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Building the Linux kernel using git

Author's note: I am writing this in as impartial a way as I can, because I think the user should decide what is best for them.

Where to build

There are two common places to build the kernel. It is important that wherever you build the kernel, it must be a location that does not change nor risk deletion or corruption. For example do NOT build it in /tmp.

1. You can build the kernel in /usr/src and then you will have to be root in order to build the kernel. This has the advantage that it works well for multi-user systems.

mkdir -p /usr/src
cd /usr/src

2. You can build the kernel in your home directory to a directory that you should not delete. For example you can use ~/.local/src or something similar. You can build the kernel as a regular user. The disadvantage is that other users on a multi-user system will not have access to the source.

mkdir -p ~/.local/src
cd ~/.local/src

Where to get the kernel source

There are two ways to get the kernel source. We will assume the version is as follows.


1. You can use git to get the kernel source. This has the advantage that it will avoid issues when linux.org is cracked. It also has the advantage that you don't need to use patch or download a new source tarball each time the version changes. A disadvantage is that the source directory may get large as new releases are pulled.

git clone --depth 1 git://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/linux/kernel/git/stable/linux-stable.git # this only needs to be run once at the very beginning
cd linux-stable
git pull # run this every time after the first run to update the source
git checkout v$version # you MUST checkout a kernel version or you will get the base version, i.e. 3.4.0
git log # just check to make sure the top of the log says the version you want
git tag -v v$version # this is not necessary, but it validates the source using gpg public key, which you need to import
To easily import a gpg key, you need the RSA key ID 0000000E. Run
gpg --search 0000000E

and choose the key you want to import. The key here is just an example.

2. You can download the source tarball from http://kernel.org/. The disadvantages are that you will need to either use patch to upgrade to a newer version, or to download a new source tarball.

wget http://www.kernel.org/pub/linux/kernel/v3.0/linux-$version.tar.xz
unxz linux-$version.tar.xz
gpg --verify linux-$version.tar.sign
tar -xf linux-$version.tar
cd linux-$version

How to build

First run the following to make sure everything is setup properly for a build.

make clean
make mrproper # note that this deletes any .config file in the current directory

You have many choices when it comes to how to build the kernel. It is best to read the README file in the kernel source directory to get all the current options, as well as Documentation/kbuild/kconfig.txt for details on all the options.

 - Alternate configuration commands are:
	"make config"      Plain text interface.
	"make menuconfig"  Text based color menus, radiolists & dialogs.
	"make nconfig"     Enhanced text based color menus.
	"make xconfig"     X windows (Qt) based configuration tool.
	"make gconfig"     X windows (Gtk) based configuration tool.
	"make oldconfig"   Default all questions based on the contents of
			   your existing ./.config file and asking about
			   new config symbols.
	"make silentoldconfig"
			   Like above, but avoids cluttering the screen
			   with questions already answered.
			   Additionally updates the dependencies.
	"make defconfig"   Create a ./.config file by using the default
			   symbol values from either arch/$ARCH/defconfig
			   or arch/$ARCH/configs/${PLATFORM}_defconfig,
			   depending on the architecture.
	"make ${PLATFORM}_defconfig"
			  Create a ./.config file by using the default
			  symbol values from
			  Use "make help" to get a list of all available
			  platforms of your architecture.
	"make allyesconfig"
			   Create a ./.config file by setting symbol
			   values to 'y' as much as possible.
	"make allmodconfig"
			   Create a ./.config file by setting symbol
			   values to 'm' as much as possible.
	"make allnoconfig" Create a ./.config file by setting symbol
			   values to 'n' as much as possible.
	"make randconfig"  Create a ./.config file by setting symbol
			   values to random values.
   You can find more information on using the Linux kernel config tools
   in Documentation/kbuild/kconfig.txt.

Yet another option is to start with one of the slackware kernel configs found in the source/k directory of your slackware install media. Just copy the config file in, rename it to .config and run one of the configuration commands, typically make oldconfig if you are compiling a kernel version newer than the config file you copied in.

You can also use the kernel config of your currently running kernel located at /proc/config.gz by running

zcat /proc/config.gz > .config

Note, however, that /proc/config.gz may not exist if the kernel was not configured to expose it.

If you choose to build in /usr/src and use xconfig or gconfig please read howtos:slackware_admin:kernelbuilding#x_and_su

What to build

First, make sure you understand the difference between built-in and module. Built-in means that the driver or feature is included in the kernel, and is loaded into RAM by the bootloader on boot. Module means that the driver is built as a module and is loaded by the kernel once it mounts the filesystem. This is very important, because in order to load a module from the filesystem, the kernel needs drivers to handle the IDE or SATA controller as the well as the filesystem on the HDD or SDD. You MUST either build-in the IDE/SATA controller modules (PATA/SATA/AHCI) needed to access your HDD/SDD as well as the filesystem driver needed to mount the filesystem on which the modules are located OR you can make an initrd. Failing to do so will result in the Kernel Panic-not syncing: VFS: unable to mount root fs on unknown block(8,2) error.
So, should you build anything as a module, why not just make everything bulit-in. Certainly this is an option, and this is what is done for the slackware huge kernel, because it doesn't have access to the modules. However, on an old machine you will notice a difference between booting the huge kernel (slow) and booting the generic kernel (fast). This is because loading a large kernel into RAM takes longer than a smaller one. There is another issue with building everything into the kernel in that some drivers may conflict with one another and you won't be able to unload the modules because they are built-in. You can usually prevent built-in drivers from working on boot using the kernel command line which you can set in you bootloader config, for example /etc/lilo.conf.

Highlights of the kernel config

What follows is a documentation of some of the more important or interesting features of the kernel. This will not be comprehensive, because there are tons and tons of options to configure. It will be just highlights of the options considered to be more interesting or important than the rest. Read the Help on each option for more info. They are presented in the same order as they are in the kernel config along with where to find them.

General setup
Local version - append to kernel release

This option lets you add a string to the end of the kernel version, in case you want to install more that one kernel of the same version.

Kernel compression mode

This lets you select the kernel compression mode. Gzip is the good default choice. Higher compression (LZMA/XZ) requires more RAM and processor usage, but is faster to load from disk to RAM. Lower compression (Gzip/LZO) requires less RAM and processor usage, but is slower to load from disk to RAM.

Automatic process group scheduling

This option can greatly improve the performance of responsiveness of multi-threaded machines. So you can run make -j4 without causing other programs to stutter.

Initial RAM filesystem and RAM disk (initramfs/initrd) support

Make sure to enable this if you are going to make an initrd.

Disable heap randomization

This option should be disabled on machines make after the year 2000 for security reasons.

Optimize very unlikely/likely branches

Can increase kernel performance.

Enable the block layer
IO Schedulers —>
Deadline I/O scheduler

Causes performance improvement if you use the JFS filesystem.

CFQ I/O scheduler
CFQ Group Scheduling support

This option allows CFQ to recognize task groups and control disk bandwidth allocation, and can improve performance.

You can enable both and test each one out by running
cat /sys/block/sd?/queue/scheduler
echo deadline > /sys/block/sd?/queue/scheduler
echo cfq > /sys/block/sd?/queue/scheduler
Processor type and features
Tickless System (Dynamic Ticks)

This causes timer interrupts to only trigger on an as-needed basis both when the system is busy and idle.

Symmetric multi-processing support

This should be enabled for multi-core and multi-processor machines.

Processor family

For maximum performance you should choose the right processor family.

To identify an unknown processor, first run
cat /proc/cpuinfo

If you still cannot tell what processor family to choose, then look up the cpu family and model online or on the gentoo wiki:IntelAMD

Maximum number of CPUs

Set this to the number of CPUs you have.

SMT (Hyperthreading) scheduler support

This is for Hyperthreading machines, i.e. virtual cores.

Multi-core scheduler support

This is for multi-core machines, i.e. real cores.

You can enable both to be safe, in case you don't know.
Preemption Model

Your selection depends on how you use your computer, and will make a difference performance-wise.

No Forced Preemption (Server)

High latency, Maximum throughput. Good for data servers.

Voluntary Kernel Preemption (Desktop)

Medium latency, Medium throughput. Apps will still run smoothly when the system is under load.

Preemptible Kernel (Low-Latency Desktop)

Low latency, Low throughput. Good for media servers, or low-latency embedded systems.

Reroute for broken boot IRQs

Enable if you have problems with spurious interrupts.

Machine Check / overheating reporting

Make sure to enable this along with Intel or AMD. This allows the kernel to respond to system overheating.

Low address space to protect from user allocation

65536 for most architectures, 32768 for ARM. This can help with NULL pointer deference bugs.

Transparent Hugepage Support

This can increase the performance of apps that require lots of RAM at once, such as p7zip, LZMA, LZMA2 (xz).

Transparent Hugepage Support sysfs defaults

Selecting always will allow hugepages to work without needing to mount hugepages or configure the application to use them, unlike madvise.

Enable cleancache driver

Can increase performance by reducing disk I/O. However, I don't know how stable it is.

MTRR cleanup support

Can improve performance.

MTRR cleanup enable value (0-1)

1 to enable it

MTRR cleanup spare reg num

This is the number of unused/spare MTRR registers.

As an example, run dmesg and look for
MTRR variable ranges enabled:
  0 base 000000000 mask F80000000 write-back
  1 base 07EF00000 mask FFFF00000 uncachable
  2 base 07F000000 mask FFF000000 uncachable
  3 disabled
  4 disabled
  5 disabled
  6 disabled

Here, registers 3,4,5,6 are unused, so MTRR cleanup spare reg num = 4 total unused registers.

Enable -fstack-protector buffer overflow detection

Can prevent buffer overflows on systems with gcc version 4.2 and up.

Timer frequency

Always pick 1000Hz for systems that need to run multimedia. This number is proportional to interactive responsiveness. You want lower frequencies on servers and higher frequencies on desktops. However, if you have Tickless System enabled timer interrupts will only trigger as-needed, so it may be best to round up.

Compat VDSO support

Disable for glibc version 2.3.3 or later.

Power management and ACPI options

Always enable: Button, Fan, Processor, Thermal Zone. Without these, your computer (especially laptops) may overheat because ACPI cannot access thermal monitoring or fans.

Bus options
Message Signaled Interrupts (MSI and MSI-X)

This can offload IRQ interrupts by using MSI instead. However, if your BIOS is buggy this may need to be disabled.

Executable file formats / Emulations
IA32 Emulation

Allows 32-bit emulation via multi-lib on 64-bit systems.

Device Drivers
Block devices
Normal floppy disk support

Should be module or the floppy drive may malfuction.

Loopback device support

Required by some disk encryption methods.

SCSI device support
Asynchronous SCSI scanning

Will speed up booting, but all SCSI drivers must be built-in for it to work properly.

Serial ATA and Parallel ATA drivers
AHCI SATA support

If you enable AHCI in the BIOS this must be built-in or part of initrd. If you don't use AHCI, then do the same but for your SATA or PATA driver.

Multiple devices driver support (RAID and LVM)
Device mapper support
Crypt target support

Required by cryptsetup.

Graphics support
/dev/agpgart (AGP Support)

Only old graphics cards use this. Typically it will be auto-selected by the driver.

Direct Rendering Manager
Nouveau (nVidia) cards

If you use nouveau, you only need this driver, because it has framebuffer support, you do NOT need:

Support for frame buffer devices
nVidia Framebuffer Support

Again this is NOT needed by nouveau.

Sound card support
Advanced Linux Sound Architecture
PCI sound devices
Intel HD Audio
Pre-allocated buffer size for HD-audio driver

A larger buffer (e.g. 2048) is preferred for systems using PulseAudio.

USB support
EHCI HCD (USB 2.0) support
Improved Transaction Translator scheduling

Can greatly improve transfer speeds over USB 2.0 in some cases.

Real Time Clock
PC-style 'CMOS'

Enable this or you won't be able to set the clock from Linux. It is often accidentally omitted.

Staging drivers —>

Avoid drivers in this section if you value system stability.

File systems

You MUST either build-in the driver for the filesystem on which the kernel modules reside OR create an initrd, or the kernel will NOT boot.

CD-ROM/DVD Filesystems
UDF file system support

You need this if you plan on reading or writing disks with the UDF filesystem.

DOS/FAT/NT Filesystems
NTFS file system support
NTFS write support

You need this if you want to write to NTFS filesystems.

Kernel hacking
Magic SysRq key

Enable if you want to use SysRq REISUB (p.cogx on dvorak) to safely shutdown a hung system.

Write protect kernel read-only data structures

Helps catch kernel bugs

Allow gcc to uninline functions marked 'inline'

Enable for gcc 4.x but not for gcc 3.x

Cryptographic API

Make sure to build-in all algorithms you plan to use for cryptography using cryptsetup, especially if you plan on full disk encryption, otherwise you won't be able to decrypt your disk and thus will not be able to boot. Note that there are optimized and 64-bit versions to choose from.

Parallel crypto engine

Converts an arbitrary crypto algorithm into a parallel algorithm that executes in kernel threads. It allows multi-threading of any crypto algorithm.

If you are wondering what drivers you need, make sure to take a look at the output of these commands.
/sbin/lspci -k

You may want to consider disabling Staging drivers and EXPERIMENTAL and OBSOLETE drivers if you want a stable, modern kernel. Some can be left on for good reason.


To speed up building, you can use the -j option for make. The maximum it can be set to is the number of cores or processors plus one. However, if you want to do something while the kernel is building, like browse the web, you may want to use just the number of cores or processors.

make -j$cores


Before installing the kernel, you may want to uninstall Slackware packages containing the default kernels, modules, and source. You can also choose to leave these packages installed if you plan on using these default kernels. Whatever you do, do NOT uninstall the old kernel headers. See Alien Bob's guide for more on these topics.

First, you should make sure to remove any previously installed kernel modules at /lib/modules/$version.

rm -r /lib/modules/$version # make sure you know what is being removed

Now, you can install the new modules.

make modules_install

Next you should install the kernel itself. This script will install the kernel and make sure it is installed properly.

# installs kernel only, this should be run only from the kernel source directory
# make sure we are root
if test $HOME != '/root'
	echo 'ERROR: This script must be run as root' >&2
	exit 1
# remove the old
rm -f /boot/config.old
rm -f /boot/System.map.old
rm -f /boot/vmlinuz.old
# rename the present
mv /boot/config /boot/config.old
mv /boot/System.map /boot/System.map.old
mv /boot/vmlinuz /boot/vmlinuz.old
# copy in the new
cp arch/x86/boot/bzImage /boot/vmlinuz
cp System.map /boot
cp .config /boot/config
# change permissions of vmlinuz
chmod a-rwx,u+r /boot/vmlinuz
# check install
if cmp arch/x86/boot/bzImage /boot/vmlinuz
	echo 'Kernel installed correctly'
	echo 'Kernel install failed'
	exit 1
if cmp System.map /boot/System.map
	echo 'System.map installed correctly'
	echo 'System.map install failed'
	exit 1
if cmp .config /boot/config
	echo 'Kernel config installed correctly'
	echo 'Kernel config install failed'
	exit 1
echo 'Kernel install completed successfully'
echo 'Remember to run lilo if you use it'
exit 0


If you chose not to build-in the IDE/SATA controller modules (PATA/SATA/AHCI) needed to access your HDD/SDD as well as the filesystem driver needed to mount the filesystem on which the modules are located, you MUST make an inird.

If you use lilo, which is the default bootmanager on Slackware, you should edit /etc/lilo.conf and then run

Here is an example lilo.conf
# append options here if you need any kernel parameters on boot
append=" vt.default_utf8=0"
# this should point to the device you want to boot
boot = /dev/sda
# not necessary, but lilo complains if it is not here
# the compact option speeds up boot time significantly, but may not work on all systems
# This is needed if you want lilo to prompt you for what to boot
# This is given in tenths of a second, so 600 for every minute. You can comment this out if you single-boot.
timeout = 1200
# Override dangerous defaults that rewrite the partition table:
# Normal VGA console, the safest choice. 
# You can choose others if you want a framebuffer console, but you must have framebuffer support or the screen will go black.
vga = normal
# End LILO global section
# Linux bootable partition config begins
# the path to the Linux kernel boot image
image = /boot/vmlinuz
# the partition where the Linux kernel is located
  root = /dev/sda1
# how this entry is shown on the boot screen
  label = Linux
# Linux bootable partition config ends


  • The howto was written by H_TeXMeX_H
  • The README is an excerpt from the README included with the kernel source.
  • The installkernel.sh script was written by H_TeXMeX_H
  • The lilo.conf excerpt is from the default lilo.conf that comes with Slackware plus a few options.
  • Thanks to Alien Bob for his kernel building howto. It inspired me to write a restructured and updated kernel building guide.

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