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4 reasons why updating your Linux kernel is a great idea


There are many reasons to update the Linux kernel.

One of the advantages of the Linux operating system (which most servers, including eBoundHosts’s, run on) is that it’s highly modular.  This means that unlike Windows or OSX, Linux can be customized more easily.   You can remove features you don’t need, add those you do, and replace modules with your own versions.  This is one of the reasons why there are so many different versions of Linux out there – CentOS, Ubuntu, Fedora, Mint, and so on.

What is the kernel, anyway?  In simplified terms, it’s the part of the OS that let applications talk to the hardware and vice-versa.  For example, a spreadsheet app can’t talk to your CPU on its own.  To do that, it goes through the OS and kernel.

In Linux, since it’s possible to change the kernel along with other parts of the OS more easily, kernel updates are common.   Usually, this won’t create new, flashy features you can see or use directly. So, why should you update the Linux kernel?  There are 4 major reasons why we occasionally update the kernel on our servers:

1. Security Updates

Security patches are a good reason to update the kernel.

One of the main reasons to update the Kernel is for improving security.  Hackers (on both sides of the law) are constantly looking for holes in Linux security.  A security flaw in the Kernel is a serious issue since it lies at the core of the OS.  If an attacker gets into the kernel of your OS, they can do a lot of damage.  When one of these flaws is discovered, it’s patched as soon as possible.  Updating your kernel is an important way to stay ahead of the bad guys.

2. Stability

Stability can improve with kernel updates, which is key for web servers.

Since just about every part of your computer interacts with the kernel, from RAM to your alarm clock app, it’s important to make sure it runs smoothly.  Kernel updates often improve stability, meaning fewer crashes and errors.  Once a new Kernel has been ‘road-tested’, it’s usually a good idea to update as a way to decrease the odds of having problems.  This is especially important for web servers, where minutes of downtime can be a major setback.

2.  Speed

Some kernel updates boast major speed increases.

A constant focus of Linux kernel development is speed and efficiency.  Major kernel updates often boast major speed boosts.  We all know that every millisecond counts when it comes to serving websites, so kernel updates on web servers can often pay big performance dividends.

4. New Features

Eventually app compatibility may force kernel updates.

A kernel update won’t usually add a feature that you can see directly, but they often add new functionality that apps can take advantage of.  So, in order to stay up to date with applications, it will sometimes be necessary to update the kernel as well.  Just like the latest version of Excel won’t run on Windows 95, a system with an out-of-date kernel may not play nicely with new Linux apps.

At eBoundHost we are extremely careful about kernel updates, and never apply updates without a very good reason.  When we are confident that there is negligible risk to stability, with a real benefit to security and/or performance, we apply kernel updates so that we can improve the quality of our hosting.  Get in touch with us if you’re interested in more reasons why you update the Linux kernel.

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