Fedora Linux Kernel Overview
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The Fedora Linux kernel closely follows the upstream kernel releases. To see the current versions in Fedora, check out the packages application.
Stable releases of Fedora receive two types of kernel updates.
Stable kernel updates
The upstream kernel community support the latest major version with stable updates (5.y.z releases). These updates are released approximately once a week, although they can occur more or less frequently. Once the upstream kernel community makes a stable release, Fedora builds it and submits it as an update to Bodhi. These updates are typically left in Bodhi for testing for several days before being submitted to the stable updates repository.
Major kernel updates
The Linux kernel releases new major versions (5.y releases) every few months. When this occurs, Fedora updates to the new major version after a couple upstream stable releases. When the updates are submitted to Bodhi, more time is allowed for testing than stable updates to ensure there are no serious regressions.
The development versions of Fedora include Rawhide and the Branched release.
The Rawhide kernel is the latest git snapshot of Linus' upstream kernel.org tree. On a frequent (often daily) basis, a new snapshot is built.
Branched releases receive updates at less frequent intervals than Rawhide. Early on in the Branched release, it is typically using a pre-release version of the kernel, so each Release Candidate (RC) is built for Branched releases. Once the kernel is released, it receives stable updates just like the stable Fedora releases.
The Linux kernel offers a number of configuration options to make debugging problems easier. However, some of these options have a performance cost so Fedora does not always turn these options on. When the debugging options have been turned off in the
kernel package, a separate
kernel-debug package is produced with those options on.
Rawhide kernels enable the debugging options. However, each release candidate kernel is built with debugging options disabled. Release candidate kernels can be recognized by their release field. As an example,
kernel-5.19.0-0.rc7.20220722git68e77ffbfd06.56.fc37 is a release candidate kernel for Fedora 37.
The simplest method by far is for the driver to get merged upstream in Linus' kernel. Fedora constantly rebases to newer upstream releases, so inherits these changes "for free" with little overhead for the Fedora kernel maintainers.
Adding external drivers to the Fedora kernel that aren’t accepted upstream requires an ongoing effort for the Fedora kernel team, so where possible, we try to avoid doing so. In the few situations where it makes sense to do so, there are several criteria that must be met.
There must be reasonable demand for the feature for us taking on the burden of carrying the code until it gets upstream.
Passes basic sanity checks (has been reviewed by at least one Fedora kernel maintainer).
Has an upstream developer actively trying to get their code merged into Linus' tree.
Has a Fedora developer responsible for keeping it up to date in Fedora.
Causes no discernible overhead for Fedora kernel maintainers. Code that must be continually fixed up tends to end up getting dropped.
Doesn’t add new system calls or similar ABI defining characteristics. This is to avoid a situation where we could end up with incompatibilities between distros/upstream.
How a symbol is exported needs to be accepted upstream first. This includes:
Adding an EXPORT_SYMBOL to export something that previously wasn’t exported
Changing an EXPORT_SYMBOL_GPL to EXPORT_SYMBOL
Changing an EXPORT_SYMBOL to EXPORT_SYMBOL_GPL
In the rare case where we add exports that aren’t upstream, we err on the side of caution and use EXPORT_SYMBOL_GPL to export them. This is done partly as a deterrent for 3rd-party modules not to use them. (As they may go away in the future). The only exception to all of the above is in new not-yet-merged upstream code that’s being added. New symbols get to be exported however the author intended.
The drivers in the staging directory of the Linux kernel are known to be in a rough and incomplete state. For the vast majority of these drivers, the kernel team considers it unsafe to build and ship them. We do not have the confidence in the existing code, nor do we have the time to debug issues in known problematic drivers.
As with every policy, there are exceptions. Fedora ships a few staging drivers at the moment for various pieces of hardware. For the Fedora kernel team to enable a staging driver, the following conditions must be satisfied:
There must be substantive code review and improvement upstream. This means actual fixes, and not just stylistic changes.
There must be a contributor willing to be assigned bug reports and deal with upstream.
The contributor must be actively involved improving the driver upstream.
The driver must not result in an undue burden on the kernel team. This means that if a large number of bug reports result from the driver, then fixes are not occurring upstream quickly enough.
It must be understood that if any of these conditions are not met, or eventually fail to be met, the driver will be disabled.
From time to time, the Fedora kernel maintainers get asked to build something into the kernel. That is, the functionality is included in the vmlinux binary that every Fedora machine runs as opposed to being built as a module that is only loaded if needed. Given that it is loaded on every machine, we tend to build functionality as modules as much as possible. While one person might need the driver for an ATI card, another will not and having that built into the kernel is wasteful for really no reason.
There are no set criteria that map exactly to whether something is built-in or not, but they generally follow these guidelines:
The option cannot be built as a module and is widely used
The option is not a driver/filesystem and used by something that is a Fedora default
The option is a driver and used by a wide variety of machines (keyboard/mouse drivers, VT support)
The option is a filesystem and is used by all machines or is the default Fedora filesystem (tmpfs, ext4).
Again, the above are general guidelines but for the most part we try and limit the overall size of the vmlinux that is loaded to a core set of functionality.
If you find that the Fedora configuration options are not sufficient for your needs, you can rebuild the kernel and change options as you see fit. See the documentation on building a custom kernel.
If you’re interested in contributing to the development and maintenance of the Fedora kernel, check out the kernel wiki for more information.
The Fedora kernel mailing list is for Fedora-related kernel topics only. This includes Fedora-specific packaging and kernel configuration settings. For discussions about Linux itself see the Kernelnewbies mailing lists or the Linux Kernel mailing lists.
You can subscribe to the Fedora kernel mailing list and view the archive on Hyperkitty.
Users interested in the Fedora kernel hang out in the
#fedora-kernel channel on freenode.
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