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Is Linux an OS or a kernel?

Is Linux an OS or a kernel

Understanding the foundations of the operating systems that power our digital lives is essential. One topic that often sparks curiosity and debate is the true nature of Linux – is it an operating system or a kernel?

Indeed; we are at last about to solve this mystery. So let’s get started.

Understanding the Linux Kernel

While talking about Linux, it is crucial to distinguish between the Linux kernel and the Linux operating system. To do this, we must first understand the concept of a kernel.

A kernel serves as the central element of an operating system, overseeing system resource management, facilitating communication with hardware, and delivering fundamental services. It serves as a bridge connecting software applications with the physical hardware components of the computer.

The Role of the Kernel in an Operating System

The kernel plays a crucial role in an operating system, as it mediates access to resources and ensures smooth operation. By handling low-level tasks like memory management, process management, and device drivers, the kernel allows other software to run efficiently.

The Linux kernel was developed by Linus Torvalds in 1991. It was created with the intent of being a complimentary, open-source substitute for proprietary UNIX kernels. Since then, it has grown to become one of the most popular and widely-used kernels worldwide, thanks to the contributions of the open-source community.

Now that we’ve defined the Linux kernel let’s examine the Linux operating system and its components.

What Constitutes an Operating System?

An operating system (OS) is essentially a bundle of software that manages both the hardware and software resources of a computer. It offers an interface that enables users to engage with the computer and execute applications. An OS typically consists of a kernel, system utilities, libraries, and user interface components.

Different Linux Distributions

A Linux distribution, also known as a distro, refers to a specific combination of the Linux kernel, supplementary software, libraries, and utilities. Examples of popular distributions include Ubuntu, Fedora, and Debian. Each distribution is tailored to meet diverse user requirements and preferences.

The Linux User Experience

Linux provides a greatly adaptable and versatile user experience. With a variety of desktop environments, users can tailor the look and feel of their system to their liking. Linux’s command-line interface (CLI) also provides powerful tools for advanced users.

Comparing the Linux Kernel and Operating System

The Linux kernel is the core module of the operating system, while the Linux OS is a collection of software built around the kernel. The kernel is responsible for low-level tasks, while the OS provides a user interface and additional tools.

Is Linux an OS or a kernel?

Now that you understand the Linux kernel, operating system, and the key difference between them, what do you think Linux is; an OS or a kernel?

From a technical standpoint, Linux is a kernel, while the operating system is the software constructed around this kernel.

When someone says, “I use Linux,” we know they mean a Linux distribution, not just the kernel. Honestly, there’s no need to correct them by saying, ‘Linux is only a kernel, not an operating system.


Concluding the search, Linux serves as both a kernel and an operating system. Nevertheless, from a technical perspective, Linux is a kernel, the heart of any OS. The Linux kernel manages system resources and hardware communication at the core, whereas the Linux operating system comprises a suite of software organized around the kernel, offering a user-friendly interface to interact with the computer.

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