Google extends Linux support for four years

  • Google has committed to extending support for Linux kernel variants for four years beyond version 6.6.
  • Linux kernels are necessary to receive periodic security updates on Android devices.

Google intends to extend support for the Linux kernel fork for four years with version 6.6. The development comes as the Linux kernel project has halted its six-year commitment to release Long-Term Support (LTS), reducing it to two years. Because the project is critical to the security of Android devices, Google has decided to take it over.

The security of Android devices relies on the Linux kernel and requires regular updates to enable security improvements and security fixes. The Linux kernel is primarily derived from Google’s Android Common Kernel (ACK) branch, which is pulled from the main Android kernel branch after each new LTS release.

The longer support periods put significant pressure on Linux kernel managers and developers, many of whom are unpaid volunteers. As a result, Maintenance Linux decided to shorten support to two years.

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Since Google takes responsibility for maintaining a fork of each LTS Linux kernel release, developers can submit features for Android devices even during upstream development, in addition to including vendor or OEM specific features that are useful to Android partners. In addition, forks can include norps and backports of upstream functionality needed for Android.

Linux kernel vulnerabilities are discovered in Android security bulletins and patched with updates. However, bug fixes don’t always address security issues that developers may not notice or disclose. As a result, Google urges OEMs to update LTS frequently to minimize risk.

Extending support for the LTS kernel will allow OEMs and Google to update devices with security improvements for longer periods. The initial six-year Linux LTS cycle allowed OEMs to launch devices in cycles, even three years in cycles, while still benefiting from upstream support.

However, since Google has shortened this period to four years, this is no longer possible. As a result, with Android 15, devices will only be able to launch with the new Android 15-6.6 and Android 14-6.1 kernels, which will be available by 2028 and 2029, respectively. This will force OEMs to commit to major kernel updates if they want a longer phone update policy.