Android Linux Kernel

Is Android Linux?

A lot of murmurs exist about the classification of Android as a Linux product owing to the similarity in features between the two. Linux kernel is regarded as the most popular Operating System while Android is a framework built on top of the Linux kernel. This is to clarify that all Android devices run on top of the Linux kernel while Linux is an independent operating system. Android is a mobile operating system, designed mainly for touchscreen and tablet devices, developed by Google. It would be misplaced to say that Android is Linux, given the lack of an acceptable definition of what makes a piece of software to be called Linux. Linux may be used in reference to the Linux kernel, a Linux distribution or a distro and GNU software.

Why Android is Linux.

Android takes advantage of the Linux Kernel, since Linux is an open-source operating system. Google’s Android developers manipulate the Linux Kernel to suit their own needs. Linux provides the Android developers a pre-built, already maintained operating system kernel to start up with so that they do not have to write their own kernel from scratch.

Although Android is developed based on Linux, it does not entirely employ the standard Linux kernel in its use. The two vary in regards to their features and nature of their functions. While Android Operating system is mainly developed for handled devices with touch screen capability; Linux, on the other hand, is designed for desktops, laptops, and servers.

Android’s user interface is mainly based on direct interaction with the device through actions such as swiping, tapping and pinching. Google has also developed Android for televisions, Android auto for cars and wrist watches each with a specific user interface. The invention also has applications in game consoles, digital cameras, PCs and other electronics.

While booting an Android device, one can see the Linux kernel loading similarly to the way it does on a Linux distribution. However, the larger part of the software is totally different from other features in the Linux shelf devices. For instance, Android does not include the GNU C Library (glibc) that is made use of in the Linux distributions, and it also does not include all of the GNU libraries one would spot on a typical Linux distribution.

Why Android is not Linux

The following arguments try to rule out the argument that Android is Linux, basing on some features and specifics that are dissimilar between the two Operating Systems;

  1. It does not use the standard Linux kernel; During the development of the Android Operating System, several changes were made on the Linux kernel, including adding of specialized libraries. The argument claiming Android as a Linux distro, because of its use of the Linux kernel, is canceled out since it is typical for a Linux distro to alter the kernel.
  2. Android does not include the GNU software and libraries; Android includes very little GNU software, thus as GNU software, is a defining characteristic of a Linux distro.
  3. By default, the Android Operating doesn’t allow for customization unlike Linux Distributions which are pretty easy to customize; Android device owners don’t have root access to the underlying operating system, unless they use specialized applications to break through. Linux users have full access to the underlying kernel and can easily customize to their satisfaction.
  4. You cannot run Linux apps on Android; Android has very little software in common with other Linux distros, making it impossible to run regular Linux apps on Android. The vice versa is also true as Android apps require particular libraries associated with Android, a runtime plus a range of other software that is only found in the Android operating system.
  5. Android is a Google product; even though Google may make the base Android source code publicly available via AOSP, AOSP’s future releases are kept private.

The Development of the Android Operating System

Android Inc. initially developed the operating system, then Google acquired it in the year 2005. Two years later, Android was unveiled. From the first release in September 2008, it has undergone various major releases, the present version being 8.0 Oreo having been released in August 2017. Its unique design has made it be the best selling Operating System on Tablets since 2013. Android is popular with technology companies that utilize a ready-made, low-cost and customizable operating system for high-tech devices. Moreover, its open nature has encouraged a large community of enthusiasts to use the open-source code as a foundation for community-driven projects.

Andy Rubin, who is its founder, described the Android project as a “tremendous potential in developing smarter mobile devices that are more aware of its owner’s location and preferences”. Initially, the company intended to develop an advanced operating system for digital cameras as this was the basis of its pitch to the investors’ panel. After analyzing the camera market and realizing that it was not broad enough to achieve its goals the company began pitching Android as a handset operating system to compete Symbian and Microsoft Windows Mobile.

By August 2015, Google had acquired Android Inc., making its key employees such as Rubin, Miner and White to join the Google team. Here the team worked to build a mobile device operating system powered by the Linux kernel. Google marketed the operating system to handset makers and carriers on the view of providing a flexible, upgradable system.

From 2008 to the present times, Android has witnessed many more updates that have significantly improved the operating system, with additional features and fixing bugs in the earlier products. With each major release named in alphabetical order after a dessert or sugary treat, among the first few including cupcake, donut, éclair, and froyo.

Android’s default user interface is mainly composed of direct manipulation concepts, by use of touch inputs. Here the response to user input is customized to be fast and to give a fluid touch interface, mostly utilizing vibration abilities of the devices to show haptic feedback to the user experience. Moreover, internal hardware such as proximity sensor, accelerometer, and compass are used to respond to some additional user actions like when adjusting the screen portrait to landscape depending on how the device is oriented or steering a game character while playing.

Development of Linux

Linux is a Unix-like computer operating system that was brought together under the model of free and open-source software development and distribution. Its main component is the Linux kernel, which was first released to the public on September 17, 1991, by Linus Torvalds. The Linux OS was originally developed for computers based on the Intel x86 but has gained roots in many other platforms. Its dominance on the Android OS on smartphone devices has made it the largest installed base of all general-purpose operating systems. It has also worked its way up to be the leading operating system on servers and other greater systems including the mainframe computers and most of the supercomputers in its era.

The development of Linux is one of the most prominent examples of free and open-source software collaboration. Its internal source code used commercially or non-commercially, can be manipulated and distributed by separate individuals considering terms and conditions of its particular licenses in place.

When talking about Linux, we may use the term in reference to;

  • Linux kernel; A Kernel is a small, but an essential part of an Operating system and its primary purpose is to interface with the underlying hardware.
  • The Linux distribution/ distro
  • GNU/ Linux

Linux distribution or distro defines the packaging nature of the Linux Operating System. Examples of some of its standard and decorated distributions include; Arch Linux, Gentoo Linux, Linux Mint, Mageia, openSUSE, Ubuntu and Kali Linux.


The ultimate deduction about the topic is dependent on one’s definition of a Linux distro. If one refers to it as GNU/ Linux instead of just Linux, then indeed Android is not Linux as it includes very little GNU software. Moreover, if one refers to Linux distro as an operating system that involves the Linux kernel, then the answer is still that Android is not Linux. However, when one refers to a Linux distro as an operating system based on the Linux kernel, then it becomes that Android is a Linux distro. There are arguments for each side be it “Android is Linux” or the negative; with most falling on the positive side based on the fact that Android functions using the Linux kernel. However, stronger arguments are against the argument when we compare the applications and interface layers of the respective operating systems.


About the author



A passionate Linux user for personal and professional reasons, always exploring what is new in the world of Linux and sharing with my readers.