I'm on fedora core 8, and I may have a need to upgrade to the latest, v12, because of an issue I'm encountering (described in "some background", below, but my main query is here). Essentially, I'm going to have to either upgrade frin fc8 to fc12 or perform an isolated kernel upgrade from 2.6.23 to 2.6.32 (that may not be without issues).
Given a choice between trying to built the current kernel and cram it into such an old distro, versus updating Fedora 8 to Fedora 12, I would choose an upgrade to Fedora 12, without hesitating.
1. If there are any chances that kernel compatibility with certain userland tools could be broken (once the kernel is correctly booting, that is) given the "large" version jump from 2.6.23 to 2.6.32 (might as well update to latest). For example, would some commands for traffic control (tc) not work anymore?
Historically, both the Linux kernel and glibc have a very good track record for backwards compatibility. However, upgrading the entire distro will, of course, end up upgrading your tc binary. Whether or not the tc binary in Fedora 12 is backwards compatible, in all respects, with tc in Fedora 8 is something that I do not know. You can grab the man page for tc in Fedora 12, compare it with what you have in Fedora 8, and draw your own conclusions.
2. If it actually would be simpler & safer to just upgrade the distribution? (as long as the paths to the various network scripts haven't changed, mostly around interfaces, VLANs, etc)
I'm fairly sure that some of these things have changed. And I'm also quite sure that dealing with that is much easier than dealing with building your own kernel and cramming it into an older distro.
In terms of keeping the various tools on the machine compatible with the kernel, I am tempted to go with #2. However, how safe is it to jump directly from fedora core 8 to fedora core 12? I guess most upgrades are tested from FC version N to N+1. I would jump 4 versions directly.
Correct. Such upgrade paths are not tested by anyone. I have, previously, upgraded from N to N+2 without any issues. I just did it again, upgrading from F10 to F12 (because I could not upgrade to F11 due to a bug in F11's anaconda).
Your probability of success depends solely on how well you've cared for your existing F8 system. If you did not mess with it, if you only installed software using RPM, and used the system's configuration tools, where available, or kept manual editing of various config files to a minimum, you shouldn't have any problems. On the other hand, if you hand-compiled a bunch of stuff; if you routinely grabbed various random tarballs, and went the configure/make/make-install route, spraying untracked files and dependencies all over the filesystem, rather than building proper RPMs, you'll likely to have a major mess on your hands after an upgrade.
I do recall that, some time ago, there was a major upgrade to the RPM database format -- a switch to a new major version of the DB back end. Anaconda, on the upgrade path, took care of converting the old format to the new one.
I think that happened before F8, but you need to double check. If this happened in F9, I would suggest piecemeal updates. I'm sure you will still easily find F9 images to download and install, the after updating to F9 (presuming that's the release that switched to the new RPM DB format), jump to F12.
In either case, after updating to F12, you will need to run 'updatedb', then use 'locate' to find all 'rpmsave' and 'rpmnew' configuration files the upgrade process introduced, then manually reconcile them with the active configuration files. That should be the extent of the manual effort involved in upgrading to F12 from an older version.
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