Originally Published: Friday, 6 July 2001 Author: Subhasish Ghosh
Published to: develop_articles_tutorials/Development Tutorials Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Compiling a Linux Kernel: Some Pitfalls Reviewed

Subhasish Ghosh returns with a quick look at some common problems with compiling a kernel, and what to do about them.

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Hi everyone, this article is a continuation of my previous Linux.com articles on "Compiling, configuring and installing a Custom Linux Kernel". Those provide you with an extremely detailed and step-by-step process describing how to Compile, Configure and then Install a Customized Red Hat Linux Kernel. In this article, I review some of the most significant pitfalls one usually faces when she tries to Compile and then configure a Custom Kernel. If you are new to this it would probably be best to read the first articles before this one. Though the discussion is primarily targeted for Red Hat Linux users, but the same applies to the users of other Linux Distributions also, of course, with a few minor modifications as when required.

Please note, the discussion mentioned below was carried out on a computer system with the following configurations: Compaq Presario 4010 Series computer system, 15.5 GB Hard Disk Space, 96 MB RAM, 400 MHz Intel Celeron Processor, Red Hat Linux 7.0 Distribution Release underlying Kernel: 2.2.16-22


Once our Custom Linux Kernel has been built, our aim would be to properly configure it. That includes identifying the Common Mistakes, and general Troubleshooting.

Common Mistakes & Remedies

Compilation and configuration of a Custom Linux Kernel involves a number of complicated steps. Fortunately, the user is abstracted from all these by the Shell. But, when the Compilation and Configuration steps have not been carried out in a perfect manner, one is bound to get error messages on the screen. Though these can vary from as simple as "typos in /etc/lilo.conf", but can be as complicated as "bad cache memory" and others. Here, I would categorize a few common problems one may face while Building a Custom Linux Kernel including:

  1. Kernel will not Boot.
  2. Strange I/O Problems.
  3. Extremely Slow Kernel.
  4. Kernel will not Compile.
  5. System will not Boot.

Kernel will not Boot

You have created a new Custom Linux Kernel, made an entry in /etc/lilo.conf and then rebooted the computer system. But, your new Kernel won't boot, and instead you get:

Warning: unable to open an initial console Kernel panic: no init found. Try passing init= option to kernel

The most likely problem is that you didn't set the "root=" parameter in /etc/lilo.conf properly. For example, on my system, I have root=/dev/hdc5, which is sets the root partition: "/". The Kernel looks for the init command is located in /sbin/init and the /sbin directory resides on /. Thus, when the / is not set correctly, the Kernel cannot initiate the init process, and as a result we get a "Kernel panic".

Strange I/O Problems

If you get weird performance from it a newly compiled kernel, such as system crashes often, strange I/O errors, or an overall degraded performance from the Custom kernel, then chance are that you did not do "make dep clean" after changing and saving Kernel configuration options in "menuconfig" or "xconfig". Everytime you build a new Custom Kernel, always make sure that you do "make dep clean".

Extremely Slow Kernel

You have a fast processor and an adequate amount of RAM, but it takes forever to compile the Kernel. In such case the chances are that you selected too many options in "menuconfig" or "xconfig", and it is taking forever to compile all the necessary files. If the computer system is using up too much memory the best way out is to remove all the unnecessary options that you earlier selected. Also, if while compiling the Kernel your disk is making a lot of noise, then make sure you reconfigure your Kernel configuration options once again.

Kernel will not Compile

If, after you type in "make bzImage modules" and press enter, the Kernel simply doesn't compile then something is "seriously" wrong with the computer system. The best way out would be to reboot the system, and issue a "rpm -e" command and remove all the Kernel configuration tools. Then, reinstall them, using an "rpm -I". Or, simply use "rpm -Uvh". If it works, well, then fine enough. Otherwise, you need to check the Hardware configurations of the system.

System will not Boot

Chances are that you created an entry in /etc/lilo.conf, but forgot to run the "The LILO Map Installer" i.e. /sbin/lilo. Always make sure you run /sbin/lilo with the options "-v -v" for initiating the LILO Map installer. Otherwise, your system may not boot at all if your Custom Kernel is the only Kernel running on your system.


These five above-mentioned problems are the most common ones that one faces while compiling, configuring and installing a Custom Linux Kernel. Though a varied number of other problems may arise, but most of them are due to incorrect selections in "menuconfig" or "xconfig" required for Kernel compilation. That's all. In case this doesn't work out or you guys (and gals) face some other specific problems, make sure you do e-mail me at auspicious_blessingsindia@hotmail.com for questions and suggestions. I would really like to hear from you and help you and I hope this article helps everyone out there who wants to run a fully working Customized Kernel.

About the Author: My name is Subhasish Ghosh, I'm 20 years old, and currently living in India. I am a computer-systems engineering student and a Computer Professional as well. I currently hold 6 Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) Certifications, and also a Microsoft Certified Professional Certified on NT 4.0 Track. I have been working with Linux for a long time, especially Red Hat Linux. I am currently preparing for the Red Hat Linux Certified Engineer (RHCE) certification Exam and plan to work primarily with the Linux operating system in the future.

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