How To Compile A Kernel - Debian Etch - Page 2

3 Building A Kernel The Traditional Way

This chapter describes a different approach that can be used on any Linux system (apart from details such as creating a ramdisk or updating the bootloader). Of course you will not end up with a kernel .deb package.


3.1 Install Required Packages For Kernel Compilation

First we update our package database:

apt-get update

Then we install all needed packages like this:

apt-get install kernel-package libncurses5-dev fakeroot wget bzip2 build-essential


3.2 Download The Kernel Sources

Next we download our desired kernel to /usr/src. Go to and select the kernel you want to install, e.g. linux- (you can find all 2.6 kernels here: Then you can download it to /usr/src like this:

cd /usr/src

Then we unpack the kernel sources and create a symlink linux to the kernel sources directory:

tar xjf linux-
ln -s linux- linux
cd /usr/src/linux


3.3 Apply Patches To The Kernel Sources (Optional)

Sometimes you need drivers for hardware that isn't supported by the new kernel by default, or you need support for virtualization techniques or some other bleeding-edge technology that hasn't made it to the kernel yet. In all these cases you have to patch the kernel sources (provided there is a patch available...).

Now let's assume you have downloaded the needed patch (I call it patch.bz2 in this example) to /usr/src. This is how you apply it to your kernel sources (you must still be in the /usr/src/linux directory):

bzip2 -dc /usr/src/patch.bz2 | patch -p1 --dry-run
bzip2 -dc /usr/src/patch.bz2 | patch -p1

The first command is just a test, it does nothing to your sources. If it doesn't show errors, you can run the second command which actually applies the patch. Don't do it if the first command shows errors!

You can also apply kernel prepatches to your kernel sources. For example, if you need a feature that is available only in kernel 2.6.22-rc3, but the full sources haven't been released yet for this kernel. Instead, a patch-2.6.22-rc3.bz2 is available. You can apply that patch to the 2.6.21 kernel sources, but not to kernel or, etc. This is explained on

Prepatches are the equivalent to alpha releases for Linux; they live in the testing directories in the archives. They should be applied using the patch(1) utility to the source code of the previous full release with a 3-part version number (for example, the 2.6.12-rc4 prepatch should be applied to the 2.6.11 kernel sources, not, for example,

So if you want to compile a 2.6.22-rc3 kernel, you must download the 2.6.21 kernel sources ( in step 3 instead of kernel!

This is how you apply the 2.6.22-rc3 patch to kernel 2.6.21:

cd /usr/src
cd /usr/src/linux
bzip2 -dc /usr/src/patch-2.6.22-rc3.bz2 | patch -p1 --dry-run
bzip2 -dc /usr/src/patch-2.6.22-rc3.bz2 | patch -p1


3.4 Configure The Kernel

It's a good idea to use the configuration of your current working kernel as a basis for your new kernel. Therefore we copy the existing configuration to /usr/src/linux:

make clean && make mrproper
cp /boot/config-`uname -r` ./.config

Then we run

make menuconfig

which brings up the kernel configuration menu. Go to Load an Alternate Configuration File and choose .config (which contains the configuration of your current working kernel) as the configuration file:

Then browse through the kernel configuration menu and make your choices. When you are finished and select Exit, answer the following question (Do you wish to save your new kernel configuration?) with Yes:


3.5 Build And Install The Kernel

To build the kernel, execute these commands:

make all
make modules_install
make install

Now be patient, the kernel compilation can take some hours, depending on your kernel configuration and your processor speed.


3.6 Post-Installation Steps

The new kernel is now installed, but we still need a ramdisk for our new kernel (otherwise the system will most likely not boot!), and we need to tell the GRUB bootloader about our new kernel.

First, we do this:

apt-get install yaird

Then we create a ramdisk with the following command:

mkinitrd.yaird -o /boot/initrd.img-

The GRUB configuration is very easy on Debian Etch. All we have to do is run


This will detect the new kernel and ramdisk and update /boot/grub/menu.lst for us.

Now reboot the system:

shutdown -r now

At the boot prompt, select your new kernel (should be selected by default). If everything goes well, it should come up with the new kernel. You can check if it's really using your new kernel by running

uname -r

This should display something like

If the system doesn't start, restart it, and select your old kernel at the boot prompt. You can now try again to compile a working kernel. Don't forget to remove the stanza(s) of the not-working kernel from /boot/grub/menu.lst.


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By: Anonymous

Great article, I learned a lot. However, I researched a little on my own after getting problems with yaird and making initrd. Well, the article is old I know, but it seems that using yaird is quite outdated, so instead of using:

mkinitrd.yaird -o /boot/initrd.img-


mkinitramfs -o /boot/initrd.img-

Which is a part of the package 'initramfs-tools'.