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Investigating Novell Kernel Services

Will NKS support running NLMs on current Linux distributions?

By Dave Kearns, Network World
July 12, 2004 11:31 AM ET
Kearns

A couple of months ago I asked if Novell's new Open Enterprise Server (or any other Linux distribution) would be enabled to run NetWare Loadable Modules, the applications that run within a NetWare server. We were briefly led to believe that this might be possible with an "NLM to ELF" tool, ELF (Executable and Linking Format) being the format for Linux code that can be ported among different distributions. If an NLM could be turned into an ELF format, then it could be directly ported to Linux. Sadly, it was a simple case of misunderstanding - there's an "ELF to NLM" tool, but not the reverse.

A couple of weeks ago, a reader pointed me to a five-year-old Novell Developer Notes article (link below) talking about the programming features and functionality of the Novell Kernel Services (NKS) programming environment for NLMs.

NKS defines an abstraction layer between the application and the underlying NetWare kernel (i.e., the operating system). The reader further noted that he'd heard from Novell engineers that this environment would be ported to Linux as sort of an "LKS - Linux Kernel Services." It was intriguing enough to investigate further.

Sadly, this is just one more area that Novell - while not quite abandoned - has left to twist slowly in the wind. I specifically asked a Novell spokesman: 1) Does NKS still exist as a viable technology; and 2) will NKS support running NLMs on current Linux distributions? What with holidays and vacations, the answer just came in, and it wasn't good news.

Q: Does NKS still exist as a viable technology?
A: Yes, NKS does still exist, but there will be no further development of NKS at this time.

Q: Will NKS support running NLMs on current Linux distributions?
A: No. The original design concept of NKS is still valid (in fact, it's used in NetWare today), however it can't be used to run an NLM on a current Linux distribution.

So that appears to end any expectations that as Novell is encouraging you to move from a NetWare to a Linux platform, it will do anything to help you mitigate the expense by designing a way to port your existing NLMs.

Vendors and programmers are, of course, encouraged to re-write their NLM applications as Linux modules, but they will probably (and rightly) expect you to pay good money to purchase those... not exactly an "upgrade," maybe a "cross-grade"?

It shouldn't be that difficult, Novell. After all, you are offering lots of NetWare services on Linux and that an environment to run NLMs - even if not optimal - as a stopgap and an expense-saving step might go a long way towards convincing stalwart NetWare users to at least try Linux on their network.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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