Modprobed-db

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modprobed-db is a utility that populates a list of all the kernel modules that have been loaded on a system while running. This list can then be used to disable all the unused modules when building your own kernel and significantly reduce the compilation time.

Installation

Install the modprobed-dbAUR package.

  1. Run modprobed-db to create $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/modprobed-db.conf if it does not already exist.
  2. Run modprobed-db store to create the $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/modprobed.db database file and populate it with the currently loaded modules.

Optionally: add modules in the ignore array that you do NOT want counted, for example modules that get built or that are provided by another package. Some common ones are included by default:

$ cat ~/.config/modprobed-db.conf
IGNORE=(nvidia vboxdrv vboxnetflt vboxnetadp vboxpci lirc_dev lirc_i2c
osscore oss_hdaudio oss_usb tp_smapi thinkpad_ec
zavl znvpair zunicode zcommon zpios zfs spl splat)

Usage

Populating the Database

Once the initial database has been created, use modprobed-db list to show the current database modules and modprobed-db store to update the database with the currently loaded kernel modules.

Recommendations

It is recommended to "use" the official Arch kernel, with modprobed-db installed, for a good amount of time to allow the database to grow based on usage and capture everything the system needs before building a kernel without the unneeded modules). Here are some suggested actions to allow appropriate modules to load and get cataloged:

  • Mount every kind of filesystem that will be used.
  • Insert every kind of removable media that will be used (USB, DVD, CD, etc.).
    • This includes the mounting of ISO image files if applicable, which uses the loop and isofs modules.
  • Use every device on the machine (network interfaces, input devices, webcams, mobile devices, etc.).
  • Use every desired application, as some depend on kernel modules. For example:
    • IP blocking/filtering software such as pgl-cliAUR require the iptables kernel module.
    • Encryption software such as truecrypt requires cryptography kernel modules. Be sure to mount some encrypted containers so they will actually be loaded.
    • Certain QEMU configurations require kernel modules.
    • lm-sensors requires kernel modules for reading hardware sensors.
  • Try re-running modprobed-db while running different Linux-kernels; they may include modules not enabled in the other kernels.

These suggested actions are to be made in parallel with periodically updating the database with modprobed-db store to capture any newly loaded kernel module.

Automatic periodic database updates

Calls to modprobed-db store can be automated with one of the following methods:

Cron

The most convenient method to use modprobed-db is to simply add a crontab entry invoking /usr/bin/modprobed-db store at some regular interval.

Example running the script once every hour:

$ crontab -e
0 */1 * * *   /usr/bin/modprobed-db store &> /dev/null
systemd

systemd users not wishing to use cron may use the included user service: modprobed-db.service. It will run modprobed-db in store mode once per hour, and at boot and on shutdown.

$ systemctl --user enable --now modprobed-db.service

Status of the service and of the timer can be queried like any service and timer:

$ systemctl --user status modprobed-db
$ systemctl --user list-timers

Manually editing the database

Using the #Automatic periodic database updates or manually running modprobed-db store is not entirely foolproof:

  • Some modules get loaded then unloaded between two periodic database updates and may not be captured.
  • Some modules are used during boot and are not captured by modprobed-db (e.g. efivarfs), they need to be manually added to the modprobed.db file.

Thankfully, the modprobed.db database file is a simple text file that contains one kernel module name per line: it can be manually edited to add/remove a module. It is then recommended to run modprobed-db store after a manual edit so the modules get automatically reordered.

Recommended modules

These modules are recommended to be added to the $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/modprobed.db database file as they are broadly used:

Building a kernel with modprobed-db

After the database has been adequately populated, it can be read directly by make localmodconfig.

Traditional compilation

modprobed-db naturally intervenes in a traditional compilation workflow during the configuration step with the default Arch .config file.

Using the official Arch kernel PKGBUILD

The official Arch kernel PKGBUILD can be modified as shown to do this automatically:

...
    msg2 "Applying patch $src..."
    patch -Np1 < "../$src"
  done

  msg2 "Setting config..."
  cp ../config .config
  make olddefconfig

  make LSMOD=$HOME/.config/modprobed.db localmodconfig

  make -s kernelrelease > ../version
...

Using linux-tkg

linux-tkg offers a user-friendly kernel build script that also includes extra patches oriented towards improving desktop/gaming performance. The use of modprobed-db's database to strip unneeded modules can be toggled in its configuration file.

Benefits of modprobed-db with "make localmodconfig" in custom kernels

  1. Significantly reduced compilation time
  2. Unneeded modules are not built, the saved disk space is irrelevant for desktop computers as it is a relatively small gain (few hundred megabytes).

Comparisons using kernel version 5.13.1, where a Kernel/Traditional compilation is made with the default Arch configuration.

Machine CPU # of threads Compiler make localmodconfig # of Modules Total Compilation Time Kernel Compilation Time Modules Compilation Time
Ryzen 5950X @ 4.55 GHz 32 GCC 11.1.0 No 5442 5m 12s 58s 4m 14s
Ryzen 5950X @ 4.55 GHz 32 GCC 11.1.0 Yes 227 1m 32s 57s 35s
Ryzen 5950X @ 4.55 GHz 32 Clang 12.0.1 No 5442 9m 5s 1m 13s 7m 52s
Ryzen 5950X @ 4.55 GHz 32 Clang 12.0.1 Yes 227 2m 13s 1m 13s 1m
Note: These results do not prove that GCC is faster than Clang at building the kernel. The GCC version used in these benchmarks is self built and optimized.

The main results of the benchmark is that 80% of the build time of a "full" kernel is spent on modules. Given that only a fraction of those modules are needed by any given machine, the build time can be reduced by ~70%. The results will vary from one machine to another but should be similar.

The number of modules can be determined by the following:

$ cd /lib/modules/15.13.1-your-custom-kernel
$ find * | grep ko.zst | wc -l

The kernel build time is obtained with:

$ time make -jx bzImage # Replace "x" with the wanted number of threads

then the modules build time is obtained with:

$ time make -jx modules # Replace "x" with the wanted number of threads

See also