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I'm going to be doing some kernel hacking as part of a final year compsci project.
What is the best way of starting this, for instance is there some sort of sandbox mode for running the kernel. My current attempts have been with Arch and slackware linux running in a VM but has proven to be a nightmare even getting a stable installation.
Where do I start with this? Any suggestions are welcomed.
Why do you need a VM? Generally, you get the source, compile your kernel, install it alongside with the existing stable kernel in your system, boot it, see how it goes, reboot the stable kernel and continue hacking.
You can certainly issue the make modules and make modules_install commands without rebuilding the kernel binary. You can even recompile a single module without rebuilding the whole tree, there are threads here that discuss that. But everything depends on how you changed your configuration before recompiling modules. If, for example, some section was deselected in config and you you compile a standalone module from that section without recompiling the kernel binary, that module will not load correctly.