The kernel is started via bootloader. The bootloader can pass kernel parameters to the kernel. man bootparam tells you what parameters you can pass to the kernel during boot. The bootloader also tells the kernel what the kernel has to do after starting. Usually the bootloader tells the kernel to start the program init (It is possible to do something else). The kernel parameters can also be changed during runtime via the program sysctl. To see the parameters type sysctl -a and to get a description man sysctl.

Hardware compatibility

Diverse distribution have a hardware data base that got (hopefully) tested under Linux, you can avoid problems considering products from this list when buying new hardware . Some examples:

Having the hardware and looking for drivers

Open your computer or/and launch the following programs:

lspci from pciutils package

lspci -v to get more details. The easiest way is run a liveCD and do lspci -vvv | grep Kernel to see what kernel modules get used.

lspci -vvv -s 00:10.2 to see just one single card

lspci -k to see the kernel modules supporting the cards and if in use

update-pciids update the list of known PCI ID and put it in /usr/share/misc/pci.ids , this is where the text of lspci comes from.





gtk-lshw (emerge lshw)


Boot with a liveCD's and look what it is using:

cat /proc/modules lists them or better formatted:

cat /proc/modules | cut -d ' ' -f 1

Check the Ethernet card since update via Internet requires it. Use the help and description in make menuconfig, make nconfig, using X make xconfig or make gconfig. Check there the kernel module names later to be seen when you use the command lsmod.

An easier way than create the .config file is finding somebody who already has done it, so look on your Linux PC, LiveCD or in the Internet, you might find the desired .config.

Hints about kernel compiling

There is make help that prints out a lot make inside the kernel source directory can do.

This section gives some hints about kernel compilation or information when you build the first time a kernel on a new computer. For kernel updated go directly to the kernel compilation section.

The kernel sources are in the directory cd /usr/src. To see whats there type ls -l. The symbolic link Linux points to the selected source. To update the source manually, the old link can be removed rm /usr/src/linux and a new link can be created ln -s linux-2.6.24-gentoo-r4 linux.

Gentoo recommend a faster way that avoids misspelling is using the eselect kernel list and eselect kernel set<n> command.

Use make xconfig to have the short documentation available when you go through the options. You find there links to the Internet or to /usr/src/linux/Documentation where you get more information about the kernel.

If you don't find an option look at it is build from the file /usr/src/linux/arch/x86/Kconfig. This file includes lines as

source "init/Kconfig"

that include other files.

To not have to save corresponding kernel configuration each time a new kernel is configured by a command as:

cp .config /boot/config-2.6.24-gentoo-r4-2008-04-18

The configuration in the hidden file /usr/src/linux/.config can be attached to the kernel. The kernel options IKCONFIG (general setup > kernel .config support) and IKCONFIG_PROC (general setup > enable access to .config through /proc/config.gz> must be set.

When the kernel is running and having set IKCONFIG_PROC the /usr/src/linux/.config can be unzipped from /proc/config.gz gunzip config.gz.

To restore cd /usr/src/linux and zcat /proc/config.gz > .config

The other option is:

scripts/extract-ikconfig <name of the kernel file>

If you select kernel options you might think enable verbose debug messages is a good thing, this might be the case if you look for specific problems, however it can get very annoying when so many debug messages appear on the screen frequently and periodically like every two seconds to prevent you to work in the console. Candidates for that are USB and PM (Power management) messages. See what you have enabled:

cat .config | grep VERB

cat .config | grep MESSA

cat .config | grep DEBUG

make loadmodconfig deletes all not running modules in .config and therefore helps to make a small kernel image,

When you run in X, you will not see them (press Crtl + Alt + F1 to see them and Crtl + Alt + F7 to go back to X).

Before you reboot and run into version problems with some kernel modules not delivered with the new kernel source. Re-emerge those kernel modules now, since the link points already to the new kernel source (even the old kernel is running) so the drivers will match the kernel version, otherwise the kernel probably will refuse to load those drivers (Other way would be using the option to force loading kernel modules with mismatching versions exist, however this is less clean and safe).

Further if you select in Grub at boot time previous compiled kernels, an other problem might occur. Kernel modules are still used from the last compilation and might no more be compatible to the previous installation, they might even block your computer. Therefore all kernel modules not taken from the kernel need to be re-compiled as well.

To not manually remember what kernel modules are installed, Gentoo Linux has a tool emerge module-rebuild that does a rebuild to all used kernel modules not delivered with the kernel source

module-rebuild rebuild

does the job. An alternative would be emerge all packages individually.

Kernel compilation

Setup the source

The kernel source is under /usr/src/linux. It is quite common to have different versions of the kernel source or even patched versions of the kernel sources on the system. So/usr/src/linux is mostly a symbolic link to a directory containing the selected kernel source. Setting up the kernel source means bending the symbolic link /usr/src/linux to the desired directory as: ln -s /usr/src/<kernel source name> /usr/src/linux


Under Gentoo Linux there is eselect that allows to work with this link more safely and advanced. To see what you have got and what source is used

eselect kernel list

If the newest source is not selected, select it (it does nothing else than safely updating the link of /usr/src/linux):

eselect kernel set<n>

Goto the kernel source

cd /usr/src/linux

If you have selected a new source copy over old kernel configuration file:

cp /usr/src/linux-4.<version>-gentoo-r<release>/.config .config

To update your old .config to the new source run:

make oldconfig

Configure the kernel

If you want to do changes to .config then do the following other wise jump to the next section:

make menuconfig


Pressing / pops up a search window

or the newer method

make nconfig

or to have something more advanced under X:

make xconfig

If you do not have a .config file do make defconfig or make config

Compile and install the kernel

Compile the kernel and install the kernel modules

make && make modules_install

(This command uses && to run two commands in a row, make standalone does the compilation and then make modules_install that installs the modules).

Copy and rename the kernel to the boot directory. Depending on how you boot, the destination path might be different as /boot/boot/ . The kernel should be renamed to reflect its source, version and maybe compilation date so it can be distinguished from other kernels:

cp arch/<arch>/boot/bzImage /boot/kernel-<version>-gentoo-r<release>-<date>

The architecture <arch> is i386 for a 32bit machine, x86_64 for a 64bit machine or arm for an embedded system using a arm micro-controller as the Raspberry.


There is also make install to install the kernel, but it will get default names for the kernel and might have a conflict with the grub2-mkconfig.

Add the kernel to the bootloader configuration

For grub2 grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg does the job.

For grub legacy ( grub below version 1) now add entry in the loader menu /boot/grub/grub.conf

title=Gentoo Linux 3.<version>-gentoo-r<release>-<date>
root (hd0,0)
kernel /kernel-3.<version>-gentoo-r<release>-<date> root=/dev/sda3

Update the modules and reboot

When you have a new source compiled, the depending kernel modules not delivered with the kernel source need also to be recompiled, otherwise they might not be accepted by the kernel due to a version conflict.


For Gentoo emerge @module-rebuild will do it. In the past there was the following command (emerge module-rebuild) module-rebuild rebuild that recompiled the known kernel modules not delivered with the kernel source:

Now reboot: init 6

Kernel internals

For an overview see:

Applications can communicate with the kernel using system calls. All system calls are listed in /usr/src/linux/include/asm/unistd.h

The applications prepare the data for the system call and create an interrupt to call the kernel to do something. The following example shows how a C program makes the system call write.

Example 3.2. system call

#include <unistd.h>
int main ()
  write(0,"Hello World\n", 12);

unistd.h is the c library that holds the system call C functions.

0 is the file descriptor and means standard input output. 12 stands for the 12 characters to be printed.

The following program when started gets obviously a process ID, but it also creates a second child process using the fork command. After that both parent and child process get trapped in while loops. Using the KDE System guard both processes can be observed and killed (parent)!

Example 3.3. fork

#include <sys/types.h>
#include <unistd.h>
#include <stdio.h>
int main ()
  int forkvar;
  forkvar = fork();
    printf("child process\n");
    printf("parent process started child with PID:%i\n",forkvar);
  return 0;

Now, the child process is running, but as a second instance of the parent process. The kernel has a process table that actually can be seen using KDE System guard. Child and parent process running with the same parameters but different PID's. In the tree view the relation between child and parent (and bash that has called them) can also be verified.

The following line can be put into the program to call an other program

execl("<path to and the the binary>","<name of the program>,NULL);

The data in the process table will be replaced.

<path to and the binary> has to be replaced by program to be executed including the directory

<name of the program> has to be replaced

NULL stands for null arguments passed to the program

Processes can have different status:


Having one CPU, just one process can run at a time


The process is ready to run but waits for the kernel scheduler to start it


Process is waiting for an event and does not be activated by the kernel scheduler

The process table is defined in /usr/src/linux/include/linux/sched.h see the definition:

struct task_struct 

Different signals can be sent to the processes


Friendly ask to terminate


Not so friendly ask to terminate

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