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Do I have misunderstood something?/Help needed!

Link to this post 13 Oct 12

OK, so there is the Linux kernel, being updated regularly (so far so good).
On top of it every Linux distribution is built, being updated to the most recent kernel, too.
But, when someone wants to port a specific linux distro, what does he do?
He cross-compiles the kernel (that ends in .tar.bz2) after he implements any patch?
Then what?

Here is my situation. I need to understand the process.
I see for example that for this board(arm architecture) an open embedded kernel has been built, but I also see that 2 supported distros for this board have different kernel.IMGs, as well as different (extra files, what I mentioned in the second sentence, which I don't know how it is called). If a developer wanted to port an other distro, would he use the preexcistent kernel.img and do "some magic tricks" with the rest of the files, put them on a SD and then his board would boot (with a lot of bugs waiting to be fixed), or would he need to: take the latest kernel source, apply the patches, cross-compile it(how is it done?), and then what?

Please, I am really confused.

PS: There is no way I will do such a thing, for the IDEA of doing the above makes me faint.

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