tl;dr: you can use
kexec to stage a kernel upgrade in-memory without the need for a full reboot. Your system will reload the new kernel on the fly and activate it. There will be a service restart of every running service as the new kernel is loaded, but you skip the entire bootloader & hardware initialization.
By using kexec you can upgrade your running Linux machine’s kernel without a full reboot. Keep in mind, there’s still a new kernel load, but it’s significantly faster than doing the whole bootloader stage and hardware initialization phase performed by the system firmware (BIOS or UEFI).
Yes, calling this kernel upgrades without reboots is a vast exaggeration. You skip parts of the reboot, though, usually the slowest parts.
On a CentOS 7 machine the
kexec tools should be installed by default, but just in case they aren’t;
$ yum install kexec-tools
After that, the
kexec binary should be available to you.
Install your new kernel
In this example I’ll upgrade a rather old CentOS 7 kernel to the latest.
$ uname -r 3.10.0-229.14.1.el7
So I’m now running the
To upgrade your kernel, first install the latest kernel packages.
$ yum update kernel ... =================================================================================== Package Arch Version Repository Size =================================================================================== Installing: kernel x86_64 3.10.0-514.6.1.el7 updates 37 M
This will install the
kernel on my machine.
So a quick summary (on new lines, so you see the kernel version difference):
From: 3.10.0-229.14.1.el7 To: 3.10.0-514.6.1.el7 $ rpm -qa | grep kernel | sort kernel-3.10.0-229.14.1.el7.x86_64 kernel-3.10.0-514.6.1.el7.x86_64
Once you installed the new kernel, it’s time for the
kexec in-memory upgrading magic.
In-memory kernel upgrade with kexec
As a safety command, unload any previously attempted kernels first. This is harmless and will make sure you start “cleanly” with your upgrade process.
$ kexec -u
Now, state the new kernel to be loaded. Note these are the version numbers of the latest installed kernel with
yum, as shown above.
$ kexec -l /boot/vmlinuz-3.10.0-514.6.1.el7.x86_64 \ --initrd=/boot/initramfs-3.10.0-514.6.1.el7.x86_64.img \ --reuse-cmdline
Careful: next command will reload a new kernel and will impact running services!
Once prepared, start kexec.
$ systemctl kexec
Your system will freeze for a couple of seconds, load the new kernel and be good to go.
A very quick and unscientific benchmark of doing a
yum update kernel with and without
Normal way, kernel upgrade + reboot: 28s Kexec way, kernel upgrade + reload: 19s
So you have a couple of seconds of the new kernel load, for big physical machines with lots of RAM, this will be even more as the entire POST check can be skipped with this method.
Here’s a side-by-side run of the same kernel update. On the left: the
kexec flow you’ve read above. On the right, a classic
yum update kernel && reboot.
Notice how the left VM never goes into the BIOS or POST checks.