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I left out an ethernet adapter driver in my make menuconfig - do I have to build the kernel again (gentoo distro) or is there a way to build in support once the os has been installed and running?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

If you don't run "make clean" (or similar) after of the compilation, you compile only the differences when you run "make" again.

Example:

# make menuconfig
# make 
# make modules_install
# make install

"Oh, I forgot the ethernet driver":

# make menuconfig (change the old config)
# make (now, you're only compiling the changes)
# make modules_install
# make install

If you deleted the directory with the kernel, yes, you will need compile all again.

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Old answer, but so useful still today. – Nikos Alexandris Jul 26 '15 at 23:30

That mainly depends on the way you're using kernel. It may be possible to just link the module.

Anyway from my experience unless you have a real good reason why not to rebuild the kernel, it's best to rebuild it. Your system should run fine (well fine enough so you can rebuild the kernel) even without Ethernet support and all settings you made when you built the kernel for the first time will be saved so you only need to activate the option you need and run make && make modules_install and then copy the new kernel in place of the old kernel.

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