3.1. Kernel Configuration

Most Linux distributions are supplied with boot disks that work for all common types of PC hardware. Generally, the supplied kernel is highly modularized and includes nearly every possible driver. This is a great idea for boot disks, but is probably not what you'd want for long-term use. There isn't much point in having drivers cluttering up your disk that you will never use. Therefore, you will generally roll your own kernel and include only those drivers you actually need or want; that way you save a little disk space and reduce the time it takes to compile a new kernel.

In any case, when running a Linux system, you should be familiar with building a kernel. Think of it as a right of passage, an affirmation of the one thing that makes free software as powerful as it is—you have the source. It isn't a case of, “I have to compile a kernel,” rather it's a case of, “I can compile a kernel.” The basics of compiling a Linux kernel are explained in Matt Welsh's book, Running Linux (O'Reilly). Therefore, we will discuss only configuration options that affect networking in this section.

One important point that does bear repeating here is the way the kernel version numbering scheme works. Linux kernels are numbered in the following format: 2.2.14. The first digit indicates the major version number. This digit changes when there are large and significant changes to the kernel design. For example, the kernel changed from major 1 to 2 when the kernel obtained support for machines other than Intel machines. The second number is the minor version number. In many respects, this number is the most important number to look at. The Linux development community has adopted a standard at which even minor version numbers indicate production, or stable, kernels and odd minor version numbers indicate development, or unstable, kernels. The stable kernels are what you should use on a machine that is important to you, as they have been more thoroughly tested. The development kernels are what you should use if you are interested in experimenting with the newest features of Linux, but they may have problems that haven't yet been found and fixed. The third number is simply incremented for each release of a minor version.[1]

When running make menuconfig, you are presented with a text-based menu that offers lists of configuration questions, such as whether you want kernel math emulation. One of these queries asks you whether you want TCP/IP networking support. You must answer this with y to get a kernel capable of networking.

3.1.1. Kernel Options in Linux 2.0 and Higher

After the general option section is complete, the configuration will go on to ask whether you want to include support for various features, such as SCSI drivers or sound cards. The prompt will indicate what options are available. You can press ? to obtain a description of what the option is actually offering. You'll always have the option of yes (y) to statically include the component in the kernel, or no (n) to exclude the component completely. You'll also see the module (m) option for those components that may be compiled as a run-time loadable module. Modules need to be loaded before they can be used, and are useful for drivers of components that you use infrequently.

The subsequent list of questions deal with networking support. The exact set of configuration options is in constant flux due to ongoing development. A typical list of options offered by most kernel versions around 2.0 and 2.1 looks like this:

* Network device support
Network device support (CONFIG_NETDEVICES) [Y/n/?] 

You must answer this question with y if you want to use any type of networking devices, whether they are Ethernet, SLIP, PPP, or whatever. When you answer the question with y, support for Ethernet-type devices is enabled automatically. You must answer additional questions if you want to enable support for other types of network drivers:

PLIP (parallel port) support (CONFIG_PLIP) [N/y/m/?] y
PPP (point-to-point) support (CONFIG_PPP) [N/y/m/?] y
* CCP compressors for PPP are only built as modules.
SLIP (serial line) support (CONFIG_SLIP) [N/y/m/?] m
 CSLIP compressed headers (CONFIG_SLIP_COMPRESSED) [N/y/?] (NEW) y
 Keepalive and linefill (CONFIG_SLIP_SMART) [N/y/?] (NEW) y
 Six bit SLIP encapsulation (CONFIG_SLIP_MODE_SLIP6) [N/y/?] (NEW) y

These questions concern the various link layer protocols that Linux supports. Both PPP and SLIP allow you to transport IP datagrams across serial lines. PPP is actually a suite of protocols used to send network traffic across serial lines. Some of the protocols that form PPP manage the way that you authenticate yourself to the dial-in server, while others manage the way certain protocols are carried across the link—PPP is not limited to carrying TCP/IP datagrams; it may also carry other protocol such as IPX.

If you answer y or m to SLIP support, you will be prompted to answer the three questions that appear below it. The compressed header option provides support for CSLIP, a technique that compresses TCP/IP headers to as little as three bytes. Note that this kernel option does not turn on CSLIP automatically; it merely provides the necessary kernel functions for it. The Keepalive and linefill option causes the SLIP support to periodically generate activity on the SLIP line to avoid it being dropped by an inactivity timer. The Six bit SLIP encapsulation option allows you to run SLIP over lines and circuits that are not capable of transmitting the whole 8-bit data set cleanly. This is similar to the uuencoding or binhex technique used to send binary files by electronic mail.

PLIP provides a way to send IP datagrams across a parallel port connection. It is mostly used to communicate with PCs running DOS. On typical PC hardware, PLIP can be faster than PPP or SLIP, but it requires much more CPU overhead to perform, so while the transfer rate might be good, other tasks on the machine may be slow.

The following questions address network cards from various vendors. As more drivers are being developed, you are likely to see questions added to this section. If you want to build a kernel you can use on a number of different machines, or if your machine has more than one type of network card installed, you can enable more than one driver:

Ethernet (10 or 100Mbit) (CONFIG_NET_ETHERNET) [Y/n/?] 
3COM cards (CONFIG_NET_VENDOR_3COM) [Y/n/?] 
3c501 support (CONFIG_EL1) [N/y/m/?]
3c503 support (CONFIG_EL2) [N/y/m/?]
3c509/3c579 support (CONFIG_EL3) [Y/m/n/?]
3c590/3c900 series (592/595/597/900/905) "Vortex/Boomerang" support/
    (CONFIG_VORTEX) [N/y/m/?]
AMD LANCE and PCnet (AT1500 and NE2100) support (CONFIG_LANCE) [N/y/?]
AMD PCInet32 (VLB and PCI) support (CONFIG_LANCE32) [N/y/?] (NEW)
Western Digital/SMC cards (CONFIG_NET_VENDOR_SMC) [N/y/?]
WD80*3 support (CONFIG_WD80x3) [N/y/m/?] (NEW)
SMC Ultra support (CONFIG_ULTRA) [N/y/m/?] (NEW)
SMC Ultra32 support (CONFIG_ULTRA32) [N/y/m/?] (NEW)
SMC 9194 support (CONFIG_SMC9194) [N/y/m/?] (NEW)
Other ISA cards (CONFIG_NET_ISA) [N/y/?]
Cabletron E21xx support (CONFIG_E2100) [N/y/m/?] (NEW)
DEPCA, DE10x, DE200, DE201, DE202, DE422 support (CONFIG_DEPCA) [N/y/m/?]/ 
EtherWORKS 3 (DE203, DE204, DE205) support (CONFIG_EWRK3) [N/y/m/?] (NEW)
EtherExpress 16 support (CONFIG_EEXPRESS) [N/y/m/?] (NEW)
HP PCLAN+ (27247B and 27252A) support (CONFIG_HPLAN_PLUS) [N/y/m/?] (NEW)
HP PCLAN (27245 and other 27xxx series) support (CONFIG_HPLAN) [N/y/m/?]/ 
HP 10/100VG PCLAN (ISA, EISA, PCI) support (CONFIG_HP100) [N/y/m/?] (NEW)
NE2000/NE1000 support (CONFIG_NE2000) [N/y/m/?] (NEW)
SK_G16 support (CONFIG_SK_G16) [N/y/?] (NEW)
EISA, VLB, PCI and on card controllers (CONFIG_NET_EISA) [N/y/?]
Apricot Xen-II on card ethernet (CONFIG_APRICOT) [N/y/m/?] (NEW)
Intel EtherExpress/Pro 100B support (CONFIG_EEXPRESS_PRO100B) [N/y/m/?]/ 
DE425, DE434, DE435, DE450, DE500 support (CONFIG_DE4X5) [N/y/m/?] (NEW)
DECchip Tulip (dc21x4x) PCI support (CONFIG_DEC_ELCP) [N/y/m/?] (NEW)
Digi Intl. RightSwitch SE-X support (CONFIG_DGRS) [N/y/m/?] (NEW)
Pocket and portable adaptors (CONFIG_NET_POCKET) [N/y/?]
AT-LAN-TEC/RealTek pocket adaptor support (CONFIG_ATP) [N/y/?] (NEW)
D-Link DE600 pocket adaptor support (CONFIG_DE600) [N/y/m/?] (NEW)
D-Link DE620 pocket adaptor support (CONFIG_DE620) [N/y/m/?] (NEW)
Token Ring driver support (CONFIG_TR) [N/y/?]
IBM Tropic chipset based adaptor support (CONFIG_IBMTR) [N/y/m/?] (NEW)
FDDI driver support (CONFIG_FDDI) [N/y/?]
Digital DEFEA and DEFPA adapter support (CONFIG_DEFXX) [N/y/?] (NEW)
ARCnet support (CONFIG_ARCNET) [N/y/m/?]
  Enable arc0e (ARCnet "Ether-Encap" packet format) (CONFIG_ARCNET_ETH)/ 
      [N/y/?] (NEW)
  Enable arc0s (ARCnet RFC1051 packet format) (CONFIG_ARCNET_1051)/ 
      [N/y/?] (NEW)

Finally, in the file system section, the configuration script will ask you whether you want support for NFS, the networking file system. NFS lets you export file systems to several hosts, which makes the files appear as if they were on an ordinary hard disk attached to the host:

NFS file system support (CONFIG_NFS_FS) [y]
We describe NFS in detail in Chapter 14.

3.1.2. Kernel Networking Options in Linux 2.0.0 and Higher

Linux 2.0.0 marked a significant change in Linux Networking. Many features were made a standard part of the Kernel, such as support for IPX. A number of options were also added and made configurable. Many of these options are used only in very special circumstances and we won't cover them in detail. The Networking HOWTO probably addresses what is not covered here. We'll list a number of useful options in this section, and explain when you'd want to use each one:


To use TCP/IP networking, you must answer this question with y. If you answer with n, however, you will still be able to compile the kernel with IPX support:

Networking options  --->
    [*] TCP/IP networking


You have to enable this option if your system acts as a gateway between two networks or between a LAN and a SLIP link, etc. It doesn't hurt to enable this by default, but you may want to disable it to configure a host as a so-called firewall. Firewalls are hosts that are connected to two or more networks, but don't route traffic between them. They're commonly used to provide users with Internet access at minimal risk to the internal network. Users are allowed to log in to the firewall and use Internet services, but the company's machines are protected from outside attacks because incoming connections can't cross the firewall (firewalls are covered in detail in Chapter 9 ):

    [*] IP: forwarding/gatewaying

Virtual hosting

These options together allow to you configure more than one IP address onto an interface. This is sometimes useful if you want to do “virtual hosting,” through which a single machine can be configured to look and act as though it were actually many separate machines, each with its own network personality. We'll talk more about IP aliasing in a moment:

    [*] Network aliasing
        <*> IP: aliasing support


This option enables you to collect data on the volume of IP traffic leaving and arriving at your machine (we cover this is detail in Chapter 10 ):

    [*] IP: accounting

PC hug

This option works around an incompatibility with some versions of PC/TCP, a commercial TCP/IP implementation for DOS-based PCs. If you enable this option, you will still be able to communicate with normal Unix machines, but performance may be hurt over slow links:

    --- (it is safe to leave these untouched)
    [*] IP: PC/TCP compatibility mode

Diskless booting

This function enables Reverse Address Resolution Protocol (RARP). RARP is used by diskless clients and X terminals to request their IP address when booting. You should enable RARP if you plan to serve this sort of client. A small program called rarp, included with the standard networking utilities, is used to add entries to the kernel RARP table:

    <*> IP: Reverse ARP


When sending data over TCP, the kernel has to break up the stream into blocks of data to pass to IP. The size of the block is called the Maximum Transmission Unit, or MTU. For hosts that can be reached over a local network such as an Ethernet, it is typical to use an MTU as large as the maximum length of an Ethernet packet—1,500 bytes. When routing IP over a Wide Area Network like the Internet, it is preferable to use smaller-sized datagrams to ensure that they don't need to be further broken down along the route through a process called IP fragmentation.[2] The kernel is able to automatically determine the smallest MTU of an IP route and to automatically configure a TCP connection to use it. This behavior is on by default. If you answer y to this option this feature will be disabled.

If you do want to use smaller packet sizes for data sent to specific hosts (because, for example, the data goes through a SLIP link), you can do so using the mss option of the route command, which is briefly discussed at the end of this chapter:

    [ ] IP: Disable Path MTU Discovery (normally enabled)

Security feature

The IP protocol supports a feature called Source Routing. Source routing allows you to specify the route a datagram should follow by coding the route into the datagram itself. This was once probably useful before routing protocols such as RIP and OSPF became commonplace. But today it's considered a security threat because it can provide clever attackers with a way of circumventing certain types of firewall protection by bypassing the routing table of a router. You would normally want to filter out source routed datagrams, so this option is normally enabled:

    [*] IP: Drop source routed frames

Novell support

This option enables support for IPX, the transport protocol Novell Networking uses. Linux will function quite happily as an IPX router and this support is useful in environments where you have Novell fileservers. The NCP filesystem also requires IPX support enabled in your kernel; if you wish to attach to and mount your Novell filesystems you must have this option enabled (we'll dicuss IPX and the NCP filesystem in Chapter 15):

    <*> The IPX protocol

Amateur radio

These three options select support for the three Amateur Radio protocols supported by Linux: AX.25, NetRom and Rose (we don't describe them in this book, but they are covered in detail in the AX25 HOWTO):

    <*> Amateur Radio AX.25 Level 2
    <*> Amateur Radio NET/ROM
    <*> Amateur Radio X.25 PLP (Rose)

Linux supports another driver type: the dummy driver. The following question appears toward the start of the device-driver section:

    <*> Dummy net driver support

The dummy driver doesn't really do much, but it is quite useful on standalone or PPP/SLIP hosts. It is basically a masqueraded loopback interface. On hosts that offer PPP/SLIP but have no other network interface, you want to have an interface that bears your IP address all the time. This is discussed in a little more detail in Section 5.7.7" in Chapter 5. Note that today you can achieve the same result by using the IP alias feature and configuring your IP address as an alias on the loopback interface.



People should use development kernels and report bugs if they are found; this is a very useful thing to do if you have a machine you can use as a test machine. Instructions on how to report bugs are detailed in /usr/src/linux/REPORTING-BUGS in the Linux kernel source.


Remember, the IP protocol can be carried over many different types of network, and not all network types will support packet sizes as large as Ethernet.