Official kernel packages for Gentoo?

In comparison to other Linux distributions, Gentoo handles kernel installations and upgrades quite differently. While other distributions deploy new kernel release over their package management, Gentoo only packages the kernel sources. It’s up to the user to compile and install the kernel in a second step. Gentoo developer Michał Górny is about to change that with the introcution of an official Gentoo kernel.

Traditionally, configuring and installing the kernel is done either manually or simplified by using genkernel. While configuring the own kernel allows a high level of adjustment to the hardware in use or to specific workloads, genkernel creates a more “generic” kernel.

This (very flexible) approach comes with a downside: the lack of standardisation. For instance, tracking down bugs is more difficult, and a wrong kernel configuration quickly leads to a non-bootable system. Furthermore, manually configuring your kernel is not really necessary these days since the default configuration is well suited for most applications and use cases.

The goal of the distribution kernel project initiated by Górny is to provide a pre-configured linux kernel as a regular Gentoo package. New kernel versions are installed via the package management during system upgrades. Additionally, the new kernel packages are available as prebuilt binary packages, so you can expect a considerable saving of time especially on lower-end systems.

If you want to try out the new distribution kernel for yourself, simply merge one of the following packages:

sys-kernel/gentoo-kernel
sys-kernel/gentoo-kernel-bin
sys-kernel/vanilla-kernel
sys-kernel/vanilla-kernel-bin

While the gentoo-kernel packages are built from the gentoo-sources package, the vanilla packages are built from the unmodified kernel sources. Those packages provide a kernel with a default configuration set by the Gentoo developers. The -bin packages provide the prebuilt binary packages. It is currently not possible to install them next to the “non-binary” packages.

At the moment, the project is labeled as “experimential”. Therefore it’s necessary to unmask the following packages next to the desired kernel package in the package.accept_keywords file:

sys-kernel/installkernel-gentoo ~amd64
sys-apps/debianutils ~amd64

Summary

I like it! I use the gentoo-kernel package for two of my systems. For my desktop system, I used the binary package while my server got the default non-binary package.

While I was looking into the project for the first time a few weeks ago, I ran into some boot issues after the (seemingly successful) installation. During my current tests, I couldn’t replicate any of these issues and both systems are booting fine after updating my GRUB configuration.

In my opinion this project is very interesting and I’ll definitely try to follow it’s development. What’s even more interesting – Górny mentioned in his article that we can expect some pretty neat changes regarding official binary packages for Gentoo Linux – stay tuned!

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