Why does RHEL (and its derivatives) use such an old kernel? It uses 2.6.32-xxx, which seems old to me. How do they support newer hardware with that kernel? As far as I know these kind of distributions do run on fairly modern hardware.

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    I think the principal criterion for RHEL & co is stability. The 2.6.32 branch of the kernel is rated very stable after years of testing and bug chasing. I run the same version of the kernel on my system and i'm very enthusiastic about it's stability. – user1146332 Jan 22 '13 at 20:04
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    If you look at other distributions, Red Hat is not alone. – ott-- Jan 22 '13 at 22:01
  • I'm on Debian stable right now, running the 2.6.32 kernel it has shipped. It's a couple years old, it's really not that old. You'd be amazed at the number of machines running /really/ old software out there. – rahmu Jan 30 '13 at 1:31
  • Almost four years later and RHEL still uses 2.6.32. – gerrit Oct 25 '16 at 18:38

Because Red Hat Enterprise Linux is foremost about stability, and is a long-lived distribution (some 10 years guaranteed). RHEL users don't want anything to change unless absolutely necessary. But note that the base version of the kernel is old, RHEL's kernel contains lots of backported stuff and bug fixes, so it isn't really old.

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    That backported "stuff" also includes newer drivers for hardware support and sometimes even new features. – jordanm Jan 22 '13 at 21:15
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    SLE (SUSE Linux Enterprise) also uses a version-number-wise old kernel. Yet is has literally thousands of patches on top of vanilla kernel of the same version: back-ported bug fixes, enhancements and drivers. In other words: "looking into the source packages is not for the faint-hearted". :) – peterph Mar 19 '13 at 17:27

Here is a table of kernel versions used in each RHEL release so far.

To summarize:

  • RHEL 2.1 (released in 2002) used kernel version 2.4.9.
  • RHEL 3 (released in 2003, based on RHL 9) used kernel version 2.4.21.
  • RHEL 4 (released in 2005, based on Fedora Core 3) used kernel version 2.6.9.
  • RHEL 5 (released in 2007, based on Fedora Core 6) used kernel version 2.6.18.
  • RHEL 6 (released in 2010, based on a mix of Fedora 12 and 13) used kernel version 2.6.32.
  • RHEL 7 (released in 2014, based on a mix of Fedora 19 and 20) uses kernel version 3.10.0.
  • RHEL 8 (released in 2019, based on Fedora 28) uses kernel version 4.18.0.

On each RHEL major release, the kernel version is frozen at the time of the initial release, and any security patches and driver updates are backported to that kernel version.

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