There might be several reasons why the wireless drivers from your distro don’t fit the bill. You purchased a new wifi card which doesn’t have a driver in the kernel of your Linux system, or you would like to play with some cool new feature or just to make sure you have the latest and greatest, cutting edge 802.11 software.
Thanks to the work of the Linux wireless developers it is now possible to do that without upgrading your kernel. Using a compatibility layer you can compile and install the latest drivers and the 802.11 stack, and use it with your current kernel (that is, if you have a relatively recent kernel — if you have 2.6.24 or anything more recent, you’re good to go).
To use bleeding edge drivers, first make sure your kernel headers package is installed. Then fetch the necessary git trees:
mkdir compat-wireless && cd compat-wireless
git clone git://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/linux/kernel/git/next/linux-next.git
git clone git://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/linux/kernel/git/mcgrof/compat.git
git clone git://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/linux/kernel/git/mcgrof/compat-wireless-2.6.git
The linux-next git tree contains the code for the next kernel release, and 802.11 updates are pulled into it on a regular basis. The compat and compat-wireless-2.6 trees implement the necessary compatibility layer, thus making it possible to use the wireless subsystem from linux-next with your kernel. You can also use your git trees to follow development, and keep your wireless drivers up to date: just pull from the remote repositories when you’d like to update. However, the linux-next repository is rebased on a regular basis, so you may want to check out the daily tag instead of pulling.
You can use the compat-wireless-2.6 directory to actually build the wireless subsystem:
Specify where your newly fetched kernel tree and the compat tree are:
Then refresh compat-wireless-2.6 with the contents of your git trees:
You can also select just a specific driver or group of drivers, e.g. if you only need the ath5k driver:
And that’s it, everything should be ready for the build.
sudo make install
Your newly built modules will go into the updates folder inside your kernel module directory. Reboot your box (or use the scripts supplied with compat-wireless-2.6 to reload any drivers).