How to upgrade the Kernel (beginner)


In this post I'll show you how to build and install the latest Kernel version available to your system, possibly enabling the Landlock LSM module.

One of the latest modules available in the Linux Kernel is Landlock, an unprivileged sandboxing mechanism that allows a process to confine itself. Since it could be useful for one of my new projects, I decided to try it out. Landlock was merged into Linux 5.13. As I wanted to test the latest version available, I needed a Kernel upgrade. Contrary to what one might think, upgrading the Kernel with a more recent version is really easy.

In this post I'll show you how to build and install the latest Kernel version available to your system, possibly enabling the Landlock LSM module.


Before we begin, I'd like to remind you that we're not installing the latest Kernel image via apt from the official repository of your distribution, but from source files. Thus, I recommend installing a VM, with at least 50 GB of dedicated storage (after the build, the local folder containing the latest image occupies approximately 21 GB). The following procedure has been tested with Ubuntu 21.10.

Source files, requirements#

The first thing to do is to download the Kernel mainline version. You can either do this from The Linux Kernel Archives or from Github. From terminal you run:

tar -xvf linux-5.15-rc5.tar.xz
cd linux-5.15-rc5

To compile the kernel you need a minimal set of requirements. The version of each tool may vary between different platforms (based on the architecture), in my case I just need the following:

sudo apt install \
	fakeroot \ 
	build-essential \
	ncurses-doc \
	libncurses-dev \
	xz-utils \
	libssl-dev \
	bc \
	flex \
	libelf-dev \

Edit the build configuration#

To configure the build we need to edit the content of the .config configuration file. This is an automatically generated file that should be changed only with the terminal-oriented menuconfig configuration tool (you can start it running make menuconfig). However, since we already have a valid configuration for our VM saved at /boot/config-$(uname -r), we can override .config with its content. To do that run:

cp /boot/config-$(uname -r) .config

Notice that when you override .config, you're deleting the configuration required by the components or modules that were added to the Kernel repository after your running Kernel image was created. This typically impacts he drivers added to support new hardware. Anyway, it isn't a big problem: you can either use menuconfig to specify the missing bits, or directly provide the input at build time (from terminal, according to the default options).

Additionally, as we won't need to seal keys in a TPM using keyrings, we can edit .config setting the variable CONFIG_SYSTEM_TRUSTED_KEYS to "". Also, we can comment out the line CONFIG_DEBUG_INFO_BTF=y, as we won't need to debug eBPF programs.

Finally, if you want to activate Landlock LSM, edit the security options setting the CONFIG_LSM variable to:


Compile and install#

We're now ready to compile the Kernel. Run:

make -jN

where N is the number of jobs allowed at once. Kernel compilation takes a while. Once the process terminates, you can install the modules to /lib/modules/linux-5.15-rc5 running:

sudo make modules_install

and the save the Kernel executable bzImage to /boot/vmlinuz running:

sudo make install

Notice that, by performing the last operation, you don't need to manually execute update-initramfs and update Grub with the new option. Indeed, you can verify that the new Kernel is the first boot option reading the content of /boot/grub/grub.cfg. Don't worry, you don't need to understand the syntax of this file, you can just search for the keyword menuentry (the main menu) with the following Awk one-liner:

sudo awk -F\' '/menuentry / {print $2}' /boot/grub/grub.cfg

The program prints the chars following the string menuentry ', until the terminator '(as specified by the field separator argument -F) is found, for each occurence of the keyword.

Check the LSM is working#

To boot into the new Kernel we only need to restart the VM. After that, you can open the terminal and verify that Landlock is running: