Sunday, April 14, 2024

Getting started with sched-ext development

The purpose of this article is to support those interested in deepening their engagement in scheduling development using sched-ext.

We are currently working to better integrate all of this in the major Linux distributions, but for now setting up a development environment requires a few manual steps.

In this post, I’ll describe my personal workflow for conducting experiments with sched-ext without the need to install a custom kernel.

To test the sched-ext schedulers, we will use virtme-ng, a tool that allows to quickly build and test custom kernels without having to deploy them on a bare metal system or a dedicated virtual machine.

Install virtme-ng

virtme-ng is available in pretty much all the major Linux distributions, so you should be able to install it via the package manager of your distro.

Alternatively, you can either recompile, or even run directly, from source or install it via pip:

 $ pip install --break-system-packages virtme-ng


Install the following dependencies to be able to compile a sched-ext kernel and the user-space scx tools and schedulers:

 $ sudo apt -y install \
   bison build-essential busybox-static cargo clang-17 cmake coreutils cpio \
   elfutils file flex gcc gcc-multilib git iproute2 jq kbd kmod libcap-dev \
   libelf-dev libssl-dev libunwind-dev libvirt-clients libzstd-dev llvm-17 \
   linux-headers-generic linux-tools-common linux-tools-generic \
   make meson ninja-build pahole pkg-config python3-dev python3-pip \
   python3-requests qemu-kvm rsync rustc udev zstd

These is the list of required packages if you are using Debian/Ubuntu, other distributions may have similar or equivalent package names.

Preparing a sched-ext kernel

The development kernel of sched-ext is based on the latest bpf-next branch.

The main reason is that we may want to start exploring the new eBPF features as soon as possible, being sched-ext strictly connected to eBPF.

To prepare a minimal sched-ext kernel that can run inside a virtme-ng session do the following:

 $ git clone linux
 $ cd linux
 $ vng -v --build --config .github/workflows/sched-ext.config
 $ make headers
 $ cd -

Build the user-space scx tools and schedulers

All the sched-ext schedulers and tools are provided in a separate scx git repository.

To compile all the schedulers with the required tools and libraries you can run the following command:

 $ git clone
 $ cd scx
 $ meson setup build -Dkernel_headers=../linux/usr/include
 $ meson compile -C build --njobs=1

If you want to recompile only a specific scheduler (i.e., scx_rustland) you can specify just the scheduler name that you want compile via the meson compile command:

 $ meson compile -C build scx_rustland

Test the scheduler inside virtme-ng

First of all let’s define a bash helper that will help us to quickly spawn a tmux session with a running sched-ext scheduler and a shell.

Add the following to your ~/.bashrc:

# Helper to test scx scheduler
scx() {
    sudo tmux new-session \; split-window -v \; send-keys -t 0 "$*" Enter

Now we can run the kernel that we have just recompiled using virtme-ng:

 $ vng -vr ../linux

Then, inside virtme-ng, we can use the following command to run the scx_rustland scheduler together with a shell session, that can be used to run some tests or benchmarks:

 $ scx ./build/scheds/rust/scx_rustland/debug/scx_rustland

Modify a scheduler: scx_rustland

Now, let’s try to modify the scx_rustland scheduler as following:

diff --git a/scheds/rust/scx_rustland/src/ b/scheds/rust/scx_rustland/src/
index 33cf43b..59891ad 100644
--- a/scheds/rust/scx_rustland/src/
+++ b/scheds/rust/scx_rustland/src/
@@ -506,7 +506,7 @@ impl<'a> Scheduler<'a> {
                     // available.
                     let mut dispatched_task = DispatchedTask::new(&task.qtask);
                     if !self.builtin_idle {
-                        dispatched_task.set_cpu(NO_CPU);
+                        dispatched_task.set_cpu(0);
                     // Send task to the BPF dispatcher.

This change will force the scx_rustland scheduler to dispatch all tasks on CPU #0.

This small change is obviously provided mostly for academic purposes, but even a little change like this can have practical benefits in certain scenarios.


For example, let’s test this scheduler on a real system (my laptop) and compare the power consumption of the default Linux scheduler vs the modified scx_rustland.

We can start scx_rustland with the -u option to make sure that all the tasks will be scheduled by the user-space component that we have just modified:

 $ scx ./build/scheds/rust/scx_rustland/debug/scx_rustland -u

Then we can start a CPU-intensive stress test using stress-ng:

 $ stress-ng -c 8 --timeout 30

When measuring the average power consumption over a 30-second period using turbostat, the results show a notable difference between two schedulers:

                          Power usage
 Default Linux scheduler |       7.5W
 Modified scx_rustland   |       3.6W

This disparity can obviously be attributed to the different behavior of the schedulers. With the modified scx_rustland scheduler, all tasks are directed to CPU #0, leaving the other CPUs largely idle. Consequently, the kernel can place these idle CPUs into a low-power state. In contrast, the default Linux scheduler evenly distributes the workload across all available CPUs, leading to higher power consumption.

Although this modification massively impacts on performance, it demonstrates the effectiveness of operating at the kernel scheduler level and how easy it is via sched-ext. This experience highlights the tangible benefits of fine-tuning kernel scheduler settings in real-world scenarios using sched-ext.

The reason is that all the tasks are dispatched on CPU #0 with the modified scx_rustland, so the other CPUs are basically idle and the kernel can put them in a low-power state, while the default Linux scheduler tries to distribute the workload equally across all the available CPUs.

Despite the substantial impact on performance caused by this change, this example demonstrates the effectiveness to operate at the kernel scheduler level and the ease of implementing (and testing) such modifications using sched-ext.

And, speaking from personal experience, I have actually used this change while travelling when my laptop was running out of power. With this simple change I was able to almost double the battery life of my laptop and complete my work during the trip. :)


In this post I have shared my personal workflow to quickly run experiments with sched-ext without the need to install a custom kernel, highlighting the ease of conducting such experiments.

I hope this information can help all the potential developers interested in improving their understanding of sched-ext through experimentation.