telcos where the general public is invited to participate and where the TSC members are obligated to participate.

Technical Strategy Committee (TSC)


Automotive WG


Development Process WG


Tool Investigation and Code Improvement SG


Medical Devices WG


Safety Architecture WG


ELISA Ambassadors SG


Ontology SG


Increasing Rigour Strategy

Due to the immense complexity and huge deviations from traditional V-model style development processes as outlined in safety standards, it makes sense to build from the bottom up and follow an increasingly rigourous approach:

This strategy pertains to all areas, including but not limited to:


As QM software development is a basic requirement for developing any good quality software and to eliminate systematic faults to achieve safety, the approach can be to start small i.e, show that LINUX development meets the requirements of a basic software development process (e.g. ISO/IEC 33000 series of standards [ISO 3300x] Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) (see CMMI) or Automotive SPICE (see ASPICE). Once this is achieved the requirements of [UL 1998] (less rigorous requirements compared to IEC 61508 / ISO 26262) can be added, followed by requirements from [IEC 61508] and [ISO 26262]

Safety Claims ELISA will work on safety claims of increasing complexity. The work will start with low complexity Linux based safety relevant systems which have no strict timing/performance requirements, such as In Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) systems, as opposed to most safety relevant automotive systems. Once a satisfactory safety argumentation for simple example systems is found and documented, it can be expanded to more complex systems.

Architectures Aligned with the increasing rigor approach, ELISA targets architectures of increasing complexity to keep the scope as limited as possible at first, expanding to more complex architectures later on.

ToDo: Need examples. This needs to address partitioning architectural measures, i.e. separate processor, hypervisor, AMP, etc.

POSIX API Levels / Application environment profiles There are several, increasingly complex standards that specify application interfaces that could be used in safety-critical systems. Only the safety-critical interfaces of the operating system must be certified according to safety standards. The effort required to certify as system using Linux could therefore be reduced by limiting the scope of the calls an application makes to the operating system.

The standards form the following hierarchy:

The POSIX standard [POSIX] outlines in part 13 [PSE5x] application environment profiles (Effectively minimal subsets of the POSIX APIs required for typical realtime applications) in rising complexities. Linux’ API is a superset of the full POSIX standard and is specified as LSB: the Linux Standard Base

ToDo: Disconnected inherited text of unknown origin :
	Propose liason process (like DO-178)
	Define SIL0/QM (ref: Clause 7-X  formalization as starting point)
	Qualify “convincing” parts of the examples  

Develop Safety Argumentation

Process - Tailoring and Equivalence Argumentation

Since full compliance with any of the safety standards cannot be argued for the Kernel development process at the moment, nor is it realistic to expect this to change in the near future, an equivalence argumentation must be used to argue suitability of the Linux Kernel for safety application. To that end, it is necessary to map terms and processes of the Kernel development to the corresponding steps in the V- process of the safety standards and find equivalence arguments as to why the Kernel development process fulfills the intention behind the requirements of the safety standards.

This heavy tailoring/modification (beyond what is outlined within the safety standards as tailoring), requires a systematic approach to achieve confidence in the tailoring arguments. Such a methodology (including practical application examples) has already been developed for tailoring of IEC 61508 within the SIL2LinuxMP project (see Annex QR).

If such an argument cannot be made, a gap exists that has to be addressed by modifying and or extending the Linux Kernel development process.

Once this tailoring has been outlined, ideally even earlier, certification authorities should be brought to the table to make sure the argumentation is acceptable from their perspective. Annex QR was originally intended to be included into IEC 61508. In the event that this happens in a future edition of the standard, the described argumentation would then even be fully compliant.

This topic is addressed by the development process working group

Example Use Cases

The core of ELISA strategy is to exercise the construction of safety argumentation at the example of several use cases, which then can be used as blueprints for further projects. Analyzing use cases is crucial

Beyond the two use cases already under consideration ( \ref{sssec:OpenAPS} and \ref{sssec:OpenAPS} John: which one is this?, a cooperation with AGL (Automotive Grade Linux) is currently being established providing a third use case related to the IVI use case.


The following sections go into more detail on the two use cases currently under investigation by the ELISA group.

OpenAPS The OpenAPS project develops an artificial pancreas System to control insulin pumps.

IVI The in vehicle Infotainment.

Develop Open Building Blocks

The results of the ELISA activities is a collection of reusable building blocks and instructions/examples on how to use them to construct safety argumentation for Linux-based systems.

Marketing and Recruitment

The problem now is getting acceptance and formal approval that Linux is suitable for use in safety-critical systems and applications. We need to shift the focus to the idea that the whole system is safe and sane. The end result has to be safe, not just that a form has been filled out. Developers, safety experts and regulatory authorities all share the same goal of wanting to make the world a safer place. But safety experts and regulatory authorities have a visible gap of knowledge in dealing with open source software, let alone community-based development, highly automated and newer development methodologies. Also, open source developers often don’t understand best practices for designing their software to be suitable for use in safety-critical systems. Linux is already pervasive in our ecosystems as well as our devices and will be used even more in future, so Linux is a shared point of interest for the Linux and Safety communities.

We need to reach out to both of these communities and get them talking to another in order to bridge the gaps. This will require marketing-related activities to raise awareness and motivate involvement that aligns with their interests. Once they are engaged, this needs to be a community that they see as beneficial and enjoyable to participate in.

To that end, the next step is the creation of educational, best practice and marketing material. The gold deck can be used to explain the problem and need for participants:

AI: Kate to take first pass; Nicole, Nicholas, Olaf to review.

How do we want to communicate?

AI Nicole: Outreach to Bitkom Forum: Provide overview at next working group meeting.

Strategies needed to build up organic communities, rallying points

Initial Thoughts

OSS-Specific Challenges

This section presents the major challenges ELISA faces. The following section presents how they are being addressed.

Updates and Change

Today, the majority of existing certified safety-related products are not updated in the field. This is driven by the fact that reassessment of a safety-critical system is a time-consuming and complex process. Products are developed to avoid hazards with sufficient level of confidence and incremental changes are therefore seldom foreseen. Safety (or security) updates necessary after development ends come with additional costs and risks, while their safety (and security) benefits are typically rated low and beyond an acceptable level. Hence, in the end, optional or deferred updates are argued to be flawless and complete. Also, existing infrastructure typically does not allow field updates over the air, which further increases the costs for potential updates.

However, in contrast to traditional devices (e.g., an airbag ECU) nowadays everything else is being connected. Cloud services are being introduced to all areas of life with correspondingly increased risks of cyber attacks, especially attacks involving system- and chipset-level exploits such as Spectre/Meltdown/Rowhammer.

To prevent security breaches, it is becoming mandatory to release updates within one day of publication, This contrasts strongly with current safety accreditation timeframes. This is not only a problem limited to open source software or Linux, but is a principal challenge for all products providing services in a connected world, including the commercial proprietary ones.

In connected settings every unpatched system must be considered insecure. The same holds true with respect to functional safety for systems compromised by security vulnerabilities.

To conclude, updates are therefore a major challenge for connected safety-critical systems in general.

Bug tracking

All OSS projects beyond a rudimentary maturity level have a bug tracking system. However the bug tracking systms are only effective to a certain extent. Tracking bugs is not the most rewarding or prestigious work and correspondingly there is always a shortage of volunteers. Furthermore, depending on the bug tracking and the open source community, low quality bug reports are an issue that further increases the work load without any gain for the project in question. This is not so much a problem for the Kernel bug tracker [reference] but for the distributions downstream, (see the short and long-term solutions section) which absorb the bulk of low quality bug reports.

From a safety perspective, ignoring bug reports is not acceptable, however. A solution must therefore be found to organize bug reporting and tracking in such a way that is manageable.

Regression tracking

A problem related to bug tracking is regression tracking, i.e. tracking bugs discovered after a version (i.e. an LTS kernel version) has been released which exist in that version and must fixed nonetheless.

While this is a general problem for LTS maintainers, if the version is being used in a safety critical system, the developers must at least be aware that the bug exists. Should the bug impact the safety integrity of the system, the fixes must be back-ported to the release branch for the safety-critical item, A safety impact analysis must be done and it may reveal that further mitigation measures are necessary..

Freedom from Interference - Kernel Model

On the technical side, we need to understand better which safety claims can be made for the Linux kernel, and how to insulate against interference. This topic touches all use case working groups and the architecture working group. To create a Kernel model of sufficient granularity, several code analysis based approaches are being investigated in the tool investigation and code improvement sg

Linux Development Process Analysis

A big challenge is to argue the aforementioned equivalence with the conventional development processes envisaged by the safety standards

Overcoming the Challenges

This section presents our plan to overcome the challenges outlined in the OSS specific challenges section

Updates and Change

As outlined in Updates and Change challenge description timely updates are a major issue. ELISA is working towards short and long term solutions as follows.

Short term strategy

As a first step to close this gap, the solution concept has to be judged in a constrained environment (e.g a specific use case or subsystem). In this way the solution’s overall feasibility and its reception in safety community can be checked. The potential of state-of-the-art update policies in security-critical systems and DevOps operations to increase software quality should be also be checked in parallel. Emphasis should be placed on understanding which concepts affect reliability and stability. An additional strategy is to discuss these ideas with proprietary software providers as they must tackle the update challenge as well.

Long term strategy

As a starting point to approach system updates, the underlying software has to be arguably safe.

One way to reduce the effort of impact analysis and changes is to partition the system up-front and support the partitioning with a freedom from interference argument for the non-safety-relevant parts. This assumes that even when there are frequent changes to the complete software stack, the impact to safety relevant parts are minimised and become manageable.

Nevertheless, for complex software like the Linux kernel, a structured path during analysis and verification needs to be established and supported by automation. An initial approach in this direction could be analysing existing update policies which have hard requirements on system stability (e.g. for a Linux server) and DevOps approaches to improving product quality. Formalized classification of the type of change with respect to functionality or security fixes or new or updated functionality would help to identify the impact of the changes. Each type may require different actions, but should not impact the overall process and strategy of updating a safety-critical system product. Investing in careful analysis will result in shorter verification cycles.

For the matter of completeness, not only software is subject to change and update, but also the underlying tools (e.g. compiler or deployment tools). A common method of tool qualification includes testing the tool according to its use cases. It is assumed that a security or bug fix will not have impact to the tool’s use cases and the tool qualification suite can be re-executed. In contrast to deployed product software, the tools’ feature sets and use cases can be narrowed down to a limited set. This means that the approach towards tool updates most likely differs to the approach to updating product software in the field.

As the whole proposal for software update (e.g. in the field of security update of connected devices) is not yet sufficiently reflected in safety standards, close collaboration with standardization authorities and safety community will be required to make fast software updates state of the art.

Bug tracking

Short term strategy

Long term strategy

The downstream companies which build safety applications using the Linux kernel must have their own bug tracking systems. These systems would be less prone to being flooded with irrelevant entries and the companies would have a strong incentive to fix the bugs and also bring the fixes upstream. Ignoring the existence of possibly safety-relevant bugs is not acceptable from a safety perspective unless a solid mitigation mechanism and corresponding rationale for doing so can be developed.

Regression tracking

Short term strategy

Long term strategy}

Freedom from Interference - Kernel Model

ELISA is currently focusing its activities in the context of two use cases IVI and OpenAPS to understand

If the above assumptions can be validated, the “criteria for coexistence” as defined in ISO 26262 could be used to demonstrate freedom from interference between the safety-related and non-safety-related kernel functionalities and isolate the safety functionality allocated to the Kernel. This reduces the scope of Linux that must be qualified.

Short term strategy

Long term strategy

Linux Development Process Analysis QM

Short term strategy

Long term strategy

Open Building Blocks

Problem Statement

Determining reference system architecture and understanding Kernel configuration for the use case

Linux is huge and understanding the configuration for example, defining the scope of Linux Kernel to features based on the selected reference use case is key. While defining the configurations the following should be considered i.e interfaces (APIs, power management), shared resources (system timer, PTP (Precision Time Protocol).

A decision must also be made on whether the idea is to work towards a ToDo: text lost here..

Education and Best Practices Material

Currently, the awareness of safety in the wider open source community is poor . The community is usually not aware of functional safety and related concepts. Most safety development guidelines are behind a closed curtain (not public domain) and there are no public examples for functional safety systems.

To enable the ELISA community, the following materials are being created:

Safety ‘101’ book

This introduction to functional safety for OSS developers gives an overview of the topic, containing the following topics:

Open source ‘101’ for safety people

This introduction to OSS gives safety engineers, architects and legal people an overview of open source software, the process by which it is developed and how it differs from traditional software development as it is know in industry projects.

Best practices for open source projects


Kernel Dependency Analysis Tool

Linux Kernel Model

To understand and systematically collect all plausible sources of interference that have the potential to influence an application, we need to get a thorough understanding of all the steps an application passes through in its life cycle from startup to termination. In combination with shared resources, a clearer picture should emerge on what can interfere with an application.

Strategy towards a solution: Mapping the steps an application lives through at the example of a simple application along with creating/identifying a model of what happens with Applications and the Kernel.

Tailoring techniques - Annex QR

Managing artifacts for certification - PMT

Linux and Quality Management

Quality management is the foundation on which all safety integrity is built. Therefore the process by which the Linux Kernel is developed has to be completely understood in oreder to make an equivalence argument towards Quality Management as it is codified in QM standards such as ISO 9001.

Strategy towards a solution Analogously to the route.pdf for the qualification argument, ISO 9001 should be read and innterpreted in the context of the Linux development process. Gaps should be identified and then rationalized or closed by extending the Process.




  1. Annex QR
  3. CMMI
  4. ELISA: ELISA tech
  5. ELISA: GDrive
  6. ELISA: GitHub
  7. LSB


[DIN 51028:2012]
Bahnanwendungen - Telekomunikationstechnik, Signaltechnik und Datenverarbeitungssysteme - Software für Eisenbahnsteuerungs- und Überwachungssysteme. Standard, DIN Deutsches Institut für Normung E.V., March 2012
[IEC 61508:2010]
Functional safety of electrical/electronic/programmable electronic safety-related systems. Standard, IEC International Electrotechnical Commission, April 2010.
[IEC 62304:2015]
Medical device software - Software life cycle processes. Standard, IEC/SC 62A Allgemeine Bestimmungen für elektrische Einrichtungen in medizinischer Anwendung, June 2015
IEEE Standard for Information Technology - Portable Operating System Interface (POSIX(R)) Base Specifications. Standard, IEEE The Institue of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, January 2017
[IEEE PSE5x:2003]
Information Technology - Standardized application environment profile (AEP) - POSIX(R) realtime and embedded application support. Standard, IEEE The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, January 2003
[ISO 26262:2018]
Road Vehicles - Functional safety. Standard, International Organiszation for Standardization, Geneva, CH, December 2012
[ISO 3300x:2015]
Information Technology. Process Assessment. Standard, ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 7 Software and Systems Engineering, March 2015
[ISO 9001:2015]
Quality management systems - Requirements (ISO 9001:2015); German and English version EN ISO 9001:2015. Standard, DIN-Normenausschusss Qualitätsmanagement, Statistik und Zertifizierungsgrundlagen (NQSZ), November 2015
[UL 1998:2018]
Software in programmable components. Standard, UL llc, September 2018



Very unclear w.r.t. publication, what to do.

Document History

Version Author Changes
0.1 ELISA Group Transferred from Google docs to LaTeX
    Restructured Document
    Added short term/ long term sections
0.2 ELISA Group Transferred from LaTeX to markdown