I'm attempting to upgrade and test kernel 3.12.

What is the most efficient way to identify out-of-tree modules that should be removed before testing?

There are a few mentioned (vitualbox, nvidia, fglrx, bcmwl), but is there a way to identify installed modules that are considered out-of-tree?

2 Answers 2


Kernel modules, whether in-tree or out-of-tree, are installed in directories specific to given kernel versions (/lib/modules/$(uname -r)), so you shouldn't need to clean up modules to upgrade to a new kernel: the new kernel simply won't consider the old modules.

Nevertheless, as far as I'm aware in-tree modules go in /lib/modules/$(uname -r)/kernel, so anything in /lib/modules/$(uname -r) outside of that is an out-of-tree module.

  • I was getting a "bad return status" error due to virtualbox. I guess that's one way to find out. Worked find after removing it.
    – iyrin
    Apr 17, 2015 at 6:14

After discovering that the Ubuntu wiki I am using is referring to external modules, it was easier to find a solution by rtfm.

Summary of external modules install paths

  • External modules are installed with modules_install at /lib/modules/$(KERNELRELEASE)/extra/ by default.
  • When installing external modules elsewhere, INSTALL_MOD_PATH is used to prefix the installation path, or INSTALL_MOD_DIR is used to create a new directory under the usual /lib/modules/$(KERNELRELEASE) path.

See the bottom of this answer for more detailed explanation.

Searching for external modules

To narrow the search down to the above, I'm using locate to print paths containing lib/module and xargs to filter the output of paths that are not directories.

Lastly, grep -v is used to filter the output of a paths beginning with /lib/modules/$(uname -r)/kernel. This should still display paths that were prefixed using INSTALL_MOD_PATH during installation, for example /frodo/lib/modules/$(KERNELRELEASE)/kernel/.

This obviously won't print the path of modules that were somehow installed in a completely weird path. Here is the command:

locate --null "*lib/modules/$(uname -r)*" | xargs -r0 sh -c 'for i do [ -d "$i" ] && printf "%s\n" "$i"; done' sh {} + | grep -v "^/lib/modules/$(uname -r)/kernel\|^/lib/modules/$(uname -r)$\|^/lib/modules/$(uname -r)/build$\|^/lib/modules/$(uname -r)/initrd$"

This prunes the in-tree paths from the output, which for me was 4695 lines when using only locate "*lib/modules/$(uname -r)*". Now the output is much less and should only display known out-of-tree paths:


Excerpts from documentation Building External Modules

The details below are from Building External Modules

    Install the external module(s). The default location is
    /lib/modules/<kernel_release>/extra/, but a prefix may
    be added with INSTALL_MOD_PATH (discussed in section 5).  

=== 5. Module Installation

Modules which are included in the kernel are installed in the


And external modules are installed in:



    Above are the default directories but as always some level of
    customization is possible. A prefix can be added to the
    installation path using the variable INSTALL_MOD_PATH:

        $ make INSTALL_MOD_PATH=/frodo modules_install
        => Install dir: /frodo/lib/modules/$(KERNELRELEASE)/kernel/

    INSTALL_MOD_PATH may be set as an ordinary shell variable or,
    as shown above, can be specified on the command line when
    calling "make." This has effect when installing both in-tree
    and out-of-tree modules.


    External modules are by default installed to a directory under
    /lib/modules/$(KERNELRELEASE)/extra/, but you may wish to
    locate modules for a specific functionality in a separate
    directory. For this purpose, use INSTALL_MOD_DIR to specify an
    alternative name to "extra."

        $ make INSTALL_MOD_DIR=gandalf -C $KDIR \
               M=$PWD modules_install
        => Install dir: /lib/modules/$(KERNELRELEASE)/gandalf/

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