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Manually upgrading the Linux kernel is not a simple feat — it requires a fair amount of knowledge. We’ve covered how to do it before How to Update Linux Kernel for Improved System Performance How to Update Linux Kernel for Improved System Performance The Linux kernel is has regular releases, offering new features and improvements that you have to wait for in a new distribution release - unless you manually upgrade the Linux kernel. We show you how. Read More , but if you’d rather get the latest and greatest without the fuss, and you’re running Ubuntu, you might appreciate a more automatic solution in the form of Ukuu.

What Is a Kernel?

The kernel is basically The Linux Kernel: An Explanation In Layman's Terms The Linux Kernel: An Explanation In Layman's Terms There is only one de facto thing that Linux distributions have in common: the Linux kernel. But while it's often talked about, a lot of people don't really know exactly what it does. Read More  an important piece of software found in every operating system. It acts as a mediator between the software you run every day (e.g. web browsers), and the hardware that it’s running on. Essentially, without a kernel, other programs cannot function since they can’t access your computer’s resources.

For example, open up your task manager. All of your processes take up some amount of your computer’s memory. It is the operating system’s kernel that is quietly allocating this memory to your programs.

Different operating systems have different kernels. For Linux users, this means using operating systems built upon the Linux kernel. Other examples include the NT kernel (Windows) and the XNU kernel (Mac).

Why Should I Upgrade My Kernel?

Since the kernel is essentially the go-between for your programs and the hardware it’s running on, updates can provide a myriad of benefits. Two examples of these include better support for your computer system, and improved performance 5 Reasons Why You Should Update Your Kernel Often [Linux] 5 Reasons Why You Should Update Your Kernel Often [Linux] If you're using a Linux distribution like Ubuntu or Fedora, you're also using the Linux kernel, the core that actually makes your distribution a Linux distribution. Your distribution constantly asks you to update your kernel.... Read More .

Part of the Linux kernel is devoted solely to controlling things like your graphics card and CPU in the form of device drivers. These drivers inside the kernel tend to be limited to a particular range of hardware. With newer and newer technologies coming out, drivers need to be constantly added and updated to match them. If you’re using a partially unsupported computer, upgrading the kernel may help it become more compatible.

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Along with this, system performance can go hand-in-hand with better drivers. Your graphics performance in particular get almost constant improvements per release. Just don’t expect miracles!

Unfortunately, the process of upgrading a kernel by hand can be a little tedious, and that’s where Ukuu comes in.

What Is Ukuu?

Ukuu (short for Ubuntu Kernel Update Utility) makes updating your Ubuntu kernel much easier to perform. It downloads newer kernels from the internet, and changes your system to let it use them. All you really have to do is choose which kernel you’d like and reboot into it.

ubuntu kernels

Traditionally, updating your kernel means installing a new copy of Ubuntu over your old Linux box. If you repeat your installation experience a couple of times, you’ll see how it can eat up some time. Ukuu makes this process as easy as installing a program from the Ubuntu Software Center.

Getting Ukuu

Enter these commands in the terminal to install Ukuu:

sudo apt-add-repository -y ppa:teejee2008/ppa

You can’t get Ukuu by default from the list of software that Ubuntu provides. As such, using the above command, we point our package manager A Beginner's Guide to Installing Software in Ubuntu with APT A Beginner's Guide to Installing Software in Ubuntu with APT If you've used Ubuntu you have probably used the apt command at some point. But did you know there's so much more to it than apt-get install and apt-get upgrade? Read More to the desired repository. Adding such locations lets us install software that Ubuntu doesn’t have by default (such as Ukuu).

apt add repository

sudo apt-get update

Package managers (such as APT), work by retrieving a list of all the software that they can install. The second command ensures that this list is up to date. Put shortly, if you don’t enter this command, you won’t be able to find Ukuu!

apt get update

sudo apt-get install ukuu

The above command actually downloads and installs the program. Alternatively, you could open the Ubuntu Software Center 5 Great Tips For The Ubuntu Software Center [Linux] 5 Great Tips For The Ubuntu Software Center [Linux] Read More , and install Ukuu from there. After all that, launch the program using the command below.

ukuu-gtk

You can also open Ukuu by searching for it in Dash.

Installing a Kernel With Ukuu

Ukuu will present the newest kernels at the top of the window. You’ll also be able to see what kernel version you’re running, so you don’t have to worry about checking it elsewhere. After selecting your desired kernel version, click on the install button to start the process.

ukuu main

The terminal window you’ll see shows the kernel installation process. Make sure you know your administrator password What Is SU & Why Is It Important to Using Linux Effectively? What Is SU & Why Is It Important to Using Linux Effectively? The Linux SU or root user account is a powerful tool that can be helpful when used correctly or devastating if used recklessly. Let's look at why you should be responsible when using SU. Read More  — you might have to enter it in!

Once you reboot your computer, congratulations! You’ve just updated the kernel.

Downgrading the Kernel

You may encounter a few problems if you upgrade your kernel to the bleeding edge. For example, when I upgraded it to the latest version (4.9), my wireless connection stopped working. However, unless you rely on proprietary drivers How To Install Proprietary Graphics Drivers In Ubuntu, Fedora, & Mint [Linux] How To Install Proprietary Graphics Drivers In Ubuntu, Fedora, & Mint [Linux] Most of the time, you'll be fine with open-source software on Linux. But if you want real gaming and graphical power, you'll need proprietary drivers. Here's how to get them. Read More like my laptop, this is unlikely to happen.

Even if you don’t encounter any problems, it’s good to know how to downgrade to your previous kernel just in case. By default, Ubuntu does not give you the ability to choose which kernel you’d like to boot from. We can rectify this by editing this file:

sudo nano /etc/default/grub

grub advanced

Once you’re inside the file, add a # in front of the GRUB_HIDDEN_TIMEOUT and GRUB_HIDDEN_TIMEOUT_QUIET entries. Next, press Ctrl + X to save your changes. To make these changes actually do something however, you need to enter this command:

sudo grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg

When you reboot your computer, you’ll see a boot menu. Using the arrow keys, you can navigate to the Advanced options for Ubuntu entry. Select this to see the list of installed kernels you can boot into.

I strongly recommend doing this if you’re interested in getting the latest version of the Linux kernel. It’ll definitely make accidental mistakes much easier to fix.

Cleaning Up

Once you’ve booted into your upgraded (or downgraded) Linux box, and made sure that everything works, feel free to remove any leftover kernels for some extra space BleachBit - A Utility To Clean Up Your Linux System BleachBit - A Utility To Clean Up Your Linux System Read More . Simply open up Ukuu and hit the Remove button.

Afterwards, run this command to clean up any remaining empty boot options:

sudo grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg

update grub

With that all done, enjoy your new and improved kernel!

What other Linux utilities do you love to use? Any ones that you’d like to have but don’t exist?

Image Credit: Rawpixel.com via Shutterstock

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  1. Guy Greg
    June 2, 2017 at 12:55 am

    Mint already includes a utility like this to install newer kernels, right in the software update tool "mintupdate". And it always works. The "mintupdate" tool also lets you choose which system updates to install based on their stability, and upgrade your installation to the next newer version.

    Mint is basically Ubuntu with some significant improvements...and this is one of them. If you're an Ubuntu user, you'll be doing yourself a favor if you go download a VM of the Mint version of the Ubuntu release you're using and play around with it a while. (If you're on Ubuntu 14.04, you want Mint 17.3. Ubuntu 16.04 = Mint 18.1, as of today).

  2. Luigi Provencher
    February 20, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    Worked on linux-mint-18.1 with errors. : (

    • Luigi Provencher
      February 20, 2017 at 2:53 pm

      Error! Bad return status for module build on kernel and possible missing firmware. Any idea how to fix it?

      • Austin Luong
        February 20, 2017 at 2:58 pm

        Hmm, I recommend reverting to your previous kernel. If you followed the above instructions on enabling the GRUB boot menu, you should be able to navigate to your older kernel and reboot into that. That should fix your problems.

        Good luck!

        • Luigi Provencher
          February 20, 2017 at 5:06 pm

          Isn't there a way to install the missing firmware?

        • Austin Luong
          February 20, 2017 at 9:12 pm

          I wonder...which kernel version did you upgrade to? It's possible that Mint doesn't have firmware that supports higher kernel versions. For example, when I upgraded my kernel to 4.9, Broadcom wireless ceased to work (upgrades lower than that worked, however).

  3. Allan Pendlebury
    January 12, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    I would like to remove my last comment as the revert to older kernel works fine now. I guess I jumped the gun. It didn't work on the first reboot, but subsequently did. Sorry.

  4. Allan Pendlebury
    January 12, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    All worked fine except for reverting to earlier kernel. I worked up to 4.9 and had wifi problems so reverted to 4.8 which works fine. The only thing is I can't get it to default load 4.8. I booted to 4.8 with advanced boot options. Then removed 4.9. Then I updated grub. Now Mint won't load 4.8 by default. I have to use advanced to select 4.8.

  5. Joseph Pollock
    January 11, 2017 at 10:34 am

    As the other comments show: Yeah, you can do stuff like this - a number of ways, but if you're going to mess with system internals, the first thing you need is a full backup image and a bare metal restore method - that you've practiced more than once. You have to know what you're doing! That's why the old method is better in a way because it scares newbies off - as it should.

    If you're going to experiment with fire, at least do it in a VM that you can throw out if it breaks. Once you have the process down, then you can try it on a machine you depend on to get things done.

  6. Jim Van Damme
    January 10, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    I don't touch bleeding edge stuff. Don't have time for that. When the distro says it's ready, I update. And sometimes they jump the gun.

  7. dragonmouth
    January 7, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    I use Synaptic Package Manager to update/upgrade my software, including the kernel(s). Synaptic is way more versatile than anything Canonical provides and it works with ALL Debian-based distros.

  8. Spera
    January 3, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    Nice one. I'm now facing a dead 16.10 box since I followed your instructions... A whole day wasted because of your offered "tool". I need to find a way to fix my GRUB2 and make it accept the latest kernel (it only crashed as I was doing the cleanup after a couple reboots). If you're ever in my neck of the woods, please use the other sidewalk ?

    • Austin Luong
      January 4, 2017 at 1:29 am

      What problems are you facing? If it is a downgrade back to your original kernel, here are the paraphrased steps from the article:

      Enter this command in: "sudo nano /etc/default/grub", once you're inside the GRUB configuration file, comment out the "GRUB_HIDDEN_TIMEOUT" and "GRUB_HIDDEN_TIMEOUT_QUIET" entries by putting a "#" sign in front of them. After saving these changes, enter this command in: "sudo grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg".

      This makes sure that you'll be able to switch into a different kernel after rebooting. Go to 'Advanced options for Ubuntu', and select your older kernel.

      I'm very sorry that things haven't worked out. Hopefully the steps in this comment, along with the ones in the article will help rectify things. I myself faced a few problems with the tool as well - hopefully I can help you solve things as well.

      • Spera
        January 6, 2017 at 11:02 am

        As I noted, I am using GRUB2, not the "old" version. So it's a bit more delicate to restore. Ah, at least I can still access my old data, now all I need to figure out, is how to fix this mess ?

        And next time, please, if you noticed issues yourself, then start by mentioning them so that other people don't fall in the same nightmare I currently face.

  9. dzil123
    January 3, 2017 at 12:54 am

    This article is completely wrong! You can update your kernel by just running sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade . No stupid apps required. Most users don't need to manually install kernels, they just need to keep on top of normal system updates.

    • Austin Luong
      January 3, 2017 at 1:24 am

      Hello Dzil,
      Again, I apologize for my miscommunication of the facts. What I meant to say was that Ubuntu has a shelf life of sorts, a few months for the regular releases, and a few years for LTS releases. After this limit is up, kernel updates can no longer be received (to my knowledge).

      Ukuu still does have its benefits. If you'd like to install the latest and greatest kernels (that is, past 4.4, the current version which Ubuntu supplies), then upgrading the kernel manually will certainly be necessary.

      Apologies again for my slip of tongue.

    • Sam
      January 3, 2017 at 12:51 pm

      The kernels installed by your method are a lot older than the new ones. However, the new ones are generally rather unstable...

  10. Forrest
    January 3, 2017 at 12:16 am

    What did you do to mAke your wireless work?

    • Austin Luong
      January 3, 2017 at 12:46 am

      My old Macintosh uses a proprietary Broadcom driver. This driver did not support the newest kernel, 4.9. It did however support older kernel versions.

      Firstly, I booted out of my 4.9 kernel, and into my original one using the GRUB boot menu. Then, I used Ukuu to install a newer kernel (still older than 4.9). I then booted into that kernel, and everything worked fine.

  11. Liam
    January 3, 2017 at 12:04 am

    Whoever told you that "updating your kernel means installing a new copy of Ubuntu over your old Linux box" was wrong.
    Your can upgrade your kernel using apt/aptitude/dpkg by simply upgrading. That's it. No "installing a new Ubuntu".
    Frankly, the only way that would make sense is if you are running an image based os (that's how Android upgrades itself, now, and how docker works). That will become the case over the next few years but it's not yet the default. When it does happen the method described in this article won't work.

    • Austin Luong
      January 3, 2017 at 12:16 am

      Apologies, for the misunderstanding of how Ubuntu works. What I meant to convey about Ubuntu releases was that they had some sort of shelf life - after a few months (or years for the LTS series), they stop receiving updates to the kernel (my research, again may be slightly incorrect. If so, I apologize again).

      While Ubuntu certainly updates the kernel automatically, I was more targeting this tool to people who wished to upgrade their kernel further than Ubuntu by default allows, without more manual complications. To my knowledge, without any changes, that's any kernel above version 4.4 (up to 4.9).

  12. Name
    January 2, 2017 at 11:12 pm

    Won't my auto updates stop working? I heard that they will.

    • Austin Luong
      January 3, 2017 at 12:06 am

      You mean Ubuntu Software Centre fails to automatically update the system?

      • NAME
        January 3, 2017 at 5:13 pm

        Yes