Linux Kernels – 4 Different Types of Kernels Explained

Linux Kernels

When it comes to Linux Kernels, often it might be intimidating for beginners to choose from the huge list of array of available options, especially during Arch Linux installation and such. In this module, we will look at some of the major kernels available out there and help you choose the best one for you.

1. Stable Linux Kernel

It is the latest stable release Linux kernel available and hence is the default kernel used by most distributions. It somewhat compromises stability for bleeding edge and hence is sometimes considered unstable in nature.

This kernel can be installed with :

$ sudo pacman -S linux

The kernel is regularly updated and new patches are released quite frequently. Inspite of it’s bleeding-edge nature, the kernel is still widely used on desktops and servers alike.

2. LTS Kernel

This gives to the latest Long Term Support (LTS) kernel available and is considered the comparatively ‘more stable’ than the default kernel. However, it sometimes uses older drivers which might not be compatible with newer hardware and might lack some features of the newer kernel releases. The LTS kernel doesn’t have a fixed release cycle but the usually it is updated every 3 years for desktop and every 5 years for servers.

You can install the latest LTS kernel with :

$ sudo pacman -S linux-lts

Security patches are rolled just as frequently to the LTS kernel as well. However, it is still susceptible to “breaking” but the chances of that happening are a tad bit less as compared to the default Linux Kernel and hence it is often favored at an Enterprise level. For example, according to Canonical, an estimated 95% of all Ubuntu installations are LTS releases.

3. Hardened Kernel

It is the hardened version of the Linux stable kernel but is more security-tailored and comes with upstream patches before Linux does. It has a security oriented kernel configuration. It can be installed with :

$ sudo pacman -S linux-hardened

Note that some programs and features might not work with this kernel. This kernel is not as popular as the other ones on the list as it has huge downtimes. The kernel kills any process it deems as a threat. Also, all PID’s are not discoverable, and thus a running executable cannot be addressed directly which limits the potential attack vectors for threat actors. Extra security is also implemented via patches.

4. Zen Kernel

It a kernel tuned for performance, aimed at improving performance of desktops at the cost of throughput and power usage. It is also sometimes considered the best kernel for gaming. It has a low latency and high-frequency scheduling. You can install it with :

$ sudo pacman -S linux-zen

The kernel facilitates faster speeds and features a more optimized scheduler. Infact, some modern distros like Garuda Linux use the Zen kernel as the default kernel to optimize performance on desktops and PCs.

Conclusion

These are most popular in Linux Kernels but the options aren’t limited to these. Everyday, newer variants keep evolving. The source code of these kernels are open source and you can even build your own kernel to suit your needs !