Introduction

Autokernel is primarily a kernel configuration management tool. This means its main purpose is to be used as a tool to generate a .config file from your particular set of kernel options. You can use it to document and build your configuration, and it will ensure that the configuration has no conflicts. To help you to write a good config, it comes with a set of helpful features which are outlined below.

To skip all of the chatter, head over to Usage to begin using autokernel or Concepts to learn about some important concepts in autokernel.

What problem does it solve?

» Which kernel options do I need to enable to use this USB device?
» Why have I enabled this kernel option again?
» Which kernel options did I change compared to the default?
» Why is this option still not enabled even though i did explicitly set it?

Does any of these question sound familiar? Then this tool might actually solve a problem or two for you. On the other hand, if you are now thinking what all this means, you will likely not gain any significant benefit from this tool. But obviously you are welcome to try it out!

Feature Overview

The main feature of autokernel is kernel configuration management. In practice this means you write an autokernel configuration and it generates a .config for your kernel version, but with additional features:

Conflict detection

Usually, enabling an option (for example SECURITY_SELINUX) but later disabling a direct or indirect dependency (like AUDITING) will lead to the first option being deselected again. This is annoying and misses the original intent. Autokernel will exit with a conflict error in this case and present the offending lines in the configuration. Once set, a symbol’s value will be internally pinned and any assignments that would change it present an error. See Pinning symbol values for more info.

Satisfying dependencies

If you enable a symbol (for example WLAN), but forget to enable some of its dependencies (like NETDEVICES), autokernel will throw an error. But it can also help you to resolve these dependencies and present you with a list of options that need to be enabled to allow the assignment. See Enabling arbitrary symbols for more info.

Symbol validation

If you mistype an option, you will get an error when building the config. This also works when symbols get renamed or removed in a future kernel version (like THUNDERBOLT is now effectively USB4 since 5.6). As invalid symbol usage is a hard error, you will notice them before your kernel is built.

Conditionals

Sometimes you want to support different machines or kernel versions, but as the kernel evolves, symbols might get added, renamed or removed. By allowing simple conditional expressions in the configuration, you can easily evolve your config while staying backwards compatible to previous versions, and have one configuration for multiple machines. See Conditional Expressions for more info.

Structure and Documentation

In the configuration you will be able to properly document your choices, which is often neglected when using menuconfig. If done correctly, you will never loose track of what has been changed and more importantly why it was changed. You can also structure parts of the configurations into individual modules, which is useful if you want to use the same configuration base on different machines.

Detecting options

Autokernel can automatically detect kernel configuration options for your system. This works by gathering system information from /sys and relating it to a configuration option database (LKDDb). For more information on how it works and how to use it see Detecting kernel options.

Build system

Autokernel can optionally be used as a full kernel build system. It sounds like a lot, but it is actually nothing more than executing make and the specified command to build your initramfs (optional) for you. Eventually, a second build pass is needed to integrate the initramfs into the kernel. Other than that, it supports mounting target directories, and keeping your installation directory clean by only keeping the last \(N\) builds. See Building and installing the kernel for more information.

Kernel hardening

Autokernel provides a preconfigured module for kernel hardening. Every choice is fully documented and explanined. See Hardening the kernel for more information.

But advantages never come without disadvantages. The obvious ones here are the additional effort of writing a proper configuration instead of simply using menuconfig, and also needing an additional tool for a task that shouldn’t.

Alternative: Merging .config files

Some users might already be familiar with a similar workflow, in which you collect your changes to the default kernel configuration in one or more kconf files, which are then applied to a fresh kernel configuration with ./scripts/kconfig/merge_config.sh from the kernel tree to create the final configuration.

While this method does work, it has some major downsides - like the total lack of error messages. If you mistype a config’s name, nobody will tell you. You will notice it eventually, when you have started the new kernel and wonder why something is still not working. Other than that you might notice that even though you’ve typed everything correctly, an option might still be unchanged because it had missing dependencies. It can be a total pain to need 3 to 4 iterations of diffing config files just to ensure everything is finally as expected.

As autokernel uses kconfiglib to parse and process the Kconfig files exactly as the kernel would, it can directly check if options are assignable or would otherwise conflict, and report this as a warning or error to the user.