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Using Thunderbolt on Linux, Debian, Ubuntu, CentOS & ArchLinux

Thunderbolt, a technology known for its remarkable speed and versatility, is gaining increasing importance for Linux users. It offers lightning-fast data transfer capabilities and enhances connectivity in the Linux ecosystem.

Recently, Intel introduced an updated version of Thunderbolt – Thunderbolt 5 that comes packed with exciting features. One of the most notable is the high-speed data transfer which reaches up to 80 Gbps bi-directional and can be tuned to 120 Gbps uni-directional. Feel free to check out our comprehensive post – Thunderbolt 5: Latest Updates, Specs And Release Date.

This article serves as a guide, helping users navigate Thunderbolt usage on various Linux distributions. Whether you’re a fan of Ubuntu, prefer the reliability of CentOS, or enjoy the flexibility of Arch Linux, we aim to provide you with a comprehensive resource to make Thunderbolt seamlessly integrate into your preferred distribution.

Thunderbolt Support in Various Linux Distributions

Thunderbolt support within the Linux ecosystem is largely seamless, thanks to its integration into the Linux kernel, enabling most distributions to function effortlessly right out of the box.

However, there may be exceptions where additional configurations or drivers are needed to ensure optimal Thunderbolt performance.

Thunderbolt Support in Debian-Based Distributions

If you’re using a distribution based on Debian, this guide is designed with you in mind. You’ll discover how to enable Thunderbolt on various Debian-based distributions, including:

  • Debian: Debian, renowned for its commitment to free software, relies on the ‘apt’ package manager. This package manager has been a cornerstone of Debian’s package management for years, ensuring a vast software repository and reliable updates.
  • Ubuntu: Ubuntu, a user-friendly Debian-based distribution, also uses the ‘apt’ package manager. While it has its own software repositories, it inherits Debian’s robust package management, making it a widely used and versatile choice.
  • Linux Mint: Linux Mint, an Ubuntu-based distribution, leverages ‘apt’ as its package manager. It aims for an intuitive and polished user experience while maintaining compatibility with Debian and Ubuntu repositories.
  • elementary OS: elementary OS, another Ubuntu-based system, relies on ‘apt’ for package management. It combines the familiar Debian-based ecosystem with a sleek and modern user interface.
  • Pop!_OS: Pop!_OS, crafted by System76, is also built on the Ubuntu base, using ‘apt’ for package management. It’s optimized for system76 hardware and extends compatibility with Ubuntu software repositories.

Let’s have an in-depth look at how to get started with Thunderbolt on Debian-based distros.

Check the Thunderbolt Kernel module

Make sure that your system has the Thunderbolt kernel module installed. You can check this by running the following command:

lsmod | grep thunderbolt

If the Thunderbolt kernel module is not installed, you can install it using the following command:

sudo apt install thunderbolt-dkms

Enable the Thunderbolt Kernel module

Once the Thunderbolt kernel module is installed, enable it by running the following command:

sudo modprobe thunderbolt

If you are using an Ubuntu desktop environment, you may also need to enable Thunderbolt support in the display settings.

To do this, open the “Display Settings” app and go to the “Thunderbolt” tab. Check the box next to “Enable Thunderbolt support” and click “Apply“.

Install the necessary drivers and tools

Additionally, ensure you have the necessary drivers and tools. While Thunderbolt support is built into the Linux kernel, you may need to install specific packages for a seamless experience.

sudo apt install bolt thunderbolt-tools
  • bolt is a utility that provides Thunderbolt device management on Linux systems. It is designed to handle Thunderbolt security and device authorization, allowing users to manage Thunderbolt devices’ access and behaviour on their computers. It is a critical tool for enabling and configuring Thunderbolt support on Linux distributions.
  • thunderbolt-tools are a collection of tools and utilities related to Thunderbolt technology. These tools may include command-line utilities for managing Thunderbolt devices, configuring settings, and handling various aspects of Thunderbolt connectivity. The specific tools included in the thunderbolt-tools package may vary depending on the Linux distribution and its package repositories. These tools are essential for a smooth Thunderbolt experience on Linux systems.

Connect your Thunderbolt device

With your system set up and all the required drivers and tools successfully installed, the next step is to connect your Thunderbolt devices. You can connect anything from display monitors, audio devices, cameras etc.

Verify that your Thunderbolt device

After connecting your Thunderbolt device, you need to verify whether it is working properly by running the following command:



boltctl list

These commands will list all the thunderbolt devices connected to your PC. If your Thunderbolt device is not authorized, you will see it in the list. To authorize it, use the following command:

boltctl enroll <device>

Tip: Replace <device> with the name of your Thunderbolt device as listed in the previous command.

Configure security settings

Ubuntu defaults to a “secure” mode where new Thunderbolt devices are initially disabled. You can review and modify these settings by running:

sudo boltctl

With these steps, you should now have Thunderbolt up and running on your Ubuntu system, enabling you to make the most of its high-speed data transfer and connectivity capabilities.

Thunderbolt Support in RHEL-Based Distributions

If you’re operating a distribution managed by the ‘yum’ or ‘dnf’ package manager, this guide is tailor-made for you. You will learn how to enable Thunderbolt on various RHEL-based distributions including:

  • CentOS: CentOS, known for its stability and reliability, employs the ‘yum’ package manager in earlier versions and ‘dnf’ in CentOS 8 and later, which is compatible with RHEL packages.
  • Rocky Linux: Rocky Linux, created as a free, community-driven alternative to CentOS, utilizes the ‘dnf’ package manager, ensuring compatibility with RHEL.
  • Oracle Linux: Oracle Linux, based on RHEL, employs ‘yum’ for package management and offers both free and enterprise versions with additional support and features.
  • Alma Linux: Alma Linux, another CentOS alternative, utilizes ‘dnf’ for package management and is designed to maintain binary compatibility with RHEL.
  • RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux): RHEL, the enterprise-focused Linux distribution, uses ‘dnf’ as its package manager and provides premium support and services for mission-critical environments.

To harness the power of Thunderbolt on your RHEL-based system, follow these steps:

Check the Thunderbolt Kernel Module

First, check that your distribution has the Thunderbolt kernel module installed. For example, ​​CentOS 7 does not include Thunderbolt support by default. You can do this by running the command below:

lsmod | grep thunderbolt

If the Thunderbolt kernel module is not listed, you’ll need to install it using the following command:

sudo apt update
sudo yum install thunderbolt-dkms

Enable the Thunderbolt Kernel Module

After installing the Thunderbolt kernel module, you will need to enable it with the following command:

sudo modprobe thunderbolt

This step ensures that your system recognizes Thunderbolt devices. You can also proceed to install the required drivers and tools using the command below.

sudo yum install bolt thunderbolt-tools

Connect Your Thunderbolt Device

Now, connect your Thunderbolt device to your computer. Ensure that all connections are secure. That can include anything like External Hard Drives/SSDs, Docking Stations, Monitors, Audio Interfaces: and Network Adapters.

Verify Device Connectivity

For security reasons, various RHEL-based distros like CentOS, may have Thunderbolt in a secure mode that initially disables newly connected Thunderbolt devices.

To configure Thunderbolt security settings, use the following command:

sudo boltctl

To verify that your Thunderbolt device is working properly, open a terminal and run any of the commands below:



boltctl list

This command will display a list of all Thunderbolt devices connected to your system. If your Thunderbolt device is listed, you’re good to go. If your Thunderbolt device is not authorized, it will be listed.

Use the command below to authorize it.

boltctl enroll <device>

Replace <device> with the name of your Thunderbolt device as listed in the previous command.

However, if your Thunderbolt device is not listed, it may be due to a driver or firmware issue. Look at the troubleshooting section below.

Troubleshooting Thunderbolt Issues on RHEL-based distribution

If, even after following the steps and being careful, you’re having trouble connecting your Thunderbolt device to any of the RHEL-based distributions, don’t worry. You have troubleshooting solutions to try.

Install Plasma-Thunderbolt (KDE Plasma Desktop)

For those using the KDE Plasma Desktop, managing the authorization of Thunderbolt devices requires installing the “plasma-thunderbolt” package. Launch the Terminal (Konsole) and execute the command below.

sudo dnf install plasma-thunderbolt.x86_64

plasma-thunderbolt.x86_64 is a package designed for 64-bit systems running the KDE Plasma Desktop, and it’s used to facilitate Thunderbolt device management and authorization within the KDE environment. This package ensures that Thunderbolt devices can be securely connected and utilized on a KDE Plasma-based system.

Upgrade the Kernel Release

To upgrade the kernel on your RHEL-based distribution and use Thunderbolt technology, you need to enable the ELRepo repository, which provides access to newer kernel releases.

Once the ELRepo repository is enabled, you can install a newer kernel release using the following command:

sudo dnf --enablerepo=elrepo-kernel install kernel-ml

After the new kernel is installed, you need to reboot your system and select the newly installed kernel from the boot menu.

Thunderbolt Support in ArchLinux-Based Distributions

Arch Linux is a lightweight, rolling-release distribution that provides users with the latest stable versions of most software. Arch Linux is known for its flexibility and customization options, and it is a popular choice for users who want to have complete control over their system.

Popular Arch Linux-based distributions include,

  • Manjaro: Manjaro, renowned for its user-friendliness, utilizes the ‘Pacman’ package manager. It’s known for its simplicity and ease of use, making ArchLinux more accessible to a broader audience.
  • EndeavourOS: EndeavourOS, a distro with a strong focus on user customization, also employs ‘Pacman’ as its package manager. It aims to provide a hassle-free ArchLinux experience while catering to advanced users.
  • BlackArch Linux: BlackArch Linux is a specialized Arch-based distribution designed for penetration testing and security research. It inherits ‘Pacman’ for package management, offering an extensive repository of security tools and utilities for ethical hackers and security professionals.

Since Arch Linux is a rolling-release distribution, the installation and configuration process for Thunderbolt may be slightly different depending on the specific version of Arch Linux or Arch Linux-based distribution that you are using.

To install and configure Thunderbolt on Arch Linux, you can follow these steps:

Check the Thunderbolt Kernel Module

Make sure that your system has the Thunderbolt kernel module installed. You can check this by running the following command:

lsmod | grep thunderbolt

If the Thunderbolt kernel module is not installed, you can install it using the following command:

sudo pacman -S thunderbolt-dkms

Enable Thunderbolt Kernel Module

Once the Thunderbolt kernel module is installed, enable it by running the following command:

sudo modprobe thunderbolt

Install Thunderbolt Drivers and Tools

To enable Thunderbolt support on your ArchLinux-based system, you need to install the necessary drivers and utilities:

Arch-based systems have a robust repository of packages. To install Thunderbolt utilities, such as bolt and thunderbolt-tools, use the following command with pacman:

sudo pacman -S bolt thunderbolt-tools

This command will fetch and install the required software for managing Thunderbolt devices.

Connecting Thunderbolt Devices

You can connect a variety of Thunderbolt devices, such as external hard drives, monitors, eGPUs, and more, to your system. Simply plug them into the Thunderbolt port on your computer.

ArchLinux-based distributions are designed to automatically recognize connected Thunderbolt devices. Once connected, your system should detect and configure these devices seamlessly, making them available for use.

Alternatively, you can verify that your Thunderbolt device is working properly by running the following command:


Troubleshooting Thunderbolt on Arch Linux

If you are having trouble with Thunderbolt on Arch Linux, there are a few things you can try:

Install Plasma-Thunderbolt (KDE Plasma Desktop)

If you’re using the KDE Plasma Desktop on your ArchLinux-based system, you’ll need to install the plasma-thunderbolt package. This package facilitates Thunderbolt device authorization and management within the KDE environment.

To install the plasma-thunderbolt package, open a terminal and execute the following command:

sudo pacman -S plasma-thunderbolt

This command fetches and installs the “plasma-thunderbolt” package, ensuring that your KDE Plasma Desktop is equipped to handle Thunderbolt devices effectively.

Update the Thunderbolt kernel module

Make sure that you have the latest version of the Thunderbolt kernel module installed. You can upgrade the Thunderbolt kernel module using the following command:

sudo pacman -Syu thunderbolt-dkms

Re-enable the Thunderbolt Kernel Module

Try disabling and re-enabling the Thunderbolt kernel module. You can do this by running the following commands:

sudo modprobe -r thunderbolt
sudo modprobe thunderbolt

Restart your computer

If you are still having trouble with Thunderbolt, please consult the Arch Linux wiki or contact the Arch Linux community for support.

Best Practices and Security Considerations

Thunderbolt is a powerful and versatile interface that can be used to connect a variety of devices to your Linux system. However, it is important to use Thunderbolt securely to protect your system from malware and other attacks.

Here are some best practices for secure Thunderbolt usage on Linux:

  • Keep your software up to date. This includes the Thunderbolt kernel module, firmware, and Thunderbolt device drivers.
  • Use a strong password or passphrase for your system. This will help to protect your system from unauthorized access if your Thunderbolt device is compromised.
  • Only connect trusted devices to your Thunderbolt ports. If you are unsure whether a device is trusted, do not connect it to your system.
  • Use a Thunderbolt security dock. A Thunderbolt security dock can help to protect your system from unauthorized access and data theft.
  • Disable Thunderbolt when not in use. You can do this using the thunderboltctl command or by disabling the Thunderbolt kernel module.

Security concerns

Here are some potential security concerns associated with Thunderbolt and how to mitigate them.

  • Malicious Thunderbolt devices: Malicious Thunderbolt devices can be used to gain unauthorized access to your system or steal data. To mitigate this risk, only connect trusted devices to your Thunderbolt ports.
  • Direct Memory Access (DMA) attacks: DMA attacks allow attackers to directly access your system’s memory, which can be used to steal data or install malware. To mitigate this risk, make sure that your Thunderbolt devices have the latest firmware and drivers installed. You can also enable DMA protection in the BIOS or UEFI settings of your system.
  • Thunderbolt tunnelling: Thunderbolt tunnelling allows attackers to tunnel other types of traffic, such as Ethernet or USB, over a Thunderbolt connection. This can be used to bypass security measures that are in place on your system. To mitigate this risk, disable Thunderbolt when not in use.

By following these best practices and mitigating the security concerns associated with Thunderbolt, you can protect your Linux system from attacks.


This article has guided you through the world of Thunderbolt support on various Linux distributions. From setup and driver installation to device connection and troubleshooting, you now have the tools to embrace Thunderbolt with confidence.

Whether you’re using Debian-based, ArchLinux-based, or RHEL-based distributions, Thunderbolt’s high-speed data transfer and versatility are at your fingertips. Explore the possibilities and make the most of this powerful technology on your Linux system.

One comment

  1. Which distros have the UI’s to support thunderbolt? (See windows Thunderbolt Control Center which tells you the number of ports, if connected and security status)

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