Sparse is a tool to do compile-time checks on C code. Sparse can create a parse tree of C code, similar to a GCC frontend. Using this parse tree, it is possible to create additional compile-time checks of source code, in addition to what regular C provides.
For example, a system call can be passed a userspace pointer. In regular C, this will simply be a void *. However, the kernel cannot directly dereference this pointer. There is no syntax to denote this restriction in regular C, and if a kernel developer makes a mistake, s/he will only discover it at runtime, probably in the form of a kernel crash. Sparse allows a developer to encode this restriction by annotating the pointer as void __user *, where __user denotes a separate address space.
There are currently three address spaces recognized by the kernel:
- User address space, annotated with __user
- Kernel address space, no annotation
- I/O memory address space, annotated with __iomem
These are defined in include/linux/compiler.h
More information about sparse can be found at http://www.linuxjournal.com/article.php?sid=7272 and http://kerneltrap.org/node/view/3848. The sparse mailing list is at http://vger.kernel.org/vger-lists.html#linux-sparse
The sparse source code is kept in BitKeeper at bk://kernel.bkbits.net/torvalds/sparse, snapshots can be found at http://www.codemonkey.org.uk/projects/bitkeeper/sparse/