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Linux Kernel 5.17 Released, With Major Security Fixes But Not Much Else

After a short delay, Linus Torvalds has announced the latest version of the Linux kernel, version 5.17, which adds major security enhancements.

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The latest version of the Linux kernel, 5.17, has been released with bug fixes to reassure users worried about Spectre attacks and improve hardware support, despite a short delay. The security changes and hardware support are welcome, but apart from that, there’s not much to get excited by with this release.

5.17 Was Delayed, But Linus Can Explain

Linux kernel website showing 5.17 release

While the release of 5.17 was delayed, Linux kernel creator Linus Torvalds seems to be taking it in his stride, presenting it as an opportunity to polish the release and avoid embarrassing bugs in the release.

Torvalds posted on the Linux Kernel Mailing List, the main hub of Linux kernel development, explaining the reason for the delay:

“I’m happy to report that it was very calm indeed. […] We could probably have skipped it with not a lot of downside, but we did get a few last-minute reverts and fixes in and avoid some brown-paper bugs that would otherwise have been stable fodder, so it’s all good.”

In another message to the list, Torvalds attributed the delay to the need for more security fixes in the wake of the Spectre attacks.

What’s New in the Linux Kernel?

The main security fix in the Linux kernel with 5.17 is a change in the kernel’s random number generator from the SHA1 algorithm to BLAKE2s, which promises higher security and faster performance, according to LWN. Random number generation is important for cryptographic functions and secure internet connections.

Improved hardware support is also a major focus for the new version. The kernel has added support for AMD’s forthcoming power management system, “P-State,” which will purportedly offer better performance. There are also improved graphics, networking, and hardware monitoring support.

Now It’s Up to the Distro Maintainers

With the new kernel release, the hard work now falls to Linux distribution maintainers to incorporate the latest release into their systems, since few people install the Linux kernel directly. This means that it will take some time for the kernel to show up in the repositories of major distros like Ubuntu, Mint, and Fedora.

Technical users itching to try the new kernel can download and compile the kernel themselves from the Linux kernel website. Outside of the businesses that rely on Linux’s security on servers, and whose sysadmins have likely been popping antacids before the announcement, this release will likely be mainly of interest to developers.

How Soon Will You Get the New Kernel?

The Linux kernel is a fast-moving project with frequent releases, and distributions have their own release cadences. While Debian Stable will tend to incorporate new kernels after extensive testing, a rolling release like Arch Linux will include it much faster. The cadence of software releases is something that distinguishes Linux distributions from one another.

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