/kernel (Create kernel mode binary)

Creates a binary that can be executed in the Windows kernel. The code in the current project gets compiled and linked by using a simplified set of C++ language features that are specific to code that runs in kernel mode.




Specifying the /kernel option tells the compiler and linker to arbitrate which language features are permissible in kernel mode and to make sure that you have sufficient expressive power to avoid runtime instability that is unique to kernel mode C++. It's done by prohibiting the use of C++ language features that are disruptive in kernel mode. The compiler produces warnings for C++ language features that are potentially disruptive but can't be disabled.

The /kernel option applies to both the compiler and linker phases of a build and is set at the project level. Pass the /kernel switch to indicate to the compiler that the resulting binary, after linking, should be loaded into the Windows kernel. The compiler will narrow the spectrum of C++ language features to a subset that is compatible with the kernel.

The following table lists changes in compiler behavior when /kernel is specified.

Behavior type /kernel behavior
C++ exception handling Disabled. All instances of the throw and try keywords emit a compiler error (except for the exception specification throw()). No /EH options are compatible with /kernel, except for /EH-.
RTTI Disabled. All instances of the dynamic_cast and typeid keywords emit a compiler error, unless dynamic_cast is used statically.
new and delete You must explicitly define the new() or delete() operator. The compiler and runtime don't supply a default definition.

Custom calling conventions, the /GS build option, and all optimizations are permitted when you use the /kernel option. Inlining is largely not affected by /kernel, with the same semantics honored by the compiler. If you want to make sure that the __forceinline inlining qualifier is honored, you must make sure that warning C4714 is enabled so that you know when a particular __forceinline function isn't inlined.

There's no #pragma equivalent to control this option.

When the compiler is passed the /kernel switch, it predefines a preprocessor macro that's named _KERNEL_MODE and has the value 1. You can use this macro to conditionally compile code based on whether the execution environment is in user mode or kernel mode. For example, the following code specifies that the MyNonPagedClass class should be in a non-pageable memory segment when it's compiled for kernel mode execution.

#define NONPAGESECTION __declspec(code_seg("$kerneltext$"))

class NONPAGESECTION MyNonPagedClass
   // ...

Some of the following combinations of target architecture and the /arch option produce an error when they're used with /kernel:

  • /arch:SSE, /arch:SSE2, /arch:AVX, /arch:AVX2, and /arch:AVX512 aren't supported on x86. Only /arch:IA32 is supported with /kernel on x86.

  • /arch:AVX, /arch:AVX2, and /arch:AVX512 aren't supported with /kernel on x64.

Building with /kernel also passes /kernel to the linker. Here's how the option affects linker behavior:

  • Incremental linking is disabled. If you add /incremental to the command line, the linker emits this fatal error:

    fatal error LNK1295: '/INCREMENTAL' not compatible with '/KERNEL' specification; link without '/INCREMENTAL'

  • The linker inspects each object file (or any included archive member from static libraries) to see whether it could have been compiled by using the /kernel option but wasn't. If any instances meet this criterion, the linker still successfully links but might issue a warning, as shown in the following table.

    Command /kernel obj non-/kernel obj, MASM obj, or cvtres obj Mix of /kernel and non-/kernel objs
    link /kernel Yes Yes Yes with warning LNK4257
    link Yes Yes Yes

    LNK4257 linking object not compiled with /KERNEL; image may not run

The /kernel option and the /driver option operate independently. They have no effect on each other.

To set the /kernel compiler option in Visual Studio

  1. Open the Property Pages dialog box for the project. For more information, see Set C++ compiler and build properties in Visual Studio.

  2. Select the Configuration Properties > C/C++ > Command Line property page.

  3. In the Additional options box, add /kernel. Choose OK or Apply to save your changes.

See also

MSVC Compiler Options
MSVC Compiler Command-Line Syntax