It’s 2012, and the Embeddable Linux Kernel Subset (ELKS) is back!

A long time ago, some Linux kernel developers forked the Linux kernel (in truth, it was more “rewrite” than “fork”) into a version that would run on 8086/8088-class processors, like in the original IBM PC and PC/XT. That kernel was coined the Embeddable Linux Kernel Subset, or ELKS for short. The project has seen very rocky times in the 2000s as developers gradually moved away from the project, interest slowly faded, and perhaps the near-death blow for ELKS was the tragic loss of Riley H. Williams, whose contributions of time and skill kept ELKS going for years until his death. (Rest in peace, Riley; we miss you.) After Riley died, no one who was involved had the time or energy to steer the ELKS project anywhere. I released a broken tarball of all of the source code contained in the ELKS CVS database on SourceForge, dubbed it release version elks-0.1.3, and hoped that someone else with more time and knowledge than myself would be inspired and take the initiative to get the ball rolling again.

Other than an occasional blip on the ELKS mailing list (linux-8086 at, nothing really happened. I tried to spark some conversation about where ELKS should go, but almost nothing came of that effort either. ELKS was doomed to obscurity, and even I mostly forgot about it as I was distracted by other things in my life. And then, something changed!

Juan Perez-Sanchez posted a patch to linux-8086 to fix compilation errors on 2012-01-10. I starred it but didn’t really think much of it, because I was very busy that day, and I forgot about it. Juan, though, wasn’t kidding around. Over the remainder of January of 2012, Juan posted four more patches to the mailing list to fix a variety of small issues. Hans posted that “it is good to know that ELKS is not completely abandoned,” and after seeing that message in my inbox on top of all these patches, I couldn’t keep myself away any longer.

I transitioned the code on SourceForge from CVS to Git on Feb 5, and the next day I imported the CVS commit history into Git as well. I’ve decided to fully take the reins, suck it up, and become the leader of ELKS, particularly since I am the only administrator left on SourceForge who is active. So far, there has not been a single day since 2012-02-05 that the list hasn’t had a post. I’ve begun digging up some old hardware to test on, and I can safely say that ELKS isn’t dead.

ELKS is back. Anyone who wants to help should subscribe to the linux-8086 mailing list at and contribute!

One thought on “It’s 2012, and the Embeddable Linux Kernel Subset (ELKS) is back!

  1. Cool, just found this while browsing around 🙂

    Might be worth updating the webpage on sourceforge .. ideally include a link to git + the git browser on the frontpage. Also, one of the other pages that talks about cvs is quite out of date.

    [This way it should be quicker for people to play with it / contribute ]

    Lastly – maybe it would be an idea to release virtual machine images running the kernel ?


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