Building a real-time Linux kernel [community-contributed]

This tutorial begins with a clean Ubuntu 20.04.1 install on Intel x86_64. Actual kernel is 5.4.0-54-generic, but we will install the Latest Stable RT_PREEMPT Version. To build the kernel you need at least 30GB free disk space.

Check for the latest stable version, at the time of writing this is “Latest Stable Version 5.4-rt”. If we click on the link, we get the exact version. Currently it is patch-5.4.78-rt44.patch.gz.


We create a directory in our home dir with

mkdir ~/kernel

and switch into it with

cd ~/kernel

We can go with a browser to and see if the version is there. You can download it from the site and move it manually from /Downloads to the /kernel folder, or download it using wget by right clicking the link using “copy link location”. Example:


unpack it with

tar -xzf linux-5.4.78.tar.gz

download rt_preempt patch matching the Kernel version we just downloaded over at


unpack it with

gunzip patch-5.4.78-rt44.patch.gz

Then switch into the linux directory with

cd linux-5.4.78/

and patch the kernel with the realtime patch

patch -p1 < ../patch-5.4.78-rt44.patch

We simply want to use the config of our Ubuntu installation, so we get the Ubuntu config with

cp /boot/config-5.4.0-54-generic .config

Open Software & Updates. in the Ubuntu Software menu tick the ‘Source code’ box

We need some tools to build kernel, install them with

sudo apt-get build-dep linux
sudo apt-get install libncurses-dev flex bison openssl libssl-dev dkms libelf-dev libudev-dev libpci-dev libiberty-dev autoconf fakeroot

To enable all Ubuntu configurations, we simply use

yes '' | make oldconfig

Then we need to enable rt_preempt in the kernel. We call

make menuconfig

and set the following

 -> General Setup
  -> Preemption Model (Fully Preemptible Kernel (Real-Time))
   (X) Fully Preemptible Kernel (Real-Time)

 -> General setup
  -> Timers subsystem
   [*] High Resolution Timer Support

 -> General setup
  -> Timers subsystem
   -> Timer tick handling (Full dynticks system (tickless))
    (X) Full dynticks system (tickless)

# Set CONFIG_HZ_1000 (note: this is no longer in the General Setup menu, go back twice)
 -> Processor type and features
  -> Timer frequency (1000 HZ)
   (X) 1000 HZ

 ->  Power management and ACPI options
  -> CPU Frequency scaling
   -> CPU Frequency scaling (CPU_FREQ [=y])
    -> Default CPUFreq governor (<choice> [=y])
     (X) performance

Save and exit menuconfig. Now we’re going to build the kernel which will take quite some time. (10-30min on a modern cpu)

make -j `nproc` deb-pkg

After the build is finished check the debian packages

ls ../*deb
../linux-headers-5.4.78-rt41_5.4.78-rt44-1_amd64.deb  ../linux-image-5.4.78-rt44-dbg_5.4.78-rt44-1_amd64.deb
../linux-image-5.4.78-rt41_5.4.78-rt44-1_amd64.deb    ../linux-libc-dev_5.4.78-rt44-1_amd64.deb

Then we install all kernel debian packages

sudo dpkg -i ../*.deb

Now the real time kernel should be installed. Reboot the system and check the new kernel version

sudo reboot
uname -a
Linux ros2host 5.4.78-rt44 #1 SMP PREEMPT_RT Fri Nov 6 10:37:59 CET 2020 x86_64 xx