Downgrading your Linux kernel on Fedora

I’ve been using Fedora as my daily driver on my work laptop for the past 3 years. During that timeframe, I’ve only encountered a handful of minor annoyances. Lately, I was bit by one of them: distorted audio in voice chat applications like Slack and Teams. It turns out that a Pipewire bug in versions 5.16 through 5.18 of the Linux kernel 5.16 shipped with Fedora 35 and Fedora 36 is the culprit.

After a detour of unsuccesfully attempts to resurrect Pulseaudio, the abstraction layer used by most distro’s to manage audio, I ended up downgrading the kernel to version 5.15 until a fix lands in future releases. Fedora makes this a relatively painless process.

Older kernels can be found as packaged RPM’s on Koji, Fedora’s build system and package database. In a nutshell, you just have to download the appropriate kernel RPM’s and install them. Here’s how you do that:

First, install the koji command line application. It makes it easy to help directly download packages from koji.

$ sudo dnf install koji

Now, you can easily search and list available kernels from Koji:

$ koji list-builds --package=kernel --after="2021-11-12" | grep "5.15"

Here’s how you download a kernel version from koji. Notice how it will download a bunch of RPM’s at once:

$ koji download-build --arch=x86_64 kernel-5.15.2-200.fc35
$ ls kernel-*.rpm

You could just try and install everything with dnf

$ sudo dnf update kernel-*.rpm

… but that’s just going to fail. dnf is going to complain that you’re trying to install an older version of a newer package that’s already installed. Instead, you need to install these packages manually. You also don’t need to install all of them. All you need are the kernel, kernel-core and kernel-modules packages. Everything else is downloaded if you’re willing to participate as a Fedora tester trying out the next version of Fedora.

$ sudo dnf install ./kernel-5.15.18-200.fc35.x86_64.rpm ./kernel-core-5.15.18-200.fc35.x86_64.rpm ./kernel-modules-5.15.18-200.fc35.x86_64.rpm

Finally, reboot your system. The kernel will be added as an option to the GRUB bootloader menu and set as the default to start from. You will be booted automatically in to a session with the older kernel.

Typically, Fedora will only keep up to three kernel versions installed on your system. So, note how installing the 5.15 kernel will simply replace the oldest kernel that’s already installed on your system. Fedora keeps you from installing multiple kernels to prevent you from filling up the boot partition to a point where it affects booting your system.

You could use the versionlock of dnf to have the specific version of the kernel always available. In other words, prevent it from being removed when you update your system:

$ sudo dnf install python3-dnf-plugins-extras-versionlock
$ sudo dnf versionlock add kernel-5.15.18-200.fc35
# Remove the lock
$ sudo dnf versionlock remove kernel-5.15.18-200.fc35

Finally, note how I’m installing a kernel package tagged for Fedora 35 on a Fedora 36 installation. So far, I haven’t run into any major issues. Of course, YMMV and so I would only recommend downgrading to a previous version of a kernel as a last ditch effort. And even then, only when you’re just going for jump between minor versions.