Why would someone want to compile a new kernel? It is often not necessary since the default kernel shipped with Debian handles most configurations. Also, Debian often offers several alternative kernels. So you may want to check first if there is an alternative kernel image package that better corresponds to your hardware. However, it can be useful to compile a new kernel in order to:
handle special hardware needs, or hardware conflicts with the pre-supplied kernels
use options of the kernel which are not supported in the pre-supplied kernels (such as high memory support)
optimize the kernel by removing useless drivers to speed up boot time
create a monolithic instead of a modularized kernel
run an updated or development kernel
learn more about linux kernels
Don't be afraid to try compiling the kernel. It's fun and profitable.
To compile a kernel the Debian way, you need some packages:
(the most recent version at the time of this writing)
and a few others which are probably already installed (see
/usr/share/doc/kernel-package/README.gz for the
This method will make a .deb of your kernel source, and, if you have
non-standard modules, make a synchronized dependent .deb of those
too. It's a better way to manage kernel images;
/boot will hold the kernel, the System.map, and a
log of the active config file for the build.
Note that you don't have to compile your kernel
the “Debian way”; but we find that using the packaging system
to manage your kernel is actually safer and easier. In fact, you can get
your kernel sources right from Linus instead of
yet still use the
kernel-package compilation method.
Note that you'll find complete documentation on using
/usr/share/doc/kernel-package. This section just
contains a brief tutorial.
Hereafter, we'll assume you have free rein over your machine and will
extract your kernel source to somewhere in your home directory. We'll also assume that your kernel version is
2.6.8. Make sure you are in the directory to where you want to
unpack the kernel sources, extract them using
and change to the directory
that will have been created.
Now, you can configure your kernel. Run
xconfig if X11 is installed, configured and being run; run
make menuconfig otherwise (you'll need
libncurses5-dev installed). Take the time to read
the online help and choose carefully. When in doubt, it is typically
better to include the device driver (the software which manages
hardware peripherals, such as Ethernet cards, SCSI controllers, and so
on) you are unsure about. Be careful: other options, not related to a
specific hardware, should be left at the default value if you do not
understand them. Do not forget to select “Kernel module loader”
in “Loadable module support” (it is not selected by default).
If not included, your Debian installation will experience problems.
Clean the source tree and reset the
parameters. To do that, do
Now, compile the kernel:
fakeroot make-kpkg --revision=custom.1.0 kernel_image.
The version number of “1.0” can be changed at will; this is just
a version number that you will use to track your kernel builds.
Likewise, you can put any word you like in place of “custom”
(e.g., a host name). Kernel compilation may take quite a while, depending on
the power of your machine.
If you require PCMCIA support, you'll also need to install the
pcmcia-source package. Unpack the gzipped tar file
as root in the directory
/usr/src (it's important that
modules are found where they are expected to be found, namely,
/usr/src/modules). Then, as root, do
Once the compilation is complete, you can install your custom kernel
like any package. As root, do
subarchitecture part is an optional
such as “i586”,
depending on what kernel options you set.
dpkg -i kernel-image... will install the
kernel, along with some other nice supporting files. For instance,
System.map will be properly installed
(helpful for debugging kernel problems), and
/boot/config-2.6.8 will be installed,
containing your current configuration set. Your new
kernel-image-2.6.8 package is also clever
enough to automatically use your platform's boot-loader to run an
update on the booting, allowing you to boot without re-running the
boot loader. If you have created a modules package, e.g., if you have
PCMCIA, you'll need to install that package as well.
It is time to reboot the system: read carefully any warning that the
above step may have produced, then
shutdown -r now.
For more information on
the fine documentation in
 There are other locations where you can extract kernel sources and build your custom kernel, but this is easiest as it does not require special permissions.