Rebuilding Your Kernel
Rebuilding your kernel
is the process by which you
compile all the components of your source code to create a kernel
from which you
can then install and boot.
A rebuild is important (actually, necessary)
when you want to add or remove drivers or change parameters. Often, changes or
updates to the kernel
are made that you want to include to keep yourself up to
date. (Note that adding new drivers does not always require you to rebuild your
kernel and use -R for recursive reboot. This is where kernel
modules come in, which we talk about
Usually, the updates and or patch come too fast for commercial
distributions to keep up with them and include them on their CD-ROM.
new CD-ROMs are created only for minor releases and not revisions. So, if you
want to keep up to date, you will have to implement them you yourself. This is
also nice because you don't need to get a new CD-ROM
important thing to keep in mind is that many applications require specific
kernel versions to run correctly (specifically ps). Therefore, if you are planning to install a new
version of a program or applications, make sure that it is compatible with your
source code (normally) is kept in /usr/src/linux. Usually, on a fresh installation, the Linux
directory is a symbolic link
to a directory whose name is based on the kernel
release number (for example, linux-2.4.14). A README file lists this version number and instructions on how to
update the kernel. The version numbers take the following form:
To find out what release you are on, you can run
Linux saturn 2.4.9 #5 Thu Nov 15 19:15:26 CET 2001 i686 unknown
Here we have 2.4.14
When problems (that is, bugs) are
discovered in either the kernel
or programs, patches are released. Depending on
the extent of the patch, the patch level will change. It is a convention that
the even numbered releases 1.2.? are "stable" releases. When patches
are added to stable releases, they are only bug fixes and contain no new
features. When a new feature is to be added, this gets an odd numbered version
1.3.?. These are called development releases. This probably also contains bug
fixes as well. Often both the stable even number version and the development odd
number version are being worked on (for example, 1.2 and 1.3).
fixes are made, they are added to both versions, but only the 1.3 would get new
features. When it becomes stable enough, the version might be changed to 1.4 and
the entire process begins again.
Patches are available from all the Linux
ftp sites, for example, sunsite.unc.edu, as well as many other places.
The best idea is to check the newsgroups or one of the Web search engines like
Normally, patches are compressed tar
archives. The files within the patch are actually the output of the
diff command. The old version of the source is
compared to the new version and the differences are written to the patch file.
The patch command (which is used to
apply the patches) then compares the source code on your system and makes the
appropriate changes. Because the patch
command compares lines in a particular location and makes changes, it is
vital that patches be put in the correct order. Otherwise changes might
be made where they don't belong and nothing works anymore.
a patch, I would suggest making a backup copy of your entire source directory.
First, change to the source directory (/usr/src) and run
Use -R for recursive so that all the subdirectories are included. At the end,
include the date, so that you know when the copy was made.
and extract the new source directory at the same time, the command would
Lets assume that you have a patch file called patch.42. The command would be
where the -c option to gunzip tells it to write the output to stdout and the -p0
option says not to strip of the path names. Often there are multiple
patches between the release you installed and the current release, so you need
to get all the patch files.
Some more clever administrators might think
about putting all the patch files into a single directory and running a single
command using wild cards, such as
The problem with this is the way the shell expands the wild cards. The shell
doesn't understand the concept of numbers as we do. All it knows is ASCII,
so patch.* would expand to something like this:
If you were to do this, you'd put the patches in the wrong order!
Even if you are going to apply only one patch, you need to be
careful what version you have and what patch you are applying. You may find the
script patch-kernel in the
/usr/src/linux/tools directory, which will allow you
to put on multiple patches and will figure out what order in which they should
Also keep in mind that the development kernel
(those with odd
numbered minor releases) are in development (that is, experimental). Just
because a driver is included in the development kernel
does not mean it will
work with all devices. Speaking from experience, I know the problems this will
cause. Several versions of Linux that I installed were still in a 1.2 kernel.
However, the driver for my host
adapted (AHA-2940 was not included). On the
CD-ROM was a copy of a 1.3 kernel
that contained the driver. I created a floppy
using the driver and all was well, I thought.
I was able to install the
entire system and get everything configured, and things looked good. Then my
SCSI tape drive arrived and I added it to the system. Well, the host
driver recognized the tape drive correctly, but immediately after printing the
message with the tape drive model, the system stopped. The message on the screen
said a SCSI
command had timed out.
that was booting was the
one from the installation floppy and, therefore, the 1.3 kernel.
However, the source on the hard disk was for the 1.2 kernel.
I added the patch, rebuilt the
kernel, and rebooted. It was smooth sailing from then on. (Note that the 2.0
kernel already included the changes. This was an attempt to see what worked and
not just to get the system working.)
In the kernel source directory /usr/src/linux is a standard make file. Running
make config will ask you a series of questions about
what drivers to include in your kernel.
These are yes/no questions that are
pretty straightforward, provided you know about your system.
If you are
new to Linux, you should consider running make
menuconfig instead. This is a menu interface to the
configuration routines that even has extensive on-line help. If you are running
X, you should look at running
which will bring you a full GUI front-end. The commercial vendors can
learn something from this
The defaults that the systems provide are fine for normal
operations, but you need to know how your system is configured. (Now are you
beginning to understand why we got to this so far into the book?) In a lot of
cases, the responses you give to questions will add functionality, while others simply change
I can't go step-by-step through the rebuild process without
explaining how make files work, but
there are a few key points that I need to address.
First, there are major
changes between 1.2 and 2.0. A large number of drivers have been added and the
overall flow is different. In several cases, you were prompted to configure one
specific aspect but now are able to be more specific in what you
In /usr/src/linux, there
is a new subdirectory: documentation.
This contains, as you might expect, documentation for the kernel
you reconfigure your kernel,
I would suggest taking a look at this subdirectory.
It has some very good information on what options to select depending on the
hardware you have.
When you rebuild, what is actually run is a script in
the arch/<type> subdirectory,
where <type> is the type of
architecture you have. If you run it on an Intel machine, then the script that
is run is /usr/src/linux/arch/i386/config.in.
This is the script that prompts your for all of the configuration
options. After each question, you will see a cryptic name. This is the variable
that will be defined (or undefined, depending on your answer).
your input, variables are set to particular values. These appear as
#define statements and are written to a temporary
file as the configuration script is being run. If something stops the
configuration process (such as you pressing the interrupt
key or you inputting
an unacceptable value), this temporary file can be ignored. Once the
configuration is complete, the temporary file is used as the new version of
<linux/autoconf.h>. If you look in
the autoconf.h file, you'll see all of
those cryptic variables names that you encountered when you ran the configure
If we have a Boolean variable
(one that is either defined or
undefined), then you'll have the applicable definition in the
autoconf.h file. For example, on my machine, I
answered yes to configuring normal floppy support, so the line in
autoconf.h looks like this:
#define CONFIG_BLK_DEV_FD 1
Here we have defined the constant CONFIG_BLK_DEV_FD
to 1. Certain parts of the kernel
source code or the
make file will test for this value and include
certain modules or otherwise change its behavior based on how the constant is
Lets look at an example. Because all I have is a SCSI
there was no need to include support for IDE
hard disks, so it must be
undefined. The entry looks like this:
If you want to add support for a
particular device without having to go through the configuration script each
time, all you need to do is edit the autoconf.h
Next, gather the dependencies for the sources and include
them in the various make files used
during the kernel
rebuild. This is done with make
If you have done a kernel
rebuild before, there
may be a lot of files left lying around, so it's a good idea to run
make clean. Finally, run make
with no options to start the kernel
advantage that Linux has over other OSes is that it is completely
component-based and is not distributed as a complete, non-divisible unit. This
allows you to update/upgrade those components that have changed and leave the
rest intact. This has been made very simple through the Red Hat Package Manager
(RPM). (See the chapter on installing for more details.)
Unfortunately, this process
is not always "plug-n-play": Often, differences between the kernel
programs (or between different programs) can cause problems. For example, when
was updated to 2.0, I simply tossed the source code onto a system
that had the 1.2 kernel,
rebuilt the kernel, and rebooted. All looked well.
However, on shutting down the system, I encountered a stream of errors that
occur only with the 2.0 kernel.
However, installing the distribution with
the 2.0 kernel
in its entirely did not cause this problem.
A fairly new
concept is the idea of a loadable module. These are parts of the kernel
not linked directly to the kernel
but are pulled in when you need them. For
example, you only use your tape drive when you do backups, so whats the point of
having it in your kernel
all the time? If you load it only when you need it, you
save memory for other tasks.
To be able to use kernel
modules like these,
must support it. When you run make
config, you are asked this question, among others. Modules
can be loaded into the kernel
by hand, using the insmod
command, or automatically, using the kerneld
See the kernel
or the kernel mini-HOWTO for more specifics.