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Red Hat Training

A Red Hat training course is available for RHEL 8

Chapter 1. The Linux kernel

The following sections bring information about the Linux kernel and the Linux kernel RPM package provided and maintained by Red Hat (Red Hat kernel). The integral part of this chapter is instruction on how to keep the Red Hat kernel updated, which ensures the operating system has all the latest bug fixes, performance enhancements, and patches, and is compatible with new hardware.

1.1. What the kernel is

The kernel is a core part of a Linux operating system that manages the system resources and provides interface between hardware and software applications. The Red Hat kernel is a custom-built kernel based on the upstream Linux mainline kernel that Red Hat engineers further develop and harden with a focus on stability and compatibility with the latest technologies and hardware.

Before Red Hat releases a new kernel version, the kernel needs to pass a set of rigorous quality assurance tests.

The Red Hat kernels are packaged in the RPM format so that they are easily upgraded and verified by the yum package manager.


Kernels that have not been compiled by Red Hat are not supported by Red Hat.

1.2. RPM packages

An RPM package is a file containing other files and their metadata (information about the files that are needed by the system).

Specifically, an RPM package consists of the cpio archive.

The cpio archive contains:

  • Files
  • RPM header (package metadata)

    The rpm package manager uses this metadata to determine dependencies, where to install files, and other information.

Types of RPM packages

There are two types of RPM packages. Both types share the file format and tooling, but have different contents and serve different purposes:

  • Source RPM (SRPM)

    An SRPM contains source code and a SPEC file, which describes how to build the source code into a binary RPM. Optionally, the patches to source code are included as well.

  • Binary RPM

    A binary RPM contains the binaries built from the sources and patches.

1.3. The Linux kernel RPM package overview

The kernel RPM is a meta package that does not contain any files, but rather ensures that the following required sub-packages are properly installed:

  • kernel-core - contains the binary image of the kernel, all initramfs-related objects to bootstrap the system, and a minimal number of kernel modules to ensure core functionality. This sub-package alone could be used in virtualized and cloud environments to provide a Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 kernel with a quick boot time and a small disk size footprint.
  • kernel-modules - contains the remaining kernel modules that are not present in kernel-core.

The small set of kernel sub-packages above aims to provide a reduced maintenance surface to system administrators especially in virtualized and cloud environments.

Optional kernel packages are for example:

  • kernel-modules-extra - contains kernel modules for rare hardware and modules which loading is disabled by default.
  • kernel-debug — contains a kernel with numerous debugging options enabled for kernel diagnosis, at the expense of reduced performance.
  • kernel-tools — contains tools for manipulating the Linux kernel and supporting documentation.
  • kernel-devel — contains the kernel headers and makefiles sufficient to build modules against the kernel package.
  • kernel-abi-stablelists — contains information pertaining to the RHEL kernel ABI, including a list of kernel symbols that are needed by external Linux kernel modules and a yum plug-in to aid enforcement.
  • kernel-headers — includes the C header files that specify the interface between the Linux kernel and user-space libraries and programs. The header files define structures and constants that are needed for building most standard programs.

1.4. Displaying contents of the kernel package

The following procedure describes how to view the contents of the kernel package and its sub-packages without installing them using the rpm command.


  • Obtained kernel, kernel-core, kernel-modules, kernel-modules-extra RPM packages for your CPU architecture


  • List modules for kernel:

    $ rpm -qlp <kernel_rpm>
    (contains no files)
  • List modules for kernel-core:

    $ rpm -qlp <kernel-core_rpm>
  • List modules for kernel-modules:

    $ rpm -qlp <kernel-modules_rpm>
  • List modules for kernel-modules-extra:

    $ rpm -qlp <kernel-modules-extra_rpm>

Additional resources

1.5. Updating the kernel

The following procedure describes how to update the kernel using the yum package manager.


  1. To update the kernel, enter the following command:

    # yum update kernel

    This command updates the kernel along with all dependencies to the latest available version.

  2. Reboot your system for the changes to take effect.

When upgrading from RHEL 7 to RHEL 8, follow relevant sections of the Upgrading from RHEL 7 to RHEL 8 document.

Additional resources

1.6. Installing specific kernel versions

The following procedure describes how to install new kernels using the yum package manager.


  • To install a specific kernel version, enter the following command:

    # yum install kernel-{version}