Kernel Panic - what is it actually?

The so-called Kernel panic sounds like a serious computer glitch, but is usually not that bad at all. You can read in this guide which problem the term describes on the Apple Mac and iPhone, on the PC and Android device and on other machines. In addition to the panic term, I also go into what a kernel actually is.

What is a kernel panic, what are the triggers and what should be done in the event of a system crash? All information about the kernel panic under macOS, Windows, Linux and Unix systems is available here.

What is a kernel panic, what are the triggers and what should be done in the event of a system crash? All information about the kernel panic under macOS, Windows, Linux and Unix systems is available here.

What is a kernel?

The kernel is the basic kernel of an operating system. It is the software that is essential for the operating system (macOS, iOS, Android, Ubuntu, etc.), which enables work on the computer in the first place. Further terms for the kernel are therefore also the operating system kernel or core system. 

The kernel is - to put it simply - the intermediate instance between the hardware (CPU, RAM, input devices) and the software or apps running. On the more detailed explanatory Wikipedia page it also says:

Common requirements for a kernel are parallel processing of different tasks (multitasking), compliance with time-critical limits, openness for a wide variety of applications and extensions.

What is a kernel panic?

Kernel Panic - what is it actually? Well that Kernel panic describes the error message that is displayed when the operating system or its underlying software is in an undefined state. Under (older) Windows versions this is expressed by the well-known "blue screen". The state of the kernel, also described as a "fatal error", shows a massive malfunction or the occurrence of several errors in hardware and / or software. 

In short, it is a system crash. Under Apple macOS this can be expressed as a black screen, in old Mac OS versions as a bomb, as a red screen under Win Vista, as a black screen under Win 8, und so weiter. In addition to a correspondingly colored screen, an error message is usually also displayed as text; ideally with an error code that identifies the trigger.

What triggers a kernel panic?

Kernel panic triggers can be hardware malfunctions as well as faulty software. The latter includes, for example, incorrect or missing memory accesses. However, the kernel itself can also cause a panic; with modern systems, this is usually the only way that the problem will continue to arise. 

Sometimes it is also desired, for example to prevent a “split brain”. This describes the simultaneous separation of all connections in a computer cluster. In the case of a single computer with macOS, Windows or another operating system, the kernel panic is understood as an undesirable system crash. 

What are the names of the kernels of macOS, Linux, Windows and Co.?

The kernel panic first described a failure in the Unix software developed in 1969. Unix and its clones are still a basis for many operating systems, which is why the term for the system crash has been retained. However, Unix is ​​not the only kernel variant these days. For example, Linux is certainly familiar to you, both as a full-fledged operating system and as a kernel introduced in 1991. 

I have summarized for you which system kernel in which operating system can trigger a panic:

  • XNU (NeXT, Apple): Darwin, macOS, iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, watchOS
  • Windows NT (Microsoft): Windows NT, 2000, XP, Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, 10
  • Windows 9x (Microsoft): Windows 95, 98, ME
  • Linux or GNU / Linux: Debian, Ubuntu, Mint, openSUSE, various "Linux" derivatives
  • Unixoid systems (“Unix-like”): Unix systems, BSD, OpenBSD, other “BSD” derivatives, FreeNAS, TrueOS

Advisory article: Delete APFS volume - you have to pay attention to this!

Kernel Panic - What to Do?

The kernel panic on the Mac and on other computers can be a temporary problem that can be resolved by restarting; so the good, old one Switch it off and on again. If that doesn't work - not even after a forced shutdown - then try again without connected devices (with iMac and MacBook also second screens, mouse, external keyboard, etc.). 

If problems persist, starting in Safe Mode or booting from a DVD / USB stick and the system diagnostics or an update made possible in this way can help. From time to time Apple also informs on its support page if a bug in a certain system can lead to a kernel panic and which update will prevent this in the future. But as I said: a restart usually helps with Blue Screen, Black Screen, Red Screen and Co.;)

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