The attached picture details Linux kernel versions and their usage in Fedora, RHEL/CentOS, SLES, Ubuntu, and Debian.

Can someone tell me in practical terms what users and/or administrators would be missing out on, going with a Linux distribution which has, or does not have, a later version of the Linux kernel?

kernel listing

  • 1
    You need to look through the change lists for each version for that info. Here for example. – kaylum Feb 13 at 22:55

The short answer is that it’s not all that useful to compare kernel versions between distributions; you should compare distributions as a whole.

KernelNewbies provides good summaries of the changes in each mainline kernel release. Here are some of the significant changes adding new features:

This doesn’t include improvements to the kernel itself, which are numerous, with performance improvements (and regressions), scalability improvements, security improvements (address space randomisation, sanitisation etc.), bug fixes; and support for new hardware. This is what most users would gain by upgrading to newer kernels; while the added features listed above are nice to have, most of them are only relevant when used with corresponding userspace tools, and distributions running older kernels without the necessary support won’t include the tools either.

Distributions really are best used as units: their kernel, along with their libraries, and the programs they package.

Comparing kernel versions also misses the backported features which some distributions include. Broadly speaking, distributions can be separated into two categories: fast-moving distributions which stick to the mainline kernels, and long-term distributions which maintain a stable base kernel for a very long time. Fedora is an example of the former, RHEL an example of the latter, and Debian falls somewhere in between, with mainline kernels tracking updates to a long-term stable kernel release train (4.19 currently, which is up to its 103rd stable release). So while the use of a 3.10 kernel in RHEL 7 might suggest that you’re missing out on lots of drivers, performance improvements, and new features, many of those are backported and available to RHEL 7 users.

| improve this answer | |
  • kernel 4.6 = usb 3.1 superspeedplus 10gbps support; does that mean a linux distro using kernel >= 4.6 has that, but a distro < 4.6 would not have it unless I specifically check with that distro if it feature/capability has been backported ? – ron Feb 14 at 15:33
  • kernel 4.3: the EXT3 file system has been removed; does that mean using a distro >= kernel 4.3 is likely to not be able to mount a hard drive that is formatted as EXT3? – ron Feb 14 at 15:35
  • Re USB 3.1 10Gbps support, yes, distros with kernel 4.6 or later will have it, others might if the corresponding support has been backported. (Without this, devices still function, but not at 10Gbps.) Re Ext3, as mentioned on KN, “The reason behind this removal is that Ext3 filesystems are fully support by the Ext4 filesystem, and major distros have been already using Ext4 to mount Ext3 filesystems for a long time.” — Ext3 file systems can still be mounted, using the Ext4 driver (transparently). – Stephen Kitt Feb 14 at 15:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.