kmod with cheesy baked-in of multiple command line operations

Ever wonder how egrep, or fgrep has any relationship to grep at all as they both have the same command line options as available by grep itself but can be able to perform a specific operation by its own.

Actually there are other variants like xzgrep, zgrep, etc. although some of them might not support all operations of grep.

Up on checking, those variants are implemented in shell script with some parameters pre-filled before forwarding them to execute with actual grep binary, or with some more handling logic for incoming parameters to clean them up or check whether it would decide to support, before forwarding it to grep.

Feel free to check as only grep is an actual ELF executable binary, other variants are shell script in pure text file format.

Above case is simpler, but when I’ve stepped up on either insmod, rmmod, lsmod or you name it for the tools to do things with kernel module, things are different.

kmod is stated to be one tool to rule them all (as seen in tools/kmod.c). Its main functionality is to manage your Linux kernel module e.g. to install, to remove, to inspect, etc. It has several other executable files with different name which can be invoked to execute specific operation it supports. The following is its children.

Interesting thing is that inspecting its help message via kmod --help won’t reveal any command line flags/options we can use to manually feed into the main executable binary to get the same behavior/functionality as provided by any of its variants.

$ kmod --help
kmod - Manage kernel modules: list, load, unload, etc
        kmod [options] command [command_options]

        -V, --version     show version
        -h, --help        show this help

  help         Show help message
  list         list currently loaded modules
  static-nodes outputs the static-node information installed with the currently running kernel

kmod also handles gracefully if called from following symlinks:
  lsmod        compat lsmod command
  rmmod        compat rmmod command
  insmod       compat insmod command
  modinfo      compat modinfo command
  modprobe     compat modprobe command
  depmod       compat depmod command

I even did try $ kmod lsmod before but it didn’t lead to anything. That might sound stupid, but it’s part of the seeking for the truth process. So you don’t have to try that :P

Inspecting one or all of those names reveals that they are just symbolic link files.

$ ls -la `which insmod
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 9 Jun 14  2020 /usr/sbin/insmod -> /bin/kmod

$ ls -la `which lsmod`
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 9 Jun 14  2020 /usr/sbin/lsmod -> /bin/kmod

As each of its variant can perform different behavior/functionality. Now the question would be how it baked in those different options to feed into the main executable binary?

Only way to find out is to peak into its source code.

Grep away the source

Its source code is available via git at

We start by searching for main( function (that’s not a typo, it’s an actual search term for grep).

Apparently, main function is defined inside tools/kmod.c.

We will see the following array definition in such file which holds command structures for all commands it supports

static const struct kmod_cmd *kmod_cmds[] = {


struct kmod_cmd defined in tools/kmod.h to be as follows

struct kmod_cmd {
    const char *name;
    int (*cmd)(int argc, char *argv[]);
    const char *help;

So we see that this structure not only just storing the name of the command, and help message. It also stores the function pointer to perform the operation which accept arguments from main program. We’re getting closer!

Look further in tools/kmod.c, inside kmod_help function, we will see that it iterates the whole command arrays to get help message to print out

static int kmod_help(int argc, char *argv[])

    for (i = 0; i < ARRAY_SIZE(kmod_cmds); i++) {
        if (kmod_cmds[i]->help != NULL) {
            printf("  %-12s %s\n", kmod_cmds[i]->name,


as well as the core thing we’re looking for, it iterates over a command array to check which one to execute

static int handle_kmod_commands(int argc, char *argv[])

    for (i = 0, err = -EINVAL; i < ARRAY_SIZE(kmod_cmds); i++) {
        if (streq(kmod_cmds[i]->name, cmd)) {
            err = kmod_cmds[i]->cmd(--argc, ++argv);


Final culprit is the caller site that calls handle_kmod_commands function as follows

int main(int argc, char *argv[])

    if (streq(program_invocation_short_name, "kmod"))
        err = handle_kmod_commands(argc, argv);
        err = handle_kmod_compat_commands(argc, argv);


It uses program_invocation_short_name in order to get the basename of the executable file user invoked to dispatch which operation it should perform! That clears out the curiosity.

An excerpted man page says the following

       program_invocation_name, program_invocation_short_name - obtain name used to invoke calling program

       #define _GNU_SOURCE         /* See feature_test_macros(7) */
       #include <errno.h>

       extern char *program_invocation_name;
       extern char *program_invocation_short_name;

       program_invocation_name  contains the name that was used to invoke the calling program.  This is the same as the value of argv[0] in main(), with the difference
       that the scope of program_invocation_name is global.

       program_invocation_short_name contains the basename component of name that was used to invoke the calling program.  That is, it is the same value as program_in‐
       vocation_name, with all text up to and including the final slash (/), if any, removed.

       These variables are automatically initialized by the glibc run-time startup code.

Notice that before you can use it, you have to #define _GNU_SOURCE before inclusion of errno.h header to avoid a need of manual declaring the following lines in your program

extern char *program_invocation_name;
extern char *program_invocation_short_name;

See my test case on this at program_invocation_name.c.

First published on September, 22, 2021

Written by Wasin Thonkaew
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