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When you download linux drivers for devices such as wireless dongles, you'll get a folder full of random files that I'm assuming oyu need to compile? How do you install a wireless driver in linux?

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

Generally it depends on many things, but I'll sum them up to 2 ways:

  • Through a repository: In this case the driver needed is available as a package already compiled in your distribution. Using the package manager (apt-get, yum, pacman, ...) you may install the needed one(s). E.g. apt-get install package_name would do in Debian based distributions.
  • The other way is downloading the sources and compiling them yourself. As it is a driver you'll need a development package for your kernel as Ignacio noted (you may get it using the repositories). Once that is installed, the most general way to install things in Linux usually involves running 3 commands in the directory the sources for the driver (in this case) are: ./configure, make, and make install. The last one is generally called with superuser privileges (either directly from the root account or through sudo, gksu or something similar).
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Pointing out the obvious: There is usually a README file which tells you what commands to run. – basic6 Apr 23 '15 at 11:08

In practice most devices are already supported by the installed kernel and modules; just plug in the device and try it out.

If it doesn't work then you can see if there are drivers in a separate package. Look in the dmesg output to see if anything has been detected for your device.

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First you need to install make, gcc, and the development files for your kernel (in a package called kernel-devel or something similar). Then read the INSTALL or README file that comes with the driver in order to learn the correct sequence of commands used to build and install that driver.

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